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Kentucky could be Kahne's turning point for Chase

July 01, 2012, Jarrod Breeze, NASCAR.com

SPARTA, Ky. -- Kasey Kahne charged through the field in the closing laps in rallying from a lap down to finish second in Saturday night's Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway.

If Kahne is to rally from a troublesome start to his Hendrick Motorsports tenure and make the Chase, he might be able to look back at Kentucky as the turning point.

"Yeah, top-fives are good, probably not going to get us in the Chase."

--KASEY KAHNE

Kahne moved into the final wild-card position, moving up three spots in points to 14th. With 11th-place Carl Edwards and 13th-place Paul Menard winless, Charlotte winner Kahne was able to overtake Ryan Newman for the positive side of the tenuous cutoff. But he knows even that might not be enough.

"Yeah, top-fives are good, probably not going to get us in the Chase," Kahne said. "We need to win a race or two to make the Chase."

Kahne, who had finished better than 19th in just one of his first six starts of the season, was going in the right direction before back-to-back crashes at Pocono and Michigan again put his Chase hopes in jeopardy. And things were looking bleak early at Kentucky.

Kahne had pitted under caution on Lap 44, but had to come back a few laps later because of loose lug nuts, losing a lap in the process. He finally got the lap back when he was awarded the free pass on a Lap 162 caution, and by Lap 177 had moved up to 13th.

From there, Kahne was on the move. He made his way to the top 10, then the top five. He then passed Carl Edwards, who was conserving fuel, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. for third after Lap 260. Then he passed Denny Hamlin down low coming out of Turn 4 to move into second with three laps to go. But that was as far as he got, as Brad Keselowski won by more than 4 seconds.

"I wish we could have got Keselowski because we need those wins. But we still had a great car and came really close," Kahne said. "We had to pass a ton of cars and came up a little short.

"My car was fast. And I think the longer the run went, the better we seemed to get, the better I could move around on the race track, anyways."

The loose lug nut wasn't the only issue for Kahne's No. 5 team. A slow pit stop later in the race also made things difficult.

"We couldn't get enough track position so we had to fight for a long time. We just had a couple of mistakes," Kahne said. "The pit crew is really good at times and they're solid. We've got to keep working on it and got to be a little stronger throughout."

Kahne's teammates also ran well as Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson finished 4-5-6, respectively. Kahne credited the collaborative effort at Hendrick, especially after struggling in practice.

"We felt our teammates were pretty good. So we looked at some of the things they were doing," Kahne said. Earnhardt and Johnson were 2-3, respectively, in opening practice and Gordon topped Happy Hour. And Kahne (19th) was the only one of the four not to qualify in the top 10, with Johnson claiming the pole.

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"It's nice to have as good of teammates as we had. So we were able to put a nice package in the car and it worked really well."

It's a testament to an organization that has recently given Earnhardt the means to a winless end, and kept Kahne and Gordon hopeful.

"To see how well the Hendrick cars are [running] right now, I mean, it's great to see. Great to be part of that," Kahne said. "All of the guys should be really happy because they've prepared us some pretty nice cars and our engines run great."

Gordon scored his third consecutive finish of sixth or better as he holds on to faint Chase hopes. He's 18th in points, and eighth in the wild-card standings.

"To get a top-five here at Kentucky, which is definitely one of my worst race tracks, to come home with a top-five tells you just how strong our cars are and our team is and what we're capable of doing," Gordon said.

"We've just got to keep going to the race track and putting the effort out that we've been putting out. This team has been awesome. The cars have definitely shown that, and lately we've been getting the results. So you can definitely put some momentum on that and we've got some great tracks that are coming.

"Daytona is going to be its own beast, but from that point on I think we've got the opportunity to not only put top-fives together, but also get some wins."

That wins didn't come Saturday night for Gordon, Earnhardt or Johnson can be attributed in some small part to loose race cars.

"The track changed a lot. The track was real rough and you'd slide all over the place," Earnhardt said. "It was really fun. But we're just ready to win. I really had fun winning the other week [at Michigan], so I'm ready to get back to Victory Lane."

So is Kahne. In fact, it just might be a necessity to nail down a Chase berth.