Will Kasey Kahne Deliver at Charlotte with 2013 Chase Hopes on Life Support?

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Will Kasey Kahne Deliver at Charlotte with 2013 Chase Hopes on Life Support?
Jerry Markland/Getty Images
Is this the REAL Kasey Kahne? Because if it is, he sure isn't driving like it.

What have they done with the real Kasey Kahne, and who is the imposter posing as the driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet?

When this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup started four weeks ago, the real Kahne was supposed to build upon last year's fourth-place finish in the Chase.

Some fans likely even thought this was Kahne's best chance ever to win the Sprint Cup championship. After all, he had the best equipment, team and organization he's ever had behind him at Hendrick Motorsports.

He has two multiple champions as teammates, five-time champ Jimmie Johnson and four-time champ Jeff Gordon, not to mention NASCAR's most popular driver over the last decade, Dale Earnhardt Jr.

All the pieces were in place for Kahne to finally solve the Chase puzzle and become champion.

Unfortunately, Kahne has dropped off the face of the earth in this year's Chase. After being part of a five-way tie for eighth place when the Chase rankings were reseeded after Richmond last month, instead of going up, Kahne has dropped every week since.

In fact, he should count himself lucky that he can't finish any lower than 13th—because at the rate he's going now, Kahne would probably wind up 25th in the 2013 final standings otherwise.

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After the Chase opener at Chicagoland, where he finished 12th, he fell from the five-way tie for eighth to 10th in the rankings.

After New Hampshire (finished 37th), he fell to 13th in the standings—and that's where he's remained after finishing 13th at Dover and 15th this past Sunday at Kansas.

What's more, Kahne is a massive—scratch that, let's give it the emphasis it deserves—a MASSIVE 83 points behind points leader Matt Kenseth.

That's just a hair under two full races' worth of points.

With six races remaining, starting with Saturday night's race at Charlotte, it appears Kahne's chances for that elusive title this season are over almost as soon as they began.

But as bad as he's looked in the first four races, there's no reason why Kahne can't still turn things around in the final six—at least a little. Sure, he'd probably have to win all six, and that still may not be enough to come all the way back.

There is some precedent, though, as crazy as it may seem.

Jimmie Johnson was way behind the eight ball in 2006. Granted, it was under a different points system at the time, but Johnson dropped to last in the Chase standings after the fourth race and began making plans to get a head start on the following season.

Then a funny thing happened: Instead of starting on next year, Johnson decided to give that current year one more try—and it ultimately kicked off a run that led to an unprecedented five consecutive championships.

So, there's still hope for Kahne, even though mathematically and logically, he's out of the Chase.

Unless...

If he can right his wayward ship and if Kenseth, Johnson, Kyle Busch and the other 12 drivers ahead of him have terrible nights at Charlotte on Saturday, Kahne could get back into the swing of the Chase.

There is cause for optimism: In 19 career starts at Charlotte, Kahne has four wins, four other top-five finshes and three other top-10s for a total of 11 top-10s at the 1.5-mile tri-oval.

And to further give Kahne whatever benefit of the doubt remains, this is the same driver who amassed two wins, eight top-five finishes and 11 top-10 finishes in the first 26 races, the so-called "regular season" before the Chase.

Now do you see why I'm starting to wonder if someone kidnapped the real Kahne and put a marginally talented sportsman driver in his place?

If he continues to struggle in the remaining six races—logic would dictate that he's bound to have at least one good race upcoming, right?—Kahne will only have added to a career Chase mark that has had very few highs and a lot of lows.

Consider: In the first season he made the Chase, 2006, Kahne ended up with six wins, 12 top-five finishes, 19 top-10 finishes and six poles.

Sadly, he finished eighth in the standings.

The next time he made the Chase, three years later in 2009, he had two wins, seven top-five finishes and 14 top-10 finishes.

Once again, he sadly finished 10th at season's end.

And then there finally was what sure looked like a breakthrough season in 2012, when he won two races, had 12 top-five finishes, 19 top-10 finishes and four poles and finally showed he is potential championship material, finishing the year an impressive fourth.

Still, look at the sum of things and this is only Kahne's fourth Chase in 10 seasons on the Sprint Cup circuit.

He has everything he could ever want as a race car driver, so there's no reason he should be mired in 13th place after the first four Chase races.

Unless...

Maybe he's not the championship racer so many people thought he was all along.

It almost reminds you of one of Kahne's other HMS teammates, the other guy who still hasn't won a Cup championship.


Follow me on Twitter @JerryBonkowski

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