MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- By almost any standard, Kasey Kahne had a good weekend at Martinsville.
He finished third, led 11 laps and had an outside shot at winning. He even gained a place in the Chase for the Sprint Cup standings heading into this weekend's AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.
"We gained one point," he said.
True enough. Kahne gained only one point on the lead, moving from 30 points out to 29 out.
But over the past three weeks, Kahne has given himself at least a daydreamer's chance. He was eighth at Charlotte, fourth at Kansas, third at Martinsville, and now he comes to Fort Worth's mile-and-a-half quadoval, where he has won before and Hendrick Motorsports cars can be pretty good.
"We've gained one or two points a week for the last few weeks. We'll be there in like a year, I guess," he said to laughter from reporters.
But the nine-year Sprint Cup veteran doesn't have to apologize for anything. He has acquitted himself well in his first season with NASCAR's most powerful organization. He has two wins, 11 top-5s, 18 top-10s, four poles and an average finish of 12.8. He is at or approaching career highs in all of those categories.
At Martinsville, historically a tough track for him, he showed polish and confidence in navigating the bruising half-mile track. He remains a contender in a race that appears to have settled into a two-driver sprint between Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski after Denny Hamlin's electric problem.
"If you look, every year, he finishes off strong," Johnson said. "I really felt like if we got him in the Chase, he would do a great job and be a threat. He's certainly showing that. He and that team are going to grow and get stronger as they get more time in the Hendrick system."
Clint Bowyer is in third, 26 points behind, and Kahne is next.
"I still feel like I have a chance because of the way the points are," Kahne said. "You can have a bad race. Denny lost tons of points just by things that happen in racing. It's part of the sport. So yes, we definitely still have a shot.
"But we're a ways out. I wish we were within 20 or 15. I think we'd be a lot more legit at that point."
Kahne's best season in NASCAR came in 2006, when he won six times and finished eighth in the final standings for Ray Evernham, now a Hendrick consultant.
As he wraps up his first year with Hendrick Motorsports, Kahne thinks about his firsthand look at the operation that has sent Johnson to five championships.
"How many has he got? Five? I've watched some of those as closely as I can from being part of another company and racing for some of the other teams that I have," Kahne said. "I've gotten beaten by him plenty of times over the years. This year, being his teammate, watching how good the guy is, how good his team is, how good they work together at every track ...it's impressive what they do. I'm glad to be a part of it. Even though he beats me more times than not, I'm still trying to learn, listen, be part of it.
"Hopefully at some point, we can catch up to him a little bit."
Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7407