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Kasey Kahne still smiling despite recent racing setbacks

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MOORESVILLE, N.C. — Kasey Kahne’s NASCAR season and career were cut short in September because of dehydration issues. Ten races into his return to driving sprint cars full-time, he was injured and has not competed since late March. He doesn’t know when he’ll be able to return.

“It’s been a rough year for me and racing,” Kahne tells NBC Sports, standing in his race shop, near one of the sprint cars he should be getting ready to drive. 

Even as he speaks about all the disappointment in the last eight months, he smiles.

“I’m still happy,” Kahne says, shortly after having hugged 3-year-old son Tanner. “I know it won’t be long and I’ll be fine and then, hopefully, these rough years are behind me.”

Kahne smiles again.

Kasey Kahne signs autographs for fans during a recent open house at his race shop in Mooresville, North Carolina. (Photo: Dustin Long)

It’s the look many NASCAR fans know well. Although Kahne is 39 years old, he looks much like the 23-year-old rookie who grabbed so much attention when he finished second in three of his first seven starts in NASCAR’s premier series. Kahne remains as thin as those days and ready to race. 

He just can’t now because of his undisclosed injury.

So he waits and stays busy.

“I feel like I’m way too young to not work or anything like that,” Kahne says. “Always working on ideas to do.”

As for his racing, Kahne isn’t sure. He was injured in a March 29 flip at Williams Grove Speedway in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. He hopes to be cleared by July 1 so he can spend the summer racing. That way he’ll be better prepared for the Knoxville Nationals (Aug. 7-10). 

If he’s not cleared by July 1, he says he doesn’t anticipate being ready to run at Knoxville a year after his team, Kasey Kahne Racing, won the Nationals with driver Brad Sweet.

Kahne looks forward to racing again based on how the sprint car season started.

“It was really up and down, but we were making a lot of gains and I was making a lot of gains,” Kahne says. “I felt the final two races before I went out for a bit were my best two, and I was heading in the right direction.”

James McFadden will drive Kasey Kahne’s car until Kahne returns. (Photo: Dustin Long)

“I think right now my car that James McFadden is going to drive is going to be awesome for him because we’re in a good direction. I’m really hoping he has a lot of success over the next month or maybe the next two months.”

With being out of the car, Kahne is enjoying more time with friends and family. He watched the All-Star Race. He hosted a barbecue the night of Coca-Cola 600 qualifying last week and spent Sunday watching the races.

Seeing Clint Bowyer swing at Ryan Newman after the All-Star Race brought back a particular memory for Kahne.

“Me and Kevin Harvick got into it once at Phoenix,” Kahne says of their battle for fourth late in Kahne’s rookie year. “We were like running tight, super close. After the race, I bumped him and actually was just saying good race, and I think he was thinking I was mad at him. Instantly, the veteran is going to get pissed, which I totally understand now.

“He’s at my car before I’ve shut it off. I don’t even know what I’m supposed to do. Then (Kahne’s crew chief) Tommy Baldwin is mad. It was funny how that all worked. That was kind of like we were mad at each other but we weren’t after we talked.”

Last weekend’s races at Charlotte Motor Speedway and Indianapolis Motor Speedway brought back other memories for Kahne. 

Three of his 18 career Cup wins came in the Coca-Cola 600. His last Cup victory was in 2017 at Indy. He is one of eight drivers who have won both the 600 and Brickyard 400 in their careers. 

Three of those drivers are in the NASCAR Hall of Fame (Dale Earnhardt, Dale Jarrett and Jeff Gordon). A fourth will be inducted in January (Bobby Labonte). Three others are future Hall of Famers (Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick). 

Kahne counts his third Coca-Cola 600 victory as among his most memorable because it was his first with Hendrick Motorsports in 2012.

He recalls much of what happened during his Brickyard 400 win but not much afterward. He was dehydrated after that race, showing signs of what would force him out of the car in 2018.

“The problem with the Brickyard is that I was do dehydrated and stuff and throwing up and just felt horrible and all I wanted to do was to go to sleep and I didn’t get to enjoy the win,” Kahne says. “It took until Wednesday before I even felt halfway decent.”

His condition became more challenging and led to last year’s Southern 500 being his final Cup race.

“An hour to go in that race, I said you better never do this again,” Kahne recalls of that race where he battled dehydration and went to the infield care center after finishing 24th. “This is not good.

“Then after I felt better like the next Friday, I was like I need to race some more.”

Kasey Kahne signs diecast cars for a fan at Kasey Kahne Racing’s open house earlier in May. (Photo: Dustin Long)

He didn’t get the chance in NASCAR. The longer races made it challenging for his body because he was sweating so much. He announced in October that he had not been cleared to race the rest of the season. Having previously said 2018 would be his last in Cup, his career in that series ended. 

While he can’t compete in the long races of NASCAR, the shorter sprint car races are not a problem for Kahne.

He looks forward to getting back into the car. Although Tanner, who has enjoyed all the extra time with his father, expressed other feelings the other day.

“He doesn’t like me getting into race cars any more,” Kahne says. “If I get in one, he tells me to get out. Just because he’s glad that I’m home and not racing.

“I know he likes racing. He had fun when we were at the track.”

Kahne can’t wait to go back as a driver instead of just a car owner.

