Kahne leads Chase drivers in Talladega qualifying
TALLADEGA, Ala. — Ride or race was the question NASCAR's title contenders are considering as they prepare for Talladega Superspeedway.
The fourth race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup could be the one that shuffles the 12-driver championship field. The use of restrictor plates bunches the field, and the unpredictability of drafting and relying on partners usually creates a chaotic race that can end a drivers' title hopes.
So when qualifying ended Saturday, and Kasey Kahne sat on the pole for the first time at a plate race, drivers began discussing in earnest how they will attack the 500-mile event.
“We just really need to race and race hard,” Kahne said. “We're a long ways back right now, and if we can't make up points at a track like this, we probably aren't going to make them up.”
Kahne's lap of 191.455 mph bettered Ryan Newman's 191.145, putting a pair of Chevrolets on the front row for Sunday's race.
Asked what it meant for Kahne's race, he didn't offer many details.
“It means I'm going to start first; that's it,” Kahne said. “I'll try to lead that first lap. If we're up there, we'll try to stay up there.”
Kahne, who is sixth in the standings and trails leader Brad Keselowski by 32 points, insists he'll race.
So will two-time defending race winner Clint Bowyer, who has had Talladega circled as the track that can most help his championship chances. Then he surprised himself with a third-place qualifying run.
“I am blown away, shocked, that we were top three,” Bowyer said. “I thought, definitely going into today, my whole plan for the weekend was we were going to qualify poorly and ride around in the back. Well, we're in the front, and I'm going to try to stay there.”
In all, Chase drivers took six of the top 10 starting spots. The other half of the Chase field is spread out all the way down to 23rd, which is where Denny Hamlin will go off Sunday.
Keselowski, who won at Talladega in the spring, wasn't worried about his starting position at 22nd.
“I think we've proven that the only lap that matters is the last one,” Keselowski said. “Things happen so late in the race that even the best strategy can get thrown out the window.”
Jimmie Johnson (17th), who has failed to finish the three previous plate races this season, said his strategy is simple.
“Don't crash,” he said. “Whatever increases my chances of not crashing. There really isn't a rhyme or reason to that.”