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BROOKLYN -- It nearly happened. Kasey Kahne finished second Sunday at Michigan International Speedway to Denny Hamlin and was within two car lengths with 10 laps remaining, but handling and lack of clean air delegated Kahne to runner-up status.
The fact that four Ford Fusions finished in the top 12 was a bell-ringer for the 12-car Ford contingent, too. All of them had the new FR9 engine onboard as well.
Part of that competitive fire has to do with the FR9, which did a good job for the Ford teams all day.
“We had the new Ford engine and it was night-and-day difference to what I had last week,” Kahne said. “I am really happy with the FR9 engine. For our first time racing it, it was a nice improvement. I think that bodes well for all the Ford teams. I think we will all run better now.”
Kahne was in the top three all day long, and nearly ran down race-long leader Hamlin from behind on the final restart with 15 laps to go. Hamlin had a nine-second lead when the yellow flag waved for a big chunk of debris on lap 181, and both he and Kahne stayed out rather than come to pit road for tires.
In the end, Hamlin was simply stronger than Kahne was, and that’s why he won the race.
“Yeah, they have been like that for a couple of months now, so I wasn’t surprised they were really strong,” Kahne said of Hamlin’s team. “We made a huge gain and were way better than we have been. I don’t like watching him drive away from me, but I wasn’t surprised when he did. I thought we had a really good car and really good effort by our whole team but the 11 was just a touch better.”
Several times during the day, Kahne came to pit road and the relief valve on the front of the car was pouring steam, which signifies that the engine is very hot. Kahne said it didn’t matter, because it cooled right back down.
Michigan is also a place where a ton of debris is swept onto the track, and the trash clogs the air intakes.
“The other engine handled heat well also, but it was nice to see that this one could handle heat,” Kahne said. “I ran from the white line up to beside the wall and it is easy to pick up debris. We covered the grille a couple times that way and got up to 280 or so. It cooled right back off though and it felt strong the whole race. It didn’t feel like the engine was affected at all by the heat.”
Kahne didn’t have the new engine last week at Pocono, and it showed. This week, he was able to have the same power everyone else had and it also showed—in results.
“Five of the guys had this engine last week and I didn’t have it,” Kahne said. “Last week I couldn’t draft. I could get a run off the corner but when I got to the straightaway, they would pull away from me. That shouldn’t happen. You should be able to get the draft and suck up. They have been working hard on this engine and it was nice to get it because I was able to suck up to the car in front of me, which is how it is supposed to work.
“It was nice to get on a level playing field. Now we just have to work on the car and on other things that matter to win the race. I didn’t feel like we were at a disadvantage with the engine. I can go back to my Dodge years. Last year was one of the worst years our engines ran at Richard Petty Motorsports. It felt really good in practice when I sucked up to Kyle Busch on Friday. That made me feel like we had something, which was a good feeling.”
Asked to quantify the difference in terms of power, Kahne just shrugged.
“I don’t know numbers. I didn’t ask and they didn’t tell me. If you can feel it as a driver when you are talking 800-some horsepower on a two-mile track when you touch it all the way down the straightaway, it has got to be a decent number.
“It could handle heat and it supposedly has lower weight which is good. I think Ford has made a really nice improvement and I was happy to be the best Ford today. Hopefully we can keep after it and be solid the rest of the year.”
Other Ford drivers believed the FR9 came through with flying colors.
AJ Allmendinger finished 11th, and he said it was because of what was under his hood today. But he also said that the FR9 posed a problem he hadn’t faced in a while.
“That [the engine] is the only thing that saved me,” he said. “That is the problem. When you are really loose and put your right foot down, there is too much horsepower there now and you get wicked sideways. Doug Yates and everybody at the engine shop are doing an awesome job. This FR9 is so fast. It is good to come off the corner and get a good run and just blow by guys. We will keep working on it, but days like today are what make a team better.”
Ninth-place finished Greg Biffle said the new engine handles the team’s power needs.
“Yeah, we definitely have the power now,” he said. “The power is there, we just need to work and get the car handling better. If we do that we should be able to get things figured out.”