Even in darkness at Indy, Kasey Kahne’s smile could not be dimmed

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INDIANAPOLIS — After six hours of stop-and-go racing, heart-pounding action at the end of regulation, overtime and a second overtime restart and his body cramping the longer the Brickyard 400 went toward nightfall, Kasey Kahne couldn’t stop smiling.

Winning can have that impact. Especially for a driver who last won 102 races ago at Atlanta in 2014, was eliminated by a crash in five of the eight previous races and faces speculation that he will lose his ride with Hendrick Motorsports after this season even though he has a contract through next year.

But all that didn’t matter after Kahne finally crossed the finish line about 10 minutes before sunset descended on a darkening Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday.

He just wanted to celebrate.

First, he had to cross the finish line, ending a race — stopped once by rain and twice by accidents — more than six hours after it started.

“I was actually emotional in the car,’’ Kahne told NBC Sports. “Was just thinking don’t do anything until this car makes it to the finish line because who knows what could happen.’’

He made it but his struggles weren’t over. His body cramped late in the race. Problems started with 10 laps left before the scheduled end when his left calf and leg cramped. After the race restarted, his right leg cramped, then his chest, left ribs and left arm.

The cramping made any type of celebration difficult after the second overtime restart ended in another crash and the end of the race.

“Every time I tried to yell and get excited, my body would cramp,’’ said Kahne, who went to the infield care center for IV fluids.

He felt well enough later that he said he was ready to go racing again that night.

More importantly, Kahne says that’s what he wants to take from this win is to be happy more.

“I love driving the cars,’’ he said. “I love racing. I go and race my sprint car when I have time because I enjoy that stuff. But just be a little more happy in doing it.

“There are a lot of reasons to be happy. After a win like this, hopefully that gets all of us just pointed in the right direction a little bit better, working for each other a little bit more, having faith in each other. I think all those things help.’’

This group needs it. While teammate Jimmie Johnson wins races and championships, Chase Elliott has had strong runs at times and focus on Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s final full-time Cup season, Kahne can be viewed by some as the other Hendrick driver.

He might not have that title for long. Speculation has been that 19-year-old Xfinity rookie William Byron, who won Saturday’s race at Indy, could move from JR Motorsports to take over the No. 5 car next year. A key could be sponsorship with Great Clips and Farmer’s Bank Insurance both leaving the team after this season.

“Our plans are not set for the 5 car,’’ car owner Rick Hendrick said after Sunday’s race. “We’ll see how things shake out, you know, the rest of the year. There’s a lot of things involved, sponsors and a lot of things we look at. We’re going to try hard.  But there’s no decisions made at this time.’’

Kahne said: “I have a deal with Hendrick through ’18 and we’re trying to figure out how to make all that stuff work.’’

He’s also focused on what more he and his team can do now that they’ll be one of the 16 playoff teams.

Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. again showed they were the class of the field — leading 95 of the first 111 laps — before they tangled on a restart and wrecked. Pit strategy by crew chief Keith Rodden put Kahne in a spot where he caught a break with a caution flag waving when he was on pit road. After the pit cycle under caution, Kahne moved to the lead.

It marked only the third race he’s led this year. He had led 19 laps this season before leading 12 Sunday. With track position critical at Indianapolis, Kahne took advantage to win.

“I think a win like (this) can give myself confidence and momentum, our whole team a boost, which is something that we need,’’ Kahne said. “We work hard, too. But the guys that are winning and running up front, their momentum, their confidence is tough to keep up with when it’s been a couple years.

“When you’re working as hard as you can every single week, putting in tons of hours, you’re away from your family, all this stuff’s going on, (and) you’re not getting results for two years, at some point, there’s no way me as a driver or my team guys are doing what some of the other teams are doing. I mean, it’s just the way that life is, I think. It’s the way that we work.

“So I would hope that this would give us all confidence and give us momentum and push us to, ‘yeah, we’ve been at the shop, giving 100 percent, but now we really are giving 100 percent.’ Now we’re really excited to go to the next race because we didn’t run 15th or 18th or crash today, we actually won the Brickyard 400.’’

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Austin Dillon, Jeffrey Earnhardt in first wreck of Bristol night race

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The first big wreck of Saturday night’s Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race occurred on Lap 232 of the scheduled 500-lap event.

It appeared Austin Dillon may have cut a tire and turned to his right, directly into the car of Jeffrey Earnhardt, sending both cars into the outside SAFER barrier and both sustaining heavy damage.

“We were running really good and all of a sudden the left-rear went flat,” Dillon said. “I don’t know what happened, if we had contact on that restart or our trackbar broke. My car chief said the letters on the Goodyear were rubbed off and about two laps later we broke.

“Our battery was going dead too, so it probably wasn’t going to be much longer we were going to be out of the race either way, but just a bummer. I really love this track and was having a blast tonight.  It sucks it had to end this way.”

Both cars were taken to the infield, with their nights likely over. That’s Bristol, baby.

Matt Kenseth wins Stage 2 at Bristol

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Matt Kenseth took the lead with about 10 laps left in Stage 2 when leader Kyle Busch pitted under caution. Kenseth went on to win the stage Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway.

The second stage ended at Lap 250 of the 500-lap race.

It is Kenseth’s third stage win of the year. He entered the race holding the final playoff spot.

