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Happy Hour: Kahne quietly going about his business in Chase

September 22, 2012, Seth Livingstone, Special to NASCAR.COM, NASCAR.com



Happy Hour: Kahne quietly going about his business in Chase

LOUDON, N.H. -- Quietly, Kasey Kahne has become a factor to fear in the 2012 Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Unlike Denny Hamlin, he isn't forecasting victories. Unlike reigning series champ Tony Stewart, he won't predict that his closest rivals might toss and turn at night, knowing he's in hot pursuit.

New Hampshire

Practice 2
Pos.DriverSpeedTime
2. J. Logano 131.442 28.977
3. J. Johnson 131.370 28.993
4. M. Truex Jr. 131.338 29.000
5. Ky. Busch 131.266 29.016
Pos.DriverSpeedTime
2.J. Logano 131.683 28.924
3. B. Vickers 131.551 28.953
4. Ky. Busch 131.207 29.029
5. M. Truex Jr. 131.157 29.040

"I'm not really a trash-talker or anything like that," Kahne said at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. "I just get up, try to do my thing and go to sleep."

Typical of his style, Kahne was nothing flashy during Saturday's Happy Hour. His best lap of 130.584 was solidly mid-pack -- 19th-fastest of the session.

Not to worry, his Chevrolet will roll sixth off the line in Sunday's Sylvania 300.

As it turned out, Hamlin was the driver who needed to show something -- at least to himself -- after a hideous 32nd-place qualifying lap. Hamlin did just that, becoming the only driver to top 132 mph (132.053) and one of only six to top 131 mph on the 1.058-mile oval.

The Toyotas of Joey Logano (131.683) and Brian Vickers (131.551) were next-fastest in Happy Hour.

But it could well be Kahne who is on the move. His third-place finish at Chicagoland in the first race of the Chase enabled him to leap six spots to fifth in the standings.

Moreover, Kahne won the July race at New Hampshire. Kahne and crew chief Kenny Francis have the same chassis at NHMS this week.

"I feel that Kasey is a definite threat [in the Chase]," says teammate Jimmie Johnson. "This is kind of Kasey Kahne time, as well.

"When you look at his performance over the course of his career. I would say the end of the seasons have been very strong for him. He has usually won a couple of times [late in the year]. These tracks are good tracks for him."

Indeed, his lone victory last year came at Phoenix in the 35th points race of the season. Along with his win at NHMS, Kahne also has won this year at Charlotte, a track yet to come on the Chase calendar.

As much as he'd like to rack up wins, Kahne knows flash and dash might not be his best ticket to the title.

"I feel like consistency is going to be big," he says. "[Yes], you are going to have to win. Those bonus points add up pretty quick from winning and leading laps. [But] 10 races is a really long time. It's not a two- [or] three-race dash. It's 10 races."

Kasey Kahne

Chase years
Starts200620092012
Wins622
Top-5s1278
Top-10s191414
Lead-Lap Fin.262719
DNFs644
Poles602
Laps Led744248252
Avg. start12.811.89.1
Avg. Finish15.515.313.9
Rank8105

Kahne, 32, believes his team is peaking at the right time.

His first trip to New Hampshire signaled a turning point. Not only did it provide his second victory of the season -- pivotal in establishing his place in the Chase -- it provided him a springboard. In the eight races since he has finished worse than 12th just once, producing three top-three finishes.

"We felt good about Chicago," Kahne says. "We weren't as good as Brad [Keselowsk] or Jimmie but we were pretty close. Last week was probably our best overall race that we had all year. [It gave us] a lot to build on.

"To me, everything keeps getting better. I would like to keep gaining points. We have done it all year. I think we can keep going in that direction, slowly."

Kahne has never finished a season ranked higher than eighth in points. But he feels he has two things going for him in his first season at Hendrick Motorsports: teammates and proven power under the hood.

"Just to have that caliber of guys to look at and listen to -- being able to work with and take things from Jimmie, Jeff [Gordon] and Dale [Earnhardt Jr.] -- I felt like going into this season that would be big," Kahne says. "The way they explain things ... I think has helped me a lot."

So have his engines and the dependability he has come to expect.

"I think having an engine that runs great at every single track we go to [is huge]," he says. "This is probably the first time in my career that I've never had to think, 'Man, I'm a little bit off at this point, engine-wise.' That is a big thing."