2017-07-26 / Sports

Kahne tames Brickyard

Steve Mickey

Hendrick Motorsports’ Kasey Kahne will finally get to read and hear some positive comments about himself this week after winning his first ever Brickyard 400 at the fabled Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Kahne has been the topic of NASCAR call in shows and the subject of many articles in recent months as there is speculation that his tenure at HMS may be coming to an end even though he still has a year left on his contract.

Kahne entered the race in the midst of a winless streak that had reached 102 races since his last win in August of 2014 at Atlanta. The speculation over Kahne’s future has been fueled in recent weeks by the success of his Hendrick teammate William Byron in the Xfinity Series. Byron has won three of the last five races in that series including Daytona and Indianapolis over the weekend.

Owner Rick Hendrick is in a transitional period with his four teams, as he had to replace Jeff Gordon after the end of the 2015 season with Chase Elliott. Earlier this season Hendrick’s Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced that he would be retiring at the end of this season, which quickly became the premier open seat for 2018. Speculation about which driver might land in the one of the most coveted seats in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series became a hot topic.

Hendrick as he has always done in the past when he has to replace a driver took his time before naming Alex Bowman to drive the No. 88 Chevrolet. Bowman filled in for Earnhardt in 10 of the final 18 races last season when he was forced to sit out after suffering a concussion. He took advantage of the situation by posting three top-10 finishes with a sixth place finish at Phoenix where he led a race-high 194 laps from the pole.

He was signed to a contract following his first four races filling in for Earnhardt but the organization did not have an open seat for him this season. His job this season has been as a driver in the organization’s simulation program and to take part in the on-track testing program which gathers data that is used by all four of the Hendrick teams.

Kahne’s win locks him into the 16-driver playoff field that will compete over the final 10 races of the season to eventually produce the 2017 series champion. Both Hendrick and Kahne have not spoken about next season but it was announced earlier this season that Kahne’s sponsor, Farmers would not be coming back for the 2018 season.

Sponsors in the series are not only hard to come by they also have a big say in who winds up behind the wheel. Since Hendrick is looking for a new sponsor for next season it could be that a would be sponsor might want to start fresh with a younger driver in Byron and try to build a successful relationship. Of course, it could be that a new sponsor would like to have a proven driver behind the wheel and Kanhe with his 18 career wins has proven that he can still win plus if he can make a deep run into this season’s playoff, it could go a long way with attracting a sponsor that wants to keep him in the car.

PIT NOTES: Only six races now remain before the playoff portion of the schedule and there could not be six more different tracks. Next week is the triangle track at Pocono followed by the second road course race of the season at Watkins Glen. The 2-mile oval of Michigan is the third race and this is a track that can often time becomes a fuel mileage race that will produce a surprise winner. Bristol’s famed night race on its high banked half-mile follows then it is an off weekend before one of the crown jewels of the entire schedule at Darlington takes place Labor Day weekend. The last chance for a driver to advance to the playoff is Richmond that races more like an intermediate track instead of a short track.

Race Preview
Event: Overton’s 400.
Track: Pocono Raceway (2.5
tri-oval, 14o of banking in turn 1, 8o
in turn two, 6o in turn three).
Date: July 30, 3 p.m.
Radio: MRN.
Defending Champion: Chris

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