Kahne goes 600 ... times three
Fastest Charlotte marathon ever
CONCORD – Kasey Kahne won the fastest Coca-Cola 600 ever run, decimating his pursuers in the waning laps of NASCAR’s longest race.
So complete was Kahne’s domination that other contenders – most notably runner-up Denny Hamlin and sixth-place Dale Earnhardt Jr. – took risks on pit road in vain attempts to keep pace. As the race progressed and temperatures cooled, Kahne’s No. 5 Chevy grew progressively faster in contrast to others that did not.
The race took 3 hours, 51 minutes, 17 seconds. Previously the fastest 600, in 1995, had taken 3:56:55. The average speed, 155.696 mph, bettered Bobby Labonte’s record, 151.952.
It was Kahne’s third 600 victory and fourth at CMS. The 1.5-mile track has been the scene of 31 percent of his 13 career Sprint Cup victories.
Surprising no one, Kahne said, “It really feels good. This is really great for Hendrick Motorsports. We’re making big strides.”
He further said that he had felt left out at the celebration of Hendrick Motorsports’ 200th victory because none of them had been his, making his contribution of No. 201 doubly gratifying.
It was also the 300th Sprint Cup race of Kahne’s career. Crossing the finish line behind him were Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Greg Biffle and Brad Keselowski.
In the early stages, it was no surprise that Biffle rose to the front, but it was a surprise to some that front-row starter Marcos Ambrose stayed there, or near. The pole winner, Aric Almirola, had dutifully fallen to 12th by lap 70, but teammate Ambrose swapped the lead with Biffle several times before settling comfortably into second.
Danica Patrick’s Chevy was, shortly after lap 50, a lap down, but what was more of a surprise was the fact that her, uh, teammate, Tony Stewart, fell a lap down on lap 64. Juan Pablo Montoya was a lap in arrears a short time later. Patrick finished 30th, five laps behind the nine drivers who completed all 400.
The caution flag first waved on lap 112 – surprise, debris – and Kyle Busch emerged following the pit sequence. Biffle regained the lead after a handful of laps, and Jimmie Johnson took third as Ambrose fell to fourth.
At the halfway point, Biffle was still leading. Kahne was second. One caution flag had not been for debris, thanks to a wall brushing by Travis Kvapil’s red Toyota.
Ambrose’s demise occurred shortly after the halfway point, a chassis failure that apparently either occurred as a result of slapping the wall or caused the Ford to slap the wall. Patrick was then three laps down, and among those one lap down were Jamie McMurray, Paul Menard, Trevor Bayne and Montoya. Kurt Busch and Bobby Labonte were two laps down.
The highlight, or perhaps lowlight, of laps 200-300 was Stewart’s misfortune on pit road. Stewart dove into his pit stall just as Brad Keselowski pulled out, with his Dodge turning Stewart’s Chevy completely around so that it was facing in the wrong direction. As crewmen scattered, Stewart then whirled the car back around in a cloud of smoke and returned to the stall. Both continued on unimpeded, though the night was a virtual write-off for Stewart, whose car was a bit slow before and after. Stewart finished 25th.
One of the season’s better battles was a two-way dogfight between Biffle and Kahne that came to an unsatisfying end when yet another caution for debris waved on lap 319. That caution flag did, however, lift Dale Earnhardt’s Chevy into popular contention. Hamlin, who hadn’t pitted, blunted Earnhardt’s charge but not that of Kahne, who passed him with relative ease on lap 333.
And zipped swiftly away.
Meanwhile, Mark Martin’s Toyota exited, powerless, to the garage on the 339th lap.
Even after a green-flag pit sequence, Kahne continued to hold the lead and solidify it. With 40 laps to go, Kahne led Hamlin, Biffle, Kyle Busch, Keselowski and Earnhardt, respectively.
Johnson had lost a lap thanks mostly to a faulty pit stop – jack dropped prematurely, gas man chasing the car trying to extricate his implement as Johnson left – on lap 355.
“My hair was on fire trying to catch him,” said Hamlin, “but it was futile. His car was just too strong.”
Monte Dutton; 704-869-1841; twitter.com/montedutton