Kasey Kahne’s luck finally turned around on Friday.
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After three wrecks in the first three weeks of racing, Kahne earned the pole for Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with a track-record lap of 190.456 mph. It was Kahne’s 23rd career pole, and his first since taking over driving duties for the No. 5 team at Hendrick Motorsports.
For Kahne, now comes the task of digging out of 31st in the point standings.
“I feel good about our speed,” Kahne said. “At Daytona, so many things happen there, and you’re not in control of a lot of that stuff — I got caught up in other people’s messes at times.
"I qualified well, was really good in practice — the best car in practice — and then in the race, we just needed to do things right and be there at the end. I made a mistake, and we lost a lot of points because of that. We had a rough day because of a mistake I made.
“You add all that up, and we haven’t started off very good, but our cars have been fast. … I feel like I’m in a really good spot. The way to dig out (of the deficit) is to qualify well, run well and not make mistakes — and I feel like we can do that.”
At a track where Ford has won seven of 14 races, qualifying was dominated by Chevrolets and Toyotas. Las Vegas native Kyle Busch posted the second-fastest lap (190.040 mph), followed by Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Clint Bowyer.
Greg Biffle, who will roll off ninth on Sunday, was the only Ford to crack the top 10.
Kyle Busch, one of four Toyota drivers in the top 10, was encouraged by the results of the manufacturer. He feels the personnel changes in the off season are paying dividends.
“It’s good to see some of the (Joe Gibbs Racing) cars up there,” Busch said. “I know (Joey Logano, who qualified eighth) is right up there. All in all, I think the Toyota gang is definitely getting a little better all around the board with (Michael Waltrip Racing) and having Mark (Martin) over there and Clint (Bowyer) over there and Brian Pattie (Bowyer’s crew chief).
"That’s an asset to those guys just as much as we feel like having Jason Ratcliff (Logano’s crew chief) and Darian Grubb (Hamlin’s crew chief) on our side is to us."
Game on for the manufacturers come Sunday.
Someone must tell Juan Pablo Montoya that stock-car racing is not a contact sport.
Montoya has taken his share of ribbing since sliding into a jet dryer in the Daytona 500 and igniting an inferno that stalled the action for two hours.
The jinx on Montoya continued Friday at Las Vegas as he slapped the Turn 2 wall in the first lap of practice. Montoya pancaked the right side of his No. 42 Chevrolet, and that which forced the team to pull out the backup car for qualifying.
“It sucks,” Montoya said. “It was our first lap. It felt really good in (Turns) 3 and 4. I went into (Turn 1) and got a little tight over the bumps. So I got on the gas and it just stepped out on me.
“I thought, ‘My God,’ and I was in the fence.”
In qualifying, Montoya’s No. 42 Chevrolet was 29th-fastest with a lap 186.780mph. However, the team was expecting to replace the engine following time trials, so Montoya likely will start from the rear of the field on Sunday regardless.
Earnhardt Ganassi Racing technical director John Probst said the team was “getting the bad luck out of the way early in the season.”
Probst added that the teams returned to test at Nashville Superspeedway earlier this week, and that he’s encouraged by the speed in the Nos. 1 and 42 Chevrolets.
REMEMBERING DAN WHELDON
Many drivers in the NASCAR garage knew the late Dan Wheldon, but only Danica Patrick was here last October when the former IndyCar champion lost his life in a racing incident.
Patrick was making her final start for Andretti Autosport on that dreadful afternoon. But even now in NASCAR, she couldn’t avoid thinking of the affable 33-year-old driver upon her return to the track.
“There won’t be a time that I come to Las Vegas that I won’t think about Dan and I won’t think about the family and hope that they’re doing well,” Patrick said.
“It’s in the moments where you don’t have a singular focus, like walking up to the media center here today, seeing the neon garage, and kind of the atmosphere that was here on that weekend and where we were pitted — the things that we were around and the sights that you saw where you can have time to think about multiple things — that it gets to you.”
Patrick, who moved to NASCAR full time after the 2011 IndyCar season, said she would “drive with her whole heart and mind” and do her best to focus on this weekend’s tasks. She feels that “time” will help heal the loss but the “tragedy” won’t soon leave her.
“I don’t think it completely escapes you, but for the most part, you’re able to have something to focus on, one thing to focus on, and so I feel that I’m able to do that when I’m out on the racetrack,” said Patrick.
“(That’s) probably a really good thing, because, especially when you’re trying to get the car to its very limit, you need to be able to focus on that one thing. But, as I said, the thoughts outside the car, being in the surroundings, are when you remember so much.”
3 – Races in which Dale Earnhardt Jr. has started fourth at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
7 – Of nine Sprint Cup races at LVMS that Kyle Busch has started in the top 10.
8 – Of nine seasons Kasey Kahne has posted a pole since moving up to Sprint Cup.
When Kyle Busch was asked about his gambling habits, he referred to himself as a “small gambler,” and reserved the high-roller status to his veteran Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Denny Hamlin.
“I’m not on Denny Hamlin’s scale,” Busch joked. “You’ll have to ask him that question. I think he gets free hotel rooms every time he comes out here — that’s how well he does."
So once Busch’s comments were flipped back to Hamlin, he replied, “I don’t own a race team, so I have plenty of money. (A) race team is like a boat — you just throw money into it and it just disappears."