To the Point: Kasey Kahne was the driver finally capable of ending Jimmie Johnson’s streak of Charlotte dominance, taking the lead on lap 371 from Carl Edwards and holding off a hard charging Johnson to take his first career Coca-Cola 600 win at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. Johnson came across the line second, with Edwards, Martin, and Kenseth rounding out the Top 5.
Who Should Have Won: Scott Riggs. Taking the lead from Kahne on lap 337, Riggs appeared poised and ready to add his name to the distinguished list of first time Cup winniers in the 600. Unfortunately, his final pit stop was a comedy of errors; Riggs hit the lapped car of Blaney entering pit road, and then stalled while exiting his pit. A disappointed Riggs wound up 13th.
Five Questions You Should be Asking After the Race Weekend:
1) Was the smaller 13 gallon fuel cell the right plan for this Spring race weekend at Lowe’s?
It’s hard to tell, as there wasn’t a green flag run long enough during the race that would have equaled a full fuel run with a 22 gallon fuel cell. Certainly, the strategy made for a much more exciting race, as once the heat got into the tires after a few laps, cars became so aero dependent it was difficult for them to run side by side. Yes, there were plenty of lead changes…but most of those changes came in the pits, not on the track, as aero push caused whatever car was at the head of the pack to pull away rather easily.
2) Where did Haas CNC Racing Come From?
Yes, both Jeff Green and Johnny Sauter running in the Top 10 for much of the first half of the race was a huge surprise (Green finished a season best 12th and led twice for 16 laps), but this team had quietly been putting together some solid finishes all year with Green. With six Top 20 finishes in the first 11 races, Green and the No. 66 car were tied for 23rd in the standings entering Lowe’s, the highest of any single car team on the circuit.
Not only that, but Johnny Sauter, Haas’ Busch Series driver debuting as Green’s teammate for the first time, had himself a solid test at Charlotte in the No. 70 car and qualified a surprising 14th. With a teammate in the garage area, that always increases your chances of running better; this team would be well served to find that special sponsor to move Sauter up in a second car. Too bad Sauter had a tire go down halfway through the event, causing him to spin out; he finished a disappointing 24th.
3) Should Michael Waltrip have been able to buy his ride?
In an interview with Waltrip on Saturday, the whole situation played out as a bit of a Catch 22. Michael needed to be in the race for NAPA, and the 74 team of McGlynn Motorsports needed money…desperately, as they started and parked the last two races they entered due to lack of funding. Who knows if they would have done it again this Sunday.
With the purchase of the ride, Michael got his sponsor some much needed attention and the 74 team got the money they needed to keep going; also, they got some race experience, as the team stayed around to help Michael in a team effort since he had to race their car. So, while the deal itself defeated the purpose of the fastest 43 drivers making the field, it’s not quite as bad as you might think.
4) When will Kyle Busch’s emotions stop getting the better of him?
Certainly, Busch experienced extreme frustration Sunday night, having an almost certain Top 5 run taken away from him after Casey Mears lost it coming out of turn four, collecting Busch as he spun. However, Busch’s reaction, to throw what appeared to be his HANS device at Mears and onto the track, was completely unacceptable, causing him to be called into the NASCAR trailer after the race with crew chief Alan Gustafson.
5) Will we ever see anyone approach the type of streak Jimmie Johnson had at Charlotte?
Maybe in another decade or so. What Johnson failed to accomplish, winning four races in a row at the same event, has only been done 11 times in NASCAR history, and was last accomplished by Jeff Gordon at Darlington from 1995-98. With the parity the way it is in NASCAR today, drivers are lucky enough to win ONE race, let alone one each year at the same event. It’s unfortunate Johnson couldn’t add his name to this distinguished list.
Carl Edwards: After spinning out on the backstretch on lap 144, it appeared the night for Edwards and the 99 team was headed in the wrong direction. However, due to the calming influence of spotter Bobby Hudson, Edwards became a man on a mission, and was a rocket ship in the second half of the race, climbing all the way to the lead with 40 to go and finishing a strong third.
