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Kahne Survives To Win Wild Brickyard 400

Kasey Kahne won the Brantley Gilbert Big Machine Brickyard 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. [John Wiedemann Photo]

Kasey Kahne won the Brantley Gilbert Big Machine Brickyard 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. [John Wiedemann Photo]

by Dan Margetta

Speedway, Ind., July 23—What didn’t happen in the 24th Brantley Gilbert Big Machine Brickyard 400?

After a rain delay, three red flags, the two fastest cars taking each other out while racing for the lead, and numerous other wrecked race cars, Kasey Kahne survived a double overtime finish in near darkness to end a nearly three year winless streak to capture his first victory at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

With three caution flags and a red flag in the final ten laps, the overtime finish was set up with Brad Keselowski leading Kahne after getting the best of him on the first overtime restart. This time, when it counted most, Kahne was ready and charged into the lead over Keselowski as they exited turn two and when cars crashed once again behind them, the race was declared official with Kahne crossing the yard of bricks with the yellow and checkered flags waving.

“I’m exhausted, it’s just unbelievable, “a wore out but excited Kahne exclaimed from victory lane, “The restart before just didn’t work and everything went wrong and then the final one everything went right and once I got to turn one I had good power.”

“It just feels good to win, “Kahne continued after scoring his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory since 2014, “And it feels good to get back to victory lane.”

“Kasey did a heck of a job today and he drove a heck of a race, “Keselowski said after finishing second and just missing delivering car owner Roger Penske his first Brickyard 400 win, “ I’m happy for him but of course I wanted it for my team and I thought we were in the right spot.”

“We seen all day where you get to the outside and in the corner you get real loose but he (Kahne) drove it in there and he just stuck,” Keselowski continued, “ Everyone’s on the edge there and then some and maybe I just guessed wrong on that last restart. Anytime you’re that close to winning you certainly can taste it and I had the taste of it in my mouth and I didn’t get to eat it.”

2013 Brickyard 400 winner Ryan Newman emerged through the carnage to finish third and capitalize on a late race pit call to remain on the race track and gain track position during one of the many late race caution periods.

“It was just a crazy race,” Newman stated, “I think what we saw today was some crazy strategy and crazy restarts. “It may not have been ideal but it was definitely crazy.”

Joey Logano steered clear of the late race wreckage and came home with a fourth place finish.

“We were able to gain some spots back at the end and get a top five out of it, “Logano explained, “It was a bit of survival there at the end and I’m sure the top ten is pretty interesting which you should expect  when you have a mess like we did at the end.”

For awhile it appeared the race would come down to a fuel mileage cat and mouse game between Trevor Bayne whose team planned to gamble to stretch their fuel to the finish and Matt Kenseth who had the fastest car in the late stages and plenty of fuel, but a hard crash on lap 150 involving Clint Bowyer, Erik Jones, and Kurt Busch threw that strategy out the window and set up the chaotic finish that followed.

Kenseth, who led once for nineteen laps,  survived the melees to finish fifth while Bayne found himself swept up in a multi-car crash on the front stretch at the start of the first overtime attempt.

“I thought (crew chief) Jason (Ratcliff) had great strategy,” Kenseth said afterwards, “If it would’ve gone green to the end I really feel like we were going to win the race. I thought we were going to catch the 6 (Bayne) on speed and I felt really good about where we were sitting but we just caught a caution and the rest was history.”

Kevin Harvick finished sixth followed by rookie Daniel Suarez in seventh and journeyman driver Matt DiBenedetto in eighth.

“A top ten in the Brickyard 400, finishing eighth, that’s crazy.” A very excited DiBenedetto exclaimed afterwards, “I’ve worked so dang hard the old-school way to get here with countless late nights for these guys working and many sleepless nights in my career thinking it was over about 30-40 times and that’s not even an exaggeration. To have these kinds of finishes is just unbelievable, it’s been fun.”

Teammates Chris Buescher and A.J. Allmendinger completed the top ten in ninth and tenth respectively.

Pole-sitter Kyle Busch, going for his third Brickyard 400 win in a row, dominated the first two stages of the race, leading 86 of the first 100 laps to capture both stage wins with Martin Truex Jr. right in his tire tracks as the two quickly established themselves as the favorites, working together to remain out front on numerous restarts. When it came time to race each other following the second stage, abandoning the cooperative strategy bit both of them as Truex’s car clipped the apron in turn one following a lap 110 restart and washed up into Busch’s machine, eliminating the two fastest cars at the time with heavy crash damage.

“I just got loose and wrecked him I guess, “a dejected Truex said, “I just didn’t realize he (Busch) was going to drive it in that deep and I’ve got to take blame for that one. Obviously it was my fault and I hate it for Kyle because we worked well together but that’s the hard part about this stuff when it’s time to go. I just feel awful and I made a mistake.”

“That’s the way it goes, “ said Busch, who remained winless on the season despite once again leading any laps, “Just chalk it up as another one of these things that we figured out how to lose these races by. It’s very, very, frustrating because I wanted to go out there and put ourselves in the record book with three (Brickyard 400 wins) in a row but it’s just not happening.”

Four-time Brickyard 400 winner and defending Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson started at the rear of the field and found himself challenging for the win in a three –wide battle with Keselowski and eventual winner Kahne coming to the white flag. The daring move did not pay of however as Johnson’s car began to smoke before he spun around and smacked the wall entering turn four to set up the overtime restarts.

“I got really loose going into turn four, so I don’t know if I spun in my own oil or if it was an aero situation, “Johnson said, “But I was close to having a fifth win here at the Brickyard.”

“With stage racing every position matters and it’s just ramped up the blocking and the intensity,” Johnson continued, describing the intense racing that resulted in the carnage at the conclusion of the race, “(Retired driver) Mark Martin would have a heart attack if he was out there racing with us as the game has changed for sure.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr., competing in his final Brickyard 400, raced in the top ten during the opening stages of the race before contact with another car damaged his radiator, ending his day on lap 76, leaving him with a 36th place finish.

“A bump in the back of the 6 car (Bayne)  knocked the radiator out of the car, “Earnhard Jr. stated in a Periscope post while leaving the race track, “I  guess the bumper bar was damaged earlier in the race from running into the back of the 2 car (Keselowski). .I’m pretty disappointed because I was having a good time and had good speed in the car.”

“It’s frustrating and I don’t know what to do to turn our luck around, “Earnhardt continued, “That was probably one of the better cars I’ve had there in a long time and we were able to catch guys and pass them. It was kind of fun just being in the car and being competitive.”

At  total time of three hours and thirty-nine minutes, that didn’t include red flag periods that nearly equaled the time of the race, the Brickyard 400 became a marathon that was slowed fourteen times under the caution flag for a total of 55 laps. The race featured ten lead changes among seven drivers and was completed at an average speed of 114.384 mph.

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Dan Margetta

Dan Margetta