Category archive: Kasey Kahne

As is my custom when I'm not traveling the Eastern seaboard, gallivanting about on vacation, I was participating in the ESPN.com chat during Sunday's Sprint Cup race at New Hampshire.

When asked what I thought about Denny Hamlin's chances to win when he was putting a straight-up whuppin' on the field, I said he had the dominant car but that the dominant car often does not end up in Victory Lane.

Not exactly a dead-on prognostication, but I'm a bit of a soothsayer.

It's unfortunate to see a race decided on poor communication, but it did provide some drama watching Hamlin move through the field in hunt of Kasey Kahne and the lead, a fun reminder on how interesting racing can be when tires force more in-race strategy.

According to AccuScore computer simulations on NASCAR.com, Kahne is essentially a lock to make the Chase. The big question: Is he on the short list of title contenders?

After his molasses-slow start, Kahne has put up the fourth-most points in the Cup series over the past 13 races, trailing only Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson.

Kahne is now third for the season in fastest laps run, trailing teammates Johnson and Jeff Gordon.

Trivia break! How many drivers were ahead of Kahne on points after six races?

Hendrick power

Hendrick Motorsports started the season with an unforeseen 10 races without a win, the longest the team has gone without a victory to start a season since 1993.

Since then, Hendrick has returned to superpower status with five wins in the past nine races. Those five wins are the most by any team this season.

Not only has the team won more, but it also has been more consistent. In the first 10 races, the team had an average finish of 15.3 and a 52.5 top-10 percentage. In the past nine, it had an average finish of 10.3 and 66.7 top-10 percentage.

Trivia break! Which driver has led the most laps in a single New Hampshire race that he didn't win?

Loudon clear

Hamlin had the fastest car at New Hampshire. He ran the fastest lap 85 times out of the 301 circuits. The next-highest total was 44 from Kahne, followed by Johnson with 31.

Furthermore, those 85 fastest laps run were the second-highest total at New Hampshire dating to 2005, when NASCAR began tracking the stat. The only driver with a higher total was Clint Bowyer in 2010 with 89. Oh, Bowyer won that race. Hamlin didn't.

Trivia break! Who are the only drivers this season to lead more laps than Hamlin?

Trivia break answers

1. Thirty drivers were ahead of Kahne, as he was 31st, 133 points out of the lead.

2. Gordon led 257 laps in November 2001 but finished 15th.

3. Johnson and Greg Biffle are the only drivers to lead more laps than Hamlin this year.

Since it's my blog, I'm going to imagine that you asked why I thought Brad Keselowski's win on Saturday was so impressive. Let me tell you.

Keselowski has won on a short track, a restrictor-plate track and a superspeedway this season. That's just about all of them.

Let's not forget how down of a season Brad K. had in his first full season with Penske in 2010. He finished 25th in points, with just two top-10 finishes, both 10th. Since then, he's won six races, three last year and now three in 2012.

How can we put Keselowski's performance in perspective and try to find a driver whom he resembles?

Well, let's sort out all the drivers who had a sub-par first season but rebounded nicely who didn't run the full schedule the previous year, or drivers like Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson who won three-plus times each of their first two full seasons.

Five drivers who've pulled that off. Mark Martin, Kevin Harvick and Terry Labonte did it well into their careers -- not early like Keselowski.

That leaves Carl Edwards and Kurt Busch, and the parallels between Keselowski and Busch are uncanny. Busch went winless his first full season, like Keselowski, and then won four races in 2002 and 2003. In 2004, he was the champion.

So, you can call Keselowski "Kurt Busch without the baggage," and I'm sure lots of owners would like a driver with that combo.

Trivia break: Keselowski now has seven career Cup wins. Who is the only driver with exactly eight in his career?

Chase Countdown

This is the time of year when I start thinking Chase. And I'm sure the drivers are, too.

In every year of the Chase, there's been a driver in the field with both nine and 10 races to go to move into the Chase field after being out at that time.

So, who could move in and who could move out? Kasey Kahne moved into the field with his second-place run at Kentucky, taking the second wild-card spot. But that's an obvious one.

