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Kasey Kahne offered a bit more clarity to the confusing events surrounding his team on Saturday night, when Kahne crashed and JJ Yeley was left to finish the race in the No. 9 car.
Kahne, speaking to a handful of reporters who attended his foundation's 5K charity run on Sunday morning, said he was physically ill and vomited on Saturday night, adding he "didn't feel good enough to get back in the car."
But he was also incensed over yet another mechanical problem for his Richard Petty Motorsports team – this time a brake failure that sent him crashing on lap 124. He acknowledged that if the car was in contention for the win, he could have continued driving.
So while Kahne said he was sick – adding he wasn't 100 percent for his early-morning run – he was also angry about the brake situation and recalled how he "lost it" over the team radio.
"I was just mad," he said. "I came into the race thinking we had a shot to win. We had a good car in practice. It went green, and I was still a little bit tight, but I passed cars and felt really good and then – boom – my brakes are gone (on lap 40).
"It's not like you have half brakes and you can pump them; your foot goes to the floor – it bottoms out. There's nothing. I mean, it's a joke."
Kahne said this was his third brake issue of the season and second in three weeks. He lamented the fact that RPM was unable to come up with solutions to his troubles and said he's been the only one in the eight-car stable (including Roush Fenway Racing) to experience the brake problem.
"Well, this isn't the first time we've had this exact problem," he said. "So I was yelling, 'How can we not fix this?' I guess it's something to do with the fluid, and basically, we run stuff that's not very good compared to some of the other teams. So once you lose your brakes, you can't get them back – because that fluid, you can't get back.
"Their point is, we have eight teams and I'm the only one that's had this issue. And that's a good point, but I've never had any issues in my past six years, and if you look at brakes after race, my brake pads are better (less worn) than any one of the other seven or the same as the best ones who don't use much brake. I don't use much brake. So it's just a mess, really."
To cap it all off, Kahne said an unidentified member of the RPM organization accused him of not pulling his weight behind the wheel following Saturday's crash. That outraged Kahne, who said he's doing all he can.
"I was told I needed to start doing my part, is what one guy told me last night after the race, and I told him he needs to do his part," he said. "I mean, I can't control the issues I've had this year. I don't know how many parts I've broken, how many shifter handles, control arms, brakes – if I really thought about it, I could come up with all kinds of stuff.
"I can't control that as a driver. I'm doing my part; I just need the car. I work as hard as anybody out there."
Kahne and crew chief Kenny Francis are both headed to Red Bull Racing next season, where Kahne could be part of a three-car stable with Scott Speed and Brian Vickers.
It doesn't sound like it can come soon enough.
Will Kahne have the chance to leave RPM early and drive a few races for Red Bull this year?
"Um...I don't know," he said. "I really don't know if that'll happen or not. I doubt it."
And then there were three.
In the best example yet of why NASCAR doesn't need to institute an elimination round in the Chase, all but three drivers have virtually eliminated themselves from championship contention: Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick.
Johnson expanded his points lead by five markers with a third-place finish (Hamlin was fourth), giving him a total margin of 41. Harvick is 77 points back, and everyone else is more than 150 behind.
And the No. 48 added to its advantage in a fashion that used to be remarkable but is now practically expected anytime something goes wrong for Johnson.
On lap 34, Johnson went for a rare spin as the Charlotte crowd burst into wild applause, cheering as if Dale Earnhardt Jr. had just taken the lead.
Fortunately for him (and unfortunately for the rest of the NASCAR world), Johnson didn't hit anything, recovered and drove back through the field – even challenging for the win.
"I'm so relieved," he said afterward. "I'm glad to be sitting here in the third spot and leading the points. It's amazing what goes through your mind when you're sliding sideways on the back straightaway.
"I saw my hard work for the year and dreams of being a five-time champion go away. Fortunately, I got the car turned away from the inside wall."
At that point, Johnson said, it "scared me straight." He was able to keep his composure and finish in the top five.
That was bad news for Hamlin, though the Joe Gibbs Racing driver (now 41 points behind) said he "wasn't disappointed at all" to finish one spot behind Johnson.
"He's a champion and I'm not," Hamlin said. "He's figured this stuff out and he's got a great team as well as we do, but I haven't hit the 'Go' button yet and I feel like there's still more left with our team.
"I'm minimizing my risk right now and I feel like if I'm going to have a shot to win this thing when we get to Homestead, I've got to minimize those risks."
