Splitter to Spoiler: Kahne seizes opportunity to win Brickyard 400

Kahne finally breaks through with perfect strategy, NASCAR gets everything wrong and the playoff implications of another new winner

Brian Spurlock—X02835
Jul 23

Kasey Kahne has heard it all. He can’t drive anymore. He didn’t deserve a contract extension from Hendrick Motorsports. He’s going to be out of a ride next year. None of this, of course, is true, but it’s spewed on an almost weekly basis from fans and those who follow NASCAR.Kahne proved everyone wrong on Sunday at the Brickyard.With a chance to spoil his shot at his first win in 102 races — dating back to Aug. 31, 2014 — on three separate restarts in the closing laps, Kahne never faltered. The lone restart where Brad Keselowski beat him was actually because Kahne was waiting until the end of the restart zone and Kes jumped the start.It may have been a late pit stop that was performed flawlessly by his pit crew that got him in the top spot, but Kahne earned it. The caution may have been delayed due to no lights at Indianapolis — we’ll discuss that later — but Kahne earned it.And to do it all in the Brickyard 400 made it even more special.”To win at this track is unreal,” Kahne said. “We used to always be really close. Today’s 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. … To win at Indy is unbelievable.”The win also couldn’t have come at a more perfect time for Kahne.In the last week, Hendrick Motorsports announced that Alex Bowman would be taking over for Dale Earnhardt Jr. next season in the No. 88 ride. That may not seem too damning for Kahne, but it leaves William Byron — Hendrick’s golden boy who won Saturday in the Xfinity Series — still knocking on the door for one of Hendrick’s Cup programs in the future.Having won three of the last five races and averaging a finish of 2.5 over the last six starts, Byron is a clear threat in the coming years for a spot at the next level. And with a seven-time champion in Jimmie Johnson, Chase Elliott sealed up until 2022 and Bowman taking over the 88, Kahne desperately needed to prove himself. Whether it’s for Hendrick or another team remains to be seen.”This shows that I gave it all that I can to get a win. It shows that I’m passionate about driving stock cars, that I can still win races, too,” Kahne said. “I have a deal through 2018 with Hendrick Motorsports. Hear a lot of things, but tough to say exactly what’s going to happen because I don’t know at this point this time.”NASCAR got it all wrongRather than starting the Brickyard 400 at 1 p.m. like most races, NASCAR ran Sunday’s race in Indianapolis at 2:30 p.m. despite the threat of rain and no lights at the track. Fourteen cautions, three red flags and one overtime restart later, NASCAR was forced to make a decision on a late caution that tarnished an exciting race.None of it makes any sense.At other tracks without lights like Dover and Talladega, NASCAR doesn’t start the races any later than 2 p.m. In fact, Dover’s first race started at 1 p.m. and the second race in the playoffs will start at 2 p.m., two races prior to Talladega at 2 p.m.In a race that saw four crucial restarts in the closing laps with Kasey Kahne and Brad Keselowski battling for the lead, having the sun setting outside of the track certainly didn’t help matters.”Over-aggression is an understatement,” Matt DiBenedetto said of the end of the race. “I don’t know if it just got dark and nobody could see out their windshields or what, but the thing is restarts are so important. That’s where you make up all your spots, and once it gets single filed out, it’s really hard to pass.”Then there was the final yellow flag decision. While NASCAR might never actually admit it, most fans will agree that the last caution was clearly held as drivers were wrecking behind Kahne.The argument for the decision from fans on social media? Well, NASCAR would have been forced to call the race because the sun was going down. First of all, it would have never been that close if the race was started at 1 p.m. Second of all, that would have been more forthcoming than deliberately holding a caution so the race ended in official fashion.Again, this takes nothing away from Kahne, who clearly had the advantage and clean air on his side during several restarts at the end. Essentially, NASCAR tried to save its own butt with the caution and failed miserably. And after nearly the exact same incident happened earlier in the month in an Xfinity Series race, the overtime line needs to be dealt with immediately.Playoff spots dwindling for NASCAR’s biggest starsIf NASCAR fans were told a Hendrick driver won in a controversial finish to earn a playoff spot, most would’ve likely been OK with it being Dale Earnhardt Jr. Instead, Kahne is in the postseason and Earnhardt gets knocked further down the totem pole after wrecking in Indy.Earnhardt isn’t the only driver who was put in a worse position by Kahne’s win. Clint Bowyer, who looked like a solid bet to make the playoffs weeks ago, is now in the 17th spot. Joey Logano is now 51 points behind Matt Kenseth for the 16th and final position while Erik Jones’ wreck left him firmly outside and needing to make up 126 points.Of course, any of these drivers can turn their fortunes around with a win like Kahne. Hell, Logano has a win this season at Richmond, but it was encumbered due to failing inspection and doesn’t count toward his playoff eligibility. There are still six races before the cutoff, but only four spots up for grabs for winless drivers.Another name to watch moving forward is Chase Elliott. Despite being a full 205 points ahead of his teammate Kahne, Elliott is now just 55 points ahead of the cutoff point. With two finishes outside the top 20 in the last four races, Elliott is trending in the wrong direction and new winners are slowly pushing him toward the brink of missing out on the playoffs after making it as a rookie.