NASCAR notebook, Michigan: Kahne says qualifying tougher

Gordon explains radio outburst.

NASCAR notebook, Michigan: Kahne says qualifying tougher
Kasey Kahne, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Polesitter Kasey Kahne, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Polesitter Kasey Kahne, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Kasey Kahne, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Jeff Gordon, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Jeff Gordon, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Kasey Kahne, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet

BROOKLYN, Mich. – The most surprising aspect of Kasey Kahne’s pole-winning run on Friday at Michigan International Speedway wasn’t that Kahne was the fastest qualifier. 

More surprising—almost shocking—was the realization Kahne hadn’t won a pole in NASCAR’s top series for nearly three years. 

Kahne’s Coors Light Pole Award for Sunday's Quicken Loans 400 at MIS (1 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1) was the 27th of his career, tying him with Terry Labonte for 25th on the all-time list. But it ended a 93-race drought dating to the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Kansas Speedway in October 2012. 

Once a prolific pole winner, Kahne said the competition for the top starting spot has intensified exponentially in the last few years. 

“I think the competition is much closer,” Kahne told the NASCAR Wire Service. “I think the drivers, the teams are better than what they used to be. A lot of times a tenth separates 15 cars. I don’t remember it being quite like that when I first came into the sport, when poles seemed to be easier to win at that time.”

Kahne also believes finding the optimum comfort of the car is a big factor in being able to achieve maximum speed.

“I just think it is maybe a little bit of a feel in the car,” he said. “There are times when I’m not finding that feel that I need to find. It shows with (Martin) Truex, for example—what he did last year and what he is doing this year. They just found some things that made him more comfortable in the car, and he’s flying.

“He’s doing an awesome job—that whole team is. But they didn’t have that last year. It was something they found together and worked hard to find this year. Different things fit different people at different times. We’re working hard to get to that point. We want to race those guys each week, and we want to battle to lead laps and try to win races.”

Gordon explains radio outburst

Last Sunday at Pocono Raceway, Jeff Gordon’s frustration boiled to the surface, and the result was an uncharacteristically acrimonious radio exchange with crew chief Alan Gustafson. 

Gustafson wanted Gordon to pit for tires late in the race. Gordon thought keeping his track position was more important. 

“Tires are not our problem,” Gordon told Gustafson, an edge in his voice. 

“What the (expletive) is the problem?” Gustafson retorted. 

On Friday at Michigan International Speedway, Gordon explained the testy exchange and attributed some of the frustration to a star-crossed start to his final season of full-time racing. 

“It’s intense out there,” he said. “We had a car far better than we finished. I would say (it’s attributable to) a little bit of build-up with the type of season that we’ve had so far. It seems like every time we have a car that’s capable of either winning or running in the top five, some circumstances come about that take us kind of out of that. That’s frustrating. 

“…At that point, I think both Alan was frustrated, and I was frustrated. The restarts weren’t going great. We took a risk on pit strategy (earlier in the race), and the caution came out. That blew that strategy and put us back. I rarely ever question (Gustafson’s) calls. He’s the crew chief, and he makes great calls, but at that point, I felt like I needed to stay out, and it got a little heated. 

“But it’s all good. We’re big boys. We respect the heck out of one another, and we had great conversations this week. I think it’s actually been more positive that we kind of got that out there and had that heated moment and said some things and got them off our chest. I think it has actually helped us come into this weekend focused, motivated and excited.”

Short strokes 

Jeff Gordon led Saturday’s final practice for Sunday’s Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway with a lap of 198.604 mph. Kyle Busch shared second on the speed chart with last week’s Pocono winner, Martin Truex Jr., at 198.571 mph… In cooler temperatures, Kevin Harvick was fastest in Saturday’s first practice session, posting a lap at 201.084 mph… Denny Hamlin spun off Turn 2 in Happy Hour and popped the right front tire, destroying the sheet metal surrounding the wheel well and damaging the splitter. The team opted to repair the primary car and preserve Hamlin’s 13th-place starting position for Sunday’s race.

Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

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