All posts by Stephen Furst

Kasey Kahne Snatches Improbable Victory at the Brickyard

Courtesy: NASCAR Media

SPEEDWAY, Ind. — In semi-darkness, as the sun set behind the frontstretch grandstand at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Kasey Kahne did all he could to dispel the shadow overhanging his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season and his racing career. 

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – JULY 23: Kasey Kahne, driver of the #5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet, kisses the yard of bricks with his crew after winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on July 23, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

With a phenomenal restart in the second overtime of Sunday’s Brantley Gilbert Big Machine Brickyard 400, Kahne cleared race leader Brad Keselowski through the first two corners and crossed the overtime line on the backstretch before NASCAR called the record 14th caution of the race. 

That ended the event with Kahne in the lead, and when he took the checkered flag under yellow a lap and a half later, the driver of the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet had his first victory since an eleventh-hour win at Atlanta in August of 2014 that propelled him into NASCAR’s postseason. 

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – JULY 23: Kasey Kahne, driver of the #5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet, leads a pack of cars during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on July 23, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Kahne was breathless with exhaustion in Victory Lane, the result of withering heat inside the cars in a prolonged race that featured three red flags, one for rain and lightning and two for incidents. But the implications of the triumph weren’t lost on him. 

“The career is big, for sure—but the win and the history here,” Kahne said. “To win at this track is unreal. We used to always be really close. We lost to Jeff (Gordon) and we lost to Tony (Stewart); just some fast cars back then. 

“Today, strategy got us here. This Farmers Insurance Chevrolet was great once I got out front. I just had to get there. I’m exhausted. But, an unbelievable win. The team just kept working. We had great pit stops.” 

The pit stop that mattered most occurred on Lap 150, when Kahne came to pit road moments before a vicious wreck on the frontstretch eliminated the cars of Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch and Erik Jones, all of whom had been running in or near the top 10 throughout the afternoon. 

Kahne had fresh rubber and stayed on the track when the cars ahead of him came to pit road for tires on Lap 151. Suddenly at the front of the field, Kahne battled Keselowski on three successive restarts before the decisive second overtime. 

Kahne status in the No. 5 car has been grist for the rumor mill this season. Asked Sunday morning about plans for the ride next year, team owner Rick Hendrick would say only “That’s another day,” during a press conference heralding Alex Bowman as the successor to Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. 

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – JULY 23: Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet, drives on the apron after an incident during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on July 23, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)

Asked post-race what the victory does for Kahne’s future, Hendrick replied, “It puts him in the (playoff).” 

But the uncertainty that surrounds Kahne’s status in the No. 5 did nothing to diminish his accomplishment at the vaunted Brickyard. 

Keselowski had taken the lead during the first overtime restart, but a huge wreck on the frontstretch—triggered when Trevor Bayne turned sideways after a push from Michael McDowell as the cars approached the start/finish line—aborted the attempt. 

For the second overtime, Keselowski chose the outside lane, leaving Kahne on the bottom in a racing groove covered with Speedy Dry fluid absorption material. But Kahne pulled off a magnificent restart and powered into Turn 1 at full steam. 

“Well, the one before just didn’t work,” said Kahne, who picked the outside lane and lost the lead on the short-lived restart for the first overtime. “Everything went wrong. On the final one, everything went right. And once I got to Turn 1, I had good power and was able to clear him off (Turn) 1. I’m exhausted. And, it’s pretty crazy.” 

Keselowski, who was trying to give team owner Roger Penske a first Brickyard 400 victory, gave credit where credit was due. 

“Kasey did a heck of a job today and drove a hell of a race,” Keselowski said. “I’m happy for him. I thought we were in the right spot. You had seen the same thing all day when you’d get somebody on the outside, and in the corner you got real loose. 

“He drove in there and it just stuck. I don’t know. I may have had the wrong lane there or made the wrong call. I’m not sure. The car was on edge and then some.” 

By the time Kahne took the checkered flag, the two fastest cars in the race had long since been eliminated—in the same wreck. Polesitter Kyle Busch, who led a race-high 87 laps, was racing side-by-side with Martin Truex Jr. after a restart on Lap 111 when Truex’s No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota got loose underneath Busch’s No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, causing a collision that crippled both cars. 

Ultimately, it was Kahne who seized the opportunity their exit presented. 

Notes: The victory was the first for Kahne’s crew chief, Keith Rodden… Kahne visited the infield care center for treatment after Victory Lane ceremonies in which Kahne looked drained. … Jimmie Johnson, with his eye on a record-tying fifth Brickyard victory, spun in Turn 3 while battling Kahne and Keselowski for the lead on Lap 159, causing the caution that set up the overtimes that eventually took the race seven laps past its scheduled distance.

