Stability may offer chance at championship
Kasey Kahne notched the best statistical season of his nine-year NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career in 2012, his fourth-place finish in the final standings by far his best cumulative effort ever.
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Yet for all the lofty stats -- two wins, four poles, 19 top 10s and 12 top-five showings -- when Kahne reflects on the year, he thinks mostly of what could have been. And what he expects will be next year.
“It was my best points year and probably my most consistent year, but I don’t know if I consider it my best year. I’d have liked to have gotten a couple more wins,’’ Kahne said, after much consideration.
“We had the speed but the not the results early on. I think we could have a much better season having worked with everyone now and being able to build on that. ... I think for 2013 we can perform even better.’’
When you consider that Kahne rebounded to make the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup despite a disappointing start to his much-hyped and long-awaited tenure at Hendrick Motorsports -- four finishes of 29th or worse in the first six races -- it’s a remarkable recovery that speaks well of what he and the No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet team can accomplish with even a modest spring.
“I was feeling good even then,’’ Kahne said of his team’s early struggles. “Our cars were fast. Our team was on it. We just had bad luck or I made a mistake. Things just didn’t go our way. I knew once … our luck changed, we’d be in pretty good shape.’’
And he was, scoring his first win for Hendrick in the sport’s longest race, the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and posting another at New Hampshire in the late summer.
After securing the first of two wild-card berths in the Chase, he had top-five finishes in half the 10 Chase races -- three in the final five. And he was ranked as high as third entering the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“We definitely have some momentum,’’ Kahne said. “We built a lot together as a team and we can carry it on this year.’’
Just having the same team and same car make may seem like a luxury to Kahne and longtime crew chief Kenny Francis, who -- at long last -- have found continuity and stability along with the vast resources that come at Hendrick Motorsports.
Like all the other drivers and teams, Kahne will have to figure out the Generation-6 Chevrolet SS being introduced by NASCAR this season.
But focusing on a single variable probably seems manageable to a pair that has either had team ownership changes, manufacturer switches or a complete team turnover for most of the last half decade.
And having that continuity may be the difference-maker for Kahne.
“I feel like I’ve gained a lot of knowledge from great opportunities and bad situations as well. As long as you are taking all the things you’ve learned from that you should be getting better each year. I feel like next year could be the best yet. I have a strong team, a great crew chief and engineer and an awesome owner in Rick Hendrick.’’
See the full schedule of our top 12 Sprint Cup Series drivers and read more below:
11. Martin Truex Jr.
10. Jeff Gordon
9. Tony Stewart
7. Matt Kenseth
6. Denny Hamlin
5. Greg Biffle
4. Kasey Kahne
2. Clint Bowyer