Off the radar, watch out for Marcos Ambrose. In the past five races, only five drivers have more points than the Aussie. If he can steal a win at Sonoma, he could be racing for a title.

On the other end is Ryan Newman. Newman's falling out of the second wild-card spot, and since his Martinsville win, he's been terrible without a finish better than 12th in 11 races. That after having a win and three top-10s in the first six races.

Trivia break: Who is the only driver to make the Chase after being outside the top 20 with 10 races to go?

First Time Dominance

Austin Dillon, welcome to the club.

Dillon picked up his first Nationwide Series win Friday night at Kentucky, and it was never really in doubt.

Dillon led all but eight laps in the victory, the fourth-most dominant first win in series history, according to our friends over at Racing Resources.

Ryan Newman led all but six laps in his first win, Morgan Shepherd all but two and Dale Jarrett went wire-to-wire in his first win.

Trivia break: Dillon's victory followed Nelson Piquet Jr.'s first win. Who were the last drivers to get their first Nationwide Series victories back-to-back?

Trivia Break Answers

1. Kyle Petty is the only driver to finish his career with exactly eight Cup wins.

2. Brad Keselowski was 22nd with 10 races to go last year before getting a wild card.

3. Trevor Bayne and Sam Hornish Jr. pulled it off last year.

Kasey Kahne's tenure with Hendrick Motorsports was, let's say, less than ideal over the first six races.

Although he won a pair of poles, he also had just a pair of lead-lap finishes and also a pair of DNFs. Six races in, no finishes better than 14th and a 31st-place spot in the points.

But something clicked, and since then Kahne hasn't finished worse than eighth, giving him the second-highest points total in that six-race span, behind Kyle Busch.

The highlight, of course, was Sunday's win at Charlotte Motor Speedway, as Kahne became the 16th different driver to win for Hendrick Motorsports and just the second driver in NASCAR Cup Series history to win in his 300th career start, joining Rusty Wallace, who got a well-deserved call to the Hall of Fame last week.

Charlotte seemed like a very likely place for Kahne to get back to Victory Lane, as four of his 13 career wins have come there.

Kahne has won everywhere he's gone, as this is the fourth team with which he's won a Cup race. Which brings me to ...

Trivia break! Who is the only other active full-time Cup driver who has won with at least four different teams?

Coming up short

On Monday's "NASCAR Now," Ricky Craven made the point that it seems like every year in the Coca-Cola 600 there's a driver who's the class of the field early but can't adjust to the cooler track conditions at night.

This year, that driver was Greg Biffle, who led more than half the laps, 204, but finished fourth.

That's the fifth-most laps a driver has led in the 600 without a victory, and the second most in the past 40 years, behind only Jimmie Johnson's 263 in 2002.

But Biffle kept up the consistency that's put him atop the points. He has a 7.2 average finish this season. If he keeps that up for the year, it will be the best mark since Dale Jarrett had a 6.8 mark in his 1999 championship season.

Trivia break! Who holds the modern-era (since '72) record for the best average finish in a season among full-time drivers?

Where's the drama?

The continuing theme of the season is the fans' complaints that the racing has been somewhat dull. Whether or not you enjoy the long green-flag stretches, the stats say that late-race drama is down from last year, even though last year is tough to top.

Take these facts into consideration:

• There have been three races this season with margins of victory of more than three seconds. There were two such races all of last season.

• There's only been one race with a lead change in the final 10 laps this season. Fifteen of 36 races last season had a lead change in the final 10 laps.

• Four of the 12 race winners this season led at least the final 40 laps. Only four of the 36 winners last season led at least the final 40 laps.

Trivia break! We haven't had a last-lap pass yet this season. But which driver has won three of the past six races featuring a last-lap pass?

Trivia break answers

1. Joe Nemechek also has won races with four different teams (all four of his wins).

2. Cale Yarborough had a 4.5 mark in 1977.

3. Kevin Harvick has won three of the past six decided by a last-lap pass.

When a usually dominant superpower slows down from its normal winning ways, we as sports fans want to know, "What's wrong with X?"

Whether it's the Yankees, Patriots, Lakers or Hendrick Motorsports, domination is the norm, and anything less leaves us begging for an explanation.

