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Kahne goes for season sweep at Pocono

LONG POND, Pa. - Little has changed for Kasey Kahne in the last six weeks.

After winning the June race at Pocono Raceway, the NASCAR Sprint Cup star sat in ninth place in the season standings, exactly where he remains heading into today's Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500.

The big difference now is that the Chase for the Championship is looming on the horizon and Kahne has not yet nailed down a spot in the 10-race stock car postseason.

'We had an awesome Dodge Charger back in June here at Pocono,' Kahne said. 'I hope that we can run well again this weekend. It's going to be a real battle to make it in the Chase these next six races, so it's real important to run consistent and stay up front.'

The top 12 drivers after the first 26 races of the season qualify for the Chase and right now drivers in positions seven through 14 are separated by just 154 points.

Kahne, who drives for Gillett Evernham Motorsports, is just 81 points ahead of 13th-place Kevin Harvick. A victory today would go a long way toward solidifying his chances to make the NASCAR postseason.

'That's the main goal - that's what all the teams want to do for their sponsors and owners and the employees that work on these cars,' said Kahne, who failed to make the Chase last year after finishing eighth in 2006. 'Out of the 14 (drivers) going for the Chase, I think that we have as good a shot as anyone from sixth on back.'

A year ago, Kahne was in the midst of a woeful, winless season. But his two points wins this year have given him and the whole GEM team a boost, and his 10 top-10 finishes in 20 starts are already two more than in all of 2007.

'We have some different people in place at Gillett Evernham Motorsports and we have a better starting point this year,' he said. 'I think we have a great test team that does a lot for our team now. I feel that everything that they work on is much better than last year.'

In June, most of the prerace talk centered on a 3,800-foot asphalt patch between turns two and three on the 2.5-mile triangle track.

That asphalt, installed after track owner Joseph Mattioli found baseline cracks in the roadway, produced a little extra grip for the cars. In qualifying and during the race, it did help some drivers, but it also was the site of several crashes.

But that's old news heading into today's race.

'The patch in turn three doesn't have as much grip as it did when we were here before,' Kahne explained. 'It's easy to slip off the top of it and get too high now, which it looks like a lot of people figured out because there are a lot of marks above the patch.

'It's the same racetrack, just a little bit slower and a little bit later in the year. Those are the things that you have to get right again on Sunday to win the race.'

The final practice for the race was rained out Saturday.

Jimmie Johnson, coming off a second-place finish in Chicago and a win last Sunday at Indianapolis, will start from the pole, with Mark Martin alongside and David Gilliland and Jeff Gordon close behind. Kahne will start seventh.

This is the first race since the tire debacle at Indy, where rightside tires - and particularly right rears - were wearing out so fast NASCAR had to keep putting out caution flags every 10 or 12 laps if a yellow wasn't brought out for some other reason.

But no tire problems are expected today.

'Last week was unfortunate, but that's what it was and I'm sure that it won't happen again,' Kahne said. 'I think that we had a really good tire that (Goodyear) brought here for the first race. It's the same one that we have again this weekend.

'I look forward (to) being able to have some green flag stops. (It's) a good, strong, durable, racy tire and I'm looking forward to that.'

SideBar: NASCAR

What: Pennsylvania 500

Where: Pocono Raceway, Long Pond, Pa.

When: Today, 2 p.m.

TV: ESPN