Jimmie Johnson finished second. Kevin Harvick placed third, Ryan Newman was fourth and pole-sitter Erik Jones finished the stage fifth. Jones was followed by Kyle Larson, Denny Hamlin, Busch, Paul Menard and Clint Bowyer.

Busch controlled most of Stage 2 and seemed set to win it until crew chief Adam Stevens elected to pit for tires to help set the team up for the rest of the race.

Busch fell from first to sixth on a pit stop after winning Stage 1 because of a problem with the left rear tire. He worked his way back to the lead on Lap 167, passing Jones for the top spot.

Jones took the lead back on Lap 179 as they raced in traffic around Brad Keselowski, who lost four laps because of a cut left front tire from contact in the opening laps.

Busch regained the lead on Lap 199. He maintained the advantage on pit road shortly after that when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. hit the wall and brought out the caution.

Martin Truex Jr. had a loose right rear wheel and pitted as the field took the green on the restart. He had to pit shortly after that when he was penalized for an outside tire violation. After serving the penalty, Truex was two laps behind the leaders.

AJ Allmendinger had to pit under green because he had a tire rub after contact.

Jeffrey Earnhardt and Austin Dillon crashed on Lap 232. Dillon spun up the track and Jeffrey Earnhardt had nowhere to go and slammed into Dillon’s car. Kasey Kahne hit the wall and Joey Gase‘s car as he tried to slow.

 

Kyle Busch passes Kyle Larson on final lap to win Stage 1 at Bristol

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Kyle Busch passed Kyle Larson on the final lap to win Stage 1 on Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Busch and Larson dueled the final 11 laps of the stage. They made contact while racing in traffic while racing to Lap 125 of the scheduled 500-lap event.

Busch seeks to win the Camping World Truck, Xfinity and Cup races this week at Bristol for the second time in his career. He won all three races in 2010.

After Busch, who started 18th, was pole-sitter Erik Jones. Larson finished third. Chase Elliott was fourth. Matt Kenseth placed fifth. Kenseth was followed by Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr. and Jimmie Johnson.

The stage win is Busch’s 10th of the season. Only Truex (15 stage wins) has more this season.

A couple of drivers had problems early in the race.

Brad Keselowski suffered a cut left front tire on Lap 5 and lost four laps by the time he pitted and got new tires. He was 38th at the end of the stage.

Aric Almirola brought out the caution on Lap 61 when he hit the wall. He was 33rd at the end of the stage.

List of driver introduction songs for the Bristol night race

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Here’s all the songs NASCAR Cup drivers selected for their introduction prior to the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Erik Jones – “All I Do Is Win” by DJ Khaled

Kyle Larson – “Dirt Track Thing” by Kenny Montgomery

Kasey Kahne – “You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone” by Brooks & Dunn (picked by Dale Earnhardt Jr.)

Chase Elliott – “Chevy Don’t Let Me Down” by Jeff Bates

Matt Kenseth – “Halo on Fire” by Metallica

Martin Truex Jr. – “That’s How We Do Around Here” by Florida Georgia Line

Denny Hamlin – “Jumpman”  by Drake

Joey Logano – “Energy” by Drake

Clint Bowyer – “How Country Feels” by Randy Houser

Ryan Blaney – “Life Ain’t Fair & the World is Mean” by Sturgill Simpson

Jamie McMurray – “Believer” by Imagine Dragons

Daniel Suarez “El Mariachi Loco”

Ryan Newman – “Hutin’, Fishin’ & Lovin’ Everyday” by Luke Bryan

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – “Chattahoochee” – By Alan Jackson

Chris Buescher – “E” by Matt Mason

Austin Dillon – “Ain’t No Mercy” by Rick Ross

Brad Keselowski – “Right Now” by Van Halen

Kyle Busch – “Thunder” by Imagine Dragons

David Ragan – “I’m from the Country” by Tracey Byrd

Trevor Bayne – “Sideways” by KB Featuring Lecrae

Jimmie Johnson – “What’s My Name?” (clean version) by Snoop Dogg

Ty Dillon – “Rise Up” by Petey Pablo

AJ Allmendinger – “Paper Cut” by Linkin Park

Danica Patrick – “Regulate” by Warren G

Kurt Busch – “Sweet Emotion” by Aerosmith

Michael McDowell – “Dream Team (I Had a Dream)” by Thi’sl

Paul Menard – “512” by Lamb of God

Aric Almirola – “Green Light” by Pitbull

Kevin Harvick – “Happy” by Pharrell

J.J. Yeley – “I Got You Babe” by Sonny & Cher

DALE EARNHARDT JR. – “Stuntin’ Like My Daddy (Rock Remix) by Birdman and Lil Wayne (Picked by Kasey Kahne)

Cole Whitt – “Baby Got Back” by Sir Mix-A-Lot

Landon Cassill – “Silver Bullet” by Hawthorne Heights

Matt DiBenedetto – “Gon Give It To Ya” by DMX

Corey LaJoie – “Lights Come On” by Jason Aldean

BJ McLeod – “Kickstart My Heart” by Mötley Crüe

Gray Gaulding – “Wanted Dead or Alive” by Bon Jovi

JEFFERY EARNHARDT – “Good Life” by Tyler Hatley & The Little Mountain Band

Reed Sorenson – “Over and Under It” by Five Finger Death Punch

Joey Gase – “I Gotta Feeling” by Black Eyed Peas

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