Kasey Kahne marked his 300th career start with his first win of the year in the Coke 600 at Charlotte on Memorial Day. The win was Kahne's first since joining Hendrick Motorsports, who have now scored three wins in as many races after Jimmie Johnson's victories in the Southern 500 at Darlington and last weeks million dollar All-Star race. Despite dominating the first half of the event, Greg Biffle struggled in the cooler night-time conditions, and slipped down to fourth, behind Denny Hamlin in second and Kyle Busch third.
After his difficult start to the season left him in danger of loosing his automatic starting slot, Kahne was delighted to finally get off the mark with his new team, having last won atPhoenixlast year for the defunct Team Red Bull.
“I never doubted myself,” said Kahne, who won the Coke 600 in 2006 and 2008. “I was upset at some of the things that may have happened. I made a huge mistake at Phoenix and hit the wall there, but other than that, we were solid and we were fast.
“It was just a matter of getting past those [six] weeks and moving on and putting some solid races together.”
A superb battle between Biffle and Kahne was interrupted by a debris caution on lap 323, which brought most of the leaders down pit road. But while Biffle, Kahne, Busch and Johnson all pitted, Hamlin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. rolled the dice by staying out in a bid to gain track position. Although unable to stop Kahne, who appeared to find another gear on four fresh tires, the strategy gamble did pay off for the #11Toyota as Hamlin was able to hold onto second.
“We just need a little bit more of everything; we need a little bit more motor, a little bit more aero and a little bit more mechanical, but we'll get there,” Hamlin shrugged.
“I just used all my tires up trying to get to him – I was driving with my eyes out and my hair on fire for 20 laps on that restart trying to catch him but he just had a superior car tonight.”
“Man, I want to win at Charlotte so bad,” his Joe Gibbs Racing team-mate Busch said. “It's a little frustrating being able to finish in the top-fives like that all the time when you are that close.”
Biffle was equally frustrated after his 204 laps in the lead were once again not converted into a win.
“The car was really, really good. I couldn't do anything wrong, and I felt like we kept up with the track, but there at the end when the speeds picked up we would kind of slide across the track and couldn't get a hold of it,” said Biffle, who retains the points lead. “I don't know what we've got to do, but we've got to try and get better at night when the track is cooler.
“We have to go back to the drawing board a little bit,” he added.
Biffle was not the only one to be disappointed after the race; a pitlane penalty for Jimmie Johnson relegated the five-time champion to 11th, robbing him of what looked like being a solid top-5 finish.
“We had a couple little mistakes on pit road tonight, and it took us out of a chance for a top three there, but it happens – last week, it couldn't have gone any better,” said Johnson, who won the Coke 600 in 3 consecutive years between 2003-2005. “But these guys will work their tails off this week, and we'll get those things corrected.”
Marcos Ambrose had been one of the early front-runners after starting alongside Richard Petty Motorsports team-mate and debut pole-sitter Aric Almirola on the front row. Australian Ambrose was consistently in the top-10 before he struck problems at half-distance.
“It’s just a real shame for our DEWALT team, it’s the story of our year, every time we put ourselves in a great position (to win), we have crazy things go wrong,” Ambrose said.
“I’ve been in NASCAR for seven years now and never melted a hub down. It’s a shame it was tonight when we were running so strong. We had a race winning car here, but we’ll lick our wounds and go get them next week.”
Reigning champion Tony Stewart was another to hit problems after contact in the pits with Brad Keselowksi, who took victory in Saturday's Nationwide Series race. But while the Penske Dodge was able to recover to fifth, Stewart finished 3 laps down in 25th place, and understandably upset with Keselowski.
“He took the blame for it but I thought it was my fault,” Keselowski said of the incident. “It’s one of those deals where you’re coming in and going out; it’s like being in a Wal-Mart parking lot and you’re both going for the same parking spot and sometimes things happen.”
Behind Keselowski, Earnhardt Jr. and Hendrick team-mate Jeff Gordon were sixth and seventh, ahead of Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth. Meanwhile, Danica Patrick finished 5 laps down in 30th in another uneventful performance as she quietly continues to learn and adapt to stock car racing.