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Paulk: Kahne still searching for breakthrough season with HMS

| Saturday, June 14, 2014, 9:50 p.m.

The pressure mounted for Kasey Kahne the moment he signed a lucrative deal with Hendrick Motorsports a couple of Sprint Cup seasons ago.

At 34, Kahne only looks like one of the many young guns of NASCAR. Incredibly, the Washington state native is in his 12th Cup season.

And time has flown by with Kahne mostly underachieving with the most successful Cup team in history. The promise of his talents threatening to dethrone six-time champion Jimmie Johnson as the point man at HMS hasn't been fulfilled.

In reality, no one could have really imagined that scenario. However, Kahne was expected to vault above four-time champion Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Instead, Kahne has fallen into the same trap that gathered up Earnhardt when he left Dale Earnhardt, Inc.. for HMS in 2008. Still, he won two times in both 2012 and 2013 while qualifying for the Chase.

Now, with only 11 races before the regular-season finale at Richmond International Raceway, Kahne finds himself in the precarious position of failing to make the Chase. He doesn't have the win required to virtually lock up a spot on the 16-car playoff grid.

While Kahne struggles to get onto victory lane, his teammates all have wins. Johnson and Earnhardt both have two wins and are 1-2 on the current grid.

Indeed, the pressure is growing for a driver who won six times in 2005 while driving for Ray Everham.

“Really where we are at right now, as a team, we need to show up each weekend, and put full weekends together; from myself to Kenny (Francis, crew chief) to everybody on our team,” Kahne said. “We all have talked about this all weekend, and all week long leading into this race.”

Kahne will try to secure a playoff spot on Sunday at Michigan International Speedway where he won in 2008.

“We just need to step up, and if we do that, I feel like ‘Yes, there is going to be pressure, we want to be in the Chase,'” he said “But we have fast enough cars. We have all the equipment; everything there to do it.”

“We just need to put those weekends together,” he said. “We need to put ourselves in position, and there is still plenty of time to win races.”

Time is hardly an ally for Kahne. And if he can't get it done before Richmond, then owner Rick Hendrick might have to consider another young gun.

“I like being at HMS. It is just an unbelievable place,” Kahne said. “Getting to work with the three teammates that I get to work with each week is better than anything I've ever done in racing as far as guys I've been able to work with. I am getting information there from three of the best in racing.

“I've enjoyed every bit of it. Mr. Hendrick is always trying to help me as a driver, as a person and he gives us every opportunity. So, I want to be there a long time. We still have a year-and-a-half before my deal is up.”

Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rpaulk@tribweb.com.

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