Kahne's last stand

Kasey Kahne's bid to battle for the 2006 NASCAR championship has reached its final chapter. Although he paces the Cup series with five wins, he has not locked a place in this season's Chase for the Nextel Cup. A summer slump that began after the...

Kasey Kahne's bid to battle for the 2006 NASCAR championship has reached its final chapter. Although he paces the Cup series with five wins, he has not locked a place in this season's Chase for the Nextel Cup. A summer slump that began after the first Michigan event kicked the No. 9 Evernham Dodge out of the top ten in points, where he still sits despite sweeping the Busch and Cup races at California Speedway last weekend.

The No. 9 team is banking that they can ride that wave of momentum to a spot in the 2006 top ten class.

Whatever magic Kahne's team bottled earlier this season appears to have returned. Unfortunately, with just one race left to determine the Chase field, the mojo may have come back a little too late. However, the No. 9 team is not willing to go down quietly: they enter Richmond with a singular goal on their minds.

"We want to be in the Chase," said Kahne. "Eleventh would be the best we ever finished in Cup but that is definitely not what we want. We want to make it in."

Kahne's plight begs the question whether or not NASCAR should tweak the point system to give more points for a race win. Conceivably, Mark Martin and Jeff Burton could make it into the Chase with no victories this season; while Kahne could get stuck being an outsider looking in with five wins on his scorecard.

"I would definitely think that if we had the most wins we should be better in points," said Kahne. "But I don't know what to do about it now. Maybe they will make the change for next year. I wish there was something that said if you have to most wins your in but there isn't."

But Kahne, always courteous, isn't willing to toss NASCAR under the bus on the point system just yet, "I think that consistency is part of it too, the way they do the Chase I think it is just awesome.you look at wins and you look at bonus points.and NASCAR looks at consistency and you have to look at whose running up front and we are almost right there."

Evernham Motorsports is no stranger to racing their way into the championship field. In 2004, Jeremy Mayfield while driving for the No. 19 Dodge team won the Richmond race and a place in the inaugural Chase for the Nextel Cup. While Kahne and crew chief Kenny Francis feel that they should be concentrating on the race this weekend, other team members have been made aware of the thousands of mathematical scenarios and a 'cheat sheet' is floating around the No. 9 team's hauler of where they need to be at certain points during the race to assure their position in the Chase.

"There have been sheets made up for all three teams so everyone knows where they need to be throughout the race," Kahne explained.

Youthful exuberance may be the key to Kahne getting what he wants this weekend. While veteran drivers like Mark Martin and Jeff Burton (who sit ninth and 10th) are more likely to play it safe and run for points at this juncture in the game, 26-year-old Kahne has got nothing to loose.

From the No. 9's spyglass, Burton is in the most vulnerable position and may be their easiest prey. After a slow start to the year, the No. 31 Richard Childress Chevrolet team found their legs in Texas and from then on they were stout. From TMS through the second Pocono race they had just two finishes outside of the top ten. But recent races have not been so kind. Two finishes out of the top ten at Watkins Glen and Indy dropped Burton from third in the rankings, and a disastrous 42nd place in Bristol may turn out to be the kiss of death for the No. 31 team.

"If you look at Richmond, really, if you think about Stewart or Mark, myself or Kahne, it's a matter of going out and running well," explained Burton. "None of us will have a chance of being in the Chase if we don't run well, unless someone were to have trouble. But we can't control what other people do. The only thing we can do is control what we do. Certainly having the opportunity, you know, at Richmond is really exciting and it's what it ought to be. For us, we're just focusing ongoing there and putting forth our best effort we can, and that's really all we can do."

Kahne currently sits within 30 points of 10th place Jeff Burton, 32 from ninth place Mark Martin and 45 markers from eighth's Tony Stewart.

What ends up happening with Kahne this weekend maybe the impetus for NASCAR to further fine-tune the Chase format for next season, NASCAR CEO & Chairman Bryan France hinted earlier this year that the sanctioning body was researching what they could do to make the Chase more exciting as it evolves. With just one driver eligible to race his way into this season's final ten it is hardly the nail biter NASCAR hoped for when the Chase was instituted in 2004.

For Kahne, however, those odds work just fine. All he has to do is play a game of cat and mouse Saturday night, lay back and wait for one team to choke and make a season ending mistake.

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Jeremy Mayfield , Tony Stewart , Kasey Kahne , Mark Martin