Brant James
Wednesday August 5th, 2009

Somewhere down below the decidedly undemonstrative façade, Kasey Kahne could be thinking about the possibility of sweeping the road course segment of the Sprint Cup schedule. There would be significance in a second win this season and perhaps further validation that Richard Petty Motorsports is indeed going to be OK after a season of tumult.

Most importantly -- at least in the now mentality of a regular season with just five races left until the Chase for the Championship -- Kahne could further buttress his position inside the Dozen That Matter. The top-12 drivers in points after Richmond qualify for the 10-race playoffs, and Kahne, who hasn't made the cut since 2006, is currently seventh in the driver standings, 180 points ahead of 13th-place Kyle Busch.

Yeah, yeah, important stuff. Kahne concedes. But he'll have competed in three different regimens at four decidedly disparate facilities before he even gets to Watkins Glen for Sunday's Cup race. First there was a Sprint Cup race on the oval at Pocono on Monday. He'll compete in a sprint car tonight in a charity event for his foundation at the half-mile dirt oval in Mechanicsburg, Pa., then in a USAC Silver Crown car over a 5/8-mile paved surface in Oswego, N.Y., on Thursday. Though the crush of fan, media and corporate responsibilities can sometimes complicate the career, race car drivers love few places more than the seat of a race car.

"I look at it as we love to race. That's what we want to do," Kahne said. "When we go and do those other races, it's a little bit different than having maybe the everybody wants to win, everybody wants to run well, get the points every weekend. When we go and do the other races, you don't necessarily have to win, but you still want to. It's just a little bit different feeling.

"You can do it kind of like a vacation, just about."

Kahne is expected to compete against Sprint Cup driver and fellow barnstormer Ryan Newman in the Silver Crown race at Oswego. As for business back at Watkins Glen, he's confident an improved mutual understanding with crew chief Kenny Francis of what he needs in a car will again translate into a sharp-handling, taut-breaking No. 9 Dodge.

"I just kept hitting my marks, doing the best I could do. That was what we did that day, and it was good enough," he said. "To beat Tony [Stewart] and Juan [Pablo Montoya], and [Marcos] Ambrose was right up there. It felt really good. Those are the guys you've got to beat." But first, you play.

Passing grade: There was some irony in the facts that the Indy Racing League's oval-track product being deemed stale by some observers so far this season -- devoid of much side-to-side racing and a parade behind the top-moneyed teams -- and that the widely lauded measures taken to improve it eventually put another gentry team's driver on top of the podium.

It was Ryan Briscoe calculatedly thumbing the newly implemented power boost button to catch front-running Ed Carpenter in the final 20 laps at Kentucky Speedway on Saturday night. For much of the season it had been Carpenter and the rest trying to catch the likes of Briscoe and Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves and Will Power, or Ganassi's Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti. They didn't have the tools at the time, however.

Briscoe buttressed the status quo on Saturday by winning for the second time this season (with five runner-up finishes) and wresting the IndyCar points lead from Dixon. But the circular route to normalville was more exciting.

The .0162-second margin of victory was 11th-closest in league history and a challenge from a career-winless driver from a mid-level team, might, as IRL competition director Brian Barnhart contends, signal that a wider array of options available to mechanics and engineers could narrow what he believes was a narrow physics gap between the haves -- Penske, Ganassi, and to a lesser extent, Andretti Green -- and everyone else on ovals.

Though altruism is easier to muster from the top step of the podium -- "I think [the changes] helped me get to the top of the podium on top of everything else," Briscoe said. "So I'm not complaining." -- the Australian said he never wished that the IRL could have lived with the norm for five more races.

"Look at the results," he said. "I thought it was great. And I think it might have gotten the Ganassi guys into a little bit of trouble Saturday night. I don't think they ran enough down force in the cars. When they got into traffic they started having trouble. And I think exactly what we're looking for from a package, between being able to run the right amount of down force or maybe getting a bit greedy and not running enough. I think that's exactly what we were looking for."

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