August 18, 2018 / 12:29 AM / 3 months ago

NASCAR notebook: Dillon looking to convert improved qualifying to more wins

BRISTOL, Tenn. - After the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Kansas in May, the qualifying results of Austin Dillon and his no. 3 Richard Childress racing team improved dramatically.

Aug 12, 2018; Brooklyn, MI, USA; NASCAR Cup Series driver Austin Dillon (3) before the Consumers Energy 400 at Michigan International Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Starting with the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Dillon made it to the second round or better in nine of 11 knockout qualifying sessions. What Dillon and his couldn’t do was translate the speed from time trials to race trim.

That changed last Sunday at Michigan, where the winner of the season-opening Daytona 500 qualified fifth and finished fourth. Dillon sees that performance as real progress, not as a one-time improvement.

“Yeah, obviously that was a big run for our team there at RCR and ECR (Earnhardt Childress Racing Engines),” Dillon said. “Everybody back at the shop has been working really hard to turn the Camaro around for our side of things. We have seen some speed from other guys throughout the year and we have been close.

“We’ve had some qualifying runs that were positive, but we weren’t able to relate it to the race. I think last week we proved that we could relate the speed in qualifying to the race, and that’s huge. Great momentum coming up to some good tracks for us with Bristol, Darlington, finishing with Indy leading into the playoffs.

“I definitely think if we carry this speed into the playoffs, we’re going to be in a good spot.”

KASEY KAHNE DISCUSSES REASONS FOR RETIREMENT FROM FULL-TIME RACING

For Kasey Kahne, the decision to retire from full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series racing came down to one primary factor — his inability to commit his full energy and focus to the sport.

It wasn’t that Kahne didn’t have opportunities to continue his career at NASCAR’s highest level. He could have remained at Leavine Family Racing, where he has spent the 2018 season after parting ways with Hendrick Motorsports.

In fact, Kahne already had begun discussions with the team about an extension. But thoughts of his son Tanner and a desire to spend more time with the sprint car team he owns finally came to a head in the decision Kahne announced via Twitter on Thursday morning.

“I’ve thought about this decision for many months, if not longer,” Kahne wrote in a statement over his own signature. “It’s time for me to step away from racing in NASCAR full time.

“I appreciate everything LFR has done for me this season and offering the opportunity to race in 2019.”

Ultimately, it was an option Kahne felt he had to turn down. On Friday morning at Bristol Motor Speedway, the 38-year-old driver elaborated on his Thursday tweet.

“I had some neat opportunities with Leavine,” Kahne said. “We were working together for the season, and it was going to keep getting better. There was money there. There were a few other offers that I had received over the last month and just options that we could talk about, things like that. It felt really good to have that, but at the same time, it wasn’t necessarily about that anymore.

“I didn’t feel that I could seriously race all of next year and be completely committed 100 percent, and I feel like there are guys out there that can be and that should have those opportunities over me at this point in time, because I don’t feel like I can be that guy from this point on.”

Kahne has accumulated 18 victories in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, but his win in last year’s Brickyard 400 marked his only visit to Victory Lane since the 2014 season and his sixth since joining Hendrick Motorsports in 2012.

Kahne’s watershed season came in 2006 with team owner Ray Evernham and crew chief Kenny Francis. He won six races that year and finished eighth in the final standings. All told, he qualified for the postseason playoffs six times, with a best points finish of fourth in 2012.

Kahne’s decision comes concurrent with his greatest success as a sprint car owner. Brad Sweet, who drives for Kahne, won the marquee Knoxville (Iowa) Nationals on Saturday night. Kahne said he might compete in as many as 50 races in his own cars.

“Not a full deal, because that doesn’t do me much good for backing off a bit,” Kahne said. “But you can do 40 or 50 races in about three months in that deal and still have eight or nine months to do other things.”

CHRISTOPHER BELL FOCUSING ON THE PRESENT TENSE — FOR NOW

News of Kahne’s impending departure from full-time NASCAR racing put the rumor mill into overdrive.

With Leavine reportedly contemplating a manufacturer switch from Chevrolet to Toyota, there was speculation that Joe Gibbs Racing phenom Christopher Bell might step into a Cup ride with LFR.

During an appearance at the Bristol motor Speedway media center on Thursday, Bell put the brakes on that notion.

“That was all news to me,” Bell said of Kahne’s announcement. “Right now, I’ve got a great group of people, getting to drive for all of our partners at Ruud and Rheem, GameStop, and I’ve got great race cars at Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota support.

“Right now, the only thing I’ve got is that I’m finishing out this year, and then next year I’m going for the Xfinity championship again with all of our same partners.”

Bell has four victories in the series this year and currently tops the standings with a 17-point lead over Elliott Sadler and Daniel Hemric, who are tied for second though last Saturday’s race at Mid-Ohio.

— NASCAR Wire Service. Special to Field Level Media.

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