Kasey Kahne struggling to match Hendrick Motorsports teammates

jutter@charlotteobserver.comJune 7, 2014 

— At the moment, Kasey Kahne appears to be the odd man out at Hendrick Motorsports.

He is determined not to remain that way.

Halfway through the 26 races which decide who will compete in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, all three of Kahne’s teammates at Hendrick – Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. – have at least one victory, virtually ensuring they will contend for the series championship this season.

Entering Sunday’s Pocono 400 at Pocono Raceway, Kahne remains without a win this season and his standing in series points (18th) is even more discouraging.

“At Hendrick Motorsports, we all want to be in the Chase,” he said.

There remains hope, particularly this weekend.

Kahne is the most recent race winner at Pocono, having won here last August. It’s also his most recent series victory.

Kahne’s teammates have rallied around him, particularly at a test session at New Hampshire International Speedway earlier this week, trying to do what they can to get their teammate in Victory Lane.

“I guess there is frustration there, and I kind of put disappointment, too, because he has had a lot of solid runs going and whack things happen,” Johnson said of Kahne’s season.

“I know their cars are fast, so it’s kind of a frustration/disappointment they haven’t been able to capitalize. We are all working very hard together and very close with Kasey. We are doing everything we can to really elevate Hendrick, and then also help those guys get their win.”

There’s no question Kahne and his No. 5 team have what it takes to put wins together.

Last month at Charlotte, Johnson and his crew chief, Chad Knaus, decided to use the set-up of Kahne’s car as their starting point for the Coca-Cola 600 and Johnson went on to win the race – his first victory of the season.

“Jimmie’s not going to give anything to me, but he’s definitely going to be happy if we pulled it off and won a race,” Kahne said.

“It’s been a bit frustrating at times, but I think I’ve handled it all pretty well. In my opinion, I feel like I have.

“Last Monday was probably the worst Monday I’ve had of the season after a bad result. We went from 17th to fifth (at Dover) and then just couldn’t hit on it from there. But we had a really fast car.”

In his first two seasons at HMS, Kahne got off to slow starts at the beginning of the year only to rally over the summer months to clinch a spot in the Chase.

This season, Kahne’s finishes have been all over the map.

His third-place run at Kansas last month is his only top-five finish this season. His next-best effort is eighth, which he has done three times (Las Vegas, Bristol and Talladega). Kahne has also failed to lead a lap in nine of 13 races.

“We’ve been really good in practice; great at times during the race, but we haven’t put together the full race. And when we have, it’s been one and then we forget how for the next three, and then come back for the fourth one and run pretty well,” Kahne said.

“That side of it’s been tough and we’re all looking at that together to try to make it better. But I think as far as speed goes and getting the car right, we’ll be good on Sunday at points.

“We just need to put the whole 400 miles together. If we do that, we’ll have a shot to win.”

The good thing about this season for Kahne under NASCAR’s new championship format is a win all-but guarantees a berth in the Chase. There isn’t the same necessity as season’s past to look to make up a large points deficit over the next 13 races.

“We can be in a good spot in a hurry because of how the points system is now,” Kahne said. “You have a much better shot this way to make the Chase even if you are not running very well throughout the first half of the year.”

Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter.

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