With five races left in this year’s Sprint Cup schedule, the time is now for the drivers on the fringe of Chase contention to begin making moves to catch up to points leader Brad Keselowski. That’s exactly what Kasey Kahne did during qualifying for Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway, scoring his fourth pole and second track record of the season.
Kansas underwent a significant repaving project between now and its first race earlier in the season, and the difference in speed was significant. Even the three drivers who failed to qualify for the race—Cole Whitt, David Stremme, and Josh Wise—broke the old track record that Matt Kenseth set in 2005.
Behind Kahne, Michael Waltrip Racing drivers Mark Martin and Clint Bowyer took the next two starting spots. While Martin has helped bring out the best in MWR equipment this season, Bowyer has been the key beneficiary, taking his third win of the season last week at Charlotte and pushing back into the championship chase dominated by Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, and Denny Hamlin.
Johnson (seventh) and Hamlin (ninth) will both start with a leg up on Keselowski (25th), but Hamlin suffered a hard hit in practice in which he admitted he “got his bell rung” and had to pass a 10-minute evaluation before NASCAR cleared him to drive again. That precaution was especially significant in the wake of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s hit in Kansas testing that gave him the first of two concussions within two months of one another.
Speaking of Earnhardt Jr., his substitute driver, Regan Smith, will have one more chance to impress Hendrick Motorsports in his pursuit of a Nationwide ride with the team next season. Smith posted the seventh fastest time in initial practice and second in final practice, but a huge bobble at the beginning of his qualifying run left him well off the pace. He’ll start 39th, behind seven go-or-go-homers and alongside Danica Patrick.
- Chris Leone
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