Sometimes, it's not so easy to answer the question. In the case of Hendrick, the team has had strong runs, races it should've won and cases of bad luck.

Still, through it all, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been the most consistent driver in the series this year and is third in the standings. Jimmie Johnson is solidly within the top 10 in eighth place. Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne have had glimpses of strength negated by bad breaks.

But NASCAR is built on wins, and Hendrick hasn't done that since last October, the team's longest streak since a 17-race winless run over the 2001-02 seasons. The last time Hendrick went this long into the season without a win was 1993, aka Jeff Gordon's rookie season.

But Darlington could turn that around.

Dating back to 2005, when NASCAR began tracking loop data, all four current Hendrick Motorsports drivers rank among the top eight in driver rating at the Lady in Black, including Gordon, who's way out in front. No other team has more than one driver represented in the top eight.

However, which Jeff Gordon will show up? In 2010, Gordon had a career-best 134 driver rating, with his 69 fastest laps run in the race being twice as many as any other driver.

Last year, Gordon slipped to a still-respectable 107.3, the sixth-highest in the field.

Kasey Kahne is just as badly in need of a win as Gordon is, and last year, Kahne had the race's dominant car, all while driving for now-defunct Red Bull Racing. Kahne started from the pole and finished fourth, snapping a five-race Darlington stretch of finishes of 20th or worse.

But expect Kahne to start near the front. In nine career Darlington starts, he's won four poles.

Looking For Trouble

Every week, our friends over at ESPN Stats & Information crunch the numbers and tell us where the trouble zones might be this weekend.

After nearly 1,600 miles of Sprint Cup Series racing without an accident, we saw four, including a pair of nine-car pileups, at Talladega.

At Darlington, the sun might be the biggest obstacle. The sun is scheduled to set at Darlington around 8:13 p.m., during the first quarter of the race.

Since 2005, we've had at least one accident in the first quarter of the race in every Darlington night race, with 14 accidents total. Over the final 75 percent of the race, there have been a total of 20 accidents, with no more than eight in any other quarter.

The Eliminator: Darlington

For those of you who are new to my little blog, every week I use a device called The Eliminator to make a pick.

It's pretty simple, instead of telling you somebody will win, I'll point out why everybody else has to lose. The driver remaining, by process of elimination, is the race winner.

And last year, I had Carl Edwards at Darlington, who finished second behind upset winner Regan Smith.

1. The last 13 Sprint Cup Series winners finished 16th or better in the last race at the track (30 drivers eliminated, 16 remaining).

2. The last 17 Darlington winners finished 17th or better in the previous week's race (nine eliminated, seven remaining).

3. Seven of the last nine Darlington winners had a top-10 finish in the last Texas race (four eliminated, three remaining).

4. Two of the last three Southern 500s have been won by drivers entering 15th or lower in points (two eliminated, one remaining).

Your winner: Kasey Kahne

Here we are at the quarter-pole mark of the season, and this space is usually reserved for me telling you what I think you should watch for in Sunday's race.

But the truth is, it's my blog, my rules, and I feel like looking back over the first nine races of the season and pointing out some things I've noticed that are worth learning.

How about Jimmie Johnson? Despite being winless this year, Johnson leads the series in pass differential with a plus-94 mark. He has led more laps than any other driver and has been the fastest on the track far more often than any other driver.

Johnson has paced the field on 334 laps this season; the next-highest mark is Matt Kenseth's 166. Plus, Johnson is the fastest car in the second, third and fourth quarters of the race, so his key to victory might be getting off to a faster start.

Now let's go lightning style on three other drivers who have caught my eye:

• Mark Martin -- People are waiting for him to win a race and are wondering if he'd be a Chase contender if he were running full time. I'd say contender, yes, lock, no.

The issue? Falling off late in races. Martin is about 0.75 mph faster than the average green-flag speed in the first quarter of races he runs this season, but that mark drops every quarter of the race.

• Kevin Harvick -- While Hendrick Motorsports has garnered attention this year for not winning, Richard Childress Racing is also winless this season. Harvick is the most notable of those drivers to be winless.

