Little did he know he would have to wait at least another month before posting a solid finish.
The first month as a Hendrick Motorsports driver has gone anything but the way Kahne would want. He wrecked out of the Daytona 500 and finished 29th, got into the wall after driving too aggressively at the start of the Phoenix race and finished 34th, sat on the pole but could only muster a 19th-place finish at Las Vegas and then placed 37th at Bristol after a hard wreck early in the event.
He heads to Auto Club Speedway, site of this weekend’s Auto Club 400, where he has one win and nine top-10s in 15 career starts.
“I was looking forward to this season because Hendrick Motorsports, [sponsor] Farmers Insurance, Chevrolet they give me the best equipment, the best cars,” Kahne said. “Every race this year we’ve been one of the fastest cars and this happened. It’s discouraging.
“I can’t wait for [this] week. I think we can be really good at California as well. To this point, things haven’t went our way from my own doing or for other reasons.”
He sits 32nd in the standings, 100 points out of the lead, 66 points out of the top 10 and an automatic spot in the Chase For The Sprint Cup and 37 out of the top 20, the cutoff for the two wild-card berths based on wins.
“It’s just too bad to have this stuff happen,” Kahne said. “We have such great race cars. This stuff shouldn’t be this difficult.”
Kahne blames himself for the accident at Phoenix, where he got into the wall early and struggled throughout the rest of the day.
“I was upset with myself for making a crucial mistake when I had, I feel, the best car in Phoenix,” Kahne said. “I gave it away. … I spent a week thinking about it and thinking about how no to let that happen again.”
He had another unfortunate incident two weeks later at Bristol. He thought he was clear of Regan Smith and moved into the high lane. Smith was there, they made slight contact, Smith checked up, got hit from behind by Brad Keselowski and then ran into Kahne. It was the third consecutive race Kahne had started in the top 10 only to fail to finish in the top 15.
“I was completely taking my time,” Kahne said. “I was cleared in the center of the corner and he was there on exit. It’s too bad. My spotter made a mistake, but Regan Smith made a mistake there too.
“I just can’t believe it happened. Whatever happened, I can’t believe that happened.”
Smith felt the same way.
“I am not sure why the incident with Kasey happened, but it was way too early in the race for anything like that to occur,” Smith said. “He came up on me and I didn’t have any place to go. He might have thought he cleared me, but he didn’t. It was costly for us as it was for many other teams.”
Kahne understands such incidents are part of racing, but it’s been a hard opening month.
The wreck with Smith just put an exclamation point on the frustration.
“I sat there for a second and couldn’t believe I was wrecked,” Kahne said about Bristol.
“I had the best race car at Bristol. … I just feel bad for everybody involved. We have nothing to show for it and we’ve been really good.”
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