Kahne’s chances of making the Chase aren’t good
Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 3, 2006
BRISTOL, Tenn. – Kasey Kahne has 11 days and two races left to make NASCAR’s Chase for the championship , and it’s not looking good.
Maybe it’s just all the turmoil in the Ray Evernham camp. Or maybe it’s just that the drivers that Kahne must beat to crack the top 10 simply aren’t cracking.
Kahne wound up 12th in Saturday’s Sharpie 500, and he said he must do a lot better at California Speedway this weekend and at Richmond the next.
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&uot;That’s probably my second-best finish ever here, so it’s not too bad for me,&uot; Kahne said. &uot;It’s just a rough day when all the guys in front of you in points finish ahead of you in the race.
&uot;We’ve got to finish in the top two or three in the next two races probably if we want to get in the Chase, if nobody else has a bad race.
&uot;I said two or three weeks ago that Dale Earnhardt Jr. is not going to be the guy I’m going to pass (to make the cut). I knew he was going to be good at Michigan – he was good there at the start of the year. He was good at California and Bristol, and he’s always good at Richmond.
&uot;We’re good everywhere, too. We just need to put it together and have some real good races and see what everybody else does.&uot;
Earnhardt, third Saturday, did remarkably well to come back from his 40th starting spot.
Kyle Busch, who finished just ahead of Earnhardt, also made a great comeback after falling back to 31st early in the race after a pit-road miscue.
&uot;You can’t ask for more than that, especially out of Bristol,&uot; Busch said. &uot;We had a strong enough car, and I just needed to settle in and let the race play out and let it come to me.
&uot;Battling this cat Earnhardt was pretty cool to me. He let me go. That was awesome of him, so I didn’t have to waste much time on him or use a front bumper, so I could go challenge Matt Kenseth. But I could never get to him.&uot;
Busch is fourth in the points standings, but he is still on the hot seat – only 48 points ahead of Mark Martin in 10th.
&uot;Kasey is the only guy who is outside that we have to battle with to get in,&uot; Busch said.
&uot;But you always want to position yourself as high as you can going into the Chase because those five points (the spread between each top-10 position when the Chase begins Sept. 17) may come down to make the difference at the end of the year.&uot;
While Kenseth is on a roll, and Jimmie Johnson continues to lead the points, Busch said that the title is still anybody’s to win.
&uot;You never know when somebody can hit on a stride,&uot; Busch said. &uot;We saw Tony Stewart do it in the middle of last year. You saw the Roush gang do it two years ago. And last year early they were really strong, but Greg Biffle has had terrible luck.
&uot;So you might see Junior go to California and win and go to Richmond and win and be third in the points. The biggest thing is just to keep in mind what you’re doing and try to keep on task with it.&uot;
Earnhardt was clearly one of Saturday’s big winners, psychologically.
&uot;Makes me feel a whole lot better going to California, where we have struggled,&uot; Earnhardt said. &uot;We are optimistic about how we ran at Michigan (a copy of the California track) and are taking that setup out there … but that doesn’t always work.
&uot;But I feel confident at Richmond I can run in the top 10.
&uot;From me and Kyle on back, it is 40-some points, pretty tight,&uot; Earnhardt said. &uot;So all of us have to watch what we are doing, minimize mistakes, and utilize every ounce of practice.
&uot;We’re going to California with the most optimism we’ve had in several years leading into a Fontana race. It was a sore subject for us for a long time. I felt we’d made big gains at that track in February, just missing a top-10.
&uot;I’m in ninth by two points, but I’m 19 points out of sixth. It’s a tight race. So getting out of Bristol with a third-place finish was really big for us, because I was nervous about that race. I wasn’t much fun to be around.
&uot;Surviving Bristol was a step in the right direction.&uot;
After a poor qualifying run Friday, Earnhardt and crew chief Tony Eury Jr. had to gamble on pit strategy to get track position.
&uot;When you qualify in the back, you try to pit under the early cautions, within the first 40 laps, because the leaders are obviously not going to come down pit road,&uot; Earnhardt explained. &uot;Then when the leaders pit when there is a caution around lap 80 or 100, we might have an opportunity to stay out and gain track position.
&uot;It was a quick and easy way to get toward the front.&uot;
Earnhardt was surprised that there wasn’t more mean-spirited action. &uot;But with the Chase and everybody being so close, there was a lot more respect out there on the track than you have seen in the past,&uot; he said. &uot;When I caught guys, they moved over, and I did the same for others. You don’t normally see that here. You make people work for every spot.&uot;