Crew members celebrate driver Kasey Kahne's win in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Coca-Cola 600 auto race at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C. on Sunday.
Terry Renna / AP Enlarge
CONCORD, N.C. For nearly a year, nothing went right for Kasey Kahne.
Over a two-week span, nothing has gone wrong and Kahne s season suddenly seems back on track.
Kahne earned a Lowe s Motor Speedway sweep Sunday night when he pounced on Tony Stewart s bad luck to win the Coca-Cola 600. It was the second straight victory for Kahne, who won the All-Star race eight days ago to bring a wave of momentum into NASCAR s longest event of the year.
I can tell you that this team has had a much different step since they won that feature, that race here last week, team co-owner Ray Evernham said. That momentum is something. I don t how you measure it in professional sports.
Kahne had no momentum at all before the series rolled into Charlotte for two weeks of racing. He d led just five laps all season heading into Sunday s race and had a 52-race winless streak in points events dating back to October 2006.
Then the fans voted him into the All-Star race, where he gambled on the final pit stop to steal the $1 million prize. He vowed to carry momentum into this race, and did with a strong run that put him out front late until he had to stop for gas with 16 laps to go.
It put Stewart out front and he cycled back into the lead even after he stopped for his own splash of gas minutes later. He was cruising toward his first win of the season when a flat tire with three laps to go sent him into the pits.
Tony Stewart had the win right there, and had a little problem, so we definitely had some help, Kahne said. It wasn t like we weren t fast. It wasn t like I couldn t run with Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. early in the race or I couldn t lead laps. We were a first- or second-place car at the end of the race, and you know, and Tony was a first- or second-place car and he had problems.
When luck s on your side ... it s great. Luck is a big part of, I think, everyday life.
And Stewart doesn t seem to have any of it this season.
This was his second near-miss this year in one of NASCAR s crown jewel events.
But unlike the heartbreak at the Daytona 500, when a last-lap pass left him devastated, Stewart stormed into his trailer kicking at the cabinets after a fluke flat tire with three laps to go stole his Coca-Cola 600 win.
Stewart s team tried to stretch a set of tires the final 100 laps of the race, and he almost pulled it off. But when the tire went flat, he was denied a 600 victory for the 10th time.
It s an agonizing stretch for a former open-wheel driver who grew up dreaming of an Indianapolis 500 victory. With his focus now on NASCAR, he ll settle for any sort of Memorial Day weekend win.
Instead, he wound up a frustrating 18th and stormed into his hauler without comment. Crew chief Greg Zipadelli was left to answer questions about yet another near-miss for a No. 20 team still searching for its first win of the season.
It s just stupid. I don t know, Zipadelli said. We must have run over something, small leak or something. But I ll just say we lost a tire with a 5 -second lead. I don t even know what to say, I m so frustrated. I feel bad for everybody.
All day we did a good job, he added. We knew we needed to keep our car where it was and it would be good at the end and we did exactly that, and we just fell short.
It was the second consecutive defeat in the 600 for Stewart, who led 55 laps here last May only to fall short on fuel and forfeited the lead for a late gas-and-go.
Kahne, meanwhile, became just the sixth driver joining Davey Allison, Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Darrell Waltrip to win both the All-Star race and the 600 in this eight days of racing at LMS.
To have my name with those names, I think that s one of the neatest things that I ve ever done in racing, said Kahne, who moved into Chase contention with the win.
Still, he needed help to make history, and it came in a race of attrition that saw most of the heavyweights drop out of contention during an event that started in the late afternoon, ended in the evening and required both intense mental focus and luck to make it to the finish.
Earnhardt Jr., Johnson, Brian Vickers and Kurt Busch all led laps but had parts failures or tire issues that prevented them from winning.
Greg Biffle finished second to Kahne for the second straight week and Kyle Busch, the Sprint Cup Series points leader and winner of Saturday night s Nationwide Series race, finished third despite two battery changes over the course of the race.
Gordon was fourth and was followed by Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Burton, Matt Kenseth, Elliott Sadler, Carl Edwards and David Reutimann.
Kahne led 65 laps, but forfeited the lead to Stewart with 16 laps to go when Kahne had to stop for gas. Stewart stopped for gas later, but had a shorter fill-up that cycled him back into the lead.
Stewart was then cruising toward his first win of the season when he smacked the wall, causing his tire to go flat and forcing him to head to the pits and hand he win to Kahne.
Earnhardt mounted a strong bid to snap his 73-race winless streak, leading 76 laps in the latter portion of the evening. But he appeared to lose his right rear tire while running out front, and his Chevrolet slid into the wall and bounced along it until finally coming to a stop. He had additional damage when J.J. Yeley ran into the back of him, and he sped to pit road for repairs.
NASCAR initially penalized him one lap for speeding past the safety workers, but rescinded it after further review and Earnhardt rallied to finish fifth.
I thought we were done, and then I got motivated again, he said. We got lucky. Got gas and made it last.
Johnson, a three-time winner of this race, lost a cylinder in his motor while running second late and failed to finish all 600 miles. He finished 39th.
Kurt Busch led 64 laps early, but hit the wall when he had an issue with his right front tire while running second. He wound up 16th.
Vickers led 61 laps and was running in third right before the halfway point when his left rear wheel broke on his Toyota and the tire bounced across the track, over a fence and into the infield, where it ricocheted off the awning of a camper before finally coming to rest amid cheering fans.
Track security recovered the tire.