Kahne waiting on fortunes to turn around
October 01, 2013, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- In the first event in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, it was contact from a teammate's car on pit road. In the second, it was a crash into the wall. In the third, it was a wire that worked its way loose and ultimately left his vehicle down a cylinder.
Kasey Kahne will admit, there are times when he wonders -- why does all this keep happening?
"Just this year alone, you look and wonder -- why? What am I doing wrong? Because some of those things happen, and they happen frequently," he said Tuesday in a visit to the NASCAR Hall of Fame. "So I don’t know. But you see that over the years. That’s just the way it goes. … I feel like eventually it will go away. I don’t know when, but I feel like eventually it will, and we’ll be able to put together a really consistent, strong season from beginning to end."
For the time being, that will have to wait until 2014. Kahne's loose wire and subsequent engine issue last weekend at Dover International Speedway kept him last among the 13 drivers eligible for the championship, and a hefty 78 points behind leader Matt Kenseth with seven races remaining on the schedule. Such deficits are nothing new for a driver who's battled one hurdle after another since moving to powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports prior to last season.
A year ago, it was a rotten start that forced his No. 5 team to spend the entire regular season climbing out of a hole, and he squeezed in as a Wild Card before finishing a career-best fourth in the final standings. This year he seemed ready to build on that, winning a race early and wrapping up his Chase bid well before the cutoff event neared.
But a slide in the final few regular-season races relegated him once again to a Wild Card, not allowing him to use the six bonus points he earned for race victories at Bristol and Pocono. The Chase itself has been much worse: 12th at Chicagoland after contact with Dale Earnhardt Jr. on pit road, 37th at New Hampshire after a spin into the wall, and 13th at Dover because of a wire gone haywire. This while the top three contenders -- Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch -- have been near-perfect and threatening to leave everyone else behind.
"It's been a tough start. We had pretty high hopes going into it, feeling like we had a shot to contend, to be at least one of the top three or four battling for it. All that's gone. At this point you just try to find some momentum, find some confidence for the team and myself, and try to get back on track," Kahne said.
"Hopefully we can hit on something here quick and at least finish strong. It would be great to at least get back into the top 10. Three weeks ago you're talking about having a shot at the championship, and now we're talking about if we can just be in the top 10 with a win or something in these last six or seven races. That would be successful from this point on. It's where we're at right now, and we'll do the best job we can."
His situation is exacerbated by how well the top three drivers are running. Kenseth and Busch finished 1-2 in each of the first two Chase races, and have an average finish of 3.0 through three events in the playoff. Johnson is right behind them, his victory at Dover giving him an average finish of 3.3. Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon are already 27 points behind Busch, and Kahne knows any driver outside of that top three is going to need a lot of help to close the gap.
"I think you need all three of them (to have) a couple of things to go wrong a couple of times," he said. "They're in a pretty strong spot right now, starting with their bonus points and then running top three or four every race so far. Those guys are really in a good spot."
How realistic is it that all three have trouble? "Not very," Kahne admitted. "Before the Chase started, I would have thought it would be, because it's seemed like this whole season has been a bit up and down for everyone. I mean, Jimmie really had some tough times before the Chase started for three or four weeks. So that showed. But man, the way they're performing right now -- and it could all change Sunday -- but to this point, I feel like they're all three going to be really consistent … to the end."
Kahne feels he has good tracks coming up, including Kansas Speedway this weekend. But after three rough weeks to open the playoff, he's had to adjust his goals. That first serious run at a Sprint Cup championship will have to wait until next year.
"When it's not your season," he said, "it's not your season."