Enumclaw’s Kasey Kahne charged his way to Victory Lane, taking the checkered flag Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The win at the Brantley Gilbert Big Machine Brickyard 400 was huge for the popular driver. Not only did it mark Kahne’s first victory since 2014 – a streak of 102 races without a win – but it also propelled him into NASCAR’s Cup Series, the racing world’s postseason. During the sport’s coming “silly season,” the top 16 drivers – based on points garnered for race placement or leading laps throughout the season – challenge each other during the NASCAR circuit’s final 10 events, the “playoff races.”
Kahne’s victory came on a crazy Sunday in Indianapolis, a prolonged race that was marred by three red flags – one due to rain and lightning and two for on-track incidents.
Kahne’s Brickyard 400 victory was credited to a phenomenal restart in the second overtime. Kahne passed leader Brad Keselowski through the first two corners and crossed the line on the backstretch before NASCAR called a record 14th caution of the race. That effectively ended any drama, as Kahne was sitting first and took the checkered flag a lap and a half later under yellow.
Earlier, Kahne had made a Lap 150 pit stop, just moments before a frontstretch crash that eliminated drivers Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch and Erik Jones from the race. All had been running in or near the top 10 throughout the afternoon.
With fresh tires, Kahne stayed on the track when the cars ahead of him entered pit road on Lap 151. Suddenly at the front of the field, Kahne battled Keselowski on three successive restarts before the decisive second overtime.
It was Kahne’s first victory since winning in Atlanta in August 2014.
The importance of the win wasn’t lost on the veteran driver, who first made a NASCAR splash as 2004’s Rookie of the Year.
The NASCAR rumor mill has featured speculation about Kahne’s status in the No. 5 car for next season, as part of the Hendrick Motorsports team. Owner Rick Hendrick effectively dodged questions about Kahne’s future after Sunday’s race, noting only that Kahne’s win catapulted the driver into NASCAR’s “silly season.”
Kahne, 37, sits 20th in points heading into postseason competition. The current season started on a high note, with consecutive top-10 finishes at Daytona and Atlanta. But success tapered off and Kahne managed just one more top 10 until Sunday’s breakthrough.