Kasey Kahne’s NASCAR Sprint Cup career has been resurrected.
The 32-year-old driver from Enumclaw, Wash., finally achieved what most felt would come very quickly in 2012, his first year with Hendrick Motorsports.
He earned his first victory of the season, driving to a convincing win in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
It was Kahne’s sixth consecutive top-10 finish after a dismal start that saw him finish out of the top 10 in each of the first six races of the year.
Kahne could do no better than 14th during that streak and at one time languished 32nd in the point standings – dangerously close to being out of the top 35 and the loss of a guaranteed starting position.
But now, six races later, Kahne has earned his 13th career victory and third in the Coca-Cola 600. He’s climbed to 15th in points and, with a victory in hand, has, at the least, made himself a “wildcard” candidate for the Chase.
For Kahne, it’s been quite a rejuvenation.
“Well, I think the biggest thing for myself was just to figure out the cars, figure out how they drove,” said Kahne, who replaced Mark Martin at Hendrick. “It’s been a little bit different for me.
“We’ve had speed. Even the last five, six races we’ve been in the top 10, but not near as fast as Jimmie Johnson (teammate) or a couple of those guys that have been winning the races.
“I just knew for myself I needed to step up. Our team is solid. Our car is solid. Mr. Hendrick gives us everything we need to win races and run up front. Tonight we were able to put it all together.”
Kahne admitted that at one point he was worried about his ride – that’s how badly the start of the season went.
But team owner Hendrick wasn’t concerned.
“I’ve been doing this long enough to know that if you have speed and run up front, you are going to win races,” he said. “I felt if the luck would turn for Kasey and his team, they’d win races.
“I thought we had the best balance. I was excited about the year. I’ve seen Kasey drive. He ran so good everywhere he’s been. I knew if we give him the equipment he would do it again.”
Kahne’s victory in the 600 topped a very successful – and historic – two weeks for Hendrick.
Johnson won the Bojangle’s Southern 500 at Darlington on May 12 to give Hendrick Motorsports, which made its debut in 1984, its 200th Sprint Cup victory.
Then, a week later, Johnson won the Sprint All-Star race at CMS, three days after his crew won the Sprint Pit Crew Challenge.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the all-star race’s preliminary event, the Sprint Showdown.
Now Kahne is victorious and gives Hendrick its 201stvictory.
Hendrick Motorsports has won five of six NASCAR events over the past two weeks. Only Brad Keselowski of Penske Racing has been able to break the stranglehold with a win in the History 300 Nationwide Series race at CMS.
Kahne passed a strong Denny Hamlin on lap 333 of 400. The race remained under green for the rest of the way, but teams still had to make one more pit stop.
The stops began on lap 354 and Kahne held the point once they were completed. Hamlin made several runs at him and, more than once, seemed to have enough to overtake the Hendrick driver.
But he fell short. He had worn out his tires in his desperate effort to take the lead.
Hamlin, who drives for Joe Gibbs Racing, finished second while teammate Kyle Busch took third.
Greg Biffle, the points leader, took early control of the race, leading 107 of 134 laps. He wound up leading the most laps, 204, en route to his third-place finish in the 600.
His effort was good enough to ward off his rivals and maintain his hold on No. 1 in points. He’s now 10 ahead of teammate Matt Kenseth – 10th in the 600 – and 16 ahead of Hamlin.
Hendrick cars took three positions among the top 10. Earnhardt Jr. finished sixth and Jeff Gordon battled back from a lap down take seventh. It was Gordon’s third top10 in what has been a very trying season.
Johnson’s team was given a stop-and-go penalty during the last pit stop after the gas can became lodged in the car as Johnson exited his stall.
Johnson went one lap down and was never able to get back on the lead lap with so few circuits left. However, he salvaged a 12th-place finish.
That was the only thing that went wrong for Hendrick all night.
For Kahne, everything went especially right.
“We’re just going to stay after consistency,” Kahne said. “For the last six weeks, we’ve moved up in the points each week. We’ve been going in the right direction, doing things right.
“To me Hendrick Motorsports has been as strong as anyone since the start of this year. Just the last three weeks, we’ve all been able to put some wins together.
“Tonight, it feels good to get a win for Hendrick Motorsports. It’s something I’ve been looking forward to for a year and a half – to drive for Hendrick, to be teammates with Jimmie, Dale and Jeff.
“To put it all together tonight and get the win, it feels good.”