Kansas proves a breakthrough for Kahne
May 11, 2014, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com
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KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Kasey Kahne may have not found victory at Kansas Speedway, but he may have discovered something just as important at the Sunflower State track -- speed.
And not necessarily in Saturday night's first Sprint Cup Series race under the lights at the 1.5-mile facility. It was at a Goodyear tire test here in April where the Hendrick Motorsports driver said his No. 5 team first began to find the pace they had been missing, and Saturday night the knowledge gained in that session translated into Kahne's first top-five finish of the year.
"Our biggest deal is we've just been slow this season. Really haven't been inconsistent or anything like that, we've just been slow each week," he said after placing third. "We tested here, we had that Goodyear tire test, and I felt like from that point on, we've actually had really fast cars."
It didn't always show -- at Richmond two weeks ago Kahne had some late pit road issues that dropped him to 14th at the end, even though he started fourth and ran in the top 10 for the bulk of the event. Kahne finished eighth last week on the Talladega restrictor-plate track, and he and crew chief Kenny Francis put their Kansas test data to good use with solid practice sessions on Friday.
Saturday came the payoff. Kahne led 22 laps, one shy of his season-high, and despite starting 17th ran in the top five for much of the night. Although he was never really in position to challenge winner Jeff Gordon or runner-up Kevin Harvick at the end, a season-best finish made that fact much easier to take.
"I think the Goodyear test here, for whatever reason, we were able to try some things and just look at stuff a little differently than what we had been," Kahne said, "and it helped the 5 team, my guys, myself and Kenny and (engineer) Chris (Spaulding), our communication together. It's helped us a lot since then. I feel like that's been the key, and ever since we tested here, we've ran much better and been a lot more competitive."
Although Kahne had shown promise in the first two events this year on 1.5-mile intermediate tracks -- he was eighth at Las Vegas and 11th at Texas -- he wasn't the contender in those races that he was Saturday night. Although Kahne led a season-best 23 laps earlier in the year at Darlington, that was the product of tire strategy, and he still ended up with a season-worst finish after being involved in a crash later in the event.
Saturday was completely different -- thanks to his previous trip to Kansas to test.
"We got to the front there for a little bit, led some laps," Kahne said. "It felt really good at that point in time, and then we got a little tighter later and didn't free up or tighten up enough there at the end when we put four tires back on. We just tried to run rights for too long. It was still a really solid run. Nice to run up front and be able to race hard the whole night. It was good for us."