With a sixth-place finish as Pocono on Monday, Kasey Kahne has put the past in the rear view mirror and is focusing on a stretch of races that he expects to perform well at.
In the latter part of the 400-mile event at Pocono, Kahne surged through the field to be the third Hendrick Motorsports cars in the top six, Jimmie Johnson crashed out on Lap 122.
“Our car was real solid,” Kahne said post-race in Pocono. “I think we can take something similar to Michigan next week, it’s a similar racetrack in a lot of ways.”
Sitting 18th in the point standings, 13 markers behind the Chase cutoff, Kahne and the No. 5 team are coming to a string of racetracks that the team has normally ran well at.
Kahne has won at each of the next two race tracks, Michigan and Sonoma. In his career the summer months have fared well for him. He’s won at tracks including New Hampshire, Pocono and Bristol in a little over four years with Hendrick Motorsports.
Compared to last season, the No. 5 team is sits 10 positions further back through 14 events. However, it was the summer months that led to the downfall of Kahne and his race team in 2015.
In the final 12 races leading up to the Chase in 2015, Kahne averaged a 22.6 average finish, dropping him from eighth to 18th in the standings. That’s where he finished the season in points, the lowest since 2010 when he was 20th in the point’s, driving for Richard Petty Motorsports.
“I’m frustrated a lot,” Kahne said of his season. “I hate running bad. I’m not happy with the results. Two weeks in a row at Charlotte we should have been competing for top fives and we had no chance.”
The No. 5 car has an average finish of 16.7 thus far in 2016, having yet to lead a single lap.
His three Hendrick Motorsports teammates have combined to lead 360 laps, including a race-high 51 by Chase Elliott in Pocono.
Kahne believes that this next stretch of races could make, or break his year. Paired with crew chief Keith Rodden for the second consecutive season, the duo needs to perform up to Hendrick Motorsports standards.
“This is good for momentum just to know that we hit on a couple of things with the car,” Kahne said after finish sixth. “I look forward to running something very similar at Michigan and then we’ll go to Sonoma and that’s probably my favorite racetrack. Hopefully we can run really well and start clicking off top 10s each week in order to get into Victory Lane.”
Kahne has two top-five finishes so far this season with a pair of fourth-place efforts at Richmond and Dover. In each of the past two seasons, the No. 5 car finished in the top five, three times.
As the circuit comes to some of Kahne’s favorite tracks, he must continue to put a line of consistency on the board in order to make this year’s addition of the Chase. If not, it will be his third consecutive season of finishing 15th or worse in the point standings.
After getting just 20 minutes of practice on Friday, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series was able to go the full distance in final practice on Saturday at Pocono Raceway.
The session was led by Kyle Busch at 176.901 mph. Completing 21 laps, the No. 18 team focused strictly on race runs. The No. 18 will begin the 400-mile event from the outside of the sixth row, a place that he is searching for his first career victory at the "Tricky Triangle."
"With the way our cars at JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) have been overall, I’m very optimistic that we could score a victory there this weekend or, if not, when we come back later in the summer," Busch said.
Kurt Busch was second on the leader board in the practice session. He laid down a lap of 176.800 mph, which was less than a half-tenth off his brother's time. The former Pocono winner will start from ninth on Sunday.
Jimmie Johnson was third on the board with a lap at 176.710 mph, Martin Truex, Jr. was fourth at 176.291 and Kevin Harvick rounded out the top five at 176.125 mph.
Pole-sitter, Brad Keselowski was sixth on the board. The No. 2 car ran 27 laps on the racetrack and the team was happy with the car they have on track.
"I think were decent, it's hard to say," Keselowski said. "We need to look at some data, but I don't think were far off. Starting up front gives you a lot of confidence for sure."
Keselowski's Team Penske teammate Joey Logano was seventh, with Matt Kenseth eighth, rookie Ryan Blaney was ninth and AJ Allmendinger fulfilled the top 10.
The younger Busch brother had the best 10 consecutive laps, while Harvick ran 34 laps, the most of all drivers.
After Joey Logano was quickest in the first two rounds of qualifying, his teammate Brad Keselowski took the final round en route to his first pole of 2016 and first pole at Pocono Raceway. His previous best qualifying results at the "Tricky Triangle" were a pair of third-place efforts in 2014.
It was a speed of 181.726 mph that claimed the top spot. Logano ran a speed of 181.400 mph, nearly a tenth of a second off the pole-winning time.
"It was a really solid effort for Team Penske," Keselowski said. "To get 1-2 is hard to do, but we had great speed today. I wasn't really sure what to expect with the rain and all of the other variables that were thrown at us with no practice."
The last seven times that Keselowski has started on pole, he has finished in the top 10 each time with two victories.
After Logano, it was August winner Matt Kenseth who placed third at 181.316 mph. Kevin Harvick had the fourth best time at 181.192 mph and Carl Edwards rounded out the top five at 180.759 mph.
"I didn't do a very good job today," Harvick said of his fourth-place effort. "The car was a lot faster than the driver today. The guys did a job preparing a good job, but I wasn't in a good rhythm and didn't do a good job in any of the rounds to get everything out of the car that I needed to."
Tony Stewart will start sixth in his best qualifying effort since Michigan last August when he began that 400-mile race fifth.
