by Ryan Isley
Don’t send out those NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup invitations just yet. Someone might be getting ready to crash the party at the last minute.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is just one race away from setting the field for the Chase but before the field can be set, they must race 300 miles around the 3/4-mile track that is Richmond International Raceway. And if there is one guy who can crash the party after those 400 laps, it just might be Kasey Kahne.
Kahne enters the final race before the Chase 31 points behind 15th-place Clint Bowyer for the final transfer spot based on points. But luckily for Kahne (and many others), NASCAR changed the entry eligibility for the Chase prior to the 2014 season. Now all Kahne (or anyone else in the top-30) needs is a win to have a shot at winning the NASACR Sprint Cup Series championship.
Kahne took advantage of this new rule last season in the next-to-last race before the Chase when he took the checkered flag at Atlanta to clinch his spot in the Chase. While he may have still earned that spot on points last season, the win let him go the Richmond with the knowledge that he was locked in.
He doesn’t have that luxury in 2015, but knowing that he needs a win to get in might be just as important. Also important is that even though it’s been a while, Kahne knows where victory lane is at Richmond. Kahne drove to a win in his second year as a full-time driver in the Sprint Cup Series when he took the checkered flag in the 2005 Chevy American Revolution 400 as a member of Evernham Motorsports.
Along with his one win, Kahne also has four top-5s and eight top-10s at Richmond in 23 races with an average finish of 17.2. In the first race at Richmond earlier this season, Kahne drove to a 6th-place finish, his third-best result of 2015 so far.
Kahne has put himself in a tough spot after a dreadful stretch of races starting over Fourth of July weekend at Daytona. Heading into that weekend, Kahne sat 8th in points and looked poised to make the Chase even if he couldn’t get a win in the first 26 races. And then disaster struck.
In the next six races, Kahne didn’t have a finish better than 19th and had four finishes of 27th or worse, including a 43rd-place finish (last place) at Pocono after crashing on the 6th lap and a 42nd-place finish the next week at Watkins Glen. When the dust had settled at Watkins Glen, Kahne had dropped from that 8th-place spot in the standings from less than two months prior and was sitting 17th, where he still finds himself. Despite not moving up in the standings, Kahne has started to turn things around since Watkins Glen. He finished 15th at Michigan, 16th at Bristol and then 12th last weekend at Darlington.
A win for Kahne this weekend may not be all good news for Hendrick Motorsports, however. If Kahne finds victory lane, it would mean that a driver who is trying to get into the Chase on points would be eliminated. And that driver just might be Kahne’s teammate, Jeff Gordon.
Entering the final race before the Chase, Gordon holds an 18-point lead over Bowyer for the last spot in the Chase on points for drivers without a win. He also holds an 8-point lead on Paul Menard, who sits between Gordon and Bowyer in the standings. Should Kahne (or any other driver without a win who currently is outside the Chase grid) win at Richmond, Gordon would need to stay ahead of at least one of the two between Menard and Bowyer to advance to the Chase.
And even though the entire Hendrick organization would love to see Gordon make the Chase in his final season, I would assume they would take their chances with Gordon making the Chase should Kahne win the race. After all, they could get all four cars into the Chase for the fourth straight season.
Before you start dropping streamers, putting on silly party hats and blowing the noise makers, watch out for Kasey Kahne. He just might be a last-minute invite to the party.