Sunday, December 17, 2017
Sports

Kasey Kahne claims Coca-Cola 600, NASCAR's longest race

CONCORD, N.C. — Welcome to the Hendrick family, Kasey Kahne.

Kahne pulled away to victory in Sunday night's Coca-Cola 600, winning NASCAR's longest race for the third time and gaining his stripes for Hendrick Motorsports the only way that matters — taking the checkered flag.

Kahne wondered this year when that might happen.

The self-imposed pressure grew this week before Charlotte Motor Speedway at a party Hendrick threw to celebrate the owner's 200th career win, earned by Jimmie Johnson at Darlington Raceway two weeks back. Kahne was introduced after the 15 drivers who won races for Hendrick took a bow. Kahne said the gathering showed him what Hendrick has meant to the sport — and how much he wanted to add to that legacy.

"It's something I've been looking forward to for a long time," Kahne said.

And it was a popular triumph. Teammate Jeff Gordon rushed up to hug Kahne and told him, "Proud of you."

Hendrick saw that Kahne and crew chief Kenny Francis were frustrated by their early struggles when their best finish was 14th in California.

"You could see it was bothering him," Hendrick said. "I tried to reassure him that we're in this for the long haul."

Things began to click soon after, and Kahne entered the week with five straight top-10 finishes.

Kahne led four Hendrick cars in the top 11. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was sixth and Gordon seventh — only his third top-10 finish of the year. Johnson came in 11th after falling from contention with a mistake on the final pit stop. He left the stall with his gas can still engaged, dragging his crew member behind.

Johnson was hit with a stop-and-go penalty, ending his chances at winning.

"I think we're showing the consistency from all of our teams," Hendrick said. "I can't wait for the second half of the season."

Kahne was nearly five seconds ahead of Denny Hamlin. Kyle Busch was third and series points leader Greg Biffle fourth.

It was Kahne's 13th career win and first since November in Phoenix for the Red Bull team, which has since shut down.

Sunday night he led 96 laps, including the final 42.

"I just know that the cars and the people we have that Mr. Hendrick gives us is everything that we need to win," Kahne said.

Danica Patrick, the first woman to drive in the race since Janet Guthrie in 1976, was five laps down in 30th — her best finish in three Sprint Cup races this season.

"This is still good experience for me and that's what this is all about," Patrick said.

Car owner Chip Ganassi flew to Charlotte after celebrating Dario Franchitti's win at the Indianapolis 500 earlier Sunday. Ganassi, part of Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, had hoped to double up with drivers Jamie McMurray and Juan Montoya.

"The minute I walked into the garage, people were high-fiving me," Ganassi said. But Montoya finished two laps down in 20th and McMurray was right behind in 21st.

The race was the quickest ever for the 600 at 3 hours, 51 minutes, 14 seconds, nearly five minutes faster than the mark set in 1995.

   
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