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CUP: Can Kahne Continue Strong Start?

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Is this the year Kasey Kahne makes a serious run at the Sprint Cup championship?

The numbers certainly look good. Kahne is building the kind of consistent season that leads to championship talk. In the past six races, he has finished no worse than 11th, a stretch that also includes a win and two seconds.

Entering Saturday night’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway, Kahne sits second in points, 37 behind Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson.

“I think one of my biggest downfalls since I have been in this series is [not] being consistent,” Kahne said. “That is something I’ve worked on. I have really wanted to get better for a while. Last year, I thought we did after the first seven or eight races, and carried that through to this year.

“To me the reason we are where we are at is because we are way more consistent because I have been, and the team has. In order to win the championship, I think you need to win a little bit more. We’ve won one so far. But consistency is the only way to do it. You can’t fall out of races and get in wrecks and things like that. I feel like that we are making gains in the right areas.”

The big test, Kahne said, is setting up to be strong in the final months.

“You just have to peak at the right time,” he said. “You never know which team is going to do that. There are going to be 12 teams that definitely have a shot to do that when that time of the season comes. But right now, it is just about being consistent, figuring out each track and these cars, the tires and the things that they throw at us.”

Kahne qualified fourth for tonight’s race at a track where he won in 2005. He also has six other top-10 finishes here.

Matt Kenseth, the man of the week in NASCAR, won the pole Friday and likely will be on a mission tonight as he races for the first time since his team was hammered with a long list of penalties for the use of an illegal engine in last week’s victory at Kansas Speedway.

Brian Vickers will start second in another substitute role for Denny Hamlin, who remains sidelined by a back injury.

Following in the top 10 will be Jeff Gordon, Kahne, Clint Bowyer, Juan Pablo Montoya, Joey Logano, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Mark Martin.

Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 31 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.