This season Kasey Kahne has gotten the job done. But the thing is, it’s always been at the last minute.
Kahne and his Hendrick Motorsports team have spent anxious weeks wondering if they were going to accomplish what they should in order to advance – and have any shot at a championship.
For most of the season it appeared Kahne would be the only Hendrick driver to fail to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
After the 24th race of the season, at Bristol, Kahne stood 13th in points. That was good enough to make the field of 16 for the Chase but there was a problem.
Kahne was one of eight drivers who had not won a race. Five of them ranked higher in points, which meant the only sure way Kahne was going to make the “playoffs” was to win – and he had only two races in which to do so before the Chase began.
He won at the next race at Atlanta on Labor Day weekend, the 25th event of the season. With the win Kahne advanced to 11th in points and was certain to qualify for the Chase.
After Richmond, where he finished 17th, Kahne remained 11th in points after re-seeding.
It wasn’t a very safe position. After three races in the Chase, the Contender Round would begin at Kansas – and only 12 drivers would compete. Four would be eliminated.
Kahne finished 13th at Chicagoland and 23rd at Loudon. He came to Dover, the final race in the Challenger Round, 11th in points – two positions from elimination.
He managed to pull it off and, again, at the last minute.
That Kahne would advance after Dover was doubtful. He had his own set of problems and it appeared he was often swapping the last qualifying position with Kurt Busch, the Stewart Haas Racing driver who was 14th in points when the race began.
Busch finished 18th, two spots better than Kahne. But it wasn’t enough.
Kahne held on to 12th in points, two positions and six points ahead of Busch.
“You can’t expect to advance running 18th,” Busch said. “You’ve got to have better lap times every time you go and hit the track. If you’re off, it’s hard to put the car up on your back and run it.
“I just chalk it up to me not getting the job done. It’s all my fault that we didn’t advance.”
The race wasn’t exactly a walk in the park for Kahne. He had his anxious moments.
“Early we drove to fifth and then we fell back a few spots on pit road, then drove back to sixth,” he said. “We fell back a few more spots and then we had a loose wheel.
“From that point on I was just hoping the cautions didn’t come out or that they came out at the right time. Really, they just didn’t come out and we just had to race, race, race.”
Racing, Kahne added, was the only way he made it. If he had to rely on caution periods and top-flight pit stops, he wasn’t sure the day would’ve ended as he would’ve liked.
“I am glad NASCAR let us race for it today because that is the only way I could have gotten in,” Kahne said. “I guess if a couple cautions came out or something, we could have gotten the lucky dog but we had a better car than some of the other guys and we were able to race our way in.
“Kenny (Francis, crew chief) did a great job and our team did a great job in preparation in giving us a top five or top three car.”
Kahne said he was comfortable in his Chevrolet and did not feel anxious – until almost the very end, that is.
“I never really got nervous at all and I just raced real hard the whole time,” he said. “Kenny started telling me we were tied for 12th and this was with 30 to go.
“Then he would tell me we were one point in and then maybe two points in, and then he wasn’t positive.
“Then I started getting a little bit worried, so it was intense inside the car.”
For Kahne, the worrying isn’t over. At 12th, he’s in last place in points going into the Contender Round, which lasts three races – Kansas through the always-treacherous Talladega.
Afterward four drivers will be eliminated and only eight will move on to the Eliminator Round.
To make it Kahne has to rank eighth in points, or higher, or win a race.
The feeling here is that he doesn’t want to wait until the last moment to do either one.