TALLADEGA, Ala. — A move to Hendrick Motorsports equipment has made all the difference in the world where Kasey Kahne and Talladega are concerned.
In his second trip to Talladega Superspeedway in the No. 5 Chevrolet, Kahne scored his first pole at the 2.66-mile restrictor-plate track. That followed a previous best starting position of fifth for Talladega’s event this past spring.
In Saturday’s time trials, Kahne toured Talladega in 50.017 seconds (191.455 mph) to edge Ryan Newman (191.145 mph) for the top starting spot in Sunday’s Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500 by .081 seconds. Â
The Coors Light pole award was Kahne’s third of the season and the 25th of his career. Clint Bowyer (191.119 mph) qualified third, followed by defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart (190.993 mph) and Greg Biffle (190.955 mph), as Chase for the Sprint Cup drivers claimed four of the top five starting positions (the exception being Newman).
“They (Hendrick) just put a big emphasis on these types of tracks and this type of racing,” said Kahne, who is tied for fifth in the Cup standings, 32 points behind leader Brad Keselowski. “I’ve never been anywhere before where they do that.
“As far as the engine goes, the body, the car — everything they can work on they do. That makes all of our cars look really good when it comes to qualifying . . . With all the emphasis that they put on this track, it feels really good to drive that car.”
As Kahne well knows, a good starting spot at Talladega doesn’t guarantee a strong finish.
“It means I’m going to start first — that’s it,” Kahne said. “I’ll try to lead the first lap and get that extra bonus point (for leading a lap). If we’re up there, we might as well try to stay there and lead the most laps and get another point. . . .
“I think we really need to race, and race hard. We’re a long way back right now. If we can’t make points up at a track like this, we’re probably not going to make those points up.”
Keselowski will start 22nd in the No. 2 Dodge, with five-time champion Jimmie Johnson, currently second in the standings, taking the green flag in 17th.
Keselowski didn’t appear particularly concerned about his mid-pack starting spot.
“I think we’ve proven that the only lap that matters is the last one,” said Keselowski, who won the May 6 race at Talladega. We have a good (car). You have to stay out of trouble, be solid on pit road and put yourself in position to make a run at the end. We’ll see how it plays out.”
Newman said he ran only five laps of practice in two sessions combined on Friday and didn’t know what to expect during qualifying. Bowyer, on the other hand, was stunned by his third-place effort, a performance that will change his strategy for the fourth race in the Chase.
“I am blown-away shocked that we’re in the top three,” said Bowyer, who is fourth in the series standings, 25 points behind Keselowski. “Very, very proud of (crew chief Brian) Pattie and everybody on our (team).
“We haven’t been qualifying very good on these restrictor-plate tracks, and today it caught me off guard. My whole plan for the weekend. . . . I kind of figured we were going to qualify poorly and ride around in the back. We’re in the front. I’m going to try to stay there.”
Other Chase drivers qualified as follows: Jeff Gordon, sixth; Martin Truex Jr., ninth; Dale Earnhardt Jr., 12th; Matt Kenseth, 15th; Kevin Harvick, 21st and Denny Hamlin 23rd.