Nobody knows the pressure of making the Chase for the Championship more than Kasey Kahne. Hes spent much of the past six years living on the edge, one week safely inside the cut line for the playoffs, the next week on the outside.
A victory last Sunday on the road course at Sonoma, Calif., moved Kahne to 13th in the Sprint Cup Series standings. He now has 10 races a stretch of races known as the Race to the Chase to move into one of the 12 qualifying spots.
The Chase is open only to the top 12 drivers in the standings during the final 10 races of the season. The driver that amasses the most points in the final 10 races, starting with the Sept. 20 race at New Hampshire, will win the championship.
With 10 races before the playoffs start, drivers will have a variety of priorities. For those in the top five, the next 10 races are a time to get ready for the Chase by working on new setups and refining old ones. For those at the bottom of the rankings, its a time to be conservative and think about every possible point. And for those outside the top 12, its time to go for broke.
Kahne has been part of all three scenarios since NASCAR went to the Chase format in 2004.
Its business as usual for me, he said. Its similar for me every year. The season winds down to the Chase and were always on the border line; its just the way it is. Im not going to lose any sleep over it I can tell you that.
Ill do the best that I can on Sunday, and if we run out of gas, we run out of gas, Kahne said. If we get in a wreck, we get in a wreck. At the end of the day I know that I did everything that I possibly can, hopefully its good enough.
Kahne goes into Sundays Lenox Tools 301 at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway just three points from the 12th and final qualifying spot. But hes not alone in a logjam of contenders. The difference between Denny Hamlin in seventh place and Clint Bowyer in 16th is only 147 points.
In 2006 Kahne raced his way into the Chase . Last year a 19th-place finish at Richmond kept him out of the playoffs.
Kahne was a top-12 driver a year ago heading into the Race for the Chase. He was the only one to fall out of contention before the Chase started.
Hamlin, Greg Biffle, Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Mark Martin and Juan Pablo Montoya are, for now, inside the cut line. Kahne, David Reutimann, Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer are lurking.
The Chase is what everybody shoots for, Kahne said. Winning races can make a season, but you really need to work on both. To make the Chase, were going to have to win some races to get there. Im just going to race my race and run as hard as I can, every lap, for the rest of the season.
Reach Don Coble at email@example.com.