CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Kasey Kahne knew he had a car capable of winning the Bank of America 500 Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
But he also knew why, in the end, he didn’t. It came down to simple math.
After Kahne and his crew chief, Kenny Francis, decided to gamble and gain track position by taking on only two tires on the final pit stop, Kahne soon found himself in a two-driver duel to the finish with Brad Keselowski.
Keselowski, the defending Sprint Cup champion, was wheeling his No. 2 Ford on four fresh tires to the two that adorned Kahne’s No. 5 Chevrolet.
End of story.
Kahne held off Keselowski for a while, and even battled back to re-take the lead the first time Keselowski passed him. But even Kahne knew it was only a matter of time until Keselowski powered ahead for good.
“He could just move around a little bit better. I was trying to move around, but I was just a little on the tight side with the front end and then I would get loose if I tried to push it too hard,” Kahne said. “I was doing all I could, but he made some nice moves and really had some nice speed there late in the race and he was able to get by me.”
Despite the difference in fresh tires, Kahne thought for a time that he would be able to hang onto the lead just long enough to win the race. But Keselowski took the lead for good with nine laps remaining.
“I thought I could hold him off. I felt really good there, battling him and changing it up – and trying to get him to change it up,” Kahne said. “I didn’t know what was going to happen. I was able to get back by him once, but that was it. He was better on four. I held him off as long as I could, and then I had to hold Matt (Kenseth) off (for second) at the end.”
Keselowski said he enjoyed mixing it up with Kahne down the stretch.
“I love hard racing and there are a handful of guys you can’t race hard with in this deal because they freak out, but Kasey is not one of them,” Keselowski said. “He’s an excellent driver and he ran me hard, but he ran me clean and that’s great racing.”
Kahne led a total of seven times on the night for a race-high total of 138 laps. He turned over the lead to Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson for much of the last half of the race, but came out ahead of Johnson and everyone else following a caution for debris with 27 laps remaining – when Kahne and Jeff Gordon were the only two drivers to gamble by putting on only two tires.
“I had a great car. It changed a little bit in the center of the race, and that’s when the 48 took the lead and we were second from there,” Kahne said. “The first 150 laps, it was really good.”
After a rough start to Kahne’s Chase for the Sprint Cup that relegated him to the last spot amongst the 13 Chasers heading into Saturday’s race, the second-place finish was like a fresh splash of cold water to the face for Kahne and his team.
“This is good. We always run really well at Charlotte, so that was nice to have our best run of the Chase,” Kahne said. “It’s been a tough Chase for us. We did a really good job, battling back. Every week they give me a great car; we just haven’t been able to capitalize. This one was definitely better. I felt better all weekend than I had in the last month.”
Kahne’s runner-up finish did not enable him to move up in the Chase point standings, as he’s still 13th heading into the race at Talladega next Sunday. But he closed to within three points of Ryan Newman in 12th and now is only 23 behind Greg Biffle in sixth with five races still remaining in the season.
“Hopefully we can run pretty strong the rest of the year,” Kahne said. “I don’t want to finish last in points, so we’ll see what happens.”
Joe Menzer - Special to NASCAR Wire Service