2011-03-17 / Sports

Kahne Cruises To Truck Win

By Gerald Hodges

DARLINGTON, S. C. – Kasey Kahne cruised to victory in Saturday’s Truck race at Darlington Raceway.

The victory made Kahne the first driver in the truck series to win three of his first four starts.

Second alongside Elliott Sadler on a restart with 53 laps to go, Kahne immediately dispatched of Sadler – who had taken two tires under the previous caution – and held on through a final restart with three laps left to score the win.

Four-time truck champion Ron Hornaday Jr. finished second, followed by defending series champion and 2010 Darlington winner Todd Bodine. Matt Crafton, James Buescher, Timothy Peters, Elliott Sadler, Cole Whitt, Johnny Sauter, and David Starr completed the top ten.

The victory was Kahne’s second at Darlington. Kahne, who has been full time in the Cup series since 2004, also has a victory at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Both came in 2004. He finished second last year at Pocono Raceway.

It was Kahne’s second appearance in the Kyle Busch Motorsports No. 18 Toyota normally driven by team owner Kyle Busch, who was vacationing in Cancun, after getting married last week.

The race was slowed by 10 cautions, including one for a three-truck wreck involving Johanna Long, Ricky Carmichael and Nelson Piquet Jr. that brought out the red flag for 7 minutes, 37 seconds.

Top-10 leaders after 3 of 25: 1. Crafton-111, 2. Whitt- 105, 3. Peters-104, 4. Rogers- 103, 5. Sauter-102, 6. Hornaday 99, 7. Bodine-92, 8. Dillon 92, 9. Papis-87, 10. Earnhardt 86

Has NASCAR bottomed out?

Brian France, CEO of NASCAR thinks it has. At a press conference last week, he told reporters that the Cup Series ended the year on a positive note, and 2011 is looking good.

“We went out in a strong way, as you know, in 2010 down to the last laps,” said France. “We hadn’t had that in a few years. You want to go out strong. It’s really important to have a good playoff, a good finale. You see where that’s helped the Super Bowls of late, which have been very competitive. So have some other series, other sports. You want to go out on a real high. We have a very short window to launch. If you’re going out a little bit down, it’s a little harder to ramp up.”

“Obviously, the competition has never been better. That’s been brewing in terms of going in the right direction for a number of months, dating back well into last year.”

When asked about the level of increasingly rough driving, he replied: “It’s made the racing better. They’ve got to figure that out. They’re doing that largely. I would say, too, with the wild card situation, where the last two spots are going to be decided by wins, if you don’t happen to have the perfect top-10 performance in the first 26 events, I think you saw the disappointment with Tony not winning when he thought he should have won last weekend, he now counts that because he doesn’t start fast.”

“I think you’re going to see an escalation of that. That’s what great competition is. I’m actually happy to hear people complaining about that. It means it’s working.”

He even touched on Danica Patrick running in the Nationwide Series.

“I think that (fourthplace run at Phoenix) elevated her,” he continued. “There was some discussion, did she have the right stuff to compete in the Nationwide Series. You know, I think she dispelled a lot of that. There’s always circumstances in the start of a new career. But sometimes things are out of your control, people can crash in front of you, a hundred other things.”

“I think she elevated herself quite nicely. That’s nice to see. She’s a very competitive person. She’s always said she’s here to compete, not just happy to be here. That fits my criteria.”

France said fans should not expect to see many schedule changes in 2012.

“Do we see any major changes in the schedule?” he said. “We don’t release that for another month or so. We did have a fair amount of changes last year and even some in the last couple years.”

“So by definition I don’t think you’re going to see a lot of changes. We’ll see how some of the new dates, their new time on the calendar works out. But I don’t think there will be as much as there was, say, in 2010.”

“We don’t want there to be. We prefer to have a good continuity. That’s our preference.”

France appears to be on the right track. After three races into the 2011 season, the television rating and track attendancee hasn’t equaled that of 2009, but it has certainly improved.

Fans appear to be regaining interest. TV ratings have increased for all three of this year’s Cup races, including 13 percent for the Daytona 500, 9 percent at Phoenix, and 29 percent for last week’s race at Las Vegas.

Attendance also seems to be up with near sellout crowds at both Phoenix and Las Vegas.

There had been rumors in the past few months that Volkswagen might be entering NASCAR, but they ended that speculation.

“Nothing for us. There is certainly the one or the other person out there in the world that would wish for that, but we don’t have that on the programme,” said Ulrich Hackenberg, head of technical development at Volkswagen.

There has been speculation for months over whether VW would enter NASCAR with a factory team to bolster its appeal in the U.S. market, where it lags Japanese carmakers.

Weekend racing: It’s on to Bristol, Tenn., for the Cup and Nationwide teams. The Trucks are off.

Saturday, Mar. 19, Nationwide Series Scott’s EZ Seed 300, 4 of 34; starting time: 2 p.m.; TV: ESPN.

Sunday, Mar. 20, Sprint Cup Jeff Byrd 500, 4 of 36; starting time: 1 p.m.; TV: Fox.

All times are Eastern.

Racing trivia question: In addition to his NASCAR racing teams, Joe Gibbs has also coached two NFL teams. Who are these two teams?

Last week’s question: Which state is Kasey Kane from? Answer. He is from Enumclaw, Wash.

You may contact the Racing Reporter at: hodges@race500.com.

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