Call them mystified.
Hendrick Motorsports teammates Kasey Kahne and Jimmie Johnson were baffled by their performances during Friday’s qualifying session for the Toyota Owners 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race scheduled for Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway (7 p.m. ET on FOX).
Johnson fully expected a strong effort during time trials. Instead, he was 28th fastest in the first round of knockout qualifying and failed to advance.
“I’m really puzzled,” Johnson admitted, as he stood on pit road with a quizzical look on his face. “We had such a great practice session, in race and qualifying trim; so I’m just scratching my head—big-time—right now.
“We’ll try to figure out what happened and then prepare for the race. Like I said, we had a great race practice in the first session. A tenth there, in qualifying trim in the second session. And I really had high hopes for a good starting spot, but we’re far from that.”
No one was more surprised, however, than Kahne, whose discrepancy between practice and qualifying was nothing short of enormous.
Kahne’s No. 5 Chevrolet topped the speed charts in the final practice session on Friday, but when it came to putting down a hot lap during time trials, he could do no better than 40th.
“To me, it was definitely something with the tires because we didn’t change anything,” Kahne said. “So I’ve been bouncing on the splitter in practice, and right there (during qualifying), I never even felt it. So there are obviously some differences in the tires or something. I guess that could be the only thing. Other than that, everything is the same.
“But I had no turn there in qualifying. In practice, I was actually on the loose-side with really good turn. So, hopefully we’ll put on a good set of tires for the race and be able to drive towards the front. I feel like our Great Clips Chevy was actually pretty good in practice—race and qualifying (trim). So, we’ll see how tomorrow night goes.”
Whether justified or not, tires are often the whipping boy when the handling characteristics of a car change radically from one session to the next. Unfortunately, because Richmond is an impound race, Kahne won’t find out whether a new set of tires will cure the fall-off in performance until he starts the race.
Of the five Hendrick drivers entered in the Toyota Owners 400, only Jeff Gordon and Chase Elliott advanced to the second round during time trials.