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Kahne gets first taste of No. 5 at Charlotte EFI test

October 19, 2011, Joe Menzer, NASCAR.com

Sprint Cup Series director John Darby explains part of the new electronic fuel-injection system. (Getty Images)

CONCORD, N.C. -- Kasey Kahne climbed from the non-descript gray car, dusted off his non-descript firesuit noticeably lacking in sponsorship decoration, and smiled.

His first day in the No. 5 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports had gone well. One of 11 drivers permitted to participate in an electronic fuel-injection (EFI) engine test for NASCAR on Monday at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Kahne said he thoroughly enjoyed his time behind the wheel of the car he will begin driving full time in the Sprint Cup Series next season.

"The power, the on and off throttle and the way the engine reacts to what you do with your foot, I think to me that was the biggest difference."

--KASEY KAHNE

"It was nice to finally get in the Hendrick car and kind of be part of it," said Kahne, who has the final five races of this season left as driver of the No. 4 Toyota for Red Bull Racing. "It's been a long time coming, so it was exciting to be able to drive one of their cars.

"There were more differences than I expected. But then I thought back to Red Bull, and how much different that was from the prior year [at Richard Petty Motorsports], and how the cars are. It's all little things, but they keep adding up and it kind of takes time to kind of figure out that feel."

The feel was a little different for all of the test's participants because of the EFI component that will be introduced in the series beginning next season. Several drivers have said -- and reiterated Monday -- that there is little or no difference to them in the way the car reacts with the new fuel-delivery system.

But Kahne disagreed with that assessment.

"Actually it was a lot different. I was surprised. I thought it would be pretty similar," Kahne said. "I knew it would be pretty different because over the years they've worked on the carburetors so much they have them perfected, and the injection is a lot different. Just the way they ran it and the way they worked on it, and just the way it ran on the track, it was a little bit different.

"The power, the on and off throttle and the way the engine reacts to what you do with your foot, I think to me that was the biggest difference."

Engine builder Doug Yates said it will be beneficial to NASCAR to move out of the old carburetor era and into the computer-driven era of fuel injection.

"We're going to have new people interested in the sport. We've actually hired some new engineers [at Roush-Yates Engines]," Yates said. "One of the guys came over from Formula One, and he said, 'You know, we kind of viewed NASCAR as kind of antiquated. And now there's kind of a new energy and a new excitement about it.' Now we can sort of take that to the fans, and young kids.

"I know my kids use computers way better than I do. This is a chance for that part of the population to get into engines, understand engine technology. Instead of the old-school way of doing things, this is the new world. This is a new day for NASCAR."

John Darby, the Sprint Cup Series director, said Monday's test was necessary to continue assuring a smooth transition to the EFI system beginning next season. It was the third such test for NASCAR, with the first coming at Kentucky Speedway in July and another at Phoenix International Raceway more recently.

"Fuel injection has been around in [other forms of] motorsports for a long time. But if there is a dark hole out there where the only way we're going to get through it is by going through this [type of testing] and understand, it's applying this system to a NASCAR race car," Darby said. "Because we have hoods, we have extreme temperatures under the hood that a lot of the other forms of motorsports don't have to deal with. The open-wheel cars, the engines typically are hanging out in the open air -- and they have the ability to control temperatures much more. But under-the-hood heat in a stock car over the course of 500 miles is yet to be seen.

"What do you do on a 98-degree day in the middle of August? Those were some of the things that we talked about with the fuel-delivery system that we made so many improvements on. Those are some of the things we have to address early. Electronic components are all subject to heat. The electronic components that we'll be employing on our EFI systems are some of the highest quality we could get our hands on. There are a lot of safeguards that have been built in them to help them accommodate that heat. But it's like anything else: until you put it out there in the real world and line 43 of them up and wave the green flag, you don't know for sure what will happen. That's why we do these tests."

Darby said the plan Monday was for one of the cars carrying a Roush Fenway engine to attempt to run a full 600 miles, in an attempt to stockpile data that will be useful in determining how much stress the EFI system can endure. The data accumulated Monday will be examined in every minute detail in the days and weeks ahead.

Meanwhile, Kahne was simply ecstatic to be a part of it all -- in his new, if unpainted, Hendrick Motorsports car.

"The car was really smooth. Everything was really nice, as far as anything I got to touch and sit in. All that stuff was great," Kahne said. "I was real happy. It was a good day for me."

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