Kahne scores third 600 win, first at Hendrick
Just two weeks after scoring their 200th Sprint Cup victory, Hendrick Motorsports newest driver Kasey Kahne secured win number 201 for the team with a victory in Sunday’s 53rd annual Coca Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Kahne blasted his way through the field following a restart on lap 325 then passed Denny Hamlin for the lead with 68 laps to go and held on for his third victory in NASCAR’s longest race that turned out to be the fastest 600-mile race in NASCAR’s history.
Hamlin finished a distant second, followed by Kyle Busch, Greg Biffle and Brad Keselowski.
Kahne, who joined Hendrick Motorsports at the start of the 2012 season, pulled off the win in his third straight day of racing after running in the Friday nights World of Outlaws Sprint car event and Saturday’s 300 mile Nationwide Series event, tallying his 13th -career Sprint Cup victory in his 300th-career series start.
“It feels good to get a win for Hendrick Motorsports,” said Kahne. “It's something I've been looking forward to, for a year and a half, to drive for Hendrick Motorsports, to be teammates with Jimmie, Dale and Jeff. To put it all together tonight and get the win, it feels good. Great to win a race tonight and be part of the 201st win.”
Kahne’s win finished off a tremendously successful month for Hendrick. With the team in a 15-race winless slump, Johnson took the checkered flag at Darlington for the 200th win and followed it up with a victory in the Sprint All Star race – a night that also saw Dale Earnhardt, Jr. win the Sprint Showdown to transfer into the all star field.
With his win on Sunday, Kahne now becomes the 16th different driver to win a Sprint Cup race for Hendrick, and it’s been a long time coming for the Enumclaw, Wash. native after signing to drive for the team in 2010 and spending a year driving for Red Bull Racing before coming over to take over the no. 5 Chevrolet.
But his season had been disastrous up recently, getting caught up in a crash in the first three races of the season and suffering an engine failure at Martinsville. A seventh-place finish at Texas last month marked a turnaround for the team, who have now gone on to notch six straight top-10 finishes.
“I never really doubted myself,” said Kahne. “I was upset at some of the things that may have happened. I made a huge mistake at Phoenix, hit the wall there. But other than that, we were solid, we were fast. It was just a matter of getting past those five weeks and moving on and putting some solid races together.”
“I could see that it was bothering him,” said Hendrick of Kahne’s troubles on the track. “A racer doesn't like to wreck a car or have bad luck. I tried to reassure them, Look, we're in this for the long haul. You guys are running good. You just have to have some breaks. I think my job is to try to reassure them that we knew that they were capable of winning races.”
Sunday’s race was the fastest 600-mile race in NASCAR’s history, clocking in at three hours and 51 minutes, besting the old mark by more than five minutes.
Racing stayed green for the first 113 laps before the first yellow flag waved for debris – one of only five cautions of the night – the first of many long stretches of caution-free runs meant several rounds of green-flag pit stops.
Up front, Biffle dominated the race, leading nine times for a race-high 204 laps, and was out front when the caution flag waved for the last time with 79 laps to go.
Under caution, Hamlin and Earnhardt, Jr. elected not to pit, restarting the race in first and second place, respectively, followed by Biffle, Kyle Busch and Johnson.
Back under green, Kahne, who restarted sixth, roared back up through the field, coming up on the outside to pass Busch and Earnhardt and move into second. Just seven laps later, Kahne again pulled to the high side and pulled around Hamlin coming through turns three and four to take the lead.
With 45 laps to go, the leader began to come to pit road for their final green-flag stops, but on his stop, Johnson left the pits with the gas can still attached, earning him a penalty that killed any chance he had for his fourth Coca Cola 600 victory.
After pitting, Kahne rejoined the race as the leader once again with Hamlin, Biffle and Kyle Busch trailing.
Once out in front, Kahne steadily pulled away from the field, opening up a one-second lead over Hamlin, who made up a little ground on Kahne before falling back in the closing laps, eventually falling more than four seconds behind Kahne at the finish.
“I knew that my guys were probably on top of the box seeing me catch him, catch him and catch him, but I just used up everything I had when I got to him. Just didn’t have quite enough,” said Hamlin. “We executed great today on pit road -- getting on and off pit road under green flag pit stops, we made up time. There’s nothing we did wrong, we just got beat by a better car today.”
Despite leading the most laps, Biffle was left still seeking his first Charlotte victory, but picked up precious bonus points to hold onto the points lead by 10 points over teammate Matt Kenseth.
Earnhardt, Jr. finished sixth, followed by Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards and Kenseth.
Danica Patrick, who became only the second woman to ever race in the Coca Cola 600, finished five laps down in 30th
* Denotes Rookie
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