Close, but no kiss for Kahne at Indianapolis
July 27, 2014, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
SPEEDWAY, Ind. -- A decision to take the inside line and a quicker-than-expected restart by Jeff Gordon ended Kasey Kahne's hopes for victory in Sunday's Crown Royal presents The John Wayne Walding 400 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
It can be debated how much the two items mattered -- Kahne's No. 5 Chevrolet eventually fell to sixth, and then ran out of gas coming to the finish line.
It wasn't the ending the Hendrick Motorsports driver had envisioned, but he seemed less upset by the late turn of events than one might have expected.
"Looking back, I should have chosen the top (lane), obviously," Kahne said of the lineup on the final restart that came with just 17 laps remaining in the 160-lap event. "They pretty much let Jeff control that restart. I took off and never spun a tire.
"The inside had been more grip … throughout the race – I'd started on both sides – so I thought it was the right decision.
"I didn't spin a tire and Jeff was driving by me … before we were even at the second red (re-start zone). … But either way, he was going to pass me in (turns) 1 and 2. So looking back I probably should have chosen the top (lane). That would have put us in a great place.
"But we ended up sixth, and because of that I was able to save fuel and make it. If I beat him (on the restart), I would have had to race the heck out of him; he was faster than I was. I probably would have finished a lot worse."
Kahne led 70 laps, more than anyone else and 30 more than Gordon. Tenth at the start of the race, he moved to the point when race leader Joey Logano headed to pit road for a green-flag stop and led six laps before crew chief Kenny Francis called his driver to pit road.
He surged back to the front at Lap 73, passing Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick on a restart after a caution to lead 26 laps. Although first off pit road, following the third caution of the race, Kahne restarted second when Clint Bowyer opted not to pit and inherited the top spot.
Bowyer's stay out front was brief -- Kahne was back in the lead almost as soon as the green flag reappeared.
But the money move was the final restart, set into play after rookie Ryan Truex was unable to make it off the track when his car lost power.
With the top seven drivers staying on the track, Kahne chose the inside line on the restart, with Gordon to his outside. Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth were third and fourth, respectively.
The two Hendrick teammates were side-by-side at the start/finish line before Gordon nosed ahead going into the first turn. He completed the pass coming out of the turn and set sail.
"As we rolled down off of four, I had spun the tires a couple of times on some restarts, so I just wanted a fast pace," Gordon said. "Kasey was slowing it down. That's whey we were so jockeyed when we came through the restart zone.
"… I know it didn't go well for Kasey. We were both really sideways but I think we knew that could be the win."
The finish moved Kahne from 17th to 15th in the points standings, but because the 34-year-old has yet to post a win this season, his chances at qualifying for this year's 16-driver Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoff are anything but certain.
"There are positives," he said. "We ran well. It's the strongest effort the team has put out all season long. All of us working together, yeah, we can take a lot out of here. That was a good performance today."