Commentary

Kasey Kahne not panicking ... yet

Updated: March 25, 2012, 12:53 AM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

FONTANA, Calif. -- Kasey Kahne probably needs a little encouraging news right now, so here's an interesting fact that should brighten his spirits:

[+] EnlargeKasey Kahne
Chris Graythen/Getty Images for NASCARHendrick Motorsports newcomer Kasey Kahne is 32nd in the Sprint Cup standings after four events.

In 2009, Mark Martin ranked 34th in the Sprint Cup standings after the first four races. He finished 27th or worse in the first four events, including two engine failures.

Martin not only made the 2009 Chase, he started the playoff on top (winning four regular-season races and five overall) and finished a close runner-up to Jimmie Johnson for the championship.

And here's the key point for Kahne: Martin was driving for the same team Kahne is driving for now -- the No. 5 Chevy at Hendrick Motorsports. And like Kahne, Martin was in his first season at Hendrick.

So Kahne should keep his chin up, despite ranking 32nd in the standings entering Sunday's race at Auto Club Speedway. All is not lost.

A lot has changed in those three years since Martin made his comeback run. Many people on the No. 5 team are new, including crew chief Kenny Francis, who made the move to Hendrick with Kahne.

And the 5 team now works in the same shop as Jeff Gordon's team. When Martin was there, the 5 worked in the building with the No. 88 Chevy and Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s team. Alan Gustafson, now Gordon's crew chief, was Martin's crew chief in 2009.

[+] EnlargeKasey Kahne
Chris Trotman/Getty ImagesKasey Kahne (5) has been caught up in wrecks in each of the first four races, including this early pileup at Bristol Motor Speedway.

But it's still a Hendrick shop, Hendrick guys and Hendrick equipment. Despite his poor start in 2009, Martin knew his car was fast. He won the pole in two of the first five races and started second in the season-opening Daytona 500.

Kahne's car also has shown plenty of speed this season. He won the pole at Las Vegas and will have started in the top 10 in four of five events. He'll start fifth on Sunday, but Kahne felt it could have been better.

"We had a really good car in practice, but I didn't feel like I hit my marks in qualifying," Kahne said Friday. "But it's fast. It has been all year. We can definitely do it."

He can do it, but he hasn't done it yet. Kahne normally is a smooth driver who makes few mistakes, but he has been involved in accidents in all four races this season.

After an early accident at Bristol last week, Kahne's frustration started to show.

"I've had awesome race cars and I have nothing to show for it," Kahne said at Bristol. "I feel horrible for everybody at Hendrick. This is the worst way I could start a season, to have one of the fastest cars every single week and something happens."

Kahne was third in practice on Friday, impressive enough that Carl Edwards started watching him.

"It looked like Kasey was extremely fast," Edwards said Friday. "We'll have to see when we go back and look at the video where he was beating us. We'll kind of see where we stand."

Kahne was a little slower Saturday -- 10th in the morning session and 14th in the final practice. But he's raced well at Fontana in the past.

Kahne won at ACS in 2006, when he was driving a Dodge, the only time a Dodge has won at Fontana. Kahne has nine top-10s at Fontana, including the past two races at ACS.

More good news: A Chevrolet has won four consecutive races on the wide 2-mile oval and five of the past six events at ACS.

Kenny [Francis] and the guys are unloading great cars every week. If we get some luck to fall our way, we can bounce back from these first few races.

-- Kasey Kahne

Three of the past four winners here were driving Hendrick Motorsports equipment -- Jimmie Johnson twice and Tony Stewart once. Kyle Busch won at Fontana in 2005 while driving the 5 car for Hendrick. A Hendrick-powered car has won 10 of 22 races at Fontana.

Those are a lot of positive vibes for Kahne this weekend in the fifth race of the season. Martin's turnaround in 2009 started with the fifth race of the season.

He finished seventh or better in seven of the next eight races, including a victory at Phoenix in the eighth race. That started a string in which Martin would win four races over a 12-week span.

If history is going to repeat itself, it's go time for Kahne.

"I'm excited to get back to an intermediate track," Kahne said. "Our Chevy was so good in Las Vegas [a 1.5-mile oval]. Kenny and the guys are unloading great cars every week. If we get some luck to fall our way, we can bounce back from these first few races."

The facts prove it's true. It happened before, only three years ago.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter

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