Archive for Sunday, May 18, 2008

Kahne’s gamble on final pit stop leads to victory

May 18, 2008


Kasey Kahne celebrates in victory lane. Kahne collected a $1 million prize after winning the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Lowe's Motor Speedway on Saturday in Concord, N.C.

Kasey Kahne celebrates in victory lane. Kahne collected a $1 million prize after winning the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Lowe's Motor Speedway on Saturday in Concord, N.C.

— Kasey Kahne technically wasn't eligible to run the All-Star race. He didn't let that stop him from stealing the $1 million prize.

Kahne earned his berth in Saturday night's show not through accomplishment on the track, but in a popularity contest that permitted one driver voted on by the fans to compete in the main event.

It gave Kahne a chance to run in the 100-lap shootout, which was intermittently dominated by Kyle Busch, Greg Biffle and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

With a gamble on the final pit stop, Kahne put the field in his rearview mirror to become the first driver ever voted in by the fans to win, and just the third driver in All-Star history to advance from the preliminary race and claim the final trophy at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

"I thank them so much. I can't believe it. The car was mediocre in the open, and the fans voted me in," said Kahne, who finished fifth in the Sprint Showdown.

Kahne didn't take tires to advance his position and restart in second when the final 25-lap segment began. Biffle, who had led the final 11 laps of the third segment, took two tires and was mired back in traffic on the restart.

Biffle never got a chance to run down Kahne, who slid past leader Jimmie Johnson to lead the final 17 laps and claim the victory and credit crew chief Kenny Francis with the winning pit strategy.

"We took our time, got in the right place, and Kenny made the right call of no tires at the end," Kahne said. "I didn't think we needed them. The car was exceptional. I was just making sure I didn't make any stupid mistakes and lose the race."

Biffle finished second and was surprised his two-tire stop lost him the race.

"We put two tires on, he said he didn't change anything. We'll have to see if (Kahne's) got a little mouse in the bag," Biffle said. "In the end, I thought it was going to be just easy, a Saturday night drive. It's kind of crazy to think if I had just stayed out ... I would have won. But I thought two tires was the call."

Matt Kenseth was third, and Johnson and Tony Stewart rounded out the top five.

Ryan Newman, who in 2002 was the last driver to advance from the preliminary race to win the main event, finished sixth. He was followed by teammate Sam Hornish Jr., who finished second in the Sprint Showdown to make the race.

Earnhardt Jr. faded to eighth after leading 14 laps in the third segment and was followed by Mark Martin and Carl Edwards, who was picked by track president and master prognosticator Humpy Wheeler to win the race.

Busch started from the pole and led 38 laps of the first 50 laps and seemed to be in cruise control as he easily won the first 25-lap segment and pulled out to a controlling lead in the second.

Out to a lead of almost two seconds, his engine began to sputter, and Busch radioed the words his Joe Gibbs Racing team didn't want to hear.

"Motor's gone, dude," Busch said. "I dropped a cylinder. You want me to turn it off?"

"Just get us to the intermission, we'll work on it, then," crew chief Steve Addington replied.

Edwards passed Busch for the lead moments later, and he dropped to third two laps later when Earnhardt Jr. moved past him.

Unable to fix the engine, the team told Busch during the break his race was over. He wound up last in the 24-driver field.


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