Kasey Kahne might currently be the best racer in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series who has yet to win a race in 2014. That almost changed Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
After starting 10th Kahne took the lead for the first time on lap 32 and suddenly Kahne was among the contenders for the win. From that point Kahne would go on to lead a race high 70 laps, the first time he has done that all season.
His undoing though came 17 laps from the end. On the final restart of the race, leader Kahne chose the inside lane. Jeff Gordon in second restarted second just to the outside. When the green flag fell and the duo charged into turn 1. Kahne seemed to lose grip and began to slide back while Gordon charged to the lead.
“Looking back, I should have chosen the top (lane) obviously,” Kahne said post race. “But I pretty much let Jeff (Gordon) control that last restart. I took off and never spun a tire. And the inside had been more grip; in a straight line throughout the race. And I had started on both sides. So I thought I made the right decision. I didn’t spin a tire and Jeff was driving by me like before we were even at the second red. But either way, he was going to pass me in (Turns) 1 and 2. So looking back, I probably should have chosen the top and that would have put us in a better place.”
Around him the rest of the top five fanned out and began to swallow him up. When the dust settled a lap later, Kahne was fifth. 16 laps later Gordon was taking the checkered flag for his record fifth Indy win, Kahne was in sixth.
Kahne later admitted that it was the best finish he could hope for given the circumstances.
“Because of that, I was able to save fuel and make it,” he said. “If I had beat him, I would have had to race the heck out of him. He was faster than I was. So, we probably would have finished a lot worse. So, I guess for points it was good. I would have loved to win at the Brickyard. We had a good car. I thought I gave it all I had. The team gave it all they had and we just came up a little short.”
At least twice this season Kahne looked to be in a good position to win; he led laps at Darlington but crashed out late. He also crashed out at Pocono in June and at Daytona earlier in July he was swept up in a crash. To date Kansas remains his best finish of the year; there he led 22 laps but came up short finishing third.
Sunday he led a race high 70 laps yet came home sixth. Despite his sixth place finish and letting the win fall from his grasp, Kahne was able to take away some positives.
“Absolutely. I mean the positive is I finished sixth,” Kahne said. “If I wouldn’t have done that I would have finished dead last on the lead lap. There are positives we ran well. It is the strongest effort the team has put out all season long. All of us working together, yeah, we can take a lot out of here. That was a good performance today.”
Now Kahne is the only driver among the four teams at Hendrick Motorsports who has yet to win a race in 2014; the only Hendrick driver who currently has no chance to make NASCAR’s season ending Chase for the championship.
“Yeah, no kidding,” Kahne said. “I know that. We have five more good tracks for us and six more races, so hopefully we can get one.”