Race Weekend Central

Going By the Numbers: Denny Hamlin, Kasey Kahne Offer Opposite Sides of the Spectrum in June

With winners vaulting themselves into the Chase and the points system conducive to drivers falling into and out of favor within a handful of races, a few good — or bad — races can make all the difference in the Sprint Cup Series.

Just tell that to Denny Hamlin and Kasey Kahne.

Each are on opposite sides of the spectrum when it comes to the last few races. Departing Pocono, Kahne was down in the dumps, having finished 42nd and sitting outside the top 20 in points. Meanwhile, Hamlin, the pole winner of the race, finished fourth and had an eighth-place spot in the points to show for it, plus a victory.

(Credit: CIA Editorial Photography)
Denny Hamlin had a hot start, but his luck has turned in the wrong direction lately.(Credit: CIA Editorial Photography)

But three races later, the tables have somewhat turned. Kahne has gone from way outside the Chase to just outside it, while Hamlin still clings to a spot in the postseason — but only barely.

What happened? Luck on either side of the pitch. Suddenly, Kahne, who’s been called washed-up this season and perhaps past his prime, has gained all the way to 15th in points entering Daytona. That, with the 10 winners thus far this season, puts him behind six drivers without wins, meaning that a victory — or just a spot up on one of those six — slots him into the postseason.

He’s done so handily, though without much pizzazz. Kahne hasn’t finished worse than eighth since Pocono, but also hasn’t bested a fifth-place run at Michigan. Basically, he’s running incredibly well, but isn’t setting the world on fire with his results. There but not there, unseen but part of the picture.

On the other hand, there’s Hamlin. Though it’s perhaps all moot with his current spot in the Chase solidified due to his Talladega win, he hasn’t even cracked the top 25, let alone the top 10, since Pocono. We’re talking finishes of 26th, 29th and, most recently, 42nd after an early crash at Kentucky.

So here’s where they stand: Kahne has jumped six spots since Pocono, affirming himself as part of the conversation rather than outside it, wallowing in pity and the words of bloggers. Then there’s Hamlin, who’s dropped a whopping 10 spots over three races, suddenly in Kurt Busch territory when it comes to race winners who just can’t seem to catch a break outside their moments of triumph.

It’s always intriguing to look at a statistic like this one because it showcases both upward and downward mobility and exemplifies the point that no matter how hot a streak might be, it could change in a matter of a moment.

That is, of course, a heartening concept for a driver like Hamlin, and perhaps a demon on the back of Kahne. Hamlin already won a restrictor plate race this season — what’s going to stop him from contending for a second this week? Generally wins at given tracks aren’t flukes; the drivers one sees up front at one will likely be the same at another when it comes to track types.

Huh. What do you know. Fillings really CAN pick up radio stations…”
On the other hand, Kasey Kahne has found Lady Luck on his side in recent weeks. (Credit: CIA Editorial Photography)

Say, for instance, Hamlin comes out to Daytona and leads the field across the stripe for the checkered flag once again. Now he’s solidly in the Chase, a shoo-in barring an issue that might necessitate missing a race and not getting NASCAR’s approval, for instance. All of a sudden, someone on the backswing is a no-brainer.

Then there’s Kahne. He’s been on fire the rest of June, but Daytona marks the start of July. While the renewed focus he and the No. 5 team seem to share could be his buoy, Kahne could also easily get swept up in the Big One at Daytona and start another downward spiral that sees him unable to win and — all told — outside of the Chase when it begins.

For Kahne, the risk is greater. Without a win, he’s reliant on the amount of spots available for the winless, which is six entering Daytona. Give that win to someone without a victory and suddenly it’s five — a not-so-good happening if the driver ends up being behind Kahne in points coming in. He could pass the next closest driver in points after Daytona, but it could matter not at all. What feels like a gain ends up a stalemate or, perhaps, a loss — especially if something of that sort occurs at Richmond.

That’s what both Kahne and Hamlin are up against entering Daytona and over the final nine races before the Chase takes hold. Anything could happen, and as noted by each driver’s last three races, a lot can change in the current iteration of the Sprint Cup Series in a very small amount of time.

Tell that to the fanatics who think Jimmie Johnson’s already run away with the title. Perhaps it’ll put them at ease.

About the author

Rutherford is the managing editor of Frontstretch, a position he gained in 2015 after serving on the editing staff for two years. At his day job, he's a journalist covering music and rock charts at Billboard. He lives in New York City, but his heart is in Ohio -- you know, like that Hawthorne Heights song.

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While I appreaciate the effort that went into this article, too much is praise and analysis is place on these restrictor plate races. They are not the place that one can say whoo-hoo that was some driving and skill. Hamlin’s win is a gift, his running in all of the other races is a true marker of his season. I cannot stand the hoopla of surviving “the big one”, seems like a waste of a lot of expensive race cars. Kasey has flat out have bad luck for sure, but then again, he seems to be the low totem on the pole of the almighty HMS, and some of it seems to be his own doing. What is annoying is the media hype making seem like the last winner has a shot..if the David Regan’s, the Derrick Copes, the Mikey Waltrips, the Trevor Baynes are shoo in’s every dang race. A gift for Nascar immorality by sheer luck most of the time. Nascars gift I guess.


If I skip races they are always plate races. With Generic 6 cars glued to the track and passing even less likely due to the plates elimination of acceleration the winner is most likely determined by pure luck. Add to that the real possibility of someone being killed due to NASCAR’s love affair with the big one and you get that wonderful combination of boring and deadly all at the same time. There are ways to slow the cars down and allow them to actually race without plates. Why won’t NASCAR explore some of them?

Tim S.

I take my hat off to you for the “Generic 6” characterization. So many people eat it up like the media on a Hendrick press release. It’s a re-skinned COT, and the “Gen-6” moniker is just a way to try to distract from it.

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