Call it motivation from within. And Rick Hendrick likely wouldn’t have it any other way.
Jimmie Johnson’s road to a sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship well might converge with those of one or more Hendrick Motorsports teammates.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., in fifth place, headed the standings earlier this year.
Now the pressure comes from Kasey Kahne, who ended the 2012 season with a flourish and has yet to lift his foot from the accelerator of the No. 5 Chevrolet.
Kahne’s third top-two finish of the season last Sunday at Kansas Speedway boosted the Washington native to the No. 2 spot in rankings entering Saturday night’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway. Kahne trails Johnson by 37 points.
A year ago – his first with the Hendrick organization – Kahne had just begun his climb from the purgatory of four finishes of 29th or worse in the season’s opening six races. A fifth-place finish at Richmond was part of a 10-race run of top 10s that included a Coca-Cola 600 victory in Charlotte.
Kahne made the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™ and finished fourth in points. His current second place matches a career best, and he’s never been this high in the points this late in the season.
“I feel like we have a great team and we’re in a really good spot right now,” said Kahne after running second to Kansas winner Matt Kenseth.
Statistically speaking, Kahne has been hot and cold at Richmond. He scored his first Sprint Cup victory at the 0.75-mile track in spring 2005 leading 242 of the 400 laps.
Kahne’s Driver Rating of 87.8, however, ranks 12th among current competitors and his average finish is 18.0.
Judging a driver’s present with his past can be deceiving. Kahne’s Richmond statistics are a mix of 18 races with Hendrick, Red Bull Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports and Evernham Motorsports.
Better to consider what Kahne has done on short tracks in 2013: a victory at Bristol and fourth at Martinsville, where he qualified second and fifth, respectively.
Hendrick Motorsports is tops among active Sprint Cup owners at Richmond with 10 wins. The team’s drivers – Johnson, Kahne, Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon – combine for nine Richmond victories.