LAS VEGAS — Kasey Kahne was the fastest of the fast Friday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
In a qualifying session that saw 15 drivers break Matt Kenseth’s 2011 track record of 188.884 mph, Kahne led the field with a lap at 190.456 mph (28.353 seconds) to earn the top starting spot for Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at the 1.5-mile track.
Kahne edged Kyle Busch (190.040 mph) to claim his third Coors Light pole award at Las Vegas and the 23rd of his career. Kahne won his first career pole at Las Vegas in 2004.
Kevin Harvick qualified third at 190.014 mph, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr. (189.873 mph) and Clint Bowyer (189.807 mph). Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Joey Logano, Greg Biffle and Martin Truex Jr. will start from positions six through 10, respectively, in the season’s third Cup race.
Kahne was sorely in need of a strong performance. In his first year with Hendrick Motorsports, Kahne has suffered through disappointing results in the season’s first two races, crashing out of the Daytona 500 in 29th place and scraping the wall early in the event at Phoenix with a car many thought capable of winning the race.
“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 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.”
Kahne and Hendrick Motorsports teammates Earnhardt and Johnson took a higher line around the bump in Turn 1 than most of their competitors. Kahne said he scouted Matt Kenseth’s record run from last year before picking his line.
“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 (Nationwide) car.
“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 3 and 4. When I saw that, I was like, ‘That’s the spot; I’m going to try to make it work.’ ”
Series points leader Denny Hamlin was 17th fastest in time trials. Carl Edwards, last year’s winner at LVMS, fought a loose handling condition throughout his run and qualified 21st.
Scott Riggs and Robby Gordon failed to qualify for the 43-car field. Gordon wouldn’t have raced at Las Vegas even if he had qualified. He’s scheduled to drive his Trophy Truck in San Felipe, Mexico this weekend and had Reed Sorenson lined up as a stand-in at LVMS.