Six races into the 2012 season, Kasey Kahne was ranked 31st in the Sprint Cup standings, and his much-anticipated Hendrick Motorsports debut appeared to be on the verge of a Year One bust.
Funny what two wins and a bit of talent will do for a guy.
Three months after that Martinsville race that left Kahne's 2012 chances almost for dead, he's now in 12th place, holding the first wild card and an extremely good chance to make the Chase.
Sunday afternoon at Loudon in the Lenox Industrial Tools 301, Kahne won a largely uneventful race to cement his status as one of NASCAR's elite drivers, even if his early-season stats didn't show that.
Now, it must be noted that Kahne's victory was, at least in part, due to a pit road miscommunication between Denny Hamlin and his crew chief. Hamlin's car dominated the day, but a late call to take four tires when everyone else took two buried him deep in the field.
"We sure had some [races] we had stolen from us, so it feels good to steal one from somebody else," laughed Kenny Francis, Kahne's crew chief. "Hopefully in the end it evens out."
Still, take nothing away from Kahne, who was able to hold off Clint Bowyer, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and a charging Hamlin in the race's closing laps. Could Kahne have won a late restart against Hamlin? Doubtful, but since no caution flew, it's a moot point.
"When we got two tires there at the end, put us first, I was feeling really good about where we were at," Kahne said. "I slid around for the first 10 laps, then I knew I needed to get as big of a lead as I could because I knew Denny would be coming at some point. I tried to get away. We ended up winning. It was great. I was really happy. This is a tough track." (Kahne's press conferences tend to read like Hemingway novels.)
There's much yet to play out, of course; if Kahne falters in any of these last seven races and one of the one-win drivers behind him catches fire, this could all be a pleasant memory come Chase time. But Kahne has put himself in position to challenge for the Cup, and that's a place almost no one believed he'd be earlier this year.
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