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Kahne on pole at 'stupid fast' Kansas

20 October 2012

There was no question that the recent repaving work at Kansas Speedway had transformed how the NASCAR Sprint Cup cars performed at the 1.5-mile tri-oval as they got their first run at the new-look circuit this week.

The previous lap record for the venue had been Matt Kenseth's 180.856mph effort set way back in 2005: but in Friday's qualifying session for this weekend's Hollywood Casino 400, every single one of the 46 cars participating broke that record - even the three who failed to qualify for the grid who were Cole Whitt, David Stremme and Josh Wise.

"It's fast, it's smooth, and it's a great track," said Kasey Kahne, who claimed pole with a time of 28.219s (191.360mph). "Our car felt really good. I came to the green as fast as I had throughout the practices. I got through one and two pretty good. In three I got in and then off of turn four I had to lift just a little bit, kind of lost the front tyres, but still was able to run a quick lap there and get the pole. I was really happy."

Kahne is hopeful of a good performance in the race itself on Sunday, which marks the beginning of the second half of the 2012 Chase.

"We have run pretty well here in the past so I've kind of always liked Kansas," he said. "I've liked how you have been able to move around and run a lot of different lines and things - I feel like this track will go there eventually. We will be able to move all over. It doesn't really feel anything like the old track, but we just had a really good balance today and we were able to put down a good lap."

As well as being repaved, the circuit has also added variable and increased banking to the configuration of the venue. But having such a radically transformed and therefore completely unfamiliar track at this critical point of the Chase could prove a major factor in who heads into the final stretch of the 2012 season still in contention.

"I think it's a bit of a wild card," agreed Kahne. "It's not a Talladega wild card, but it's a bit of a wild card because you have to pick up on the surface. The only thing to me is it is pretty similar to Michigan. The size of the track isn't but the surface, the corners for whatever reason I think it feels really similar to Michigan. The guys that are running well right now ran pretty well at Michigan - I would say they will figure it out.

"We had a great run today but everybody will figure it out for Sunday," he added. "We just need to try to stay ahead of them if we can."

Kahne's time was just 0.018s ahead of veteran campaigner Mark Martin who will join him on the front row for the green flag on Sunday. Martin's team mate at Michael Waltrip Racing, Clint Bowyer, will start from row two alongside Joe Gibbs Racing's Kyle Busch, making it three Toyota-powered cars in the top four.

"That was actually a good pickup for us," said Bowyer of his third position on the grid. "I think it will be a good starting spot. That's a fast lap. It's unreal how much that gets your attention. The thing kind of wiggled — I arched it big because I saw some cars getting tight and that's what I'd been fighting — tight off of two. Arched it real big getting into one and I was a little slow getting to the gas. Coulda, would, shoulda."

Kyle Busch's comments underscored just how much faster the racetrack was performing and how scary the extra 10mph was in reality when he said, "We're all just high-fiving each other because we're coming back in one piece. It's crazy fast out there."

He added: "It's not necessarily the top speed we are going down the straightaways is any different than we've ever been, but the minimum speed — you're carrying so much corner speed here that it's just amazing that you don't fall off that much through the turns. White-knuckling, baby. That's what it's all about."

Non-Chase drivers Aric Almirola and Ryan Newman claim the third row, with Kahne's Hendrick Motorsports team mate Jimmie Johnson lining up on the fourth row alongside Joey Logano. Other Chase contenders include Richard Childress Racing's Kevin Harvick starting from tenth with Roush Fenway Racing duo Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth alongside each other in 11th and 12th.

Martin Truex Jr. will start from 16th place in the third MWR car, while Jeff Gordon could only manage a disappointing 19th place on the grid. That's still better than current points leader Brad Keselowski starting from 25th, however - or reigning champion Tony Stewart who was only able to post the 33rd fastest time.

"We just have more work to do than we wanted for Sunday," said Keselowski after qualifying ended. "Race day is what counts and we have some more practice time to work on [during Saturday]."

Denny Hamlin took part in qualifying on Friday and went on to claim ninth on the grid, just a day after taking a hard hit in pre-event testing of the newly-laid surface of the Speedway that he admitted had left him dizzy.

"It was the first time I really had some dizziness after a hit," said Hamlin. "Usually I'm sore or your jaw hurts from clenching your jaw. This is the first time I really got dizzy.

"Obviously the severity of it, and the speeds we were running, it was a wise thing to do anyway," Hamlin continued. "Just bell-rung, typical hard hit, ring-your-bell kind of thing. You get jarred around, you feel a little out of it at first. Everything came back okay."

In the aftermath of Dale Earnhardt Jr. being sidelined with concussion, there was considerably more focus on Hamlin's fitness to participate than usual. Although he was able to drive the wrecked #11 back to the garage, Hamlin was still dispatched to the medical centre for a check-over and even asked to return an hour later for a second check before being allowed to get behind the wheel of the back-up car.

"Can't remember it happening before," said Hamlin after being advised by NASCAR officials to get a checkup. "But honestly, the severity of it, and the speeds we were running, it probably was a wise thing to do anyway.

"I felt the need just to make sure I was okay," he continued. I don't want to be endangering myself or anyone else on the track. They seem to think I'm fine, I feel like I'm good, so we're just going to move on with our day."

Hamlin's accident happened in the first hour of the extra track time Cup drivers got at Kansas on Thursday as a result of the repaving work that's just been completed at the 1.5-mile tri-oval. He clipped the wall with the rear of the car in turn 1, overcorrected and headed into the wall in turn 2.

"He was sideways way, way early, and I was trying to figure out what the hell was going on, and then I saw him get on the apron and he was in trouble, man," said Clint Bowyer who had just been heading out onto the track when Hamlin's accident happened. "He hit hard."

There's no Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the #88 car again this week because of his concussion diagnosis, and stand-in driver Regan Smith could only manage 39th in qualifying on Friday. Kurt Busch - who replaced Smith in the #78 Furniture Row Racing car - will start from 26th position.

Other notable qualifiers included AJ Allmendinger in his second week back in the series with Phoenix Racing to claim an impressive 13th place on the grid. "I got down into one and two and got right along the line and it just got me a little free so I had to pedal it just for a second," Allmendinger said.

"When the speeds are this high if you pedal it just a little bit you lose a little bit of time," he explained. "We definitely have good speed, and track position is going to be everything so it's the way that is going to play out. All of us have to be smart and not make any mistakes. I think if we can do that we can have a solid top 15 if not better on Sunday."

In a part-time season consisting of only 10 races in the top series while concentrating on Nationwide, Danica Patrick's latest Cup outing saw her down in 40th position.

“I feel like anytime I'm not last it just feels good," she laughed. "For me the big indicator of how comfortable I am is how I can qualify the car. I definitely feel like we were making a little bit of progress today. Unfortunately, we didn't get to do as many qualifying runs as I would have wanted to in practice because I came across the line after my second run and lifted, popped it out of gear, but when I popped it out of gear it ran into third gear.

"We are steadily making progress and that is what this is for," she added. "I'm sure that the race will be even more as it seems to do every other time. I know it's going to be tough to pass and I know we are not going to start in a great spot, but we will make the most of it and we will be better off next year," when she intends to transition to Cup racing full-time.


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