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Kasey Kahne shatters Darlington's track record in Southern 500 qualifying. But the Newman-Montoya feud is still simmering

  Kasey Kahne: making Team Red Bull look really strong (Photo: Toyota Motorsports)

   By Mike Mulhern


   For guy just off more knee surgery, Kasey Kahne is doing just fine.
   How about breaking the Darlington track record? That's what Kahne did here Friday, with a sizzling lap at 181.254 mph in qualifying for Saturday night's Southern 500.

   The track was repaved in 2008, but Goodyear has new, softer tires for this race. And the early afternoon rain cooled the surface, giving it even more grip.
   Kahne, who was also impressive last week at Richmond, is on a one-year contract with Jay Frye's Red Bull team, but he's making the most of it. Kahne is also charged with helping market his ride this season, to make it attractive enough to entice another top-name driver for 2012.
   "At a track where you have to race the track, like one, qualifying is important," Ryan Newman said. Newman was quickest in practice and second-quickest in qualifying.
   These speeds are flat amazing, particularly at the end of the straights. When Greg Biffle tested here two years ago, he was hitting 206 mph entering the corners, and speeds appear even faster now.
   "The cars have evolved, and that's a big part of it, and Goodyear is another part of it," Newman said.
   Goodyear's new tire combination for this race? "We did some 30-lap runs and had no tire problems," Newman said. "I'm confident Goodyear has a good tire for this race."
   Kahne agreed, saying the tire drop-off in speed over a long run was interesting -- three-tenths of a second a lap after about 10 laps. "But the real drop-off is after 40 laps."
   Kahne says "the short track stuff is probably where we are at our best right now.  I think we have some work to do on the higher load tracks, Darlington,  Charlotte, Dover.  We still have some work to do on them. At Phoenix, Richmond and New Hampshire, we should be alright."
   Kahne won the March Truck race here, on this new tire combination, in Kyle Busch's Truck. That could give him an advantage this weekend.
   And Kahne's knee appears no issue: "You should have seen me at Bristol.  I couldn't even walk for 10 minutes after the race. It feels better now. I'm glad I got it fixed.  I needed to. I was tired of limping."
   However the incredible speeds here are rivaled by the simmering Newman-Montoya feud. The Richmond incident between Newman and Montoya apparently isn't settled, despite a brief meeting between the two Friday in the NASCAR hauler, a meeting that NASCAR officials concede didn't go that well, though they didn't amplify on how physical it might have gone.
   "It was a private meeting," Newman said when asked how it went. "I'm passed all that. That's behind us. We'll see what comes of it."
   Montoya was more succinct in refusing to talk about the meeting.
   How NASCAR handles the Newman-Montoya situation now is the question. The two have a long history of crashing each other, though it's hard to figure out which one might be more to blame.


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