Jimmie Johnson will start seventh, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. eighth, Kurt Busch ninth and Denny Hamlin rounded out the top 10.
Chase Elliott is the highest starting rookie in 13th with Rookie of the Year contender Ryan Blaney alongside in 14th.
The defending race winner, Martin Truex, Jr. posted the 17th quickest time in qualifying. The No. 78 team feels that they missed the setup completely and thought the track was going to be something different. It took them two tries to get through the first round, which put more laps on their tires, hurting the speed in Round Two.
"We just totally missed it off the trailer, which is unusual for our team," Truex said. "We were way off our first run in practice and had so many different ideas about what it might have been. It felt so bad that it felt like the tires were wrong or we had a bad set."
Final practice is set to begin at 11:30 on Saturday weather depending. It will be the only time that the teams will be able to practice on race trim because no driver completed more than seven laps in the opening practice on Friday.
Fog remained a factor for what turned into be just a 20 minute practice when rain came and halted cars from working on qualifying setup. 28 cars participated in practice, so if qualifying is rained out in the afternoon the starting lineup will be set by owner standings.
Carl Edwards posted the fastest single lap speed at 179.802 mph, which was over one mph faster than Kevin Harvick, who recorded the second fastest lap. If rain cancels qualifying, the No. 4 Chevrolet would start from the pole on Sunday.
Last year's pole-sitter for this event, Kurt Busch was third on the leader board at 178.649 mph. Paul Menard was fourth at 178.250 mph and defending Cup Series champion Kyle Busch rounded out the top five.
Jimmie Johnson, Casey Mears, Joey Logano, Greg Bffle and Tony Stewart rounded out the top 10.
Three drivers were tied for most laps ran in the practice session at seven. Cup Series rookie Chris Buescher led the way in that category at 23rd. Michael Annett and Brian Scott also completed seven laps and were the two slowest cars on one lap speed.
Notable drivers who didn't complete a lap were August winner, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman and Austin Dillon.
Qualifying is set to role at 4:15 p.m. ET if rain moves out of the Pocono Mountains.
The No. 20 car took the lead after a big crash with 46 laps to go involving 10-time Dover winner, Jimmie Johnson. From there the crafty veteran didn't look back as he led the final the remaining laps and stamped his name into the Chase.
"At time we were on and at times we were off," Kenseth said after his victory. "It just kind of depended on track position. We had one good where we were really good and then we never quite got it there again. It was one of those days where everything lined up for us at the end of the race and we were the only one left out there with two [tires]. We got a couple short runs to cycle everyone else's tires."
This is Kenseth's third win at the Monster Mile and his first triumph since the second Chase race in 2015. Joe Gibbs Racing recorded its 135th win as an organization, tying Roush Fenway Racing for third most all-time.
After going a lap down in the first long stint of the event, Kyle Larson rebounded to lead 85 laps, coming up just short of his first career victory. Going back to last week in Kansas, Larson has ran in the top five the majority of both races. Acknowledging that Chip Ganassi Racing has struggled over the last season or so, he believes that the team has begun to turn the corner.
"I wouldn't say it was a complete 180," Larson said post-race. "I definitely think we are moving in the right direction. The performances we've has the last few weeks have showed. We just got to keep working hard and never get content with where we are. In my third year I've learned that a lot."
With the second-place finish, Larson has now been the runner-up four times in his Cup career without heading to Victory Lane.
For a while it looked like Chase Elliott was going to pass both Kenseth and Larson as they raced hard for the victory. He began to fade in the later stages, but then rebounded to finish a half-second off the top two. The way that the 20-year-old has ran the past month or so it would seem like a victory is right around the corner.
"You hope your close," Elliott said. "For me I feel like I have a team capable of winning. The way I see it today is we had our shot and had a chance to do it today and I didn't do it. It's as simple as that, you either do or you don't."
Recording another top-10 finish for the No. 24 team, Elliott now leads Hendrick Motorsports in top 10 finishes in 2016 with eight.
Kasey Kahne rebounded from a car in which hovered around 10th for the majority of the race to finish fourth. It marks his second top-five finish of the year, the other coming at Richmond three weeks ago. Kurt Busch rounded out the top five, picking up his fourth of 2016.
On Lap 354, the race took a turn when Johnson's car got stuck in gear. The No. 48 machine was the leader on a restart when there was more than a 10-car pileup. Other drivers in the incident included Kevin Harvick whom led 117 laps early in the race, but finished 15th and Martin Truex, Jr. who was the leader prior to that restart, but after taking four tires under caution restarted fourth, right behind the six-time champion. The No. 78 car came back to finish ninth.
Brad Keselowski finished sixth after having contact with Austin Dillon while running in second on Lap 282. Having to repair the entire right front fender, the No. 2 crew fought back to get it's seventh top 10 of the season.
One of the bigger incidents of the time came with 40 laps to go when Larson tagged the left rear of Carl Edwards sending him into the inside wall on the backstretch. Up to that point of the race, the No. 19 car had been out front for 27 laps, but came home 28th.
The Cup Series heads into it's All-Star break next week in Charlotte. Through the first 12 events, Harvick has a 21 point lead on Kyle Busch.