The fact that Kasey Kahne finished a career-high fourth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup points standings last year verged on the remarkable, given how poorly his 2012 season started. And it also makes him one of the favorites to win his first series championship this year.
Six races into 2012, Kahne’s average finish was 28.5 and he was mired in 31st place in points. But Kahne, added by capable crew chief Kenny Francis and their Hendrick Motorsports team, soon got back on track. Kahne made the Chase for the Sprint Cup as a wild card on the basis of race victories at the Coca-Cola 600 and the first New Hampshire race.
In the Chase, Kahne had top-five finishes in exactly half of the 10 races, moving from 11th seed starting out to fourth in the points at the end of the year.
With a year under his belt for both Kahne and Hendrick, there’s no reason to expect that this season won’t go a lot better, especially at the start.
Of course, this season is a little different than most in that the drivers will have the new Generation 6 cars to drive for the first time. So on the one hand, Kahne, Francis and the No. 5 Hendrick team carry over a lot of 2012 momentum. On the other hand, every team essentially starts out new with the G6 cars.
Still, Kahne is optimistic.
“I think we somewhat start from scratch, but I think we also have some of that momentum,” said Kahne. “And we have the same team, the same group. And we all know that and we kind of know where we are and what we need to work on. We’ve talked about it and we’re going to work on those things.”
Like most of his peers this time of year, Kahne said he’s definitely ready to go racing.
“I’m looking forward to the season and I think some of that momentum will carry over,” said Kahne. “So we just somewhat have to start from scratch and learn and learn quick.”
Despite the challenges, Kahne is thrilled to be in a solid situation at Hendrick, something that he didn’t always have earlier in his career.
“It feels good to be somewhere and be stable and feel good about where I am at,” said Kahne. “I feel really comfortable about it. I have the best teammates and owner and crew chiefs and all that. To be able to work with those guys on a consistent basis is great. I’ve never been in a position like that. I feel really good about it.”
So will that translate into a championship this year?
Kahne hopes so.
“I think we definitely have a shot,” Kahne said. “Second year here, Kenny’s working hard, the guys are. We have the new car, which is going to be new for everyone.
“We’ll see who figures it out the quickest, but it’s something we can do. We can be consistent. We can win races. And if you make the Chase and play it right in those final 10 (races), you’ve definitely got a shot.”
Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEED.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100.