Kahne Gets A Big Break, Wins Coca-Cola 600

CONCORD, N.C. — For Kasey Kahne and Greg Biffle, the finish of Sunday night’s Coca-Cola 600 was a replay of the May 17 NASCAR Sprint All-Star Challenge at Lowe’s Motor Speedway.

Kahne took the checkered flag with Biffle chasing him for the final three laps, but what happened in the first 397 laps of the 400-lap marathon featured more subplots than an Agatha Christie novel.

Seizing the moment when Tony Stewart blew a tire while leading on Lap 397, Kahne streaked to the finish 10.203 seconds ahead of Biffle, who recovered from a loose wheel and a lost lap early in the race to claim the runner-up spot.

Kyle Busch ran third, despite a litany of problems that included a failing battery — which the No. 18 team changed under caution on Lap 298 — and a lost lap for an unscheduled pit stop when Busch thought he had a tire losing air. Busch extended his series points lead to 94 over sixth-place finisher Jeff Burton.

Gambling on fuel mileage after spending most of the race mired in traffic, Jeff Gordon ran fourth, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr., who survived a blown tire and getting hit from behind on Lap 297. Nursing his battered No. 88 Chevrolet to the finish, Earnhardt solidified his third-place standing in the points, 139 behind Busch.

Thanks to quick work in the pits on a gas-and-go stop on Lap 388, Stewart held a lead of more than five seconds over Kahne, but on Lap 397 Stewart blew a right front tire in Turn 1, surrendering the lead to Kahne less than a half-lap later.

“I was thinking second, and then I saw Tony slow up,” said Kahne, who won for the eighth time in his career and for the first time since October 2006 at Lowe’s. “I thought he was out of gas, and I couldn’t believe it.

“He went into Turn 1 and he was high (in the corner), and when I came off Turn 2 he was low and slow.”

Kahne is the sixth driver to win the Coca-Cola 600 and the all-star race in the same year and the first to do so since Jimmie Johnson in 2003.

Disappointed two weeks in a row, Biffle would have preferred a closer race at the end of the 600, but he took his second straight defeat to Kahne philosophically.

“Overall, I was probably more frustrated last week not getting the win, because I felt like I had the fastest car,” said Biffle, who is 11th in the Cup standings. “Tonight, I didn’t feel like I had the fastest car. I had a really good, solid car and just kept passing and got the track position where we were at the end.

“But I would have liked a chance to race Kasey. We got pretty fast there the last 50 laps of the race.”

The race changed dramatically on Lap 297, with Earnhardt in the lead and cruising, three seconds ahead of Stewart, his closest pursuer. As he rolled through Turn 3, however, the right rear tire on Earnhardt’s No. 88 Chevrolet blew, bouncing him off the Turn 4 wall. As Earnhardt slowed, J.J. Yeley plowed into the back of his car.

Earnhardt managed to stay on the lead lap, thanks to the work of his pit crew and a generous call from NASCAR, which opted to hold Earnhardt a lap for endangering a safety crew, then rescinded the penalty after a review of videotape.

“We got lucky at the end,” Earnhardt said. “Got gas and made it last. I don’t know what happened getting in to (Turn) 3. I think we blew a right rear tire. I hate it for my guys. We were running really strong — I sure want to get me a win here.”

Notes: Stewart finished 18th, the first car one lap down, and held on to the eighth spot in the Cup standings. … Jimmie Johnson tumbled three spots to ninth in the points standings when his engine failed late in the race. He finished 39th with his first DNF of the season. … Brian Vickers led four times for 61 laps, but a broken left rear wheel sent him hard into the Turn 2 wall on Lap 185. The tire bounced off the wall and into the infield, slightly damaging a camper. No one was hurt. … David Ragan’s stay in the top 12 lasted one race. He finished 12th and dropped to 13th in the standings. Kahne moved back into the top 12 in 12th, 56 points ahead of Ragan.

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