After the Glen a lot has been said about Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s crew chief Tony Eury, Jr. I say if we are throwing crew chiefs on the fire, nominate Kasey Kahne’s, Kenny Francis. Francis has made a mess out of the last two races. Let's have a look, shall we?
What went wrong at Pocono? Simple: Kenny Francis! Pocono is a "Kahne track" as we all saw in June. Then why, I wonder, was Francis’ strategy all about things he can’t control, like cautions and weather?
Kahne did his part. He fought hard for track position throughout the whole race.
By Lap 67 he had made his way up into the top five and he would stay in the top 10 through the halfway mark of the race. At Lap 126 it went yellow, and Kahne stayed out.
Many, including Francis, think this decision is where the race went wrong. On www.KaseyKahne.com Francis stated, "If it keeps on raining, we win. It didn’t and we got seventh. We took a chance and it just didn’t work out like we wanted it to. We still got a top 10 and had one of the best cars out there today.”
I think Francis' call to keep Kahne out during the caution was right on. It gained him track position as well as bonus points. However, Francis shouldn’t look to cautions to win a race. Sure, a caution is a tool for crew chiefs to use, but depending on them is a slap in the face to your driver.
Plus, like at the Glen (which I will get to) it was Francis’ bad fuel mileage call that killed Pocono for Kahne and the rest of the No. 9 team. Do you keep your driver out for bonus points or pit for fuel mileage?
I think this was the question Francis must have been asking himself around Lap 166 as many hit pit row. Yes, Kahne pitted at Lap 155 so he didn’t need gas yet, but it would mean having to stop by Lap 185.
Francis took the gamble and it worked at Pocono as Kahne was able to work his way up to a top 10 finish after pitting on Lap 185. However, some of that was due to others simply running out of gas, and not due so much to Kahne.
Pocono could have turned out a lot worst, like at the Glen.
Kahne has said it himself. Road courses don’t fit his driving style. He needed his team at the Glen and Francis let him down again.
Let's face it, Kahne isn’t always an aggressive passer, and on a road course passing is a challenge. He lost track position early on and had dropped seven places from his starting position by the halfway mark.
Francis should have left Kahne out during the caution, but he decided to let Jr.’s team make the call for him. His strategy was if Jr. were to pit, he'd have his team pit, too.
In his defense, I think he thought the top of the field were all going to come in after Jr., but even if they did it would still have been a bad call! Why, you ask, was pitting on Lap 50 a bad call?
Fuel mileage—Kahne’s late pit stop was on Lap 27. On a road course Kahne needs time to regain track position. It is just a fact. Therefore you can’t have him pitting too late in a race, or he will never recover. Cautions are great for fuel mileage as two yellow equal about one green lap.
Kahne could have held out until Lap 57 and then squeezed the extra three laps out like Busch and Stewart did. Instead Francis pitted Kahne on Lap 50, which means that he would have to pit again or squeeze five laps out. See the bad call?
Francis tried to recover and pitted Kahne at Lap 62 just for fuel. Pitting him early after the mistake was a good call on Francis' part. This gave Kahne as much time as he could get.
There are only four races left until the Chase. Will Kahne make it in? Most likely.
However, it seems like Francis has lost his feel for what Kahne needs. Can these two reconnect before the Chase?