For a time Sunday, it appeared that Kasey Kahne would be on the outside looking in. Early in the NASCAR Sprint Cup AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway, Kahne was forced to pit with a loose wheel. He lost two laps and rejoined the race two laps down in 29th.
He had to pit under green later and lost another two laps. Kahne was well outside the top 12 in points and with Sunday’s race determining the top 12 who would move on, he looked as though he would be eliminated.
“Early we drove to fifth and then we fell back a few on pit road, then drove back to sixth,” Kahne said. “We fell back a few, and then we had a loose wheel. From that point on it was just hoping the cautions didn’t come out or that they came out at the right time. Really they just didn’t come out and we just had to race, race, race. I never really got nervous at all and I just raced real hard the whole time. “
That hard racing allowed Kahne to begin to move forward. Soon all that stood in his way was Kurt Busch. Busch was having a mediocre day, but was running at least well enough to hang on to the 12th spot. In the second half of the 400-mile race however things began to change.
“I knew I had to keep trying there until the next caution came out,” Kahne said. “I wanted to pit a little early on that stint and see if we could get further ahead of (race leader at that point) Harvick. You know, because on fresh tires you can go so much faster. But Kenny (crew chief Kenny Francis) wanted to stay out in case we had a caution so that we would have a shot.”
“But once it all cycled through, we were right in front of him and the caution did come out,” he added.
Harvick lost a left front tire on lap 252. It brought out the caution that Kahne needed.
“From that point on I knew we definitely had a shot,” Kahne said. “Just had to race hard, and I am glad we got to race hard.”
With no further cautions, Kahne slowly worked his way forward. He made up one of the two laps he was down and soon was nearing where he needed to be to make the Chase. He passed Greg Biffle with 22 laps to go. Five laps later Kurt Busch, who had been struggling all day, was passed by his boss Tony Stewart. That was the difference as Kahne went on to finish 20th and make final spot to move to the next round in the Chase.
“I am glad NASCAR let us race for it today because that is the only way I made it in,” Kahne said. “I guess if a couple cautions came or something we could have gotten the lucky dog but we had a better car than some of the other guys and we were able to race our way in. Kenny (Francis) did a great job and our team did a great job in preparation in giving us a top five or top three car. We just need to work on pit road. We have needed to work on that all year and now it’s crunch time. So if we want to keep going, we need to really step it up.”
For Busch the news wasn’t as good. As Kahne celebrated nearby on pit road, Busch saw that he had missed the cut by 6 points, despite finishing ahead of Kahne in 18th.
“We gave it a good run, you know?” Busch said. “You can’t expect to advance running 18th. You’ve got to have better lap times every time you go and hit the track. If you’re off, it’s hard to put the car up on your back and run it.
Those joining Busch in not advance were AJ Allmendinger, Greg Biffle and Aric Almirola. Busch put the blame for his team not making the second round of the Chase on himself.
“I just chalk it up to me not getting the job done,” Busch said. “It’s all my fault that we didn’t advance.”
Meanwhile Kahne was looking forward to moving on. The first race in the next Chase round is next Sunday at Kansas Speedway.
“It’s time to step-up,” Kahne said. “It’s time to put our best stuff out there. I know they want to. They’ll work hard this week. I’m going to work hard and we’re going to be prepared when we get to Kansas and hopefully we can keep moving on.”