THE 4 CLAWS TO 4TH

Kasey Kahne, Red Bull Racing Red Bull Toyota
Kasey Kahne, Red Bull Racing Red Bull Toyota

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

CONCORD, N.C. — The No. 4 Red Bull Toyota wasn’t perfect early Saturday night — far from it, in fact. But as driver Kasey Kahne said: “These races are so long and you have so much time to move up and think about pit stops and making your car better. When you have 500 miles, you have enough time.”

After a green-flag pit stop for adjustments with 139 laps to go in the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Kahne, who had fought a rear-end up and front-end down handling issue most of the race, radioed to his team, “Oh, yeah. It’s going now.”

He was ninth at that point — driving the fastest car on the track — and moved into the top five 40 laps later. Then he improved to third after a speedy stop by the No. 4 crew under the race’s fifth caution flag. Kahne seemed to be in contention for his fourth Sprint Cup victory at the 1.5-mile track.

Enter lap 293, when Matt Kenseth had a slow restart, pinching Kahne between David Ragan’s No. 6 on the bottom and Jeff Gordon’s No. 24 on the top. The result? All three went spinning, and Kahne retreated to the pits for tires and to repair cosmetic damage. He went from third to restarting at the tail end of the lead lap. “We can get back into the mix,” crew chief Kenny Francis told his driver.

Indeed he did. With only a dozen or so cars on the lead lap, Kahne moved into the top 10 with 25 laps to go. With 17 laps remaining, Jimmie Johnson absorbed a hard hit to bring out the eighth and final caution. Some cars pitted, Kahne stayed out and pulled out a scrappy fourth-place finish.

It was the third consecutive top five for Kahne and his sixth overall at Charlotte. For Red Bull Racing Team, it was the best finish at the track since Brian Vickers finished fifth in the 2009 600.

“We had a great Red Bull Toyota. The guys did an awesome job,” Kahne said. “It was just a fine line of being really good or a little off. We kind of went over it throughout the race. That one restart — Matt got a bad start and I was trying to push him and Ragan got to my inside and Jeff must have thought that we were only two-wide and we were three and we ended up all wrecking. Then we had to fight back after that. It was just kind of being in the wrong spot at the wrong time. We had a really good car and it was another positive race for us.”

No. 83 driver Vickers had an unexpected passenger leaving the pits during a stop on lap 45. Apparently, the jack called shotgun and went along for the ride as Vickers exited his pit box — a definite no-no in NASCAR’s eyes. Moments later, Vickers was slapped with a stop-and-go penalty for “removing equipment from assigned pit area” and returned to the race two laps down in 36th. “It’s a long race,” crew chief Ryan Pemberton said. “We got ourselves in a pile of crap early. We’ll get our chances to get it back.”

Vickers spent the rest of the night fighting for free passes and taking wave-arounds, which eventually put him only one lap down in the closing stages. But by then, his chances of ever returning to the lead lap were nil because only 15 cars completed all 334 laps. He finished 20th.

With five races remaining this season, Kahne improved a position in the driver standings to 15th — eight behind 14thplace AJ Allmendinger and 11 behind Clint Bowyer in 13th. That’s the best ranking a non-Chaser can achieve. Vickers moved up to 25th — still 40 points behind Jeff Burton in 24th.