During the Fox Sports broadcast of the Coca Cola 600 we frequently heard the term "the Kahne train." It was very appropriate because we all watched driver Kasey Kahne unload approximately four months of NASCAR frustration at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. His Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet did indeed resemble a locomotive train engine speeding down the tracks with a full head of steam.
There were a lot of long green flag runs during the Coca Cola 600. If you're the type of fan who prefers hard, wheel to wheel, racing, then you probably loved this race. There were indeed some pretty exciting battles for position. It also turned out that most of the drama from this race was generated on pit road. With those thoughts in mind, let's begin with:
THUMBS-UP to Kasey Kahne for scoring his first win of 2012 and, of equal importance, THUMBS-UP to this driver for finally getting rid of the bad luck monkey that has been riding on his back since the season started in February. Kahne picked up his 13th career win, on the day of his 300th official start, along with his fourth win at Charlotte, including three Coca Cola 600's.
THUMBS-UP to crew chief Kenny Francis for making some outstanding calls on pit road that led to this win. The Coca Cola 600 is race that begins during the day and ends at night. The changing track conditions between those two points can often turn out to be a crew chief's nightmare. Francis handled the situation perfectly.
THUMBS-UP to that superior performance of Kahne's Quaker State Chevrolet, especially during the final quarter of this race. How fast was the Kahne train? His margin of victory, over Denny Hamlin's Toyota, was a decisive 4.295 seconds. The record setting average race speed was 155.687 MPH and the grueling 600 mile event was completed in three hours, 51 minutes and 14 seconds which is another race record.
While we're at it, let's give Kahne the THUMBS-UP iron man award for his busy weekend at Charlotte. He drove a World of Outlaws sprint car on Friday night to a seventh place finish. Then he spent Saturday driving a Turner Motorsports Chevrolet to a 17th place finish in the 300 mile NASCAR Nationwide Series race prior to winning the Coca Cola 600.
THUMBS-UP to Denny Hamlin for a strong second place run and a great one liner that described how hard he tried to chase down Kasey Kahne during the final laps of the race following the final restart; "I drove with my eyes hanging out and my hair on fire."
Okay, let's get to it. WHAT'S-UP with the vast majority of the racing drama during this race being generated on pit road? From speeding penalties, to loose lug nuts and even a major collision, all of the unexpected action came while trying to enter and exit the pits.
WHAT'S-UP with the gas can incident with Jimmie Johnson's #48 team? That gas can getting stuck on the race car was devastating. The stop and go penalty, for leaving a pit stall with equipment attached to the car, turned Johnson from a race winning contender to an 11th place finisher one lap down.
WHAT'S-UP with the expression on crew chief Chad Knaus' face after this incident. You could literally see the flames of hell dancing in the pupils of his eyes. Do you think there was an intense team meeting on Monday morning? Bet the farm on it.
THUMBS-UP to team gas man Brandon Harder for doing everything he possibly good to dislodge that gas can from the car. That included taking a hard header onto the pit road asphalt.
THUMBS-UP to driver Jimmie Johnson for showing a great deal of class when asked about the incident during a post race interview.
WHAT'S-UP with that collision between Brad Keselowski and Tony Stewart on pit road? Keselowski hit Stewart and spun him around as he was pulling into his pit stall. He quickly said that he just didn't realize Stewart was there. We all watched Stewart's Chevrolet spin in the middle of pit road. He deserves a THUMBS-UP for that beautiful donut on pit road that sent his car into a perfect slide into his pit stall. However, Stewart deserves a WHAT'S-UP for performing that donut directly in the path of an oncoming Carl Edwards who definitely was not expecting a spinning car, hidden in a plume of smoke, in front of him.
THUMBS-UP to Brad Keselowski for being a driver to watch all evening long during the Coca Cola 600 as well as frequently being the source of in car radio entertainment.
First off there was the matter of the speeding penalty on pit road which cost him all of his track position. Keselowski did an outstanding job of driving his way through the field and soon re entered the top five.
Next came the aforementioned pit road collision with Tony Stewart. Keselowski had some genuine concerns that Stewart might be very angry with him regarding that incident. His concerns were justified because Stewart was already unhappy with the way his car was handling. Keselowski asked his spotter to inform Stewart's team that he honestly didn't realize Stewart's car was there until it was too late and he was sorry for what happened. Keselowski's spotter told him not to worry about it and to keep his focus on driving the car. The driver responded with "will someone please listen to me? I'm a little concerned about the #14 stuffing us in the fence later in the race." Despite the drama, Keselowski did keep his focus and drove to a fifth place finish.
It turned he had nothing to worry about. Stewart fully understood the situation and he said it was partially his fault. He deserves a THUMBS-UP for showing a lot of class in lieu of the very frustrating night he endured during this race.
In the later stages of the race, Keselowski came over the radio and said: "I sure could use some good music right now, something like Metallica." His spotter responded with; "I don't do karaoke." However the spotter did oblige his driver by humming a classical music piece that only Fox broadcaster Mike Joy recognized.
Let's not overlook the THUMBS-UP that Brad Keselowski deserves for winning the History 300 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Charlotte. He had to fend off a hard charging Denny Hamlin during the final laps of the race. The margin of victory was a mere 0.838 seconds.
In some final thoughts, THUMBS-UP to a great one liner by the always fun Andy Petrie. During ABC Sports' coverage of the Charlotte Nationwide Series race Petrie commented on driver's Travis Pastrana's spin out and said: "he's getting really good at spinning without hitting anything and that takes talent." Later in the race, when Pastrana spun out for a second time, Petrie said "don't hit anything, keep your record going."
WHAT'S-UP with driver Carl Edwards' late race snack? During a pit stop he was given a peanut butter and jelly sandwich by the pit crew. Edwards came over the radio and said "I asked for just peanut butter, maybe with a little bit of honey." He was concerned that the jelly was going to fall out of the bottom of the sandwich and land on the front of his driver's suit. That's exactly what happened.
THUMBS-UP to the special honor driver Jeff Gordon received from the State of North Carolina. A 1.6 mile segment of Interstate 85, just outside of Charlotte, was named the Jeff Gordon Expressway. This dedication was in honor of Gordon's public service in North Carolina through his charity work. This is especially true regarding the Jeff Gordon Children's Hospital located at the Carolina Medical Center.
THUMBS-UP to the very patriotic tributes in honor of Memorial Day. From special paint schemes on the race cars to special television network video presentations, the effort to honor the members of our Armed Forces who made the ultimate sacrifice, while defending the American way of life we all enjoy, was outstanding.
A THUMBS-UP also goes out to Fox Sports for displaying the names of the fallen heroes, on the bottom of the screen, during the race broadcast. A THUMBS-UP also goes out to the staff of the Charlotte Motor Speedway who, once again, made an outstanding effort to honor our troops.