That includes not making it three-wide on restarts, Hamlin said, and taking advantage of other opportunities for aggressive racing.
"I take a little more conservative approach and it costs me five points here and there every couple races, but the main thing is that I'm not racing my way out of this thing in these first five races," he said.
Harvick has historically been subpar at Charlotte, but achieved his goal of getting a single-digit finish at the 1.5-mile track.
"I think for us, it was damage control," Harvick said. "For me, this is just a struggle. I struggle getting the feel that I want. To come out of here with an eighth feels like a victory."
An promising start to the weekend ended with a forgettable night for Dale Earnhardt Jr., who qualified eighth but finished three laps down in 29th place on Saturday night at Charlotte.
Earnhardt Jr. began the night with a decent car, but said it started landing roughly in the corner and "wouldn't go."
"Getting off into the corner into (Turn) 1, it just slammed real hard on the nose and I couldn't get in there deep enough," he said. "I was getting my ass beat pretty bad down in the corner."
The splitter started hitting the track – Earnhardt Jr. said he felt like the bump stops deteriorated during the course of the race – and the team could never recover. Drivers have a tough time turning their cars when the splitter hits the track, because the car wants to go straight.
Adding to the frustration was an early pit call to take four tires (when most other teams took two) that left Earnhardt Jr.'s car mired in traffic.
"That hurt me pretty bad, yeah," he said. "You can put a lot of good cars back there and they'll have a tough time getting back to the front. We were maybe a 10th-place car tonight, and you stick us back there and we really couldn't get anywhere.
"It was some odd things happening with cautions there at the start of the race that caught us in the cycle that got us back there, and we never could really recover from that. But the car was never really quite good enough to do it anyway."
So will Earnhardt Jr. continue to run the semi-experimental setup he said was in the No. 88 car this weekend?
"We'll keep running it," he said. "We gotta find something. It ain't no better than what we've been doing, but we've just got to keep looking."
He paused, then repeated, "We just gotta keep looking."
Though Kasey Kahne didn't finish Saturday night's race at Charlotte, his No. 9 car did – with JJ Yeley behind the wheel.
Kahne was "sick," according to team officials, and left the garage area following a crash on Lap 124 that may have resulted from a brake problem.
Prior to the crash, Kahne had sounded furious with the condition of his car over the team radio and was livid in some of the communications with his team.
"Kasey wasn't feeling good, and we're trying to keep the car in the top 20 in owner points, so we put Yeley in there," said Robbie Loomis, the competition director for Richard Petty Motorsports. "We're thankful to JJ for doing that."
Yeley got six points for the No. 9 team, which Loomis reiterated was helpful to the owner points battle – a key goal for his organization, he said. Yeley began the race driving Tommy Baldwin Racing's No. 36 car but parked it after 73 laps.
Loomis, asked if Kahne could have been angry instead of sick, said: "Anytime you're a competitor and you just spin out and end up getting damage and the car tore up, you don't like that. I just hope he gets feeling better. He's got a fundraiser in the morning – he's got a 5(k) run, so I hope he's feeling better in the morning."
Kahne, who is leaving RPM after this season, is scheduled to participate in a charity run for his foundation early Sunday morning in uptown Charlotte.
Crew chief Kenny Francis was not made available to comment for this story, per a team spokeswoman.
The story recalled shades of the Kyle Busch situation at Texas in 2007 – the year Busch ultimately left Hendrick Motorsports for Joe Gibbs Racing. Busch was nowhere to be found when the team repaired his car after a wreck, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished the race for him in the No. 5 car that day.
It's Saturday night and you're at home in front of your TV – and apparently on your computer – so why not join us for the live race chat?
Just click the comments section below and make sure the auto-refresh box is checked to see the latest thoughts from other fans as they unfold.
NASCAR Chairman Brian France said Saturday afternoon that NASCAR – in partnership with Sunoco – will use a blend of fuel next season that contains 15 percent corn-based ethanol (exclusively American-produced).
Officials said there will be no obvious impact on fuel mileage (although Ethanol supposedly burns off more quickly) and there will be increased horsepower because alcohol keeps the engines cooler.
Because the alcohol can be hard on metal, Sunoco will have to ship in the fuel via tanker trucks to racetracks next year (instead of using the underground tanks at fuel pumps).
Is this a good move that will positively impact the environment, or just something for publicity?
Given that I'm a sports writer and not a scientist, many Twitter readers asked for a forum to contribute their insights on Ethanol.
Please add your thoughts to the comments section below.
