Kasey Kahne hopes he's back on track.
Kahne, a season-best fourth-place finish last Sunday in the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond, has had it tough in recent seasons. He hasn't won since Atlanta in 2014, a span of 56 races. Before Richmond, the Hendrick Motorsports driver hadn't had a top-five since Oct. 18 at Kansas.
So his performance at Richmond, coupled with an eighth place April 9 at Texas, is cause for optimism.
"It's a slow process really," Kahne said. "We were so far gone there for a little while, it takes time to start getting back to where we need to be. We're heading that direction now, so it's really nice."
Kahne missed the 2015 Chase for the Championship but that gave his No. 5 Chevy team more motivation during the offseason. But an inconsistent start turned the hopefulness into frustration.
"That's the good thing about sports in general, and definitely racing," Kahne said. "You have two, three months off. During those months off you prepare and think you're the best driver, think your team's the best. You go into each season saying, 'I'm excited for this year, I'm excited because we're going to be good, it's going to be a strong year.'
"Then we started and we weren't. We weren't and we were. There were some bright spots at times but not nearly what we wanted."
Kahne hasn't performed as well as teammates Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr., or even rookie Chase Elliott, who is ahead of Kahne in points.
Team owner Rick Hendrick "gives us great race cars," Kahne said. "He has for a long time. We haven't performed near where we should have in a lot of those weekends. It's not the car. It's a lot of other things. It all comes with being a strong team."
Today's Geico 500 is at Talladega Superspeedway, where Kahne hasn't fared well (he averages a finish of 21.5 there in 24 Cup starts). But he'll have the memory of Richmond fresh in his mind.
"I knew we really needed to go to work or I needed to find something different to do, because it was getting as discouraging as it could be," Kahne said. "It's nice to have three solid weekends and we'll keep building from here."
Elliott on pole: Chase Elliott earned the pole for today's race 30 years after his father's blistering run at Talladega. The younger Elliott, 20, turned a lap at 192.661 mph. In 1986 Bill Elliott ran a lap at 212.229 mph, before NASCAR introduced restrictor plates at superspeedways.