Stewart crashes, Kahne wins Coca-Cola 600
Kasey Kahne took advantage of Tony Stewart’s misfortune to snap a 52-race winless streak with a victory in Sunday night’s Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe’s Motor Speedway.
One week after coming from the rear of the field to win a cool $1 million, Kahne passed Stewart with three laps to go after Stewart blew tire following a round of splash-and-go pit stops, beating out Greg Biffle and Kyle Busch to the finish. Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. rounded out the top five.
“We were one of the best cars all night long. We’ve really stepped it up in the last couple of weeks. We’re getting back to where we need to be.”
“I was thinking second (place), but I saw Tony (Stewart) slow up and I thought he was out of gas, and at that point I just could believe it”, said Kahne. “From there I just tried to hit my marks and make sure I brought it home.”
The victory was the eighth of Kahne’s career and his first since his win here in October of 2006, becoming the sixth driver to sweep the All Star race and the Coca-Cola 600.
With the win, Kahne moves to 12th in the series points, looking to re-gain the championship form his team had in 2006, where the team captured sixth victories.
“As I said last week, sometimes it just takes one thing to get some momentum going,” said team co-owner Ray Evernham. “These guys, they’re winners. They’ve won a lot of races for me in the past and they seem to be clicking again. They’ve got the momentum.”
Biffle’s second place finish mirrored his finish from a week earlier, when he finished second to Kahne in the All-Star event.
“We had a good run all night,” said Biffle. “We probably had a fast enough car to run up there with the nine (Kahne). I managed to pass the 18 (Busch) on the last lap, but (Kahne) had a lot of track position on us.”
After winning the pole and leading 33 laps early in the event, Busch’s team rebounded with a third-place finish after falling a lap down early and battling battery problems for much of the race, allowing Busch to retain the series points lead.
“We’ll take it,” said Busch of his third-place finish. “We just didn’t have the car capable on the long runs to run up front tonight and win this thing. It’s just unfortunate for us, but we’ll take it and go on with a good points night.”
For the second year in a row, NASCAR’s longest race became a fuel-mileage race, with teams gambling on fuel strategy late in the event.
With 16 laps to go, Kahne gave up the top spot for his final fuel stop, giving the lead to Stewart, who pitted three laps later.
As the field cycled through their gas-and-go stops, Stewart’s team got him out ahead of the field, but a cut tire put Stewart in the wall, allowing Kahne to steal an easy victory.
Earnhardt, Jr.’s fifth-place finish was a remarkable comeback for a team that looked to be headed for 20th-place finish.
After leading a race-high 76 laps, Earnhardt blew a tire on lap 298 and smacked the wall. His team managed to repair the car and stay on the lead lap, and brought Earnhardt to the pits during the final caution flag to top off his tank, hoping to gain track position late in the race.
The strategy paid off as Earnhardt salvaged his fifth top-five finish of the season.
“We got lucky at the end,” said Earnhardt. “Got gas and made it. It was all gas mileage. I was working that throttle or not working the throttle and made it work. Made it last more than it should. We were about two laps short, but we saved and saved and came home good.”
Leading the race proved to be a bad omen during Sunday’s race, as many of the leaders – including Stewart, Earnhardt, Jr., Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson and Brian Vickers – all experienced problems.
For Vickers, the problem was terminal, as a loose left-rear wheel put him in the wall and ended his night, joining Johnson, Paul Menard and Robby Gordon among those who failed to finish.
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