Despite joining high-profile Hendrick Motorsports, Kasey Kahne started the season with buzzard luck – he couldn’t kill nothin’, and nothin’ wouldn’t die.
After six races, Kahne was languishing in 31st place in points, and his future didn’t look anything close to bright.
Flash forward from spring to summer, and Kahne now is looking like a championship contender.
To race for the title, of course, one must make the Chase for the Sprint Cup field, and Kahne moved into excellent position to do that Sunday by winning the Lenox Industrial Tools 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The win is Kahne’s second of the year and puts him in first place in the race for the two Chase wild-card berths.
Kahne climbed four spots in points to 12th but is 66 points out of 10th place, the final non-wild-card qualifying spot.
Kahne said he expected the season to be a challenge.
“I’d say I felt really confident coming into the season jumping into such a fast race car, but I also knew that it wasn’t going to be easy,” Kahne said. “We still had to figure out how to go fast. I feel like we’ve had speed since drop of the first green flag. I made mistakes, and we’ve had some other issues with some of those DNFs.
“I feel good about where we are right now. We just have to stay consistent and put ourselves in position and hopefully win a few more races.”
Kenny Francis, Kahne’s long-time crew chief, said adjusting to Hendrick and early-season crashes slowed the No. 5 team’s progress.
“We took a lot of our ideas to Hendrick Motorsports,” he said. “We had a lot of fresh ideas we had to include into the cars. That took a little bit of doing to get that rolling. We had some crashes. We had some engines break. We had a few bad pit calls that got us messed up and in poor position.
“But, all in all, we knew we had fast cars. It was just a matter of getting all the gears meshing.”
Since falling to 31st in points, Kahne has had two wins, a second, a fourth, a fifth and a seventh.
Denny Hamlin was chasing Kahne in the twilight laps Sunday but fell short at the end.
“I was kind of able to equal out with Denny for five or 10 laps when we were running a lot closer in lap times,” Kahne said. “Then, the last 10 laps I was coming, trying to be on the flat, trying to be left front, do whatever I could do to get around the corner. I was just spinning my tires a little more.
“I could see Denny coming. I knew I had some time. Probably just [went] overboard a little bit with my right foot.”
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 30 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.