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Kahne Wins All-Star Race After Taking Fan Vote

by Pete McCole
Saturday, May 17, 2008

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Kasey Kahne celebrates
Rhonda McCole/AutoRacing1

Kasey Kahne pulled off a worst-to-first performance worth a million dollars, as he came from the back of the pack to win Saturday night’s 24th running of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series All-Star Race at Lowe’s Motor Speedway.

Kahne – winless since he topped the field here in October of 2006 – started last among the 24 starters in the field after being voted by the fans into the final transfer spot following his fifth place finish in the preliminary 60-lap Sprint Showdown.

“I can’t believe we’re in Victory Lane. It’s been a long time,” said Kahne. “It feels so good to win a race like this, it’s such a tough race to win. 24 really good racecars in it, and we drove by all of them.

“To get voted in by the fans – they voted us in – we didn’t even make our way in. The fans put us in the All-Star race and hopefully we made them happy. 24th to 1st, that’s the best that we can do.”

Kahne’s crew gambled on the last pit stop just prior to the final 25-lap segment, opting to take on no tires to pick up track position.

The gamble paid off, as Kahne started the final segment in second behind Jimmie Johnson, grabbing the lead with 15 laps to go after leader Denny Hamlin faded with engine problems, allowing Kahne to steal the lead and the million dollar payday over Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart.

“That’s what we had to do, it was our only shot at winning the race,” Kahne said of their pit strategy. “Our car was getting better and better. We did that stop and came out second. Denny Hamlin got a great start and we had to battle a little bit to get back out front.”

It was the first victory for Kahne in five starts in the All-Star event. He becomes the third driver to win after transferring from the consolation race and the first winner to voted in by the fans

After watching his Gillett-Evernham Motorsports teammates Elliott Sadler and Patrick Carpentier crash out during the Sprint Showdown, Kahne and his team rebounded from a 15th-place start to finish fifth and win the fan vote to transfer to the all star field along with Showdown winner A.J. Allmendinger and second-place finisher Sam Hornish, Jr.

Kahne and his Budweiser team faced an uphill battle, starting from the back of the pack behind a stout field headed by series points leader Kyle Busch.

After dominating the competition for the last two weeks, Busch was the odds-on favorite to take the victory in the All-Star event, but by the end of the night he and Joe Gibbs Racing teammates would finally falter, with all two of the three JGR entries falling victim to engine failures.

Busch led the first 25 lap segment from the pole position and held the top spot through the first 13 laps of the second segment before falling back with an apparent engine problem, finally dropping out after the second segment.

Roush Racing teammates Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle won the second and third 25-lap segments, respectively, with Kahne coming across the line seventh after the third segment.

Kahne and team director Kenny Francis decided to take a chance, taking on just splash of fuel during the mandatory pit stop before the final segment. Johnson and his team chose the same strategy, putting Johnson on point followed by Kahne and Denny Hamlin.

On the restart, Hamlin shot to the front to lead the first two laps before Johnson came back to challenge for the top spot.

Fighting to keep Hamlin in sight, Johnson bobbled coming through the frontstretch as Kahne moved into second behind Hamlin.

On lap 84, Hamlin too fell victim to a bad engine, falling back as Kahne flashed by to take the lead trailed by Biffle and Kenseth.

Biffle kept up the chase through the final laps, but couldn’t close the gap fighting a tight racecar.

“I’ll tell you what, we were a mediocre car,” said Biffle. “I was way too tight. I had one opportunity (to pass Kahne) and he kind of closed the door on me. I thought I had plenty of laps to catch him, then the car got tighter and tighter and I never got a chance to get back at him again.”

Ryan Newman, Hornish, Jr., Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Mark Martin and Edwards rounded out the top ten.

Dale Jarrett, running in his final NASCAR Sprint Cup event, finished 21st following several emotional tributes before the race, including the invocation delivery by his father, two-time NASCAR champion Ned Jarrett.

“It’s over – we’ve done it,” said Jarrett after climbing out of his racecar for the final time. “It’s been great and I wouldn’t do anything different. It feels great.

“This race is about the fans and it was a chance for me to say thank you to them. They come here for the reason of what the All-Star race is about and it was the perfect to make my last one.”

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