This is the second in a series of 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver recaps that will be featured on NASCAR.com.
For all the success that visited Kasey Kahne in 2013, it was hard to call his second season with Hendrick Motorsports a sophomore slump. Yet for all the potential after his career-best fourth-place finish in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings the year before, a 12th-place result had all the markings of opportunities missed.
With two wins and six runner-up finishes over the course of the year, Kahne qualified for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup postseason and early on seemed to be living up to his preseason billing as a championship contender. But inconsistency -- in the form of several crashes not of his making, and a slight drop-off in performance in the latter stages of the season -- proved to be his undoing.
"Any time you can win and beat Jimmie (Johnson) and (Matt) Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Dale Jr. ... I mean, when you can do that, those are the highlights every year," Kahne said of his pair of victories. "To pull that off, we also ran second five times, six times, something like that, so we were right there other times as well. I just think on those days that you're as strong as any other guys out there. To me, those are the nice times. Other than that, we didn't quite have the season we needed to compete."
The wild fluctuation in success bore out in Kahne's results column. Offsetting the nine finishes that Kahne had in the top three were nine finishes of 30th or worse, which included all four restrictor-plate races.
In two of those restricted events at Daytona and Talladega, Kahne's No. 5 Chevrolet was the victim of a crash after nudges from rival Kyle Busch. Add in another late-race run-in with Busch during a contest for the lead at Darlington Raceway in May and an August crash at Watkins Glen International triggered by Kenseth, Busch's Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, and it was enough to have Kahne tweeting that he was headed to JGR headquarters to "talk to whoever will come out front" -- making it clear that he was keeping count of the offenses.
Those crashes, none of which were his fault, were part of the reason Kahne's frustration level was as erratic as his results.
"It was up and down," Kahne said. "I felt like there were times when it was really good and I was pretty happy with things, but getting crashed four or five times, just doing nothing wrong and getting taken out ... those were times where the frustration was really high. We lost a good bit of points, lost opportunities to win big races -- Darlington being the one that still gets me the most, because that was a track that I really felt like we had the best car at the end of that race and we were going to check out on 'em, easily. That was upsetting, but you have that.
"I mean, it's racing and things don't always go your way. So you just get through it, move on and try to do better the next time."
The regular-season victories at Bristol Motor Speedway and Pocono Raceway wound up being pivotal to Kahne's ability to separate himself from a host of one-win drivers and seal a Wild-Card berth in the Chase. Once in the playoffs, however, Kahne's ship ran aground after a crash-related 37th place in the Chase's second round at New Hampshire and he never ranked higher than 12th in points the rest of the way.
Even with the setbacks, Kahne has reason to be optimistic for 2014 based on his team's resources and proven ability to rebound.
"We had good things, too. We had fast cars, especially the first half of the season. We battled for wins, won a couple of races," Kahne said. "I have a great team and awesome teammates. It was a great year and the Chase didn't go our way. Too many mistakes early on, but I think we have a solid team and (crew chief) Kenny Francis does a good job. I know we'll have fast cars again next year, so I'll start getting excited for that real soon."
FULL SERIES COVERAGE
SEASON IN REVIEW