Mark Martin: While it wasn’t a win, Martin desperately needed to finally finish in the Top 5 when he actually had a Top 5 car, squandering several of those opportunities to do so in the past month. This time, the AAA Ford driver and crew came through all night, and the 4th place finish gave Mark his best run since Atlanta back in March.
Jamie McMurray: After the struggles at Darlington that resulted in a 42nd place finish, McMurray’s team had hit a new low, and it was important the team as a whole came out and performed well at Lowe’s. While not leading a lap all night, the 26 car was solidly up front most of the event, and McMurray brought the car home in 8th, just his fourth Top 10 of the year.
Reed Sorenson: Quietly, Sorenson withstood the 600 test of endurance that leaves many a rookie sitting in the garage area by the end of the night, coming home 10th for his first Top 10 finish since Atlanta in March. Building on his 11th place run at Darlington, there are strong signs this team has turned the corner.
Tony Stewart: Entering the weekend 2nd in points, Stewart left the Lowe’s on top…of the misery scale, that is. After a hard crash 10 laps into Saturday’s Busch race left him with torn muscles in his right shoulder, Tony’s physical condition was worsened by slamming the Turn 1 wall last night. Cutting down a right front tire on lap 33, Stewart had little time to slow down before clobbering the concrete with his Chevrolet, leaving him less than 100% for next Sunday at Dover and possibly beyond.
Dale Jarrett: Jarrett wouldn’t have completed the Coca – Cola 600 even if it was the Coca – Cola 1.5. On the third turn of the first lap, some close quarters with Robby Gordon ended with Jarrett taking his lumps into the outside wall. The 43rd place finish drops Jarrett far behind the Top 10 with his “lame duck” team, not the best recipe when you need a second half surge.
Brian Vickers: Last year at this time, Vickers reached a season high, leading 98 laps and showed his team had turned the corner even with a late crash; his next two races, Vickers finished 6th and 2nd. This year, it’s exactly the opposite; Vickers crashed out for the third straight race after nearly winning Talladega, reaching a season low and dropping him out of the Top 25 in points. Vickers finished 37th.
Jeff Gordon: Gordon’s car wasn’t perfect, but he found himself in contention for a Top 10 run most of the night up until causing the race’s final caution on lap 360. A brake caliper broke on the front of Gordon’s car, and the resulting hit into the turn four wall ended up being one of the more violent hits of the night. Gordon finished 36th.
Johnson’s strong run allowed him to extend his points lead a bit, now 109 over new second place point man Matt Kenseth. Mark Martin’s strong night moved him up to third, 209 back, while Stewart fell from second to fourth, 231 behind Johnson.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. remained in fifth, while Kasey Kahne’s win gained him two spots, from eighth to sixth place. Jeff Gordon, Jeff Burton, Kyle Busch, and Kevin Harvick rounded out the Top 10. Casey Mears remains the first man on the outside looking in at the Chase, 52 points back of Harvick in 11th.
“The crew put a little more tape on the car (at the end), and it came to life. Awesome job by all these guys. It’s great. It’s a huge win for us.” Kasey Kahne
“I was making a wish and hoping it could be granted (to get his fourth straight win)...I am very proud of the stats I’ve had here, but I’ve been fortunate to win three Coca-Cola 600s. Life is still good.” Jimmie Johnson
“It looks like we melted a bead (on the tire). We don’t understand it. We were progressing to the front…After the Busch wreck, (Tony) was pretty sore. He got out of the car, he was even more sore today. Keep our fingers crossed and say a prayer for him.” Greg Zipadelli (Stewart was treated and released from a local hospital)
“He collected me and spun us backwards in the frontstretch fence. It was a very frustrating moment for me…you gotta be frustrated at somebody after tearing up such a great race car like that.” Kyle Busch (Busch threw his HANS Device at Mears after Mears’ spinning car hit him on the frontstretch)
The repave at Charlotte may have caused a monster of a project, but that’s nothing compared to the Monster Mile of Dover, Delaware. The Neighborhood Excellence 400 presented by Bank of America will come your way next Sunday afternoon LIVE at 1:30 P.M. on FX.
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