The drivers currently eligible for this year's Chase better not look now because there’s something getting bigger in their rear view mirror.
Kasey Kahne, driver of the No. 9 Budweiser Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports, has suddenly caught fire.
He’s begun to look a little like his old self. Maybe not the Kahne of 2006 who won six races, but certainly the one who qualified for NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup last year.
After Pocono four races ago, Kahne looked as hopeless as his teammates at RPM. He was 23rd in the standings and 240 points outside of this year’s Chase cutoff.
With 12 races to go until the Chase, those are near insurmountable numbers even for a driver in normal circumstances. Kahne is leaving RPM after this year, making him a lame duck within the organization.
Throw in the many questions surrounding where he will drive next year, which has still yet to be determined, and it was seemingly time to write him off as a contender. His season was practically over.
This is no longer true.
Kahne finished fourth or better in three of the next four races. His lone blemish was a misleading 36th place showing at Loudon, New Hampshire two races ago.
I say misleading because he led 110 laps before a blown engine relegated him to that poor finish.
The No. 9 team headed by Kahne and crew chief Kenny Francis has become a flicker of light for an organization that has a bleak and uncertain future.
Besides Kahne leaving, A.J. Allmendinger is currently the subject of rumors regarding fourth cars at both Joe Gibbs Racing and Richard Childress Racing, among other rides. It doesn’t help that Allmendinger and Richard Petty himself got into a verbal dispute at Daytona last weekend.
Elliott Sadler is obviously expecting to be out of his ride next year considering that he’s currently in audition mode. He is driving select races in the Camping World Truck Series for Kevin Harvick and cars in the Nationwide Series for Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Paul Menard’s contract is up at the end of the year. Considering that his billionaire father’s company sponsors his cars, he’s free to go wherever he’s wanted.
The recent resurgence of Kasey Kahne is the only good news RPM has had in a long time.
Kahne now sits 16th in the standings and is a much more manageable 154 points behind 12th place Carl Edwards with eight races to go before the Chase begins.
It’s still a steep hill to be sure. It would also be a lot to ask of a team that has struggled so mightily for much of the year to stay hot for these remaining eight races.
However, it wouldn’t be unprecedented if the No. 9 team was able to pull it off. Just look back to last season.
After 18 races in 2009, Brian Vickers was 17th in points, 168 markers outside of the Chase cutoff. (Ironically, Kasey Kahne was 12th at the time.)
Vickers finished better than 12th in the following eight races, including a win at Michigan and a seventh place finish in the regular season finale at Richmond. That was enough to beat Kyle Busch by eight measly points for the final spot in the Chase.
Besides precedence, the upcoming schedule plays into Kahne’s hands.
While Chicagoland Speedway, the site of this weekend’s LifeLock.com 400, is statistically his worst track, he finished third there in this race last year.
He has won before at Pocono, Michigan, Atlanta and Richmond, four tracks that the series will visit in the upcoming eight races. At Indianapolis (another track the series will visit during this stretch) Kahne has finished in the top ten four times out of six starts.
Only races at Bristol, where Kahne’s statistics are far from superb, and Watkins Glen, where he has never finished better than 14th, should be considered as likely speed bumps for the No. 9 team.
In other words, don’t be totally surprised if history repeats itself. Kasey Kahne has the talent to be this year’s Brian Vickers and mount a valiant comeback.
It all depends on whether or not his Richard Petty Motorsports team can sustain the momentum they’ve built up over the course of the past month.
If they can, then the race at Richmond this coming September just got a little more interesting.
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