Rain delay, pre-race favorites plummeted, vicious crashes and three red flags didn’t stop Enumclaw native Kasey Kahne from snapping his 102-race drought at Indianapolis, clinching a playoff berth in what may be a career saving performance.
Six hours makes up a quarter of the day and that’s all it took for Hendrick Motorsports driver Kasey Kahne to capture the checkered flag at the 24th Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Speedway, Indiana Sunday. It’s Kahne’s first win since Atlanta Motor Speedway Aug. 31, 2014, 102 races ago.
Car owner Rick Hendrick also captured his 10th win at Indianapolis, his first since Jeff Gordon in 2014.
The victory also clinched Kahne a spot in the playoffs at the perfect time of the season.
Rumors has labeled Kahne as the lame duck of NASCAR’s prestigious team after years of subpar performances.
Now more than ever, Kahne had to deliver after the announcement of Alex Bowman joining Hendrick in 2018, replacing the retiring Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Friday.
If the pressure wasn’t high enough, the rise of Xfinity Series driver William Byron and Matt Kenseth becoming NASCAR’s top free agent has put Kahne under the microscope.
But after a track-record 14 cautions and three red flags including a two-hour rain delay, not only Kahne proved critics wrong by reigniting his competitive edge, Kahne also beat one of the top drivers in the name of Brad Keselowski.
On the final restart, Keselowski and Kahne battled door-to-door entering turn one with the advantage going to Kahne, clearing Keselowski at the entrance of the South Short Chute.
Then on the back straight, drivers Ty Dillon, Denny Hamlin and Paul Menard crashed behind Kahne and the caution waved.
Kahne had already passed the overtime line, thus NASCAR declared the race over just before 9 p.m. EST.
Keselowski finished second, followed by 2013 winner Ryan Newman, Joey Logano and Kenseth rounding out the top-5.
In an interview, an exhausted Kahne battling with cramps said his Indy win ranks high in his racing career after coming up short in 2005 and 2014.
“A career (win) is big for sure with the history here and to win at this track is unreal,” Kahne said. “We used to be really close. I lost to Jeff (Gordon) and Tony (Stewart). We had fast cars back then but today it was strategy that got us here. The car was great once we got out front but I had to get here. This team just kept working and had great pit stops…to win at Indy is unbelievable, I wish my son Tanner was here.”
Kahne said he tried a different approach on the final restart after losing the lead to Keselowski on lap 162.
“The one before didn’t work and everything went wrong but the final one, everything went right,” Kahne said. “Once I got in turn one, I had good power and I was able to clear Brad off one.”
Kahne said returning to victory lane after nearly three years showcased his team’s hard work through its ups and downs.
“There’s people who worked so hard and it feels good getting them to victory lane,” Kahne said. “We showed them what we can do when everything goes our way.”
Kahne’s crew chief Keith Rodden described his first victory as a crew chief as a team effort.
“Indy is a great place to win, I’m so proud of everyone on this team,” Rodden said. “They’ve worked so hard all year. Every week, at some point of the race we’re the fastest car. But we never can put it together. This week, I got to credit our teammates, (Jimmie Johnson’s crew chief) Chad Knaus and the No. 48 team.”
“We talked about what we’re going to do. We’re not going to win from 14th so we got to do something different,” Rodden said. “We caught a lucky caution and Kasey did an incredible job getting those restarts done. It’s so much fun to win with these guys and win for everyone at Hendrick.”
Rodden added he’s proud of Kahne’s victory after years of success and turmoil they’ve spent together dating back to Rodden’s days as an engineer.
“I’m incredibly proud of Kasey and so happy that he can figure out how to get it done when he wasn’t the controlled car,” Rodden said. “He had an incredible restart and to drive through the speedy dry and oil, I can’t say enough about him. It was a great effort by Kasey all day and everyone in our team.”
Keselowski came up short of giving owner Roger Penske his first NASCAR win at Indianapolis. Penske has previously won a record 16 Indianapolis 500 victories but remained a NASCAR bridesmaid Sunday.
Keselowski said he felt the win was his but wasn’t able to stop Kahne’s incredible run on the final restart.
“Kasey did a heck of a job and drove a helluva race,” Keselowski said. “I was happy for him but of course I really wanted it for our team. I thought we were in the right spot. When you get someone on the outside in the corner, you get really loose. Kasey drove in there and it stuck. Probably picked the wrong lane there or wrong call, I’m not sure. Everyone was on the edge during double-file restarts.”
Keselowski improved from eighth to sixth in the standings after capturing two straight top-10 finishes, regaining lost ground from his accidents at Daytona and Kentucky early in the month.
2003 Brickyard 400 winner Kevin Harvick finished sixth, followed by Daniel Suarez capturing his second straight top-10 in seventh, further pulling away from Erik Jones in the Rookie of the Year standings after Jones crashed out on lap 151.
Jamie McMurray and Stewart-Haas Racing drivers Clint Bowyer and Kurt Busch were also involved in the accident after Bowyer’s car veered left into Jones’ car.
The accident sent Bowyer into the inside wall, lifting his car and came back across the track where Busch hit him at near full speed.
Jones spun around and was clipped by McMurray, sending Jones towards the outside wall.
No driver was injured from the accident as Jones finished 31st, his second straight DNF after finishing 39th at Loudon.
Matt DiBenedetto and Chris Buescher came home eighth and ninth. It’s both drivers first top-10 finishes since the Daytona 500 Feb. 26.
Rounding out the top-10 was Buescher’s teammate A.J. Allmendinger. It’s Allmendinger’s fourth top-10 this season.
Despite both drivers failing to finish in separate accidents, Martin Truex, Jr. leads Kyle Larson by 49 points.
From one 2.5-mile circuit to another, the Cup drivers return to the “Tricky Triangle” at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.
The track has witnessed two straight first-time winners in its last two races. Ryan Blaney captured his first career win at Pocono last month. Buescher won his maiden Cup victory last August after the race was shortened due to fog.