CONCORD -- NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Kasey Kahne, who’s been heating up on the racetrack a bit the last several weeks, on Wednesday made his first of a series of stops in New Hampshire over the next month and a half.
Kahne stopped by the New Hampshire Fire Academy and donned a firesuit and did a little training to get a feel for the life of a firefighter.
He tore back the roof of a Subaru with the help of a Jaws of Life tool, got a chance to use a fire hose and entered a smoke-filled building.
The event included a declaration by New Hampshire Motor Speedway general manager Jerry Gappens that the Camping World RV Sales 301 Sprint Cup weekend at the track from July 11-13 will be dedicated to first responders.
Kahne returns to the state next week on Tuesday and Wednesday to test at NHMS with his Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Jeff Gordon.
“Just try to get around the track as fast as we can,” Kahne said of the testing.
Things have been looking up for Kahne in recent weeks.
He was 14th at Charlotte on Sunday, a season’s-best third at Kansas the race before that and eighth the week prior at Talladega.
“Early in the year we were pretty slow,” Kahne said. “The last month we’ve been pretty fast. We’ve been right there in the hunt each week. It’s just having faster cars and doing things right. We were doing the whole setup and certain thing ways that weren’t working early in the year we figured out how to do right and we’ve picked up our speed a lot.”
Johnson and Gordon each won his first race of the season in the past two events — Johnson at Charlotte and Gordon at Kansas — pretty much guaranteeing Kahne’s teammates a spot in the Chase to the Sprint Cup Championship. Earnhardt won the season-opening Daytona 500.
“It’s been really good for Hendrick Motorsports to get a couple wins, get those guys in the Chase and know that we’re all going in the right direction and feel like we can win more, a lot more, over the next month or two,” Kahne said.
NASCAR changed its method of qualifying for the Chase for this season and the new system places a premium on wins. Sixteen drivers will make the Chase, up from 12, and winning a race all but insures a driver a spot.
“It just means more to win,” Kahne said. “It’s how you make it in the Chase. Points are still part of it. But winning is also. You can not have to worry near as much about points if you can figure out how to win a race. We’re working hard on that. We need to do that. But I feel like we can race our way in with points as well if we just get our stuff together and run like we’ve been running the last few weeks.”
Kahne sits at 17th in points heading into Sunday’s race at Dover.
Ten different drivers have won the 12 Sprint Cup races so far this year. There are 14 races left before the Chase begins.
Kahne, who won the July race at NHMS in 2012, figures a couple more different drivers may win races, which could leave four spots for drives to get in on points.
“In my opining there are going to be four or five spots open,” Kahne
said. “I think there will probably be four spots open by points. Maybe not, but I would think so.”
He’ll take his shots at a win, and look to me up in points, too.
“We were just slow the first six or seven races,” he said. “The last four we’ve been as fast as our teammates, or faster, and feel really good about where we’ve gained and feel like it will help us the rest of the season.”
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Gappens said the long winter put ticket sales a little behind schedule, but things picked up this week after the Indianapolis 500 and Coca Cola 600.
“After this weekend of racing, we saw a big uptick on Sunday and Monday and yesterday on ticket sales from a year ago,” he said. “I think people finally realized July’s coming. We’re trying to get the message to fans, July 13 is going to be here before you know it.”