Even though his existing team is leaving NASCAR at the end of this season, Kasey Kahne is still out there to show them he has what it takes to be out front.Ã‚Â Both Kahne and RedBull teammate Brian Vickers came out to the qualifying session ready for battle.Ã‚Â Kahne took the pole with a lap at 186.196 mph (29.775 seconds).Ã‚Â The onlyÃ‚Â driver out of 47 qualifiers who broke 186 mph while qualifying for Sunday night’s AdvoCare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.Ã‚Â Brian Vickers, who will start 4th,Ã‚Â also set a blazing pace of 185.772mph (29.843 seconds)
“It was a good lap,” Kahne said. “Coming to the green, I felt like I had a good car. It got away from me just a little bit off of [Turn] 4, and I just had to do the best I could. I was a little bit on the tight side, so I had to slow down more than I would have liked getting into the [first] corner, but once it did turn, I had tons of grip, and I was able to get off Turn 2 really well.”
“Down the backstretch and Turns 3 and 4 were really good, too, so it just worked out well for us. It wasn’t a perfect lap, but it must have been just a little bit better than everyone else’s.”
But with cloud cover expected and possible rain from Tropical storm Lee, no one really know what the track conditions will be like once the green flag drops.Ã‚Â Qualifying and practicing during the daylight and then racing under the lights makes for some difficult changes for the crew chiefs to make once the race gets underway.Ã‚Â The drivers themselves were mostly getting a feel for the track and trying to anticipate what they will be facing as the green flag drops.
“Certainly, you get out there and it’s like, ‘Alright, same old Atlanta,” said Kyle Busch. “[You] just can’t really find the feel that you’re looking for, but certainly [you] just try to do the best you can in putting a corner together.
“Practicing during the day and then going into a night race, certainly that adds a different element to everything, but certainly we’d like to think we’ve got a good basis to think how that’s going to change running a night race here.”
Defending race winner Tony Stewart, who sits 10th in point in Chase contention, ran 63 laps in final practice and feel that as the tires begin to fall off it will be next to impossible to avoid running the high line.
“I used to think it was being able to get through the bumps here and I think we’ve seen in the last couple of years that you don’t have to be able to run right on the bottom of the race track,” Stewart said. “This track is one where tire management is big.
“You run so fast at the beginning of a run, but the pace just falls off so much. You just have to have a car that is hopefully balanced enough on the front of a run that you can take care of it and not have to overdrive the car.”
“Most of the guys are going to end up on the top of the race track midway through a run,” Stewart said. “The biggest part is knowing when to move and being able to have a car that is balanced across the whole race track not just one particular area. That will get you in trouble.”
Stewart needs a good run at Atlanta in order to keep his Chase hopes alive for the 2011 season.Ã‚Â Sitting on the bubble only 21 points from being knocked out leaves him in a very vulnerable spot.Ã‚Â Only 3 drivers are locked in to the chase at the moment for a combination of reasons.Ã‚Â Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch are in a points tie for the lead and are mathematically locked in, although Busch has the advantage due to his 3 wins to Johnson’s 1.Ã‚Â Kevin Harvick is locked in due to his 3 wins.Ã‚Â Even if he DNF’s the next 2 races he will get in by his wins through the wild card rule.Ã‚Â The rest of the chasers need good finishes and all of them will be racing for the wins.Ã‚Â As we’ve seen with this new points system, every point counts, so the bonus points from a win become that much more desirable once the points are reset at the beginning of the chase.
Dale Earhnardt Jr has the biggest weight off his shoulers right in time for the chase to begin.Ã‚Â Having now reknewed his contract with Hendrick Motorsports and seceured himself a ride until 2017, Jr has one less distraction to face as the season comes down to crunch time.
“I’m happy that it happened,” Junior said. “Me and Rick talked on the phone about five months ago. I just told him that if we were going to do another deal, I wanted to do it now because I didn’t want to talk about it next year and be any kind of distraction.”
“I didn’t want to talk about numbers and base salary versus percentages and this, that and the other,” Earnhardt said. “[I told Kelley] ‘Whatever you think is fair is fine with me.’ ”
“I’m excited about it,” Junior said. “[I’m] happy that I’ve got a place to work and happy to have Rick’s commitment. Hopefully, me and Steve can continue to grow and start to do what we want to do on the race track. I’m looking forward to it, man. It puts it at ease, a little bit.”
“I think relief is the right word, because everyone expects you to make the Chase,” Junior said. “And if you don’t make the Chase, you get that tag on you. You get labeled when you miss the Chase. I just want to avoid being in that situation.”There’s only a few drivers who get to make it and it’s a pretty competitive sport. But if you can be consistent and be smart — I made a few mistakes and a few driver errors that I wish I could have back now — with the kind of team I have, I should make the Chase. We’re plenty good enough to do that.”