At the beginning of the year, I made a somewhat outside-the-box prediction that Kasey Kahne would win this year's Sprint Cup Championship. Don't get me wrong, I'm not claiming that my prediction was for some car run by the boys at the local auto body shop, I didn't turn a lot of heads with the pick. However, Kahne certainly wasn't considered as a clear front runner.
After two races with a 36th and a 19th-place finish, I was the one turning my head ... downward into my hands. Two races later, I've become every bit as confident in my pick as I was when I made it. Kahne finished second at Las Vegas Motor Speedway after having the strongest car on the day and positioned himself to take a similarly quick car to Victory Lane at Bristol Motor Speedway this past weekend.
His past two races have got him back in contention, as he sits in seventh-place with 124 points, just four points back from fourth-place Clint Bowyer. There are many reasons to expect that he'll continue to ascend the standings as the season goes on.
1. Hendrick Motorsports is the best team in NASCAR.
With all due respect to Joe Gibbs Racing and Roush Fenway Racing, Hendrick Motorsports routinely tops all of the teams when it comes to performance. Last year, the team entered all four of its drivers into the Chase for the Sprint Cup. The shop has accounted for 10 of the last 18 Cup championships. When you consider that Hendrick helped provide Stewart-Haas Racing with many car parts during Tony Stewart's run to the 2011 championship, that number could become 10.5.
2. His transition to Hendrick Motorsports has helped maximize his talent.
Kahne is one of those drivers that can drive anything with wheels. He's similar to Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch in this respect when it comes to his overall abilities. He made the Chase in 2006 and 2009. He was with Evernham Motorsports in former season, before it merged into Richard Petty Motorsports in the latter date. His inability to make the Chase two seasons following 2009 had a lot to do with a sticky separation from RPM in the middle of 2010 and a trying season with the folding Red Bull Racing team in 2011.
3. The No. 5 team overcame a slow start in 2012.
The 2012 season got off to a disatourous start for Kahne and the No. 5 team. Despite claiming two poles in the first six races, the car finished no better than 14th in any of those races and sat a dismal 31st after leaving Martinsville with engine problems on April 1st. He followed that with seven straight top-10s, climbing to 14th in the standings and affirming his title contention with his second win of the season in last year's LENOX Industrial Tools 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. His early season, bad luck didn't slow him down in 2012, and it doesn't seem like this year will be any different.
4. Kahne finished fourth in last year's Chase.
Once the poor start was behind him, Kahne amassed 12 top-fives and 19 top-10s in the last 30 races of the season. He scored five top-fives and another top-10 during the Chase, and only ugly 25th and 21st-place finishes in two of the season's last three races stopped him from being close to the Cup when the season's checkered flag waved. If he can eliminate a few poor finishes in the 2013 Chase, he could be the guy that raises NASCAR's ultimate trophy.
5. Crew chief Kenny Francis has called the shots for Kahne since 2006.
In the last seven-plus seasons, Kahne has raced under four different ownership names (and three separate entities), but he's raced under just one crew chief. Kenny Francis has been there through the thick and the thin since 2006. (Technically, they joined forces the last race in 2005.) It's clear that the two work well together. The move to Hendrick Motorsports gave Francis the resources he needs to get his driver up front, and the long-time duo seems poised to provide Rick Hendrick with his team's fourth championship driver and 11th title in history.