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Top 20 Countdown: No. 7 Kasey Kahne

Jay Busbee
Yahoo Sports

Editor's note: Yahoo! Sports is counting down the top 20 drivers of the 2012 season, as predicted by the Yahoo! Sports NASCAR staff – Jay Hart, Jay Busbee, Nick Bromberg and Geoffrey Miller. The countdown will conclude Feb. 17 with the unveiling of the No. 1 driver.

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Kahne photo
(Getty Images)

2011 statistics
Finish Poles Wins Top 5 Top 10
14 2 1 8 15
The countdown
No. 6: Revealed Friday, Feb. 10

2011 finish: 14th

Our 2012 predictions:
• Jay Hart: 8th
• Jay Busbee: 5th
• Nick Bromberg: 9th
• Geoffrey Miller: 5th

Crew chief: Kenny Francis

Offseason action: Moved from his one-year stay at Red Bull Racing to the No. 5 at Hendrick Motorsports.

Outlook for 2012: Say this for Kasey Kahne: The man knows how to raise expectations. Trapped for nearly two years in a kind of bizarre career limbo – playing out the string for Richard Petty Motorsports for most of 2010, then temporarily stopping in at Red Bull for a season – Kahne patiently waited for the treasured fourth seat to open up at Hendrick Motorsports.

It was a career gamble, but one he felt necessary to take after years of uncertainty with teams wrought with instability.

We'll soon find out if it pays off. Credit Kahne, though, for not just whiling away the hours turning laps for a lame-duck team. While he didn't make the Chase, he sent the Red Bull squad out on the highest possible note. He finished seventh or higher in seven of the last eight races, including a win at Phoenix.

No driver this side of Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards ran hotter than Kahne in the Chase; it's exactly the kind of momentum he'll need for 2012.

Point of interest: Kahne finished the 2011 season with two poles, eight top-fives and 15 top 10s. Fortunately for the new Farmers Insurance No. 5 team, Kahne will remain teamed with longtime crew chief Kenny Francis, and now he'll have the full, unfettered muscle of Hendrick in his camp. The only problem now? Clearing the bar of sky-high expectations.

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