SPARTA, Ky. – Kasey Kahne rallied from running one lap down in Saturday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup event at Kentucky Speedway to battle for second as the laps ticked down at the 1.5-mile racetrack. Kahne tracked leader Brad Keselowski in the final four laps of the Quaker State 400, and ultimately crossed the finish line second in his No. 5 Quaker State Chevrolet.
“We had a really good Quaker State Chevrolet,” said Kahne, who now ranks 14th in the driver standings. “We had to pass a ton of cars and came up a little short, but the team did a great job. Kenny (Francis, crew chief) called a great race.
“The track was pretty similar the whole race for me. We had to adjust on our car a bit, but not as much as I would have expected. Today, my car was pretty good. They did a really good job. I wish we could have gotten (race winner Brad) Keselowski because we need those wins, but we still had a great car, and we came really close.”
His Hendrick Motorsports teammates joined him inside the top six, marking the first time since April 2011 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway that all four teammates have finished inside the top 10. Dale Earnhardt Jr. took fourth in Saturday’s 400-mile event, while Jeff Gordon finished fifth and Jimmie Johnson claimed sixth.
Johnson opened Saturday’s 267-lap event from the pole position – a first for him and Hendrick Motorsports at the 1.5-mile speedway. He elected for the outside line to start the race and immediately settled into the third running position as the race got underway. In the initial going, his teammates also encountered a variety of handling issues. Gordon, running inside the top 10, reported a splitter issue, while Kahne told his team that his No. 5 Chevrolet was running a bit tight. The first 30 laps ran without incident, and Earnhardt remained equally calm on his radio, climbing three spots to sixth within that timeframe.
The Hendrick Motorsports teammates worked on their cars during green-flag pit stops around Lap 44, but Kahne sustained an issue almost immediately after the work on pit road. The driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet suspected a loose right-front wheel and returned to pit road for fresh tires. When he returned to the 1.5-mile speedway, Kahne was running 31st and began his climb from one lap down.
Meanwhile, his teammates had varying reports based on their adjustments. Earnhardt remained quiet on the radio, and Johnson was pleased with how his No. 48 Chevy was turning. Gordon told crew chief Alan Gustafson he still was having issues turning in Turns 3 and 4.
By Lap 87, Gordon’s car had improved to the point where the driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet was turning laps as fast as then-leader Kyle Busch. Earnhardt, running sixth at the time, asked crew chief Steve Letarte to plan to free-up the No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew/National Guard Chevrolet during the next pit stop.
Kahne continued his ascent through the field and captured “Lucky Dog” spot to return to the lead lap on Lap 148 when the caution flag was waved. During the yellow-flag period, the Hendrick Motorsports teammates addressed their handling issues on pit road, although Earnhardt’s team had a lengthy pit stop that only temporarily delayed the driver of the No. 88 Chevy back on the track.
By Lap 160, Johnson was stalking then-leader Denny Hamlin and Gordon was breaking his way into the top five. Gordon continued to post lap times faster than the leaders. Twenty-nine laps later, Johnson slipped by Hamlin on the inside. Johnson led for 16 laps before pitting on Lap 205. An ensuing slow stop put Johnson back on the track in third, ahead of teammates Earnhardt (fourth), Gordon (sixth) and Kahne (14th).
“The track cooled down, and it seemed like everybody got a little bit looser, especially getting in the corner,” said Gordon, who ranks 18th in the driver standings. “It was a pretty flawless effort for our Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet, and I’m pretty excited that we came home with a fifth-place finish and battle up front like we did.”
The caution flag was waved on Lap 210, and all four Hendrick Motorsports drivers stopped for fuel. Earnhardt and Johnson lined up on the third row for the Lap 220 restart with the same advice from their crew chiefs ringing in their ears – “Save fuel.” Earnhardt had a solid restart, but Johnson immediately noted debris on his tires that made navigating the 1.5-mile racetrack difficult. Johnson was shuffled to 11th, while his teammates continued their forward march. Kahne notably improved from 19th to run inside the top 10 on this stretch.
“I really think in that restart I got into some oil, and I got loose a couple of times and lost a bunch of track position,” said Johnson, who led a total of 21 laps and ranks third in the driver standings. “From there, I really think it was a track position deal. Certainly up front in clean air, that thing was blistering fast. But I got back in traffic and couldn’t go anywhere.”
With 20 laps to go, all four Hendrick Motorsports drivers were running comfortably inside the top 10 – Earnhardt fourth, Kahne sixth, Gordon seventh and Johnson eighth. Kahne rocketed four spots in the final 20 laps and took runner-up honors at the 1.5-mile racetrack.
Earnhardt, who recently went to Victory Lane at Michigan International Speedway on June 18, followed Kahne in fourth. Gordon earned fifth, while Johnson battled back to finish sixth and rank third in the standings.
“It was a good night,” said Earnhardt, who ranks second in the standings. “We were fast and good all weekend; just a good weekend of us. We would have loved to have had a better shot at the end. We had a good race car with the run before last. It was really fast. It got loose there at the end getting in the corner. I’m proud of the team. I want to thank Diet Mountain Dew, National Guard, Sprint -- I just hope we can keep it up. We’re real proud of how we’re doing so far, and we’d like to win another race.”