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Finishing Touch Gets Kahne To Victory Lane

Deb Williams | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, May 28 2012

Kasey Kahne vaporizes a little rubber after winning at Charlotte on Saturday night. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Brian Lawdermilk)

CONCORD, N.C. – Kasey Kahne and Hendrick Motorsports possess an affinity for Charlotte Motor Speedway and it paid dividends for the 32-year-old driver Sunday night.

With a potent Chevrolet that no one could challenge in the Coca-Cola 600’s closing laps, Kahne and crew chief Kenny Francis snapped a string of bad luck that had stalked them for 3 ½ months. During that time they had fast cars, but they simply couldn’t close the deal. An accident, a rare engine failure, it seemed as though they were snake bit. At one point, they were 33rd in the standings and in half of the first six races they finished 34th or worse.

“He and Jeff (Gordon) both have had just rotten luck,” team owner Rick Hendrick said after his third straight week in victory lane. “I don’t think I’ve blown a motor at Martinsville in 20 years. He was sitting on the pole, running second and we lost the motor. It was, like he said, at Vegas, last lap, third or fourth, Matt (Kenseth) crowds him into the fence. Daytona, run all day; we get swept up in a wreck running top 10.

“I’ve been doing this long enough to know that if you have speed, if you can run up front, you’re going to win races. It felt like all along when the luck would turn, these guys would win races.”

Hendrick’s remarks proved prophetic Sunday at the 1.5-mile track where his organization has collected 24 victories, including seven All-Star wins. Sunday, just 3 hours 51 minutes and 14 seconds after stock

Kasey Kahne In Victory Lane. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

car racing’s longest race began, Kahne’s and Francis’ nightmare ended with a 4.295-second victory over Denny Hamlin. It was their first victory for Hendrick Motorsports, but Kahne’s fourth at CMS, including three in the Coca-Cola 600. Kahne also accomplished the feat in the fastest 600-mile race ever, breaking the record of 3 hours 56 minutes and 55 seconds set in 1995.

“I never really doubted myself (during those bad times this year),” said Kahne, who has now driven a Ford, Dodge, Toyota and Chevrolet to victory in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series.

However, Kahne admitted he did get “pretty down” a couple of times and it helped to have long-time crew chief Francis by his side.

“Kenny is like, ‘We’ve got more fast cars, we’ll be fine,’” Kahne said. “He’s never said anything to me like that before. He definitely wasn’t fine with the way the season had went, but to that point he knew we had speed. He knew we were all working hard and trying hard. It just hadn’t worked out to that point.”

Sunday, it worked out.

Kahne, who started seventh in his 300th career Cup race, ran in the top 10 throughout the event. He didn’t take the lead, however, until the race’s second half and it wasn’t until the final 100 laps that he found himself in a briefly intense battle with Greg Biffle, who led 204 of the 400 laps.

After the race’s final green-flag stops, the only driver who had an opportunity to challenge Kahne for the victory was Hamlin, but even he realized with 15 laps remaining he had nothing for Kahne.

“I knew I wore the front tires out trying to get to him,” Hamlin said. “You try to do the best with tire management that you have. Our only shot, because we had gone really tight at the end of every run, was to just use it all up at the beginning, try to get around him, then hold him off with track position at the end.

“I don’t think I could have executed it any differently with any other outcome. I had to take advantage of the one advantage I did have all day, that was five, six laps after a restart.”

By that time, though, Kahne had sealed the victory in the event that had 31 lead changes among 11 drivers and was slowed by five caution flags for 23 laps for an average speed of 155.687 mph.

In the point standings, Biffle’s fourth-place finish allowed him to maintain a 10-point lead over Roush Fenway Racing teammate Matt Kenseth, who finished 10th.

– Deb Williams can be reached at dwilliams@racintoday.com

RACE RESULTS

1. (7) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 400, $385,466.

2. (8) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 400, $280,440.

3. (17) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 400, $234,398.

4. (4) Greg Biffle, Ford, 400, $201,851.

5. (24) Brad Keselowski, Dodge, 400, $149,215.

6. (12) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 400, $161,810.

7. (23) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 400, $167,776.

8. (14) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 400, $126,090.

9. (28) Carl Edwards, Ford, 400, $160,676.