Despite finishing a career-best 21st, Danica Patrick was disappointed and a bit frustrated after the Charlotte Motor Speedway Nationwide race on Friday night.
Patrick, in her ninth NASCAR start, bested her previous top result of 24th (at Chicagoland). But she finished two laps down and struggled to run as well as she did at Fontana (where she was headed for a top-20 finish before being wrecked).
"It's my first time here, and I think I need to keep in perspective what happens when I go there for the second time versus being there for the first time," she said. "I've definitely had worse outings the first time at a track. I'll take this and we'll learn from it and be ready the next time we come back to Charlotte."
Patrick said she was frustrated at how the race results have unfolded for her this season: When there's a chance for a good run, she has a wreck (like at Fontana); when she finishes the races, they're usually the "pretty average" runs.
"That's disappointing, because I feel like we're better than this, and I feel like I have had better weekends than finishing a 21st or a 24th," she said. "Unfortunately, we don't have the results to show for it and that's all there is to it."
Despite the 30th-place Fontana finish, Patrick said she had a better car one week ago than on Friday night at Charlotte. She said the feeling of being "relaxed" was the same, though.
"Tonight, we didn't have as good of a car, but I was still managing it and still calm and still able to read all the numbers to them with the oil and water (gauges)," she said, "and still be able to check my mirrors and know where I was at and know what I was doing.
"I felt calm like last weekend, I just didn't feel like I had the car underneath me to go."
The highlight of Patrick's Charlotte weekend was likely the two days of practice. On Wednesday during a new car practice session, she said she was "keeping up" with Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick by the end of the day – a big accomplishment for a NASCAR newbie – and was second on the practice charts the night before the race.
And, she said, "There were some things in the race that were good" – like not wrecking.
"Shoot, just finishing all 200 was a good thing," she said. "I got 200 laps underneath my belt and I'm sure I'll be better the next time I come back."
Back when NASCAR was on an upward swing in the national consciousness, the rivalry between Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Sr. was a focal point for fan attention.
Think fast: Name the big rivalry in NASCAR now.
Can you think of one? There really aren't any rivalries that stick out.
"I think there needs to be some more rivalries out there," Gordon said Friday. "...I think it's important to have rivalries. I don't think (the declining TV ratings are) about Jimmie Johnson, it's just nobody has really rivaled him.
"The only one that has (is) Carl (Edwards in 2008) – I would have thought that that would have been pretty decent ratings that year, but Carl is probably just too nice."
Gordon recalled other great rivalries of the past, but said if it's nice guys against nice guys, "there's a certain entertainment aspect" that is likely not present as there would be if more explosive personalities were involved.
"Right now if it was Kyle Busch versus Jimmie Johnson, I think it'd spark a lot more interest," he said. "I think that (Kevin) Harvick kind of plays that role a little bit and he's there. If that battle heats up, I think it could be interesting.
"I think right now anything that sparks a good battle with Jimmie – even if it's me – I think will spark some things."
The problem in Gordon's mind has been that no one has been able to truly challenge Johnson. The fans are waiting for someone – anyone – to step up.
"Those guys have dominated so much that when we get to this position, I think a lot of people just go, ‘Oh man, he's going to do it again,'" Gordon said. "But I also think they're waiting to see if somebody else can beat him."
There haven't been too many times in the second half of this season when Dale Earnhardt Jr. has unloaded a fast car right off his No. 88 team's trailer.
Those instances have been too few and far between for Junior Nation, who have endured a frustrating stretch – as has been the case for their driver.
But Earnhardt Jr. had a good car from the very start on Thursday, and parlayed it to an eighth-place qualifying effort at Charlotte Motor Speedway – his best starting spot in the last 17 races.
"I think it's a roller coaster every week in this sport – for teams like us, anyway," Earnhardt Jr. said after his run. "We unloaded comfortable and fast and felt confident in our setup. The car had more speed than that. The car had plenty of grip, plenty of speed.
"The car was so good off the trailer. The first run was really, really great. I had no complaints about the car after the first run."
While that's standard talk from the drivers who run up front every week, it's practically been a foreign language of late for Earnhardt Jr.
It's likely music to his fans' ears, though, along with another comment from the sport's most popular driver: "We're happy."
A recent turnaround may have started when the team was selected to participate in a Goodyear tire test at Homestead (the week after Richmond). Earnhardt Jr. said that session helped he and crew chief Lance McGrew work on a better direction.
