Joe Jennings, NASCAR Correspondent
Kahne big winner in New Hampshire
Kasey Kahne overcame the ominous threat of rain and the misfortunes of hard-luck driver Denny Hamlin to win the Lenox Industrial Tools 301, the 19th race of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. The threat of rain loomed large throughout the second half of the race but it never dampened the action at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
In winning for the second time in 2012, Kahne not only overcame Hamlin’s dominating performance but he gave himself a leg up for a wild-card spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
I knew I had to get as good of a lead as I could as Denny would be coming. I tried to get away and we ended up winning.
For his career, Kahne went to victory lane for the 14th time in 307 Sprint Cup races.
Driving the Farmers Insurance Chevrolet fielded by the Hendrick Motorsports team, Kahne gave the accomplished team its fifth win of the season. In all, he led 66 laps.
“We raced in the top five throughout, but Denny (Hamlin) had the fastest car,” Kahne said. “We battled hard, got track position and took the lead. Track position was big and Denny was pretty tough throughout the race. When we got two tires at the end, which put us into first, so I was feeling pretty good about where we were (on track). I knew I had to get as good of a lead as I could as Denny would be coming. I tried to get away and we ended up winning. This is a tough track, so it feels good to win today.
“The pit calls by Kenny Francis, the adjustments he made to the car and the call (he made) at the end were a big part of this win.”
Said Francis, “We had a pretty good car, although we never got it to where we wanted it. We were in the top five all day, and my call at the end was a non-call (for two tires). I was shocked when the No. 11 took four (tires) and gifted us with the lead. Fortunately, we were able to finish it off and out-run him to the finish.”
With his victory, Kahne moved into the top spot in the Wild Card standings. With two victories this season, he has more victories than anyone outside the top-10 in points.
Regarding his status in the point standings, Kahne said his team has run strong throughout the season and with more top-10 runs and solid finishes, he was guardedly confident his team would qualify for the Chase field.
“We have to stay after it and keep ourselves in position,” Kahne said. “Hopefully, we can win a couple more races. I thought our win at Charlotte boosted our team and me a lot. That win was a big turning point for us, and today was a bonus. It gives our team and me more confidence.”
Hamlin, who led 151 circuits, had the field covered until his FedEx Freight Toyota team changed four tires on the 235th lap while the challengers only changed two. The move dropped Hamlin to 14th in the running order, and pit-stop decision was blamed on miscommunication between the driver and the team.
Regardless, the Virginia driver didn’t let up, soaring through the field and passing Clint Bowyer for second with 14 to go. While Hamlin continued to advance, he couldn’t close in on leader Kahne, finishing 2.7 seconds behind the victor.
“I had a great racecar, but you have days like this and it is just part of racing,” said the frustrated Hamlin. “It is a team sport. It is the driver, the pit crew, the car, the crew chief and all those things put together. We just had a slight miscommunication and that one little mistake magnified to take a win away from us.
“Even though we didn’t get the win and the trophy, we only lost three points. We know when we come back here in a couple of months – when it really counts – we will have something pretty strong.”
Hamlin said once a caution flag comes out a team has about 45 seconds to make a decision. During that key period, crew chief Darien Grubb asked Hamlin about his tires and when the latter indicated the tires were worn out, Grubb elected to change four tires instead of the two that had been planned.
“It was pretty obvious we had a win in the bag had we changed two tires, but you will never know,” Hamlin stated. “If there had been any cautions in those final laps, we would be sitting in victory lane. All the stars aligned perfectly, and it wasn’t meant to be the day for us. It is hard to keep your emotions in check when you give one away, but Darien (Grubb) has won me a couple of races this year. You have to take it in stride and realize there’s nothing you can do about it after you pull off on pit road. You just have to figure out how to get the best finish you can that day. Either way, we had a great day and will build on it.”
Bowyer held on for third in the 5-Hour Energy Toyota.
“We were just off a bit but I got aggressive at the end and got past a lot of cars,” Bowyer said. “It feels good to have a solid run. Racing is a humbling sport.” He went on to say that one day you can win and feel like you are on top and the next time out, you struggle and feel awful about it.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran well to finish fourth as did Brad Keselowski, who came in fifth.
The second-five finishers were Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Greg Biffle and Ryan Newman.
In the point standings, the top four are unchanged with Matt Kenseth, Earnhardt, Biffle and Johnson leading. With his runner-up finish, Hamlin moved up two notches to fifth. He is trailed by Harvick, Tony Stewart, Martin Truex Jr., Bowyer and Keselowski.
Carl Edwards is in 11th, 46 behind Keselowski, and Kahne holds down the 12th position, 20 behind Edwards. Kyle Busch resides in13th, two back of Kahne.
Fast-qualifier Kyle Busch led the opening 66 laps and had the dominant car with only Hamlin having an equal car. But a faulty pit stop followed by a pit-road speeding penalty dropped Busch to 14th in the standings. While he bounced back quickly, he never regained the top spot, ending up in the 16th spot.
Reigning Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart finished 12th.
Three caution flags for minor occurrences slowed the race for 13 laps.