Slight fade foils Kahne in All-Star home stretch
May 19, 2013, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
Fast final pit stop not enough for Hendrick Motorsports driver
There were slight adjustments that weren’t made, slight dings that went unnoticed. Minor on the surface, maybe major in the end.
Kasey Kahne had a fast car, and the lead, when the final 10-lap sprint got under way in Saturday night’s Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. On most occasions, that’s more than enough to start thinking about Victory Lane.
The Hendrick Motorsports driver finished fourth.
“We couldn’t risk any time doing that,” Kahne said of his team’s decision to slap on four tires and forgo any adjustments to his No. 5 Chevrolet during a final mandatory stop.
Track position was deemed too crucial, so when he rolled off pit road for the final time with the lead in the 90-lap non-points event, it appeared the call might pay off. Handsomely at that, since the winner’s check exceeds $1 million.
But after a two-lap tussle with teammate Jimmie Johnson, Kahne’s car began to fade. And when the race ended, Johnson was celebrating a record fourth all-star victory.
“The team did an awesome job,” Kahne said. “We had the fastest stop; I don’t know if anybody else adjusted (on their cars) but we knew we couldn’t. We came in third, went out first. I was really happy with that.”
The call to start on the outside for the final restart was based on his car’s handling at the time, Kahne said. Outside of that, “we just raced hard,” with Johnson.
“I gave him his lane, he gave me mine,” he said. “He either got tight or rubbed me a little off (Turn) 4, maybe the first or second lap, and got a good run when he did that. Kind of pulled me back some. He just cleared me. He was better than I was.”
In a race that was run in four 20-lap segments followed by a final 10-lap dash, Kahne said it was no surprise that track position was key.
“Whoever broke loose from the two-wide stuff was going to win,” he said. “Before we even came this week, we knew in a 10-lap segment at night at Charlotte, whoever gets the lead first in that final 10 laps, it’s not even going to be close.”
Crew chief Kenny Francis, watching as his car rolled through the final phases of post-race inspection at the track, noted a bit of right-side damage that might have impacted the handling of his driver’s car. But even if it had been more evident, he said, it’s unlikely the team would have taken the time to fix the damage during the pivotal final stop.
“That probably tightened the car up some, too, and we didn’t know about it,” Francis said. “It seemed like the car was fast, then with the damage it was just not quite as sharp after that. I think we got (the damage) about halfway through, but by then we had good track position; other people around us got shuffled around and it looked like we were pretty good there for a while.”
Ninth at the start of the race, Kahne was fifth at the end of the first 20-lap segment and just inside the top 10, after pitting, at the start of the third. He led once (laps 61-71) for 11 laps.
The mistake-free final stop shuffled the running order -- Kurt and Kyle Busch, Kahne, Johnson and Joey Logano hit pit road running first through fifth but it was Kahne and Johnson that came off pit road first andsecond, respectively.
“We knew we needed a good stop there,” Francis said. “The first time we got a chance to make an adjustment was on the first pit stop, and we took a couple of rounds of wedge out and got too free.
“We put a round back in and that’s kind of where we ran the rest of the race. We might could have chased it a little bit harder.”
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