Hendrick Motorsports driver halts two-race slump, vaults up standings
Related: Kobalt Tools 400 results
LAS VEGAS -- Kasey Kahne insisted he was more encouraged than dismayed with his runner-up finish to Matt Kenseth in Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway -- even though he led a race-best 114 of the 267 laps.
“I want to win, but I feel good how fast we were,’’ Kahne said. “It’s just disappointing not to win and be that fast. Matt just kinda did what he had to do to beat us.’’
Kahne certainly made Kenseth work for it though, looming large and menacing in Kenseth’s mirrors in the waning laps. And for a Las Vegas Motor Speedway race that had a near record number of green-flag passes, it was the pass that didn’t happen in the end that was as compelling as any that did.
"I want to win, but I feel good how fast we were."
-- Kasey Kahne
Kahne’s No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet tailed Kenseth’s No. 20 Toyota, forcing the 2003 series champ to answer every peek and dive around lapped traffic. As Kenseth loudly called for his spotter to count down the final 12 laps for him, Kahne would close in or drift back slightly at different points around the track.
Kenseth gave spotter Chris Osborne credit for the final few laps.
“He helped us win that race,” Kenseth said. “He gave me the information that we needed, and it was really important. He understood what was important to me, but it was very important not to let Kasey get on the side of me. If he did, I was done, and he did a really good job of telling me where he was running.”
As for Kahne, “For myself, I'm just kind of paying attention to what Matt's doing and what I need to do and where I need to place my car in order to try to get a run on him and at least get beside him and see what can happen from there,’’ he explained. “Matt's spotter is probably trying to talk to a few of the guys that we were lapping saying, ‘Hey, give us some space, whatever.’ I was hoping maybe they'd run Matt's line and he'd have to go to the bottom and I thought maybe I could get a run that way.
“I think we eased through six or seven lap cars there and most of them went to the bottom and you could pass them fairly easy. It didn't slow Matt up at all, which I was hoping someone at some point would slow him up a touch, but it never happened.’’
Kahne’s first top-five finish of the season launched him 17 positions higher in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship standings -- the biggest move by anyone this week.
While being ranked 14th still isn’t ideal for the former Rookie of the Year, it’s a better start to his season than his debut with Hendrick Motorsports last year. It took him nine races -- three months -- to score his first top five of 2012 and relegated him to comeback mode for the rest of the regular season.
After racing his way into the 12-driver NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup field, however, he finished a career-high fourth place in the final standings.
This is the first time in five years that Kahne is enjoying back-to-back seasons with the same team and crew, and it appears the continuity is paying off.
“I've never had great cars here, I've had some pretty good ones, but today I've never driven that hard for 267 laps before, either,’’ Kahne said, allowing a smile.
“Matt did everything right. When I caught him, I was like, man, this is not the guy you want to have to race with 10 to go because he's going to do everything right. You're going to have to figure out how to squeeze by him. And you know he had a fast car, too, so it was difficult.
“He did a perfect job and we came back second. We just didn't quite get there.’’
That was a departure from the rest of the day. Kahne led six different times, trading the lead with Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson and winning tough side-by-side battles with Las Vegas native Kyle Busch.
He seemed to pass at will, including an impressive rally to second after a pit-stop delay.
Pitting during a caution on Lap 224, Kenseth and third-place finisher Brad Keselowski gambled by not taking fresh tires, which put them out front for the restart. Meanwhile Kahne -- who took two tires -- got hemmed in his pit stall briefly trying to exit as Tony Stewart was trying to enter his pit.
“I think Tony kind of let up a little bit to let me go,’’ explained Kahne, who restarted sixth.
“(Kahne’s crew chief) Kenny (Francis) thought he was coming so he held me back and we just ended up losing more time than we should have. On a two tires (stop) that happens sometimes. …
“I drove so hard every single lap and I think that’s just the new Gen-6 car, the Chevy SS. It was a lot of fun. I love it. I had the car to beat today.”
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