As far as titles go, none of today’s drivers can touch five-time champion Jimmie Johnson and four-time titlist Jeff Gordon. But fellow Hendrick Motorsports drivers Kasey Kahne and Dale Earnhardt Jr. have issued a statement to start 2013: Don’t forget about us.
With four top-10 finishes in four races – a feat that has launched him to second in the standings – Earnhardt is enjoying the best start of his career. Never before has Earnhardt started off the season so prolifically. In 2004 and 2008, he went 3-for-4 in top 10s. And in 2004, he was third in the points after four races. Those were his previous benchmarks as far as “best starts” go, both trumped by 2013.
Can Earnhardt go 5-for-5, and potentially claw his way into the points lead? It’ll be tough, considering his history at Auto Club Speedway, site of Sunday’s Auto Club 400. True, Earnhardt finished third last season. But in the seven races prior, he has suffered through an average finish of 25.0.
But then there’s this: Earnhardt went 12-for-12 in top 10s in races at intermediate race tracks (those measuring 1.5 or 2 miles), the only driver to accomplish the feat.
Likewise, Kahne has set a blistering pace to open the season – especially compared to 2012, his first with Hendrick Motorsports. Kahne slogged through some first-year jitters last season, sitting 32nd in points after four races.
Now, he’s seventh in the points after his win at Bristol on Sunday that tied him with Ernie Irvan at No. 50 on the all-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series wins list with 15. Kahne was this week’s guest on the national NASCAR teleconference. Click here to listen to and download the audio from the teleconference.
At Auto Club Speedway, Kahne has a win (2006) and nine top 10s in 16 starts.