News & Media

Confident Kahne feeling at ease at Richmond

September 07, 2012, Holly Cain, Special to NASCAR.COM,

RICHMOND, Va. -- Kasey Kahne arrived at Richmond International Raceway for a fan appearance and media interview session Thursday afternoon at ease and all smiles.

Part relief, part championship confidence, Kahne is enjoying a rare season of Chase reprieve. The only wild-card contender with multiple wins, Kahne also is only 18 points behind 10th-place Tony Stewart for an automatic bid in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

"We've had pressure here a lot of times with the way the Chase all works out and where I've run in points over the years. I feel a lot better about it this time."


Kahne: Race to Chase

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For the first time in his career, Kahne isn't having to fight and claw for one of the final Chase berths in Saturday's pressure-cooker regular-season finale at Richmond. Instead, he needs to just keep on keeping on.

Although he isn't officially "locked in," Kahne is the top wild-card driver and a good finish away from a more secure position among the top 10.

"It feels a lot more calm for sure,'' Kahne said, taking a deep breath and breaking into a broad grin.

"I've missed[the Chase] by a few points and made it by just a few points. We've had pressure here a lot of times with the way the Chase all works out and where I've run in points over the years.

"I feel a lot better about it this time but we need to perform and do a good job Saturday night. I'd like to get in the top 10. If we run really well and have a shot at winning the race and Tony [Stewart] has a bad race that gives us a shot. It'll be interesting how it all works out but I feel confident in how we run at Richmond.''

The three-quarters-mile track -- a favorite among drivers -- is where Kahne scored his first Cup victory in 2005 and he has seven top-10 finishes in 17 starts. He's had top-fives in two of the past three races here, including a fifth place in April on which Kahne said he expects to improve.

Yet while the driver exudes calm and confidence, Kahne's longtime crew chief, Kenny Francis, is not quite ready to declare an "all clear.'' Kahne raced his way in to the postseason in 2006 and '09 but just missed the 2004, '08 and '11 Chases.

Francis is quick to remind that, despite the better situation it finds itself in, the team still has work to do -- even if it's less dramatic work.

"We've still got to execute,'' Francis said. "It doesn't ever feel good until you're locked in, then it feels good. I'm just as nervous as I've always been here trying to make it in.

"Hopefully though, Kasey is more at ease and I'm the one stressing out for both of us.''

Kahne comes to Richmond having finished worse than 12th only one time since June 24, including four top-fives and a victory at New Hampshire. Only Brad Keselowski (six), Denny Hamlin (five) and Jeff Gordon (five) have had more top-five finishes during that time.

Kahne's late-season tendencies favor him, as well. For example, last year -- out of Chase contention and driving for the smaller Red Bull Racing team -- Kahne scored seven top-10s in the final eight races.

"I know Kasey and his team much better than any other year since we're teammates, I know how good they are, how capable they are of winning races in the championship,'' five-time Cup champ Jimmie Johnson said Friday.

"At the end of seasons we have seen a lot of speed out of those guys, when he was at Red Bull, at Evernham before that, they've always ended the season very well.

"So number one, they build and get stronger all year, and the second part is the [Chase] tracks are all good for Kasey, as well.

"So if we get them into the Chase I know it'll be a great bullet in the gun for Rick [Hendrick].''

And that's the bottom line.

For as good as Kahne has run, it's merely what is expected at Hendrick Motorsports. Team owner Hendrick told reporters in January that he fully expected all four of this drivers -- Johnson, Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. and newcomer Kahne -- to make the Chase.

But Kahne suffered three finishes of 34th or worse in the first six races of the season forcing the team to play catchup. And boy has it.

The late-season surge has served notice that not only is Kahne a good bet to make the Chase in his Hendrick debut, he is a legitimate contender for the Sprint Cup title.

"That's the great part of being at Hendrick Motorsports and having the opportunity that I do,'' Kahne said. "You always have that chance to win races and win the championship. Mr. H gives us everything we need and it's up to us to figure out how to do it all at the right time and make it happen. It feels really good and I want to take advantage of it.

• A Richmond victory clinches a wild card. If Tony Stewart stays in the top 10, Kahne automatically clinches. If Stewart falls out of the top 10, Kahne will clinch a spot if a one-win driver outside the top 10 does not win. If Kyle Busch supplants Stewart in the top 10, and Jeff Gordon wins, Kahne clinches a spot by finishing 13th or better, 14th with at least one lap led, or 15th with the most laps led. Kahne has one Richmond victory and a Driver Rating of 86.6 (12th best). He was fifth in April.

"I've said that since the start of the year. We started out really rough and figured it out since then and have been a pretty good car. If we keep building on that I think we have a chance to gain a lot of positions once the Chase does start.''