LONG POND, Pa. Kasey Kahne never thought his start to the season was all that bad, despite how it looked on paper.
In hindsight, there was something missing and it took last month's win in the All-Star race to see it.
Now Kahne is on a roll, riding a wave of momentum from that $1 million payday into a championship-contending run.
He won for second time in the last three Sprint Cup Series points races Sunday at Pocono Raceway, and counting his win in the All-Star race, Kahne has been to Victory Lane three times in the past four events.
And he knows he's got his fans to thank after they voted him into the All-Star race, giving him the push he needed to rally his way to ninth in the Sprint Cup Series standings.
"As a driver, I didn't feel like my confidence was down. But until I actually won this year, the All-Star race, I realized that I was leaving a little bit out there and wasn't communicating probably like I should have been," Kahne said. "I definitely credit the fans for getting us into the All-Star race. That gave us the momentum.
"That gave the company the excitement and the momentum that they needed, and myself, and that's when I personally feel like I started communicating better and I've done a much better job since."
Has he ever.
He followed the All-Star win with a victory the next week in the Coca-Cola 600, and although he bobbled last week with a 31st-place finish at Dover, he owned Pocono.
Kahne started from the pole, overcame an early pit road penalty that dropped him to 38th and led a race-high 69 of the 200 laps in his Dodge.
"Never. I've never had a car that dominant before," Kahne said. "This one stayed the same all day long. It was so good all day long."
Brian Vickers was second for his best finish since joining Red Bull Racing at the start of last season, and Denny Hamlin was third to give Toyota two cars in the top three.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. was fourth and appeared winded after racing over four hours on the hottest day so far of the NASCAR season. Temperatures hovered around 90 degrees all day, even after a brief rain shower halted action midway through the race.
"It's pretty hot," a red-faced Earnhardt said. "It's going to be a little hotter the next couple months."
Vickers concurred, sweating profusely from the podium after his finish.
"I'm exhausted, lets get this going," he said, blaming some of the issues on rising heat in NASCAR's new car. "It's brutal. We're going to the infield care center after the races and that's ridiculous. NASCAR needs to step in and ... cool these cars down to help us. It is extremely freaking hot out there."
Hamlin was pale white and clearly spent as he nodded in agreement.
"I saw Brian, and even Junior needed a second to breathe. It's just tough," Hamlin said. "We're trying as drivers to stay hydrated, but these cars are just way too hot."
Jeff Burton was fifth and was followed by Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch. Carl Edwards and Mark Martin rounded out the top 10. Bobby Labonte was 11th and AJ Allmendinger was 12th to give Red Bull its best all-around day since the two-car team joined NASCAR last season.
Kyle Busch became the first driver to compete in all three of NASCAR's national series at three different race tracks on the same weekend, but fell far short of winning a triple crown and finished last Sunday in the Sprint Cup race.
Busch, who wrecked his primary car in Saturday's practice session, started at the rear of the field when he had to switch to his backup Toyota and was running deep in traffic when he ran into Jamie McMurray as the battled for the same spot of race track. It sent Busch into the garage for repairs, and even though his crew rebuilt the car and got him back on the track, he wound up 43rd.
"I saw (McMurray) get high, get loose, and thought he faded back further than he did," Busch said. "We broke the mirror trying to adjust it there before the race and couldn't see anything out my right rear quarter panel. So I couldn't clear myself. The spotter didn't say anything, so I apologize to McMurray for wrecking their day."
Busch was second in Friday night's Truck Series race at Texas Motor Speedway, and was a distant 20th in the Nationwide Series race at Nashville on Saturday night.
But even worse, his cozy lead in the Sprint Cup Series standings was gobbled up as Busch lost 121 points of his lead. Burton now trails him by just 21 points.
"We just had a bad weekend in Pocono, that's all we can really say," crew chief Steve Addington said. "We've had a great year. You can't sit here and dwell on one weekend."