For Kasey Kahne, each of the next 12 NASCAR Nextel Cup races is critical.
Despite finally getting his first Cup victory last month in Richmond, last year's top rookie is nowhere near where he and many others expected him to be after the first 14 races of the 2005 season.
Kahne goes into today's Batman Begins 400 at Michigan International Speedway 19th in the season standings, 571 points behind series leader Jimmie Johnson and 191 points out of 10th place.
The top 10 drivers and any others within 400 points of the leader after the first 26 races are eligible to compete for the season title in the Chase for the Nextel Cup championship over the final 10 events.
"It's pretty disappointing really to see where we're at," Kahne said yesterday before qualifying fourth for the 400-mile event on Michigan's two-mile oval. "It's not where we should be.
"But we can still turn it around and have a decent season and still have a shot at the Chase if things go really well. But we definitely need to turn it around and get consistent."
It's consistency that Kahne and his No. 9 Evernham Dodge team have been missing most this season.
The 25-year-old driver from Enumclaw, Wash., has four top-five finishes so far this season but also has eight finishes of 22nd or worse.
The problem: The new Dodge Charger.
Team owner Ray Evernham, who also fields Chargers for Jeremy Mayfield, who is 13th in points, is optimistic that Evernham Motorsports can get things turned around.
"We have speed but we don't have it consistently," Evernham said. "We've been inconsistently fast, which is better than being consistently slow. But we've got to just keep working on our program to get it right."
* FORMULA ONE: Jarno Trulli salvaged what was shaping up to be a miserable weekend for the Toyota team by winning the pole for the United States Grand Prix.
Trulli had a time of 1 minute 10.625 seconds around the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to earn the first pole for Toyota. Earlier in the day, teammate Ralf Schumacher wasn't medically cleared to race after a hard accident he had during a practice session.
The Italian driver earned his first pole of the season -- third career -- and first since the Belgium Grand Prix in 2004.
Kimi Raikkonen finished second in 1:10.694.
* CHAMP CAR: Justin Wilson will start from the pole for the first time in the Grand Prix of Portland, with the other front-row spot going belatedly to teammate A.J. Allmendinger after a power outage prompted a challenge over the qualifying results.
Defending race champion Sebastien Bourdais contested that his best lap of qualifying -- which would have put him in the No. 2 position -- came during the outage that disrupted the timing system at Oregon's Portland International Raceway.
Wilson won the provisional pole Friday when he toured the road course in 57.597 seconds, guaranteeing him a front-row spot and earning him a series point.
* CRAFTSMAN TRUCKS: Dennis Setzer raced to his first victory of the season, winning the Paramount Health Insurance 200 under caution after Ted Musgrave blew an engine while running second with less than two laps to go at Michigan International Speedway.
Nextel Cup regular Kyle Busch, the pole winner, finished second, and Bobby Hamilton was third to take the series season points lead from Musgrave.