His problem, like Martin's, has been adjusting as the race goes. No car is faster than Harvick on average in the first quarter of the race, 1.3 mph quicker than the average speed. But his speed drops even lower than Martin's, down to just 0.35 mph faster than the average car in the final quarter, which puts him about 14th in the series.

• Carl Edwards -- Edwards has been a disappointment early on in the season, but the truth is that his points position has been better than his performance. He's 14th in the series in average position and driver rating this year but ninth in series points.

The key to his success are late-race runs. He leads the series in pass differential in the final 10 percent of races with a plus-31. Second place is just at plus-19.

Looking for Trouble

The past few races have been noteworthy for their lack of accidents and overall cautions. But this week we go to Talladega, where it doesn't take much to trigger a 15-car pileup. This is what the bright minds over at ESPN Stats & Information have to say:

Since 1990, when we began compiling complete data, this is by far the longest the Sprint Cup Series has gone without an accident -- not counting a spin or brush with the wall that brings out a debris caution.

But at Talladega, it's not over 'til it's over.

Since 1990, we've had six last-lap wrecks at Talladega, twice as many as any other track in that time.

The Eliminator: Talladega

For those of you new to my little blog, every week I use a device called The Eliminator to make a pick.

It's pretty simple: Instead of telling you somebody will win, I'll point out why everybody else has to lose. The driver remaining, by process of elimination, is the projected race winner.

And even though it's Talladega, I'll still try my best here.

1. The past 12 Sprint Cup Series winners finished 16th or better in the previous race at the track (29 eliminated, 15 remaining).

2. Eleven of the past 12 spring Talladega winners finished in the top 12 in the most recent Sprint Cup Series race (nine eliminated, six remaining).

3. The past six spring Talladega winners finished 15th or worse in the previous year's spring Talladega race (two eliminated, four remaining).

4. Six of the past seven Talladega winners were winless on the season entering the race (three eliminated, one remaining).

Your winner: Kasey Kahne

Welcome to Tuesday. It's been a while since I've had a race to react off of, so I'd better make this good.

Unfortunately, the talk of the track coming off this weekend seems to be unhappiness with the racing. NASCAR is at a stark disadvantage compared to other major sports in that when the race isn't a classic, there's no other race to flip to.

Yeah, there wasn't a ton of slamming and amazing maneuvering Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway, but race fans can appreciate the stamina showed by running high speeds for long green-flag stretches, and the ability it takes to get on and off pit road under green.

The man who did that better than the rest was Greg Biffle, who snapped a 49-race winless streak with the victory. And he kept up his incredible run this year, lowering his average finish to a tidy 6.0.

I know it's early, but no driver has run a full season and had an average finish that good since Jeff Gordon in his legendary 1998 season, when he had a 5.7. Before that, it was Dale Earnhardt in 1987.

Trivia break! Biffle's trying to be the first driver to win a Cup, Nationwide and Truck title. Who are the two other drivers to win two of the three?

Johnson and the Hendrick bunch

Jimmie Johnson finished second at Texas, the fourth time he's done that in the past five spring Texas races. But it was his most impressive effort.

Johnson had a 131.5 driver rating, his best mark there since NASCAR started tracking loop data for the 2005 season. It was better than any of those other runner-up efforts or his win.

Despite not picking up win No. 200, Hendrick Motorsports did put all four of its cars in the top 10 for the first time in over a year. But Hendrick is now winless in 13 straight Cup races for the first time since 2002-03.

Trivia break! How many races did it take for Rick Hendrick to pick up its first win?

Can-do Kahne

The weekend was pretty kind to Kasey Kahne.

First, a seventh-place finish in the Cup race, his first of the year. Then, a win from the rear of the field in Sunday's Camping World Truck Series race in NASCAR's return to Rockingham, Kahne's fourth win in five career Truck starts.

His Truck series win percentage of 80.0 is the best all time in any of the three NASCAR National Touring Series among drivers who have made at least five starts.

And it's by a very wide margin. The next best in the Truck series is Tony Stewart, who has won two of six races (33.3 percent). In Cup, it's road course specialist Dan Gurney, who won five of 16 starts (31.3 percent). In Nationwide, it's Sam Ard with 22 wins in 92 starts for a 23.9 percent mark.

