He's battling for one of the 10 spotsin the field for the championship.
FONTANA, Calif. (AP) -- In the years B.C. -- Before the Chase -- few would have paid much attention to Kasey Kahne, who was in 11th place entering today's race at California Speedway.
Twenty-five races into a 36-race season and 540 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson, Kahne would have been reduced to this: trying to salvage a mostly lost season with another win or two and building momentum for 2007.
Instead, the third-year NASCAR Nextel Cup driver is still battling for one of the 10 spots in the field for the 10-race Chase for the championship. And the seven drivers ahead of him are wary of the No. 9 Evernham Motorsports Dodge team. Two races remain before the playoffs.
"I'm looking [ahead] as far as fourth or fifth place as cars we can catch in these final two races, depending on what they do and depending on what we do," Kahne said.
Going into the Sony HD 500, which will start in late afternoon and finish under the lights, Kahne is 90 points behind 10th-place Mark Martin.
If it was only that one spot that was up for grabs, there wouldn't be as much buzz. But Kahne also finds himself within 138 points of fourth-place Kyle Busch. In between is the all-star cast of Jeff Gordon, rookie Denny Hamlin, Jeff Burton, Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Martin.
Kahne doesn't expect to make up the entire deficit this weekend, although he'd certainly like to get a good start on it before the real pressure cooker next Saturday night at Richmond.
First, he'd like to at least get close to 10th place.
"It would be nice if we could cut it in half, or maybe even more than that," Kahne said of the 90-point deficit. "That would help a lot going into Richmond.
"We'll just try to do our best and finish in the top five and lead laps. If we don't do that, we're going to have a hard time at Richmond."
If history is any indicator, Kahne has a good chance of moving up.
In his five previous Cup starts on California's 2-mile oval, Kahne has three top 10s, including a runner-up finish in September 2004, sixth last September and fourth in the spring race this year.
Busch, the younger brother of pole-winner and former series champion Kurt Busch, is in the best position among the eight drivers vying for the final seven positions in the Chase. But the defending race champion doesn't feel secure, yet. He is eyeing third-place Kevin Harvick, 81 points ahead of him in the standings.
"For us, the big thing right now is about positioning ourselves for the Chase," Busch said. "I think we have a legitimate shot at being in it right now. It's all about trying to get up that that third spot."
Once the top 10 is set at Richmond, the points are adjusted, with just five points separating each of the drivers as they head into the opening race of the Chase at Loudon, N.H.
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