Kahne ready to be a contender

DEAN MCNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:23 AM ET

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Kasey Kahne is sick and tired of losing to the powerhouse drivers -- Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- from Hendrick Motorsports.

Johnson is going for his fifth consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup championship, Gordon has four as well, and Mark Martin is coming off second place last season.

In fact, the three were 1-2-3 when the curtain fell on the 2009 season.

So when the green flag drops on the 2010 Daytona 500 on Sunday, Kahne thinks it's about time his No. 9 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford stated to push the Hendrick Chevrolets out of the way.

He said he really is sick of seeing the rear ends of their cars.

"I think that sometimes. I think everybody probably does," Kahne said. "We got down here and the first practice it was 1-2-3-4 or something like that with Hendrick cars."

What Kahne has in his favour is a move that RPM made in the off-season, switching from Dodges to Fords for the three-car team.

That allowed Kahne to put the highly regarded Yates Racing engines into his No. 9. And it has given him the confidence to believe he can challenge the big boys for the Sprint Cup this season.

"We're always chasing (Hendrick) it seems like, but I feel like I'm in the best position I've been in a while as far as at this race to have a shot to race with those guys and actually beat some of them," he said.

Even though it seems like the 29-year-old from Enumclaw, Wash., started his stock-car racing career last week, this will be his seventh year in NASCAR's top loop.

And, he said, he is counting on that experience to help him reach his goal of a Daytona 500 win and a shot at the season championship.

He started the process this past Thursday by winning his half of the Gatorade Duel 150s.

"I think you learn a little bit each time you come here and I've learned a lot over the last six years," he said. "I felt like (in final practice) and in the Shootout I've had more cars actually pushing the nine than what there has been in probably the six previous years combined, so I feel like I'm in a much better spot.

WANTS A SHOT

"People want to push a fast car and our car has been handling really good, and our Ford engine runs great, so, hopefully, that'll help the whole chess game that is the 500."

As good a race car as he thinks he has, however, can be undone in a split second on Sunday when 42 other drivers start fighting over the same piece of real estate at 190 m.p.h.

It is that opportunity for mishap, that has Kahne hoping his competitors don't try to win the race in the first 100 laps.

"It's 500 miles and you need to finish, so there might be a few spots where we're kind of strung out, but once we get rolling and get to the end of the race it's gonna be exciting," he said.

NASCAR bosses allowed teams to increase the size of restrictor plates on the 2010 race cars, giving them a significant horsepower boost, something Kahne said will make the racing closer and, potentially, more prone to big wrecks.

"I love this type of racing," he said. "As long as you stay out of the wreck, I think it's some of the most fun racing that we do each year. It's not wide open. You have to lift, you have to brake, you have to hit your marks."

DEAN.MCNULTY@SUNMEDIA.CA

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DAYTONA 500 LINEUP

SUNDAY, DAYTONA BEACH, LAP LENGTH: 2.5 MLES

(CAR NUMBER IN PARENTHESES)

1. (5) Mark Martin,

2. (88) Dale Earnhardt Jr.

3. (48) Jimmie Johnson

4. (9) Kasey Kahne

5. (29) Kevin Harvick

6. (14) Tony Stewart

7. (18) Kyle Busch

8. (42) Juan Pablo Montoya

9. (33) Clint Bowyer

10. (2) Kurt Busch

11. (78) Regan Smith

12. (19) Elliott Sadler

13. (1) Jamie McMurray

14. (56) Martin Truex Jr.

15. (43) AJ Allmendinger

16. (20) Joey Logano

17. (39) Ryan Newman

18. (47) Marcos Ambrose

19. (6) David Ragan

20. (00) David Reutimann

21. (24) Jeff Gordon

22. (83) Brian Vickers

23. (16) Greg Biffle

24. (17) Matt Kenseth

25. (11) Denny Hamlin

26. (12) Brad Keselowski

27. (99) Carl Edwards

28. (36) Mike Bliss

29. (55) Michael McDowel

30. (82) Scott Speed

31. (13) Max Papis

32. (98) Paul Menard

33. (34) John Andretti

34. (7) Robby Gordon

35. (37) Travis Kvapil

36. (77) Sam Hornish Jr.

37. (38) R.Richardson Jr.

38. (26) Boris Said

39. (31) Jeff Burton

40. (21) Bill Elliott

41. (87) Joe Nemechek

42. (71) Bobby Labonte

43. (51) Michael Waltrip


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