Sunday, June 8, 2008
Kahne wins from pole, dominates Pocono 500 to stay on roll
By K. Lee Davis
LONG POND, Pa. -- Kasey Kahne and team director Kenny Francis sat on the podium to answer questions after a dominant performance to win the Pocono 500 on Sunday and promptly were asked whether they doubted themselves and their Gillett Evernham Motorsports team before winning the All-Star race less than a month ago.
Apparently not, and Francis backed it up with a rundown of how well they had done this season up until that point.
There's certainly no reason to doubt themselves after two points wins in three weeks -- three wins in four counting the cash-only All-Star race -- have propelled Kahne from 14th and outside the Chase cutoff up to ninth.
Although the focus in NASCAR stayed on phenom Kyle Busch's trying a three-state tripleheader over the weekend -- he finished last on Sunday -- and fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kahne and Francis were busy making their most interesting statements on the giant triangular track in the honeymoon capital of Pennsylvania. It might not quite be 2006, when he won six times, but Kahne is in love with his team, his car and his chances after a long rocky road.
"There was nothing close when we were out front," Kahne said. "I was hoping it would be that way; we had such a good car all weekend from the time practice started to qualifying first and then winning.
Everybody has stepped up, and I feel like I have also."
Kahne had no top-5s, was 14th in points and was winless for his previous 53 races in the Sprint Cup Series headed into NASCAR's annual All-Star break.
Although the team was seeing improvement, Kahne admitted the All-Star race was the moment it showed as well as a point in the season he learned something about himself.
"As a driver, I didn't feel like my confidence was down," Kahne said. "I went to the track and felt like I was ready to win and ready to
I went in with a good attitude.
"But until I actually won this year, the All-Star race, I realized that I think I was leaving a little bit out there and wasn't communicating probably like I should have been with Kenny and maybe I wasn't communicating as well as I have in the past. Since then, I've done a better job and it's just kind of like everything is clicking at the same time. Like Kenny said, we've had good cars all year.
"But the Charlotte test [on May 6], I feel like we hit on some things, and we had a great car at Darlington until I ran into the wall. To me, that was where it all started, the Charlotte test and Darlington, you know, we were hitting on some things at that point."
Brian Vickers came in second Sunday but lost a late battle to Kahne, who had fresher tires. Denny Hamlin finished third and said he knew his car didn't have what it was going to take to get past the winner.
"We really didn't have a whole lot for [Kahne] there at the end," Hamlin said. "We got to [Vickers], and as soon as we got there, he moved down into our line and we just couldn't make any headway. We had about a second- or third-place car all day, and that's where we ended up."
Kahne's victory was not entirely without adventure. Kahne dropped to 38th after a mistake in the pits early in the race. He came in for a four-tire stop, but Francis elected to make it a two. However, the left-front tire changer already had taken three lug nuts off the wheel. He stopped, the car left the pits and all seemed well to Kahne.
"Yeah, when I left the pits, I was like, 'Great call, Kenny. Way to go two tires,' because we came out second and I was like, 'Man, perfect,'" Kahne said. "And then he was like, 'Well, you're going to have to bring that back in, you've only got two lugs on the left front.' "
|Kasey Kahne, left, and team director Kenny Francis had things figured out for the third time in four races Sunday.|
Kahne kept his cool and reeled in the pack slowly through the middle of the race and was back in the lead by Lap 129 of 200.
Cool wasn't a word to use easily on a warm and humid day when most drivers climbed out of their machines spent. In a postrace TV interview, Earnhardt's answers were barely audible and he seemed out of breath. Vickers and Hamlin said it was a very taxing day, going as far as to say the problem is with the new car. Both agreed it is much hotter than the old models.
"We're going to the infield care center after the races [to rehydrate], and that's ridiculous," Vickers said. "NASCAR needs to step in and say we have to do something to cool these cars down and help us.
"It is extremely freaking hot out there."
Perhaps to prove winning is the solution to everything, Kahne said he was fine in his Dodge Charger.
"I think our cars are good with heat," Kahne said. "The guys at the shop work hard to make them cool as they can under the seats and to try to keep some of that exhaust heat away from me.
I was pretty hot, though."
Just the hottest driver in the sport.
K. Lee Davis is a motorsports editor for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yeah, when I left the pits, I was like, 'Great call, Kenny. Way to go two tires,' because we came out second and I was like, 'Man, perfect.' And then he was like, 'Well, you're going to have to bring that back in, you've only got two lugs on the left front.'
-- Kasey Kahne