Late Bloomer: Kasey Kahne Grabs Confidence Swelling Lenox 301 Win At NHMS

LOUDON, N.H. – An arrival at Hendrick Motorsports this season nearly two years in the making meant for some big expectations being heaped on Sprint Cup Series driver Kasey Kahne.

Kasey Kahne celebrates Sunday at NHMS (Photo: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Though high optimism was very quickly displaced in Camp Kahne by an abysmal start under the Hendrick Motorsports banner.

Kahne’s best finish in the first six events of the season was 14th, a stretch that included four finishes of 29th or worse. It left Kahne 31st in the standings six races into the season. Kahne went from driver that seemed like a lock for qualifying for the Chase for the Championship to someone that would be lucky to crack the top-20 in points.

Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway the blossom of the Hendrick Motorsports Kasey Kahne many had expected back when the season started in February may have finally come full.

Kahne won the Sprint Cup Series Lenox Industrial Tools 301 at NHMS, vaulting himself four places in the standings to 12th and at minimum grasping what seems like a stranglehold on a wildcard qualifying spot in the Chase for the Championship.

Denny Hamlin was second and Clint Bowyer third.

The top-10 drivers in the standings plus two wildcard drivers qualify for the Chase for the Championship over the final 10 races of the season. The wildcard spots are given to the two drivers with the most victories between 11th through 20th in the standings after 26 events.

With seven events remaining Kahne looks in control of the wildcard race. He is the only driver outside the top-10 with two victories.

“There’s never enough, but I think three [wins] would put you in a real good spot,” Kahne said. “Two helps, but three would put you in a real spot. We’re going to stay after it. We have some real good tracks coming up and I like my car a lot.”

Kahne, who who also won the Coca-Cola 600 in May at Charlotte Motor Speedway, now sits 66 points behind 10th place Brad Keselowski.

It was Kahne’s first career victory at NHMS.

For much of the second half of the race it looked like Hamlin’s race to lose and in the end he and his team felt like they gave it away with some pit road miscommunication.

Hamlin looked on cruise control out front until a caution flew on lap 233 sending all the leaders to pit road for the last time.

Hamlin expected his team to put on two tires, but Hamlin’s crew chief Darian Grubb thought Hamlin said he wanted four. So while most of the lead pack cars took two tires and scurried back on track, Hamlin watched them all run away. He came out of the pits in 13th place.

“It was just a little miscommunication that turned into a second place finish,” Hamlin said.

Said Kahne: “When I restarted the race … I knew if we didn’t make any mistakes it was my race to get out front because we had a great car throughout the whole race. I knew we were in good shape.”

Hamlin rallied back through the field, but by the time he got to second place there wasn’t enough time left.

“That’s all I had,” Hamlin said. “That’s as hard as I can drive and just came up about five car lengths too short. Trust me, if I could have got to him, I would have made it real interesting.”

Kahne wasn’t ready to call the victory gift wrapped.

“I wouldn’t say [we stole it], we were in the top four the whole race,” Kahne said. “We were in pretty good shape. I was catching Denny at times on long runs. He was probably four seconds out at one time and I had it down to about two or a second and a half before we pitted. We had a great car. If he was to keep the track position I would have never passed him.”

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