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Kasey Kahne rallies, after Greg Biffle falters late, winning the Coke 600...but in a race that wasn't quite as purely entertaining as that wild Indy 500

Kasey Kahne rallies, after Greg Biffle falters late, winning the Coke 600...but in a race that wasn't quite as purely entertaining as that wild Indy 500

Kasey Kahne smokes 'em after winning Charlotte 600 for the third time (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern

   Kasey Kahne, after a downright terrible start to his new job with Rick Hendrick this year, probably wishes he could go back to February and have a re-do.
   But Sunday night he finally got on track, with a sprint away to victory down the stretch in the Coke 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
   The race was Greg Biffle's most of the four-hour run. But once Kahne caught fire in the final hour, he was, well, on fire, pulling away easily to win by more than four seconds over Denny Hamlin.
    It was Kahne's third win in the marathon 600.
    It was a rather unmelodramatic 600….in sharp contrast to a wild and wooly Indianapolis 500 just hours earlier. This might not go down as another turning point in the long-running duel between two of racing's most prestigious venues, but from an artistic standpoint the 500 appeared to win decisively over the 600.
   The 600 was remarkable clean and wreck-free, with only a few caution flags for debris. That helped it finish in record time, the fastest time in its 51 runnings.


   Kasey Kahne, Rick Hendrick's newest, finally gets that first win for his new boss (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Why so many error-free, clean races this season? "Everyone is just so concerned about points these days, because you know if you have a bad race it will take you 10 races to make it back up," Hamlin said.
   The NASCAR half of the Memorial Day weekend double-header was pretty much a five-man race, with Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, and Kahne chasing Biffle early, and Hamlin joining the chase late, with some nifty strategy by crew chief Darian Grubb.
   Kahne opened the season with a frightening run: 29th, 34th, 19th, 37th , 14th, and 38th, before settling down.  
   "We're gaining. This is seven top-10s in a row, including the All-Star," Kahne said.  
   "We just need a little more everything, a little more engine, a little more car, and I used up my tires trying to chase him down, running like my hair was on fire," Hamlin said.

   Kasey Kahne was far ahead of Denny Hamlin at the finish of the Coke 600 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

  Biffle was so awesome early, pulling away with easy, that his late-race collapse was quite surprising:
   "When it cooled down (after the sun set halfway through the race), our car was down harder on the nose and we were sliding up the track. Same thing in the all-star race.
   "And two tire stops just killed us. Then we lost track position with two stops to go and never got it back."
    One of the most dramatic moments of the night came when Johnson made his final pit stop, under green. Johnson's pit crew won last week's annual NASCAR pit crew championship, and it has been solid much of the season. However this time – as at Richmond four weeks ago – the crew made a crucial bobble that took Johnson out of contention.
   Johnson's crew chief Chad Knaus called for a two-tire stop, and told the crew to pack in the fuel, because fuel was a question. However the jackman dropped the jack a moment before the gas man finished, and Johnson, taking the jack dropping as the signal, began taking off, with the gas can still stuck in the car. The new gas refueling system is a bit trickier than the old one.
    NASCAR penalized Johnson for the gas can issue, and that took him out of contention.
   Johnson was cool about it afterwards: "We just had a couple little mistakes on pit road, one took us out of a top-three.
   "But these guys work their butts off to correct that.
  "This was a decent car, not the car we had last week. But we had a shot."


   Pit stops aren't easy, particularly with the new sealed fueling system. Kyle Busch here gets a good stop during the 600 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   A sideline story was Danica Patrick, making her first run in the sport's longest stock car race. She didn't impress but did finish – five laps down, 30th. At one point Jeff Gordon complained that she was using all four lanes on the track in making her laps. At another point Marcos Ambrose, then the race leader, was pitting under green, and just behind her, and Patrick was so slow that Ambrose popped her rear bumper several times in frustration.
   "The biggest thing for me was learning the cars. I knew I needed to step up," Kahne said of his first four months at Hendrick's.
   "Tonight we were able to put one on them.
   "I never doubted myself. But I was upset with some things that happened…like that mistake I made at Phoenix."
   Ironically Kahne won Phoenix last fall with his previous team.
   "If you can get all four cars in the top-11 in this sport, you're doing pretty good," Hendrick said. Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran sixth, Jeff Gordon ran seventh, and Johnson finished 11th.

    Crew chief Kenny Francis (R) with Kasey Kahne (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   The two men on the front row for the start of the race, in the hot late afternoon, didn't fare that well. Aric Almirola led the first three laps but faded to 16th, two laps down. Teammate Marcos Ambrose led 20 laps but a broken left-front spindle forced him behind the wall for repairs; he returned and finished 32nd.
   Mark Martin didn't have the night he expected either, blowing an engine.
   Tony Stewart, oddly, was never a factor, going a lap down early, then tangling with Brad Keselowski during a round of pit stops. Stewart did make an cool save, but that cost him even more time; he finished 25th, three laps down.
   Another disappointment – Kurt Busch. Never a factor, finishing 27th.
   Keselowski was a contender much of the night but a pit road speeding penalty midway forced him to the rear, and he had to fight to get back the game. He did manage to recover for fifth.
    Almirola said "this is still improvement.  
   "This is still my first year running full-time in Cup, it's my first-ever Coca-Cola 600.  It's hard to expect to come here and just whip up on Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne and those guys.
    "It's not great, but it's improvement, and that's the one thing we've been talking about; we've normally been running 23rd, now we're running 16th ."


     A nice crowd Sunday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway, estimated by NASCAR at 140,000 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


The NASCAR product has become a 4-hour

The NASCAR product has become a 4-hour infomercial. It's like a website with non-stop pop-up, overlay, pre-roll, and post-roll ads. The broadcasts focus on the same players every week to where to you have to wonder why they bother with lining up 43 cars to take the green when only 10 or so get 90% of camera time.

And you know there are drivers scrapping for position back in the pack - but we'll never see it on TV unless it involves one of the chosen ones or their sponsor bought a block of ads from the network.

NASCAR needs to take notice (they won't) because Indycar is getting their mojo back.

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the indy 500 : no 'chase,' just the prestige of winning

\"Why so many error-free, clean races this season? \"Everyone is just so concerned about points these days, because you know if you have a bad race it will take you 10 races to make it back up,\" Hamlin said.\"

And there you have it! Indy 500 -- no chase just lots of $$ and the prestige of winning it. World 600 -- cars making laps.

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