Kasey Kahne's Title Hopes Remain, but Has He Used His Mulligan?
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A 15th-place finish is hardly a disaster.
In today's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, the competition is so tight that one small miscue often results in a finish outside the top 20. And with at least a dozen cars having a realistic chance to win in any given week, a 15th-place finish here and there isn't too much to sneeze at.
Except in the 2012 Chase for the Sprint Cup.
After running in the top 10 for most of the day on Sunday, Kasey Kahne fell to a 15th-place finish after some late misfortune at Dover. This dropped him to sixth in the points standings, 32 points behind leader, Brad Keselowski, with seven races to go.
"Last week we had part break with 50 laps to go, and that stuff happens," Kahne said on Tuesday's NASCAR Teleconference. "We'll fix it, and it won't happen again. But that's part of [the sport]."
In years past, it's often been said that each driver in the Chase has one mulligan; that one poor finish during the final 10 races that a driver can overcome and still have a shot at the championship.
So far, Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, and Greg Biffle have all had their mulligan. Kahne believes he may have already used his up too.
"Yeah, I kind of feel like we used up ours, so we need to try not to have another one at this point if we want to have an opportunity [to win the title]," Kahne continued. "I think where we're at and having one, we probably can't have another one if we feel like we have a shot to contend for a championship when it gets down to the line."
Though a 15th-place effort hardly seems like the type of result that could cost a driver the title, Kahne's attitude is well warranted, as the top three drivers in the standings have all been rock-solid over the past several weeks.
Take Keselowski, for example. Since the beginning of July, the current points leader has just one finish outside the top 10, which came at Bristol after an accident.
Though second-place Jimmie Johnson hasn't been as consistent for as long, the five-time champ still has five top-fives in his last eight races and knows a thing or two about how to avoid trouble in the Chase.
As for third-place Denny Hamlin? His three wins in the last six races speak for themselves.
"I think realistically someone could go 10 races [without a mulligan]," Kahne goes on. "I think that's very tough to do, but I think it could happen because you can definitely put together 10 solid races and not have any bad luck or no mistakes, no errors, mental errors, whatever it may be. So that could happen."
Still, for as good as the top three in points have been this year, Kahne hasn't been too far off. The newest addition to Hendrick Motorsports has a pair of wins in 2012 to go along with nine top-fives, including two to start the Chase.
Those totals could be even higher if it hadn't been for some early-season misfortunes, including early crashes in two races, in which Kahne potentially had a winning car.
But regardless of what Kahne's stats are or what they could be, Talladega looms ahead. The race known as the "Wild Card" race of the Chase has been known to shake up the standings. And Kahne knows it's entirely possible for the Chase to tighten up again very quickly this weekend.
"I don't root for anyone to wreck or any of that stuff," Kahne went on to say. "But it's definitely a track that has the most possibilities of getting in the wrong spot at the wrong time and having no control of the situation. Talladega is that one wild card that nobody really knows and we won't have a clue until after it's all over."
Going back to the early-season misfortunes, it was just a few short months ago when it appeared that Kahne might drop out of the top 35 in points and have to qualify for races on time.
It was this period of urgency in which Kahne earned seven consecutive top ten finishes and moved up 17 spots in the standings.
The fact that Kahne and his No. 5 team were able to overcome those obstacles when the season was so young gives him extra hope that he can bounce back over these last seven races and challenge for the title.
"I feel like our team has done a really nice job of that all season long, of coming back and getting behind and charging back as well as we could," Kahne goes on. "So we still have a lot [of time] left in the Chase."
Besides Talladega, the remaining tracks on the schedule are all venues at which Kahne could fare very well, including Charlotte in two weeks and Phoenix on November 11.
"I like all the tracks we go to [in the Chase]," he continues. "I feel like we run pretty well at them and have a chance to win at each one of them. [We] just kind of go to them and try to do the best that we can."
At this point, that's all Kahne and his team can do. With seven races to go, their best, along with a little bit of help, may just be enough.
"We definitely have a shot, we're definitely not out of it, but we can't give up any more points at this stage of it. We just need to run well and run up front from here on out."
All quotes were obtained first-hand from Kasey Kahne via Teleconference. For the complete transcript, click here.
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