by Ryan Isley
The Poconos in Pennsylvania uses the slogan “more to love.” That slogan would certainly be appropriate for Kasey Kahne if he makes a trip to victory lane on Sunday.
If the 2014 season is going to turn around for Kahne, this weekend at Pocono Raceway just might be the perfect time for it to happen. The 34-year-old driver enters this week’s Pocono 400 having won twice at Pocono, including going to victory lane in the GoBowling.com 400 last fall.
This has certainly been a season that has had more valleys than mountains for Kahne, as he has just one top-5 and four top-10 finishes in the first 13 races of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule and sits 18th in points halfway to setting the Chase for the Sprint Cup field. One good day in Pennsylvania could change everything.
With the importance being given to winning a race as far as making it into the Chase for the Sprint Cup, a third career victory for Kahne at Pocono Raceway could take what has been a disappointing season and set him on track to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup field, technically putting him 10th in the standings. The 16 drivers with the most wins this season will make the field, with a wild card for a driver with the most points without a win. If NASCAR was still using the system that was in place last season, Kahne would be 28 points behind the final lock-in spot (10th) but would also be trailing eight other drivers he would need to leapfrog in the next 13 races.
This isn’t new territory to Kahne, though. When he made the Chase for the Sprint Cup in 2012 and ultimately finished fourth, he was 14th heading into the race at Pocono Raceway. He ended up crashing in the next two races and dropped to 16th but then went on a run where he finished 14th or better in nine straight races, including one win and four top-3 finishes. Add in his confidence he has at Pocono from recent races, and that run could take off a couple weeks earlier this season.
Kahne’s win last season isn’t the only reason he should be confident going into this week, either, as he also has a second place finish in the last three races at Pocono. Those two races sandwiched a result of 36th in a race where he started seventh but was dealing with car trouble from the stat of the race. Pocono Raceway is one of the three tracks in which he has multiple wins in his career, joining Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Charlotte (four wins) and Atlanta Motor Speedway (two wins). He also has five top-5 finishes, which is only behind Lowe’s Motor Speedway (nine), Michigan International Speedway (seven) and Atlanta Motor Speedway (six).
In addition to Kahne’s personal success at Pocono, his team has also been really good at the track, In fact, Hendrick Motorsports has won the last three races at Pocono. In those three races, the four drivers for Hendrick – Kahne, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – have combined for seven top-5 finishes and just two finishes worse than 14th.
Speaking of Hendrick Motorsports, a win at Pocono would mean that there is a good chance all four Hendrick cars once again make the Chase for the Sprint Cup for the third straight season. Gordon is currently second in the Sprint Cup standings and has one win, Johnson is fourth and has two wins and Earnhardt, Jr. is fifth with one win. Those three seem to all but have their spots in the Chase for the Sprint Cup locked up, especially with Johnson’s two wins, Earnhardt, Jr.’s three second place finishes and Gordon’s two second place finishes. Second place finishes are the first tiebreaker among drivers who have the same amount of wins should there be more than 16 winners in the first 26 races.
A win this week in the Poconos could be huge not only for Kahne and crew chief Kenny Francis but for the Hendrick Motorsports team as a whole. Getting four cars in the Chase for the Sprint Cup?
As they say – there’s more to love.