Trivia break! Kahne finished second in the final Cup race at Rockingham. Who won the race?

Trivia break answers

1. Bobby Labonte won a Cup and Nationwide title. Johnny Benson won a Nationwide and Truck series title.

2. Hendrick needed only eight races to pick up win No. 1.

3. Matt Kenseth beat Kahne by .01 seconds in the last Cup race at Rockingham.

I don't remember too many races to the Chase that were quite as exciting and uncertain as this one is shaping up to be.

Well, this is just the sixth year of the Chase, so there's not a whole lot of history there, but still, you'll be hard-pressed to find a closer race for the last few spots in the Chase.

And because I'm a researcher, and it's sort of my job, I'd like to clear things up for my loyal readers. Unmurky the Chase waters, if you will.

Ding, ding, ding. Ladies and gentlemen, as far as I know, it's a first in Internet history. I am now the first person to ever use the word "unmurky." But that's beside the point, unimpressive as it is.

Oh, let's just get on with a special off-week edition of the blog, where I give you some scenarios down the stretch, with just two races left. All these scenarios take into account that the drivers will start the Chase cutoff race at Richmond.

The in

Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon are already in the field, nine titles between them, and nobody can take that away from them. Unless something unforeseen happens like a rules violation or some sort of drug scandal is revealed.

And we all know that never happens in NASCAR. Um … moving on.

Oh-so-close

Three drivers can clinch a Chase spot in Atlanta regardless of what those further down in the standings do, provided they simply start the race at Richmond.

The first is fourth-place Denny Hamlin. The dark-horse championship contender doesn't even need a top-10 at Atlanta, which is good since he has only two of those in eight career starts at the track. Hamlin needs to just finish 12th, or 13th if he leads a lap, to officially punch his Chase ticket.

One spot below him in the standings is Carl Edwards. Edwards was getting a lot of preseason love for his championship chances, but that's cooled as he's been unable to find Victory Lane in the Cup Series this season. Despite that, Edwards can wrap up another Chase berth by finishing fourth at Atlanta, or fifth if he leads a lap. He's won there three times in 10 starts, including his first career win.

The other driver who controls his own destiny at Atlanta is the driver who won the first Chase, Kurt Busch. Busch needs to do just slightly better than Edwards, finish third or better, or fourth if he leads a lap. That seems doable for Busch, who won the spring race at Atlanta in dominant fashion.

Not so clear

Here's where things get interesting. Oh, who am I kidding? They were always interesting.

Seventh to 12th in the points are separated by just 50 points and none are more than 84 points behind of 13th-place Kyle Busch. Six drivers -- Ryan Newman, Greg Biffle, Juan Pablo Montoya, Mark Martin, Kasey Kahne and Matt Kenseth -- cannot clinch at Atlanta based on what they do themselves, but that doesn't mean they can't give themselves some breathing room.

Of these six, only Martin and Kahne have won at Atlanta. But Martin's wins came in 1991 and 1994, while Kahne won slightly more recently, in 2006.

Outside looking in

Kyle Busch and Brian Vickers have had their differences, but they find themselves in similar positions with two to go before the Chase field is set. Meanwhile, Clint Bowyer and David Reutimann are a little farther back, but they, along with Vickers and Busch, could get back into the top 12 with a good run and some degree of fortune at Atlanta.

Those four are also in a position where if they win, they cannot be eliminated.

Meanwhile, things aren't looking so good for Jeff Burton and Marcos Ambrose. These drivers aren't eliminated quite yet, but they have some ground to make up, and have to do so in a hurry. Any driver 162 points or more behind 12th after Atlanta will be eliminated.

And I'd like to take this space at the bottom of the column to send my regards to drivers such as Joey Logano, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kevin Harvick. They're among the drivers, everyone 19th or lower in points, who are officially eliminated from Chase contention. Maybe next year, fellas.

So, those are the numbers; I'll leave it at that for now. Who do you think is in or out? Leave your comment below, and it's time-stamped, so you can throw it in everybody's face if you were correct. I'll vouch for you.