It was a long time coming but after a six-hour marathon filled with red flags, rain, flaming wreckage and two overtime finishes, Kasey Kahne won the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway Sunday.
It was the first win for the Hendrick Motorsports driver in 102 races stretching back to Atlanta in August 2014.
“To win at this track is unreal,” an obviously exhausted Kahne said. “We used to always be really close. We lost to Jeff (Gordon) and we lost to Tony (Stewart); just some fast cars back then. Today’s strategy got us here.”
That strategy came in the closing laps when Kahne pitted on lap 149 during one of the races record 14 cautions. He had stayed out to gain track position earlier and parlayed that to a front row starting spot with seven laps to go. There would be two more cautions, a third red flag and two attempts at an overtime finish as darkness encroached. On the first attempt, a multicar crash erupted involving Kyle Larson just as the field crossed the start-finish line with Brad Keselowski scored as the leader for the season attempt.
Kahne grabbed the lead from Keselowski on the second attempt at overtime and was pulling away cross the overtime line just after another crash happened behind him. NASCAR threw the caution and it end with Kahne finally winning his 18th career Cup win.
“Well, the one before just didn’t work,” Kahne said. “Everything went wrong. On the final one, everything went right. And once I got to Turn 1, I had good power and was able to clear him off (Turn) 1. I’m exhausted. And, it’s pretty crazy.”
Keselowski held on for second, Ryan Newman was third, Joey Logano fourth and Matt Kenseth fifth in one of the most aggressive and action-packed races ever at Indy.
“That’s how it’s got to be,” Keselowski said. “That’s how NASCAR racing should be. I think that’s a good thing. The fastest car doesn’t always win. I think the 18 and 78 were the two fastest cars and they didn’t win because of all the aggression and the things we saw. That’s the part that makes this racing fun.”
Those two fast cars, the 78 of Martin Truex Jr. and the No. 18 of Kyle Busch, had the field covered much of the afternoon. After a one hour 47-minute red flag for rain at lap 12, Busch, pole winner and winner of the last two races at Indy, would lead a race high 87 laps with Truex as his closest pursuer.
On a restart on lap 111, Truex dove to the inside of Busch entering turn 1; he got loose and slid up into Busch ending the day for both as the Toyota of Truex engulfed in flames slid to a stop at the exit of turn 2.
“We worked well together and that’s the hard part about this stuff is when it’s time to go,” Truex said.
“I feel awful and just made a mistake. Definitely should have picked the outside and it would have been fine I guess. Just the way it goes… We had an awesome car today and we got out front, I don’t think they were going to be able to beat us. A mistake on my part took us out of it, but we’ll get them next week.”
That was only a preview of the carnage to come.
On lap 150, Clint Bowyer spun exiting turn 4; the resulting melee swept up Kurt Busch, Erik Jones and Jamie McMurray. NASCAR threw the second red flag of the day for extensive cleanup. After 20 minutes, the race was restarted with seven laps to go. It was a three-way battle with Kahne, Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson whose Chevy was trailing smoke. Entering turn three the top three were three abreast; Johnson spun and caution flew.
With two laps to go the field was given the green but even before the field could make it to the first turn, Kyle Larson made contact with Ty Dillon and was sent hard into the outside wall. The caution setup the overtime finish.
On the first attempt, Trevor Bayne, inside the top five at the time, was spun after being pushed from behind and another multicar crash erupted. The red flag was displayed again this time for 24 minutes.
With darkness creeping in, the field was finally given the green and Kahne would execute a perfect restart that would end in victory.
“It feels good to win, you know?” Kahne said. “For all these people that work so hard, it feels good to get into Victory Lane and show that we can do it if things go our way.”
Kevin Harvick was sixth, Daniel Suarez seventh with Matt DiBenedetto, Chris Buescher and AJ Allmendinger rounding out the top ten.
In his final Cup race at Indy, Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran inside the top 10 at one point, but on a restart on lap 76; Austin Dillon stacked up the field and Earnhardt suffered heavy damage after getting hit from behind; he lost a radiator and was done for the day, finishing his last Indy race in 36.
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series heads back to Pocono Raceway next Sunday for the Overton’s 400. Live coverage will be on the NBC Sports Network starting at 3:00 p.m. ET.