NASCAR National Weekend Preview: Kasey Kahne Goes For Repeat At Atlanta

(NASCAR Wire Service)

By Reid Spencer ~ NASCAR Wire Service

Kasey Kahne (Photo: Chris Trotman/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Kasey Kahne (Photo: Chris Trotman/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Kasey Kahne was in desperation mode at Atlanta Motor Speedway last August.

Sitting in 18th on the Chase Grid – 33 points below the 16th-place cut off line – the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports driver needed a win to make NASCAR’s playoffs.

Kahne came through.

He seized the lead with two laps remaining, cruising to Victory Lane, and more importantly, a berth in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

“There won’t be as much pressure on us for a while now, I guess,” Kahne said after the race. “Just to make it, I mean, that’s just such a – it was winding down, we were – I don’t know. I feel like making The Chase, there’s a lot of pressure and you don’t really see that again until probably late in The Chase.”

Kahne faces less stress heading into Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 (1 p.m. ET on FOX) at Atlanta Motor Speedway – the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ first March visit to the Georgia track since 2010.

He still has 25 races left before the Chase opener on Sept. 20 at Chicagoland.

Atlanta Motor Speedway has been kind to Kahne during his NSCS career. The 12-year veteran owns three wins at the 1.5-mile track with seven top fives, nine top 10s and two Coors Light Pole Awards.

Not the only driver with Peach State success, Kahne will face stout competition from Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson. Gordon leads all active full-time drivers with five AMS wins, while Johnson’s three victories tie Kahne and three other drivers for third.

“I love racing at Atlanta. I won my first ever [XFINITY] Series race there and it was also the site of my very first Sprint Cup Series start more than 22 years ago,” Gordon said. “We’ve won races and clinched championships there. Atlanta Motor Speedway holds a special place in my heart.”

‘Reedy’ to go: Daytona winner Ryan Reed leads Roush Fenway Racing to Atlanta

In February of 2011, Ryan Reed was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and was told by doctors he’d never be able to drive a race car again.

Four years later he’s a NASCAR national series race winner.

Reed pulled a crafty move to the inside to pass 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski on the final lap of the season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway and received a timely push from Roush Fenway Racing teammate Chris Buescher to capture his first NASCAR XFINITY Series victory.

“I can’t describe the emotions and the feelings that go into the first win,” Reed said. “So much hard work and sacrifice from all my guys – (crew chief) Seth (Barbour) and (owner) Jack (Roush) and everyone who stood behind me, including Lilly Diabetes and the American Diabetes Association.”

Reed will attempt to win his second race when he leads a quartet of RFR drivers – which includes young guns Buescher, Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. and two-time NASCAR XFINITY Series runner-up Elliott Sadler – to Atlanta Motor Speedway for Saturday’s Hisense 250 (2 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1). The 21-year-old finished 18th in his only start at Atlanta last season.

“This past week has been a whirlwind after earning my first win at Daytona – just overwhelming. Seth (Barbour), the team and I have a tremendous amount of confidence and momentum from the win that will carry us into this weekend’s race at Atlanta,” Reed said. “Our communication has improved so much since the last time we were there and I really think we have a chance to continue our hot streak and bring home another win.”

Robust rookie of the year race heats up at Atlanta

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series has long been a proving ground for young drivers to test their talents against grizzled veterans.

The 2015 season is no exception.

Eleven drivers are in contention for Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors in the series.

In the first race of the season, three of the top five drivers at Daytona were Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidates: Erik Jones (second), Austin Theriault (fourth) and Ray Black Jr. (fifth).

Fellow rookies Korbin Forrister (12th at Daytona), Spencer Gallagher (21st), Daniel Hemric (26) and Justin Boston (29th) will attempt to catch up to the pack in Saturday’s Hyundai Construction 250 at Atlanta Motor Speedway (5:30 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1).

“I’m really looking forward to Atlanta this weekend,” Boston said. “KBM has a lot of success at intermediate tracks. It will be nice to race at a place where truck handling, race strategy and skill play a bigger part than just luck.”

Many of the rookies lack experience on 1.5-mile tracks like Atlanta, putting them at a disadvantage to their older counterparts.

“With the speeds you reach at Atlanta being a mile-and-half, it is definitely a lot harder on the tires than at the short tracks we race in late models,” Jones said. “But I guess the concept of managing your equipment is the same, so hopefully I can apply some of it.”

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