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Kahne benefits from Hamlin miscue for NHMS win

July 15, 2012, NASCAR Wire Service, NASCAR.com



Kahne benefits from Hamlin miscue for NHMS win
LOUDON, N.H. -- Second victory inches No. 9 closer to Chase berth; JGR left scratching head

Kasey Kahne spoiled Denny Hamlin's heroic drive through the field and held on to win Sunday's LENOX Industrial Tools 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, all but securing a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup with his second victory of the season.

Kahne led the final 66 laps, as fast-closing Hamlin ran out of time after starting deep in the field on a restart on Lap 240. Hamlin had dominated the race, but a miscommunication on pit strategy cost him track position in the late going, and Hamlin ran out of time after securing the runner-up spot.

Clint Bowyer ran third, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Brad Keselowski. Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Greg Biffle and Ryan Newman completed the top 10.

The victory was Kahne's first at the Magic Mile and the 14th of his career. Kahne is 12th in the standings -- and the only driver in positions 11-20 with two victories -- with seven races left before the Chase field is set at Richmond.

The two drivers in positions 11-20 with the most victories qualify for the Chase as wild cards, with the tiebreaker being position in the standings.

With a Chase spot likely in his future, Kahne already is looking ahead to the next race at the 1.058-mile track, which hosts the second race in the Cup Series' 10-race playoff.

"We felt good about where we were when we got here," Kahne said. "We know what we need to work on, as far as taking notes from [Sunday], what the track did and how it changed. The track will be a touch different when we come back, but a lot of the characteristics will be the same.

"We'll be able to look at this track and really have a good game plan going into the Chase race here. We know some of the other cars that are going to run well, too, when we come back, so we need to be a little better, and I've got the right guy to work on that [crew chief Kenny Francis]."

Video: Final Laps | Victory Lane | Post-Race Reactions

After a cycle of green-flag pit stops just past the halfway point, Hamlin stretched his lead on Kahne to 5.5 seconds, as small rain cells moved toward the speedway. Hamlin then began picking off competitive cars, lapping Tony Stewart, Jamie McMurray and Paul Menard in quick succession.

As Hamlin worked traffic, however, Kahne made inroads into his advantage, cutting the margin between the top two cars to 2.601 seconds on Lap 187. Hamlin's entire lead disappeared two laps later when NASCAR called a debris caution.

With a light drizzle misting the race track, pole-sitter Kyle Busch stayed out while the rest of the contenders came to pit road to refuel. Busch led the field to a restart on Lap 197 but quickly gave way to Hamlin, who opened a lead of 2.304 seconds on his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate by Lap 211.

Racing on tires that were 32 laps older than those of his rivals, Busch kept the rest of the field at bay, but he overshot his pit stall slightly during a green-flag stop on Lap 231 and lost second to Johnson, who short-pitted on the same lap.

A caution on Lap 232 for David Reutimann's blown engine scrambled the field. Hamlin, who took four tires on Lap 235, lost 12 spots on pit road and restarted 13th as Kahne and Earnhardt led the field to green with 62 laps remaining.

"I was paying attention to where [Hamlin] was, but I felt pretty good about the lead we had."

--KASEY KAHNE

By Lap 253, Hamlin had climbed to sixth. On Lap 257, he got by Biffle in Turn 1 for fifth. Harvick succumbed to Hamlin's superior speed on Lap 263, and the No. 11 Toyota was fourth. Earnhardt was the next victim, surrendering third place on Lap 272. Five laps later, Hamlin ducked to the inside of Bowyer through Turns 1 and 2, took over the second position and took off after Kahne before he ran out of time.

Kahne was acutely aware of where Hamlin was but was confident in his ability to hold the lead as the laps ran down.

"I was definitely focused on the lapped cars I was going by and how I could clear them quick," Kahne said. "But I lost a ton of forward drive, and I was getting pretty loose, and Denny was coming on four [tires].

"So I was paying attention to where he was, but I felt pretty good about the lead we had."

The miscommunication between Hamlin and Grubb centered around whether to take two tires or four on the final stop. Grubb wanted to go with two tires, which would have kept them on par with the rest of the field, but he thought Hamlin wanted fresh rubber on both sides -- hence, the four-tire call.

"Darian asked me how much of the tires I felt like I used up," Hamlin said. "I said I felt like I used them up a substantial amount. I'd been on the lefts for quite a few laps, and so my information to him was that, yeah, we'd used up the tires. He said, 'I think two's the call.'

"I said 'OK, just give me tires and no adjustments.' He took that as I meant four tires. Just that small communication messed us up a little bit, but nothing's a given. Even though it was pretty obvious that we had a win in the bag if we took two tires, you never know what could have happened.

"Either way, we had a great day, and we're going to build on it."

Matt Kenseth, who finished 13th Sunday, held the series points lead by 16 points in front of second-place Earnhardt, with Biffle in third, 40 points back. Carl Edwards ran 18th and remained 11th in the standings, 46 points behind 10th-place Keselowski. Edwards, however, is winless this season and needs a victory to enter the wild-card conversation.

Notes-n-Nuggets

• Kasey Kahne notched his 14th victory in his 307th start and becomes the fifth repeat winner of 2012.
• This is Kasey Kahne's first victory at New Hampshire in his 17th start. He is the 21st driver to win at New Hampshire in the 35th race.
• Kasey Kahne becomes the 12th different winner in the past 13 New Hampshire races.
• Hendrick Motorsports earned its 204th Cup Series victory, fifth of 2012 (most) and ninth at New Hampshire (most).
• Chevrolet earned its ninth victory of 2012 (most of all makes) and 18th at New Hampshire (most of all makes).
• Denny Hamlin (second) earned his fourth top-two finish at New Hampshire in 13 races. He has five top-two finishes of the season.
• Clint Bowyer (third) scored his 10th top-10 of 2012 including five of the past seven races. This is his fifth top-10 at NHMS including four in the past six races.
• Dale Earnhardt Jr (fourth) notched his eighth top-five of 2012. He had just seven in all of 2010 and 2011 combined. This is his seventh top-five at NHMS in 26 races.
• Brad Keselowski (fifth) earned his ninth top-10 of 2012 including the past three races. This is his third top-10 in six races at NHMS.
• Jeff Gordon (sixth) scored his seventh top-10 of the season including four in the past five races.
• Jimmie Johnson (seventh) has finished 12th or better in every race this season except the three restrictor-plate races.
• This is the third time in 2012 all four Hendrick Motorsports drivers finished in the top 10.
• Matt Kenseth (13th) matched his worst finish in the past 14 races.
• Kyle Busch (16th) has finished outside the top 10 in six of the past seven races.

Press Pass: Kahne | Hamlin | Bowyer

Photos from the LENOX Industrial Tools 301:

Highlights from the LENOX Industrial Tools 301: