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Happy Hour: Kahne turning strong practices into optimism

July 30, 2011, Dave Rodman, NASCAR.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- Second, 13th and second in three practices as he looks for first track win

Can Kasey Kahne win Sunday's Brickyard 400?

If this weekend's three practices at Indianapolis Motor Speedway -- in which Kahne was second, 13th and second -- and Kahne's record in his first seven starts at the storied venue are any indication, he can.

"Every practice has been good, so far. I feel like we're close -- really close. The car's comfortable and it's not too bad around other cars [because] it's so tough here, when you get back in the pack, to really do a whole lot."

--KASEY KAHNE

And Kahne himself put the exclamation point on the idea when he was asked what he needed in a race car to potentially win one of the series' most desirable events.

"Basically what I got," said Kahne, who followed final practice by also qualifying second (lineup). "With what I have, I think we can run well. We just have to figure out how to keep track position and qualifying good [later Saturday afternoon] will be a big part of it, if we can get up front."

Kahne's qualifying run gave him his sixth top-eight start at the Brickyard. He's finished in the top 10 four times, including second in 2005. He was 13th last year and his record book is only marred by two sub-par finishes in 2006 (36th) and 2007 (40th).

Dodge Motorsports NASCAR engineer, Howard Comstock, who helped lock Kurt Busch's No. 22 Penske Racing Dodge into the third spot in final practice following Roush Fenway's Greg Biffle, who also led Friday's second practice, put Kahne's concern in context.

"There are three keys for success at Indianapolis: track position, track position and track position," Comstock said. "We've seen [Juan Montoya's] No. 42 team have the dominant car the last two years. A pit road infraction likely cost them the race in 2009 and a four-tire pit call at the end of last year's race likely cost them a chance at a win.

"It's hard to pass at Indianapolis. It's especially hard to pass in the closing stages of the race because of the track's heat and the amount of oil and rubber built-up on the racing surface. Teams will have to think long and hard about their pit strategy at the end of this race. It will determine their success."

And don't think Kahne doesn't know it.

"Every practice has been good, so far," Kahne said Saturday. "I feel like we're close -- really close. The car's comfortable and it's not too bad around other cars [because] it's so tough here, when you get back in the pack, to really do a whole lot."

In Happy Hour, Kahne had the fourth-best average lap, 50.74 seconds, of the drivers who ran at least 10 laps in the practice. Kevin Harvick, a former Brickyard 400 winner, Biffle and Marcos Ambrose had quicker averages while Carl Edwards, who ran only five laps, averaged a 49.67-second effort.

Kenny Francis, who teamed with Kahne beginning in 2006 and has engineered two seventh-place finishes at Indy, was a little more reserved but still optimistic.

"Our Red Bull Toyota is pretty good so far," he said. "It's hard to say. The car seemed like it was decent but this place is tough, it's so flat and we typically struggle with getting the car to turn as good as [Kahne] wants it to here.

"But it seems like it's been pretty good all weekend, so hopefully it'll be good [Sunday]."

Indy has a unique practice and qualifying schedule, with a pair of practices Friday afternoon, roughly in the time frame where the race, which starts just after 1 p.m. ET, is held.

"We kinda worked on it pretty hard [Friday] and felt like we made some gains right at the end of practice, and kinda started like that [Saturday] and it seemed like it was pretty consistent with where it was [Friday]," Francis said. "It seemed like it was fairly consistent, too, as we went through practice [Saturday] as the track got hotter, too.

"The conditions should be pretty consistent [in the three days]. The biggest variable we had [Saturday] was practice started at 10 in the morning, which was a little earlier, probably than everybody would have liked. Maybe waiting until about 11 when the sun got up pretty good -- if it had started a little later, maybe if it had been from 11 to 12:30 it might've been a little better. Other than that, it seemed like it was fairly consistent."

Kahne's record on flat tracks this season has been consistent and pretty effective, with his worst finish at four races between Phoenix, Darlington, Pocono and New Hampshire being a 12th at Pocono. He was sixth at both New Hampshire and Phoenix and fourth at Darlington, where he led a race-high 129 laps.

David Ragan and Edwards rounded-out the top-five in final practice while Montoya, a former Indianapolis 500 winner who's been badly frustrated here the past two years, was sixth.

The only incident in the three practices occurred in Friday's second session, when Denny Hamlin's No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota trailed a stream of smoke. Hamlin ended up 28th in final practice.

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