10. (20) Matt Kenseth, Ford, 399, $155,131.

11. (3) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 399, $110,205.

12. (15) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 399, $135,219.

13. (5) Clint Bowyer, Toyota, 398, $179,741.

14. (16) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 398, $150,341.

15. (9) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 398, $145,788.

16. (1) Aric Almirola, Ford, 398, $129,713.

17. (10) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 398, $128,375.

18. (18) Landon Cassill, Toyota, 398, $129,444.

19. (22) Jeff Burton, Chevrolet, 398, $108,305.

20. (29) Juan Pablo Montoya, Chevrolet, 398, $130,738.

21. (31) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 397, $147,030.

22. (25) Casey Mears, Ford, 397, $104,680.

23. (19) Joey Logano, Toyota, 397, $134,430.

24. (13) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 397, $111,138.

25. (21) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 397, $108,863.

26. (39) David Gilliland, Ford, 397, $123,371.

27. (42) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 396, $92,755.

28. (26) Bobby Labonte, Toyota, 396, $111,788.

29. (37) Travis Kvapil, Toyota, 395, $109,552.

30. (40) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 395, $100,880.

31. (41) TJ Bell, Ford, 390, $88,730.

32. (2) Marcos Ambrose, Ford, 367, $96,605.

33. (11) AJ Allmendinger, Dodge, 361, $121,388.

34. (6) Mark Martin, Toyota, Engine, 338, $132,930.

35. (30) David Ragan, Ford, Engine, 281, $88,205.

36. (32) Michael McDowell, Ford, Engine, 228, $88,080.

37. (38) Scott Speed, Ford, Fuel Pump, 136, $87,855.

38. (35) David Stremme, Toyota, Rear Gear, 86, $87,742.

39. (34) Stephen Leicht, Chevrolet, Vibration, 74, $93,800.

40. (36) Dave Blaney, Chevrolet, Engine, 54, $84,165.

41. (43) Joe Nemechek, Toyota, Vibration, 47, $84,005.

42. (27) Cole Whitt, Chevrolet, Vibration, 33, $83,925.

43. (33) Josh Wise, Ford, Vibration, 15, $84,290.

RACE STATISTICS

Average Speed of Race Winner: 155.687 mph.

Time of Race: 3 Hrs, 51 Mins, 14 Secs.

Margin of Victory: 4.295 Seconds.

Caution Flags: 5 for 23 laps.

Lead Changes: 31 among 11 drivers.

Lap Leaders: A. Almirola 0; M. Ambrose 1-2; A. Almirola 3-5; M. Ambrose 6-8; G. Biffle 9-14; M. Ambrose 15-22; G. Biffle 23-113; M. Ambrose 114-120; Kyle Busch 121-124; G. Biffle 125-134; J. Gordon 135-138; Kyle Busch 139-171; D. Ragan 172; Kyle Busch 173-190; G. Biffle 191-219; K. Kahne 220-221; G. Biffle 222; L. Cassill 223; G. Biffle 224-280; K. Kahne 281-307; D. Hamlin 308; G. Biffle 309-315; K. Kahne 316; G. Biffle 317; K. Kahne 318; G. Biffle 319-320; D. Hamlin 321-332; K. Kahne 333-353; B. Keselowski 354; K. Harvick 355; J. Gordon 356; K. Kahne 357-400.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): G. Biffle 9 times for 204 laps; K. Kahne 6 times for 96 laps; Kyle Busch 3 times for 55 laps; M. Ambrose 4 times for 20 laps; D. Hamlin 2 times for 13 laps; J. Gordon 2 times for 5 laps; A. Almirola 1 time for 3 laps; L. Cassill 1 time for 1 lap; K. Harvick 1 time for 1 lap; D. Ragan 1 time for 1 lap; B. Keselowski 1 time for 1 lap.

Top 12 in Points: G. Biffle – 453; M. Kenseth – 443; D. Hamlin – 437; D. Earnhardt Jr. – 435; J. Johnson – 405; M. Truex Jr. – 404; K. Harvick – 398; Kyle Busch – 391; T. Stewart – 388; C. Edwards – 372; B. Keselowski – 368; C. Bowyer – 366.

Deb Williams | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, May 28 2012
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