Next year's Sprint Cup Series schedule hasn't come out yet, but when it does, expect the folks at Hendrick Motorsports to circle Kentucky Speedway on the calendar.
All four drivers of the Hendrick brigade turned in solid runs in Saturday night's Quaker State 400 and finished inside the top six.
Kasey Kahne led the way with an amazing comeback from a loose wheel early and was nearly in position to run down eventual race winner Brad Keselowski in the final laps before settling for second.
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"Yeah, it would have been great to win in the Quaker State car," said Kahne. "But we had a really good Quaker State Chevy throughout the whole race."
The finish was good for Kahne but he is still a long way from being able to break into the top 10 of the point standings so he knows victories for a wild-card berth are vital.
He has no doubt the resources and support for that to happen are at his disposal.
"Yeah, top-five's good, probably not going to get us in the Chase," said Kahne. "We need to win a race or two more to make the Chase. But to see how well the Hendrick cars are right now, I mean, it's great to see. Great to be part of that. All of the guys should be really happy because they've prepared us some pretty nice cars and our engines run great."
Teammate Jeff Gordon is in the same boat as Kahne, needing victories more than solid finishes to entertain any Chase aspirations. But his fifth-place run Saturday night was a third straight good outing, which Gordon says is helping in the confidence and momentum department.
"Yeah, we've just got to keep going to the race track and putting the effort out that we've been putting out," said Gordon. "This team has been awesome. The cars have definitely shown that; and lately we've been getting the results. So you can definitely put some momentum on that, and we've got some great tracks that are coming. To get a top five here at Kentucky, which is definitely one of my worst race tracks, I feel like ... to come home with a top five tells you just how strong our cars are and our team is and what we're capable of doing."
Many believe Dale Earnhardt Jr. is capable of winning a championship in a season he has called the best of his Sprint Cup career. A fourth-place Kentucky finish moved Junior back to second in the point standings.
"We were fast and good all weekend," said Earnhardt. "It was a good weekend for us. We would have loved to have had a little better shot at it at the end. We had a good racecar with the run before last; but for some reason it got really loose at the end. I'm just proud of the team. I just hope we can keep it up. We're real proud of how we're doing so far and we'd like to win another race."
When Earnhardt was reminded it has only been two weeks since his last win, he admitted his anxiousness for a return trip to Victory Lane.
"I know, but I ain't going to be as patient this time," he laughed.
Nor is Jimmie Johnson, who appeared to be a contender Saturday until losing tire grip on a late restart and a botched pit stop cost him a chance. But Johnson still considered the sixth-place finish successful given the circumstances.
"We would have liked to have been better for sure," said Johnson. "We have speed in the car and will keep working from here for better finishes and wins."
The Hendrick group might not have gotten the latter Saturday night, but overall it was stellar effort in the Bluegrass State.
|Took over the Chase lead by 20 points thanks to a sixth place finish and Jimmie Johnson?s misfortune. This is now the Penske Racing driver?s championship to lose.|
|Saw his seven point lead evaporate thanks to a cut tire and trip into the wall on Sunday. Johnson now must hope a similar such fate happens to Keselowski next week at Homestead to have any shot at a sixth title.|
|Nearly ran the table in Phoenix by leading all practices and taking the pole had he been able to win the race. But a poor decision on lane choice for a late restart cost Busch a shot at Victory Lane.|
|Ending the year on a positive note but wasn?t able to match his Phoenix victory of last November. Still a solid day with a fourth place performance.|
|Was the victim of Jeff Gordon?s revenge that completely eliminated Bowyer from championship contention. He wasn?t an angel in the turn of events but Bowyer definitely got the worst of the situation.|
|Hamlin?s second place finish in Phoenix a welcome rebound from two weeks of disappointment for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver. He?ll be a factor for a win next Sunday in Homestead.|
|Snapped a 44-race winless drought with Sunday?s win ironically coming on the weekend when reports of his evacuation from Richard Childress Racing to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014 broke out.|
|A decent day for ?The Biff? in Phoenix, who was able to dodge all the last lap craziness to bring home his Roush Fenway Racing Ford seventh.|
|Minding his own business until getting swept up in the Gordon-Bowyer fight. Logano was on his way to a nice effort to follow up his ninth Nationwide Series win on Saturday.|
|Rough way to earn a fifth place finish as Newman was one of the unfortunate souls to get caught in the last lap crash on the main straightaway.|
|Not a god day at all for Smoke who spun late after making contact racing for position. A 19th place finish for Stewart.|
|Will make the final Sprint Cup start of his career for Roush Fenway Racing next week at Homestead on the heels of a 14th place effort in Phoenix.|
|13||Martin Truex Jr.||10|
|His race was over nearly before it started with a blown engine. After a stellar regular season Truex Jr. has suffered mightily throughout the Chase.|
|An 11th place finish for Edwards as he brings to a close one of the most disappointing seasons in his career.|