Uniucky 2013 for Kasey Kahne in NASCAR's Chase
It was one lousy September for Kasey Kahne. Once considered to be a legitimate contender for the Sprint Cup Series title, he failed to finish in the top 10 in any of the five September races, which included the first three events in the Chase for the championship. As a result, Kahne currently holds the dubious distinction of being in 13th place in the point standings in what is usually a 12-driver Chase field.
It is appropriate that Kahne finds himself in the unlucky 13 spot, because at times this has been a cursed season for him. He has run well enough to pick up two victories, the same number accumulated by the six drivers who are holding down positions five through 10 in the standings. But there have been eight races in which Kahne has been the victim of misfortune, either through mechanical issues or wrecks that he did not cause.
Kahne's average finish this season is 16.6. Take away those eight times when fate frowned upon him, and his average finish in the other 21 races jumps to 9.1. Or consider this curious stat: Of the 13 drivers in the Chase, only the big three of Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch have more victories this season than Kahne. Yet, every other driver in the Chase has more top-10 finishes than Kahne's 11, as do non-Chase drivers Brad Kezelowski and Martin Truex Jr.
So for this year, at least, one of the brightest stars in NASCAR appears somewhat star-crossed. He is good enough to be in the hunt for the victory nearly every week, but unlucky enough that he can't gain any momentum. On four separate occasions this season, Kahne has followed up a top-10 run with three consecutive finishes outside the top 10, with many of them being in the 20s and 30s.
Kahne admitted a few weeks ago that the erratic nature of this season had taken a toll. The worst period was a five-race stretch midway though the schedule in which he finished in the 30s three times because of two accidents and an engine problem. Overall, he has been caught up in wrecks caused by other drivers five times, which led him to say, "It kind of makes me think I need to start taking cars out."
"It's discouraging," Kahne continued. "I just have to keep doing what I'm doing. I don't know. Hopefully it just quits, I guess."
Nobody doubts Kahne's racing ability. The 33-year-old driver has 16 career Sprint Cup victories, and he finished fourth in the point standings last season, his first with the powerful Hendrick Motorsports organization. Expectations were high entering this year, but Lady Luck had other plans, leaving Kahne with few options beyond simply hoping that the breaks ultimately start falling his way.
"I feel like all you can do to change your luck is work hard and do the right things," he said. "I try to be a good person. I try to work hard before the races and be as prepared as I can be once I get there. I think over time it runs a path and a pattern. It all kind of comes around eventually."
1. Jimmie Johnson (3rd previously) -- He might be in second place in the standings (eight points behind Matt Kenseth), but given his history of excellence in the Chase, Johnson has reclaimed the position of championship favorite. His victory at Dover was his third consecutive top-five finish since the Chase began. Whatever ailed the number 48 team in the weeks leading up to the playoffs appears to be gone, and that is bad news for the other title contenders.
2. Matt Kenseth (1st) -- Not that we're writing off Kenseth yet. Far from it. This weekend's race is at Kansas, where Kenseth has won two in a row and has not finished worse than seventh in the past six trips. This is shaping up to be a classic two-man duel for the championship, much like last year's contest between Johnson and Brad Keselowski. The only thing better would be a three-driver battle, which brings us to ...
3. Kyle Busch (2nd) -- Even though he is only 12 points out of the lead, Busch seemingly is becoming something of an afterthought in the Chase. That's probably because, unlike Johnson, he usually takes a step backward when the playoffs arrive. Amazingly, of his 28 career Sprint Cup victories, only one has occurred during the annual 10-race Chase, and that was way back during his rookie season of 2005.
4. Jeff Gordon (8th) -- Had Gordon not slightly overshot his pit stall a week ago at New Hampshire, a mistake that sent him from the lead to a 15th-place finish, he probably would be on a streak of six consecutive top-10s right now. Considering that he is winless this season, it seems unlikely that Gordon will make a serious push for the championship. But he is proving once again why -- at age 42 -- he remains one of the best drivers in the sport.
5. Kevin Harvick (7th) -- His biggest problem lately has been consistency. He hasn't posted back-to-back top-10 finishes since early July, but he continues to break into the top 10 every other race, as he did at Dover with a sixth-place showing. Still, a 50 percent success rate when it comes to top-10s is not going to be nearly good enough to win the championship.
6. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (10th) -- Earnhardt's runner-up showing at Dover was his best finish since the fifth race of the season. But pit miscues hurt his chances of picking up the victory, and he remains winless this season. He is also a distant 10th in the point standings. Looks like it will be yet another season without a championship for the most popular driver in NASCAR.
7. Greg Biffle (4th) -- He had a solid ninth-place run at Dover. The problem was that eight of the 12 other drivers in the Chase finished better than him. Biffle is likely to finish in the top 10 of the point standings for the fifth time in the past six seasons. But he hasn't been in serious contention for the title since 2005, which is one of the reasons why he remains an underrated driver.
8. Ryan Newman (9th) -- Much like Biffle, Newman's eighth-place finish at Dover was good, but not nearly good enough when it comes to making up ground in the standings. Still, he has four top-five finishes in the past five races, and his average finish of 8.4 during that stretch is fourth-best among all drivers.
9. Joey Logano (unranked) -- Oh what might have been. Logano was one of the hottest drivers entering the Chase, at one point ripping off six consecutive top-10 finishes and three straight top-5s. Then he blew an engine in the Chase opener and finished 37th. His third-place run at Dover was an indication of what he is capable of doing every week, but he is already too far behind in the standings to have a shot at the title.
10. Clint Bowyer (unranked) -- Bowyer basically gets this spot by default, after the issues that hit Kurt Busch and Carl Edwards at Dover. Bowyer finished 10th, while Busch and Edwards both wound up outside the top 20. Bowyer also gets a boost from the announcement last week that 5-hour Energy will remain his primary sponsor next season and not bail on him following spingate.