XFINITY Series Rookie William Byron Holds Off Paul Menard in Brickyard Debut

Story courtesy of NASCARMedia

SPEEDWAY, Ind. – With a new competition package that produced a race-record 16 lead changes and the closest NASCAR XFINITY Series finish at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, William Byron threw more blocks than an NFL fullback in holding off charging Paul Menard to win Saturday’s Lilly Diabetes 250. 

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – JULY 22: William Byron, driver of the #9 Liberty University Chevrolet, kisses the yard of bricks after winning the NASCAR XFINITY Series Lilly Diabetes 250 at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on July 22, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Byron made the decisive pass for the lead on Lap 85, surging past JR Motorsports teammate Elliott Sadler into the top spot. Menard gained two spots, from fourth to second over a six-circuit stretch from Laps 90 to 96 but couldn’t overtake Byron, who blocked each of Menard’s attempts to make a winning pass.

“It’s so cool—this is awesome,” said Byron, who was won in his first visit to the vaunted Brickyard. “I’d never been to a Brickyard 400 or an Indy 500, but I watched it as a kid. It takes a lot to win these races, and to win here is so special.” 

Joey Logano followed Byron past Sadler on Lap 85 and finished third, after losing the second position to Menard on Lap 96. 

The leader in the NASCAR XFINITY Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings, Byron won for the third time this season. Fighting a vibration he thought might have been the result of a tire issue, he finished .108 seconds ahead of Menard. 

“He’s done an awesome job,” team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. “I’m excited for his future and the rest of the season.” 

Menard thought he might have been able to get to Byron’s bumper in the closing laps but thought better of trying to move him. 

“He was better than me through Turn 1,” Menard said. “I just had to lift too much and play catch-up through Turns 2, 3 and 4 back to the start/finish line. I made a pretty aggressive dive into (Turn) 1 that last lap, just to see if I could get him loose, but he made it stick… 

“I maybe could have gotten to his bumper, but that would have definitely killed my momentum, too. All it probably would have done is chase both of us up the hill, and Joey might have won. I didn’t think that was in either of our best interest.” 

Second in the standings, Byron now trails Sadler, the series leader, by 40 points. A disastrous pit stop cost JRM teammate Justin Allgaier dearly, dropping him to 35th at the finish and 133 points behind Sadler in the standings. 

Allgaier pitted from the lead on Lap 57 of 100 and overshot his stall, starting a comedy of errors. The No. 7 crew began working on the car before pushing it back into the pit box. Allgaier took off early, snapping the air hose, which danced around the stall like a snake before coming to rest. The coup de grace was a right front tire that hadn’t been secured.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – JULY 22: Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 NOS Energy Drink Rowdy Toyota, leads a pack of cars during the NASCAR XFINITY Series Lilly Diabetes 250 at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on July 22, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

The tire came off the hub and lodged at an angle inside the wheel well. With his car towed to the garage for repairs, Allgaier lost 13 laps. 

That was the comic relief, however, in a race where the new rules package drew overwhelmingly positive reviews. 

“Overall, we’re certainly pleased with what we saw on the race track,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer. “From an eye test, it definitely passed when you look at the metrics, right? Most leaders we’ve had (eight). Most lead changes. Closest finish. Certainly, on the quick recap, some really great metrics. 

“But as we said before, there’s a lot for us to digest, go back, talk to the teams, drivers, crew chiefs, see where we’re at and go from there.”

TIM BROWN – TESTED AND READY FOR SOUTHERN MODIFIED RACING SERIES OPENER

SOPHIA, N.C. – The 2017 season for the Southern Modified Racing Series (SMRS) kicks off Sunday with a 125-lap race at Caraway Speedway.   Tim Brown, driver of the No. 83 Jerry Hunt SuperCenter/Hayes Jewelers modified, spent some time Saturday afternoon at the track, preparing for the 2017 opener.

Tim Brown at Caraway Speedway. (Photo credit: Tim Brown Facebook page)
“It’s fitting that Caraway is hosting the season opener,” said Brown, of Rural Hall.  “They have supported tour modified racing more than any track and it’s a great place to start this season.
 
“We’ve spent a lot of time getting race cars ready for the new season, tested on Saturday and are looking forward to getting started on Sunday
 
Brown is a two-time winner at Caraway on the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour and finished fourth in the season finale for the SMRS last year at the track.
 
While Brown races on weekend, aboard a modified on the SMRS and at Bowman Gray Stadium, his “day job” is in the suspension department at Roush Fenway Racing, for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series teams of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Trevor Bayne.
 
Brown will be among a strong field of modified drivers racing this Sunday at Caraway Speedway and throughout the year on the SMRS.
 
                The season opener at Caraway will be a 125-lap race paying the winner a $3,000 top prize.  Teams will have an optional afternoon of practice on Saturday, March 11th to tune up for the Sunday afternoon headliner.
 
                On Sunday afternoon at 2pm the off-season silence will end with the roar that only a modified can make…..kicking off the race and the excitement of the 2017 SMRS Season.