At Charlotte, Earnhardt Jr.'s team is trying an experimental setup somewhere between the "alien" one the No. 88 team tried at Fontana and its standard setup.
"I think this is a good opportunity this weekend to try some things we've been wanting to try," he said. "We tried a setup last weekend that is something I've never even run or ever considered running before. This won't be nothing like that; it'll be more a little more along the lines of things we've been contemplating on running. I think it's a good direction, as far as the setup goes."
WIth Earnhardt Jr., McGrew and the team all agreeing on which direction to move for the setup, Earnhardt Jr. noted he believes that "attitude is everything."
"If I falter or struggle in practice or in the middle of the race, or if anyone else on the team has a mental hiccup or a lapse in focus, it can be tough on any team," he said. "So (I'm) just trying to stay the course and keep your mind going in the right direction and do what's right. It's hard though, you know?"
With only six races left, Earnhardt Jr. said he has a goal aside from simply preparing for next year and helping his Hendrick Motorsports teammates win a championship.
"Time is running out on the season, and we'll just be sitting on our asses doing nothing for a few months," he said. "(I want to) try to get all the racing I can get out of these last few races, try to be as competitive as we can be. ... Just to get everything you can out of it, wring it out."
When it comes to his mental approach of late, Earnhardt Jr. sounded somewhat philosophical in describing how he wants to stay even-keeled and balanced.
"Everybody in the garage has the same intentions, but not everybody has the same results," he said. "A lot of things aren't necessarily in your control, but you just control what you can and try to stay focused, try to stay aggressive."
Jimmie Johnson was asked about the perception that because he's dominated the Chase for the last four years – and has been vanilla while doing so – that he's responsible for the declining TV ratings and attendance.
Obviously, Johnson disagreed with that assertion when asked by a reporter on Thursday.
This was his response:
Well, I know that I'm not the reason for those things and I sure as hell know I'm not vanilla. I think it takes anybody some time to get comfortable in their shoes and their sport and with where I went from being like a C-level driver in Nationwide and through all the other things in my career, to drive for Hendrick Motorsports to having success early, at the end of the day I want to be a professional and do my job.
And some people formed opinions then and it's unfortunate that if it still lingers around because I think I've done plenty to show that I'm far from vanilla. And at the same time, I'm getting more comfortable as each year goes by in how I act and what I do and with who I am.
I have my own securities like anyone else and when I come to the track I just want to make sure I'm doing my best job and representing my sponsors. I think I'm finding a better balance of that. And from the success that we've had, it's just unfair to put it on a driver's success.
When you look at the economy and the challenges that it's posed on people, there's a lot of conversations about the prices being too high for hotel rooms. The tracks have worked very hard to get their price point down and that hasn't really moved the needle all that much.
We have an amazing television package and people aren't tuning in to watch. We don't know why. And it's not just our sport, it's all sports and it's all television.
It's not me and I know that. So I just kind of chuckle about it and if people want to spend time talking about it, they can.
Jeff Burton, asked about the talk of a Hall of Fame snub for Darrell Waltrip and Cale Yarborough yesterday, dismissed the idea that anyone should be upset for not getting into the Hall this year.
"If you're honored enough to get into the Hall of Fame, you shouldn't lose sleep about when you got into the Hall of Fame," Burton said Thursday. "The third class in no less important that the second class."
Burton was making reference to Darrell Waltrip's comments Wednesday that the three-time Cup champ was disappointed and upset about not getting into the Hall. Waltrip had been considered a favorite to make the Hall until surprise selections Ned Jarrett and Bud Moore were announced.
"For those who didn't get into it that expressed disappointment, I guess I understand that in some ways," Burton said. "It is a hell of an honor to be considered to be in the Hall of Fame. I think the emphasis should be placed on the people who did get in it because there is no one that got in it that didn't deserve to be in it."
Waltrip apparently caught wind of Burton's comments and tweeted a response:
@AllWaltrip: Anyone that thinks it doesn't matter when u get in the hof thinks minor surgery is on someone else!
Said Burton in his press conference: "I guess it is human nature to try to pull the negatives out of it, but the reality of it is that it is a great thing that the five people that got inducted, got inducted."
It's the only night race in the Chase, a Saturday night special under the lights at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Historically, this has been either Jimmie Johnson or Kasey Kahne's house. Will it be again?
Follow along with news, updates and analysis from the track – plus our live race chat on Saturday night.
As a reminder, the race time is 7:30 p.m. (EST) on Saturday night.
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