After winning Sunday's race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Kasey Kahne put himself in pretty good shape to qualify for this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
Kahne did not get off to a fine start in his first season as driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. After the April 1 race at Martinsville, his chances of making the Chase looked rather dismal, as he sat 31st in the point standings. But his season has dramatically turned around since then. Kahne rolled off seven straight top-10 finishes, including a win in the May 27 event at Charlotte.
Heading into the New Hampshire, Kahne ranked 16th in points and held the fourth spot in the Chase wild card rankings. His two wins so far this year have now put him in the first wild card spot.
"I feel good about where we're at now," Kahne said. "We just have to stay consistent, stay after it, keep putting ourself in position and hopefully win a couple more races."
Kahne also jumped to 12th in the point standings but trails 10th-place Brad Keselowski by a distant 66 points. Carl Edwards is 46 markers behind Keselowski in 11th. Edwards, though, has yet to win this year.
With seven races remaining before the Chase begins on Sept. 16 at Chicagoland, Keselowski and defending series champion Tony Stewart have the most victories with three apiece, while Kahne, his teammate, Jimmie Johnson, and Denny Hamlin have a pair of wins each. Kahne has more wins than any other driver presently ranked outside the top-10 in points.
"I think three (wins) would put you in a real good spot," Kahne said. "Two helps, but three would put you in a real good spot. We're going to stay after it. We have some really good tracks coming up."
Kyle Busch held the first wild card spot by virtue of his win in April at Richmond and his 12th ranking in points, but after finishing 16th at New Hampshire, Busch dropped to the second and last wild card position. He also fell to 13th in points.
Busch started on the pole and led the first 66 laps before he was penalized for speeding onto pit road and then had an issue with the replacement of his right-front tire during the stop. He had another pit mishap late in the race when he overshot his stall.
"I just don't know what to say anymore; we just can't get some things to fall our way," Busch said. "We have good race cars every week, and our (car) was good again this week. Things just haven't been falling our way."
Kahne made his first appearance in the Chase in 2006, finishing eighth in points and winning a series-season-high six races. He drove for Ray Evernham's team at the time. Kahne earned his second trip into NASCAR's playoffs while driving for Richard Petty Motorsports in 2009. He finished 10th in points and won two races that season.
In April 2010, Kahne signed a contract with Hendrick to replace Mark Martin in the No. 5 car for 2012 and beyond. After his release from Petty's team with a handful of races remaining in the '10 season, Kahne moved over to Red Bull Racing, where he spent all of last season until his switch to Hendrick. He ended last year on a high note by winning the penultimate race at Phoenix.
Kenny Francis has served as Kahne's crew chief since the start of the 2006 season and has moved with him from Evernham to Petty to Red Bull before arriving at Hendrick.
Kahne and Francis endured one issue after another in the early going of this season, but the two are now on a roll, as they hope to make their third appearance in the Chase and quite possibly win the championship.
"We took a lot of our ideas to Hendrick Motorsports," Francis said. "We finished the year off really strong last year. When we came over (to Hendrick), we had a lot of fresh ideas that we had incorporated into the cars. That took a little bit of doing, getting that stuff rolling, as it always does.
"We had some speed. We just had a few issues. We crashed when we shouldn't have crashed. We had some engines break. We had a few bad pit calls that got us messed up, poor position, then got in a wreck. Things like that happen."
New Hampshire is the second scheduled race in the Chase (Sept. 23).
"We'll be able to look at (New Hampshire) and really have a good game plan going into the Chase race here," Kahne said. "We know some of the other cars that will run really good here when we come back. We need to be a little better. I got the right guy (Francis) to work on that."
The series takes next weekend off -- the final time this season -- before its next race on July 29 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.