On a day that saw 15 different drivers break the speed record set by Matt Kenseth in 2011 of of 188.884 mph, Kasey Kahne led the field with a lap at 190.456 mph (28.353 seconds) to take the pole position for Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 400 at the 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motorspeedway. After watching his teammates Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. run their lines in practice, Kahne went to the tapes from last year to review where Kenseth ran when he set the previous record and gambled that it would take him to the front. A gamble that paid off in spades putting him at the front of the grid with a speed of 190.040 mph.
“I didn’t talk to those guys about it, but I watched Dale and also Jimmie in practice and saw where they were running — they were a little bit faster than I was,” Kahne said. “And then, right before qualifying, I did it a little different in the Great Clips car [during Nationwide Series practice].
“I wanted to check on some things, so I had [team engineer] Keith [Rodden] check back on last year. We wanted to see where Matt Kenseth ran, and he ran right around the top [in Turns 1 and 2], just basically like I did, and right around the bottom in [Turns] 3 and 4. When I saw that, I was like, ‘That’s the spot; I’m going to try to make it work.’ ”
Kahne’s 2012 season has been off to a rough start so far after wrecking out of the Daytona 500 and finishing in 29th, and then taking what looked like the fastest car on the track in Phoenix and riding the wall early in the race, putting him out of contention for the win. Kahne remains positive that his team can turn it around and regain points positions this early in the season.
“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. Last weekend, we had as good a car as anybody at Phoenix. 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.”
The trip to Vegas has been good for the Hendrick’s team. Earnhardt Jr. had the fastest car in the first practice session on Saturday morning at 184.957 mph, followed closely by Kahne at 184.754 mph while Johnson (4th) and Gordon (9th) well scoring top 10 speeds.
Fridays practice was marred by an early accident when Juan Pablo Montoya got tight in turn and broke loose hitting the wall and spilling parts on the track, one of which ended up punching a hole in the left front valance of Kyle Busch’s #18 forcing both both drivers to the rear of the field for the start of the Kobalt Tools 400 on Sunday. Montoya had to break out his backup car while Kyle Busch had to replace the engine.
“It felt really good in [Turns] 3 and 4,” Montoya said. “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.”
Montoya returned to the track in time to make only 5 laps in the session, but felt good about the setup on the back up car.
“I thought we made a lot of gains,” Montoya said. “The car looked very promising, but it’s still early in the week.”
Kyle Busch’s bad luck continued in the second practice on Saturday when he slid his car into the wall in turn 4, early in the session, bringing out the first of 2 red flags in session two. The second red flag was brought out when Marcos Ambrose also broke loose in turn 4. Ambrose managed to keep it off the wall and slid through the grass, saving both his car and his starting position.
Finally, Chad Knaus’ penalty appeal hearing will be held on Tuesday bringing an end to the latest saga for the #48 Crew Chief. He will be atop the pit box for Jimmie Johnson this weekend but depending on the results of the appeal may be taking in the races from home for the next 6 races if the ruling stands. NASCAR fiend Knaus 25 driver points and $100,000 after finding that the C-Pillars at the read windscreen were outside regulations. Many are saying that the ruling should be overturned as the car was never set to template before they were told to remove the offending parts.