Given how the 2014 season has gone thus far for him, Kasey Kahne can probably relate quite well to Danica Patrick.
Patrick has three teammates at Stewart-Haas Racing who have done well this season. Kevin Harvick has two wins, Kurt Busch has one win and Tony Stewart has been coming on strong in recent weeks. Danica herself, however, has not been as fortunate. But an 18th-place finish at Bristol, 14th at Fontana and 22nd at Darlington last Saturday give rise to optimism for even better performances as the season progresses.
Likewise, Kahne has three teammates at Hendrick Motorsports who have done well this season. Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the season-opening Daytona 500 and continues to have the best season start of his career. Jeff Gordon has led the Sprint Cup points for the last two weeks, and Jimmie Johnson has been consistent, although still winless like Gordon, as well.
Kahne, on the other hand, has sunk to as low as 28th in the standings before modestly climbing back to 23rd, where he stands heading into Saturday's Sprint Cup race at Richmond International Raceway. In the season's first eight races, the Enumclaw, Wash., native has just two top-10 finishes (both eighth-place showings). He also has a pair of 11th-place finishes as well.
After a great first season in the Hendrick camp in 2012, finishing a close fourth in the final standings, Kahne was 11th in last year's Chase for the Sprint Cup. Unfortunately, at the rate he's going this season, unless things improve rapidly, he may not even make the 2014 Chase.
It's not like Kahne is doing much wrong. He's finished every lap in five of the eight races to date this season. But when he's struggled, he's really struggled: 41st at Fontana, 37th at Darlington and 31st at Daytona.
Perhaps the biggest improvement Kahne, who turned 34 earlier this month, can have when the Cup Series resumes competition after the traditional Easter off-weekend is to make a concerted effort to stay closer to his teammates.
That's one of the biggest shortcomings he has had this season. While Earnhardt, Gordon and Johnson have—for the most part—continued to remain around each other in virtually every race, Kahne has become almost an island unto himself.
It's not necessarily his fault or that of his teammates. It's just that they begin to pull away from him and he's unable to keep up. Whereas Junior pushes or blocks for Johnson or Gordon, and vice versa, Kahne has no one to do that for him in many instances.
There's one bit of good news for No. 5 fans, though: At the next four tracks on the schedule, Richmond, Talladega, Kansas and Charlotte, Kahne has earned almost one-third (five) of his 16 career Cup wins. He also has 19 combined top-five finishes at those four tracks.
Maybe Kahne's problem this season is just that he's gotten off to a slow start. Perhaps he's struggled getting used to the Gen 6 car. Or maybe he's just in a slump.
All of those things are changeable.
Whatever it is, a win would do wonders to get Kahne back in the game, not to mention greatly enhance his Chase chances. And if he can beat Gordon and Johnson to Victory Lane in the upcoming races, it will go a long way toward turning his season around.
Kahne doesn't need to make major changes. He just needs a change of fortune to the good side of the needle and some fine-tuning on the racetrack, and things should swing back much more positively soon enough—perhaps as early as Saturday at Richmond.
Follow me on Twitter @JerryBonkowski
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