COCA-COLA 600 FINAL RESULTS
This was supposed to be Kasey Kahne's breakout season.
But early in the 2012 season it looked as if Kahne's much-anticipated move to Hendrick Motorsports was going to be a big bust.
Until a few weeks ago when Kahne and crew chief Kenny Francis finally started living up to the expectations so many – including themselves – had for their Hendrick careers.
The improved performance and string of top 10 finishes finally came to a crescendo on Sunday when Kahne notched career victory number 13 in the Coca-Cola 600.
While he can't point to simply one “aha moment,” Kahne says he finally realized what was holding back his performance behind the wheel of the No. 5 Chevrolet.
“Well, I think the biggest thing for myself was just to figure out the cars, figure out how they drove,” Kahne said of his learning curve. “It's been a little bit different for me. We've had speed. Even the last five, six races we've been in the top 10, but not near as fast as Jimmie Johnson or a couple of those guys that have been winning the races.
“I just knew for myself I needed to step up. Our team is solid. Our car is solid. Mr. Hendrick gives us everything we need to win races and run up front. Tonight we were able to put it all together.”
Kahne points to his relationship with Francis as a key element to his success. The duo has been together throughout the last several years as Kahne has bounced from Richard Petty Motorsports to Red Bull and now to Hendrick. That partnership has blossomed into one of the best in the Sprint Cup garage.
“Myself and Kenny have got along great for, I don't know, five, six years now, five years,” Kahne explained. “To work with him, to be able to kind of read each other, understand. Tonight I started getting mad about my left front. I wanted to go one direction. He calmed me down and talked to me about going the other direction. I got thinking about it. That's the way we went.
“It's things like that that he understands, understands that I get how I get once in a while. We make it through. We ended up winning tonight.
But, yeah, Kenny has always been great for me.”
Kahne hopes now he can be great for Hendrick and fulfill the predictions of multiple wins, making the Chase and contending for the championship.
Although it's been a sometimes-rocky road, Kahne now finally feels he's in the absolute best situation.
“Well, I was with Yates. Yates really didn't want anything to do with me,” Kahne recalled. “The whole thing to go to Evernham, I mean, that was the best opportunity I could have ever imagined. Ray took care of me. He taught me a lot. Bill Elliott helped me a ton that first season.
“Even with some of the turmoil and things that happened to me four or five years later, I wouldn't change any of that stuff. You grow and you learn. I think all that stuff was good for me. Now to be at Hendrick Motorsports is just a dream come true.”
Brad Keselowski -- Rebounded from a pit road speeding penalty as well as a tangle with Tony Stewart on pit road to finish fifth. Keselowski's weekend started with a Nationwide Series win on Saturday and the top five had to feel like a victory considering the circumstances.
Jeff Gordon -- Talk about a decent finish feeling like a victory. After the bad luck he has been dealing with since the beginning of the year, Gordon will happily take this seventh-place finish. Now the four-time champion needs to build on his Charlotte performance to have any hope of making the Chase.
Carl Edwards -- Had to turn in a rebound of his own when he was forced to pit road for a loose lug nut and wheel. That could have been disastrous but Edwards rallied back from deep in the field for a well-deserved top-10 finish.
Danica Patrick -- Her first Memorial Day weekend away from Indianapolis was not a pretty picture. Although she had a decent day in the Nationwide Series race, Patrick was a lap down to the field early in the Coca-Cola 600 and spent the race simply getting seat time and not much more.
A.J. Allmendinger -- His stirring run through the field in last week's All-Star Race Sprint Showdown was a distant memory in the 600 for the Penske Racing driver. Had an engine malfunction early in the race that sent Dinger to pit road and the garage with a broken hub and out of any competition.
Marcos Ambrose -- Was riding high on Thursday when he joined Richard Petty Motorsports teammate Aric Almirola on the front row after qualifying. But after spending the first half of the race in the front half of the field, Ambrose smacked the wall just past the midway point and also suffered a broken hub to ruin his night.
(Choice comments and communications from drivers and crew chiefs)
“Don't see any big deal about trying some @#$% out here. I'm pretty far off, so don't think it matters." – Danica Patrick
"I can see the 10, all four lanes of her." – Jeff Gordon on Danica Patrick
"You've got to tell the 9 it's waaay too early for that. He'll get his." – Kyle Busch
"I wonder why you throw a caution then. We were having a helluva race … Oh, there [debris] is, down in the grass.'' – Kasey Kahne
On a scale of one to five "Pistone Pistons" I'll give Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 a three. The history of this long-distance event usually provides the kind of product that we saw this year. Drivers do their best to save equipment and put themselves in position to challenge for the win in the closing stages. That's exactly what happened Sunday night with business picking up dramatically in the final 50 laps -- including a great side-by-side battle between Kahne and Greg Biffle for the top spot. But overall, although the race was completed in record time, it was on the sedate side again, to be sure. Coming on the heels of the electrifying Indianapolis 500 earlier in the day, only Kahne fans will remember this year's Coca-Cola 600 as a classic.
DOWN THE ROAD
The summer stretch kicks off with the first of two visits to Dover International Speedway next Sunday afternoon. The one-mile concrete oval is a tough challenge for drivers who battle lightning speeds and tight quarters. The track has been dubbed the “Monster Mile” because of its propensity for eating up racecars and the season's trend of limited caution flags will be tested next weekend over the course of 400 miles around the tough track in the First State.