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Chris Buescher completes ‘epic comeback’ to finish sixth in Coke 600

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CONCORD, N.C. — Roughly 15 minutes after the end of Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600, Chris Buescher was the last Cup driver to arrive at the pit road media bullpen to discuss his experience in the 400-lap race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

He had a lot to talk about.

“That was a really fun race,” Buescher said. “The most fun I’ve had at one of these 600s.”

That’s not the tone you’d expect from a driver who got into the wall on Lap 116, fell from 11th to 17th and then cut a tire 12 laps later to bring out the caution.

But it is the tone you expect from a driver who came back from being a lap down to finish sixth in NASCAR’s longest race.

As a result, the JTG-Daugherty Racing driver has consecutive top-10 finishes for the first time in his Cup career. Sunday’s finish follows a 10th at Kansas two weeks ago.

“Had great speed from the drop of the green,” said Buescher, who started 22nd. “Second stage just tried to get a little too high and got up in the fence. It’s on me. … We knew we had speed still, but this group did a terrific job repairing. Came in prepared. Worked really hard after practice, made a lot of changes as well. Just a great all around effort. The pit crew did a terrific job.”

Buescher thought his contact with the wall was “going to hurt us for sure.”

“I felt like it probably knocked a bunch of camber into it and was worried about blowing a tire with just wearing out the inside edge,” Buescher said. “(His team) sure made it look good. Tire wear looked good throughout the night. After we got that going we just kept digging harder and harder and stopped worrying about it and there at the end we didn’t have to worry about a thing.”

In five previous starts on Charlotte’s 1.5-mile oval, Buescher’s best finish was 16th in the fall 2016 race.

But Buescher had to survive a “wild” five-lap shootout to end the race, with his car restarting 12th after all but one lead-lap car pitted and Daniel Suarez was penalized for pitting outside his box.

“I need to rewatch the replay to understand what happened,” Buescher said. “I got ran into probably three times. Got ran into the fence at on point when we were four wide. And nobody lifted. Honestly, it’s kind of what we expected all of these races to be like this year. I think it got hot enough, slick enough we finally had one of those nights tonight. It made for some wild racing. Made it frustrating at times trying to get by on the bottom. You had options, you were able to move around. What a great time.”

Buescher’s result comes in the wake of other impressive runs for his team in the previous 12 races that didn’t end as well.

At Bristol he placed seventh in Stage 2 but had to pit from ninth with 41 laps to go due to a loose wheel. He finished 25th.

A week later at Richmond he placed in the top 10 in both stages but finished 22nd.

The Kansas race saw his most consistent run as he placed sixth in both stages before finishing 10th for his first top 10 since Atlanta.

Buescher credited “continuity” and “chemistry” on his team and working “extremely hard through the offseason” to be ready for the new rules package.

“What a terrific finish for us in the JTG-Daugherty Racing group,” Buescher said. “For us to have great runs this season that have been right round top fives and not quite get the finishes out of it, this is a good night to have a pretty epic comeback.”

Results, standings after Coca-Cola 600

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For the third time in the last five races, Martin Truex Jr. took the checkered flag, holding off Joey Logano in a five-lap shootout to win Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600, the longest race of the NASCAR Cup season.

Truex becomes the third driver this season to win three races in the first 13 of the 26-race regular season, joining teammate Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski.

Click here for full results.

Kyle Busch leaves Charlotte back atop the Cup standings, followed by Logano (six points back) and Chase Elliott and Kevin Harvick, both tied for third, 50 points back apiece.

Click here for the updated standings.

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What Drivers Said after Coca-Cola 600

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On what began as one of the hottest days of the season, Martin Truex Jr. continued his hot ways behind the wheel, earning his third win in the last five races with Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 triumph.

Here’s What Drivers Said afterward:

Martin Truex Jr. – winner: I don’t know how we did it honestly. I blew that right-front tire earlier and hit the fence off (Turn) 4. I thought man, that’s not good. I know this car is pretty banged up. We just fought back from it. We kept working on the car and kept adjusting on the car. What a rocket ship this Bass Pro Toyota was this weekend. I felt good about it in practice, but you just don’t know and these mile-and-a-halfs have been tough on us this year – kind of scratching and clawing trying to find something. Kansas a few weeks ago was really a reality check for us. It’s one of our best tracks and we really struggled there and knew we had to get to work. Just hats off to the guys for listening to my input and what I had to say. We had a pretty good car at the All-Star race last weekend, but we knew it wasn’t good enough. They went to work this week and made it better.”

Joey Logano – finished 2nd: “Well, I needed (Truex) to go slower (laughing), but that’s not his job. We had a rough start to this thing. The guys did a good job fixing it up to where we were competitive at the end and had a shot to win, so that’s all you can ask for. I don’t know how we got from where we thought we were gonna be good in practice and then started the race really bad. I’m glad we made some good adjustments to get somewhat close. The Coke 600 is such a big deal to win, especially as a Coke driver you want to make it happen and we were close, but we’ll just have to wait again to next year and go at it. Like I said, if you told me we were gonna finish second early in the race, I would have taken it, but when you actually finish second and you see the lead that close you don’t want to take it. … I thought we had a good shot when that caution came back out. That was another chance and just didn’t quite get it, but overall, like I said, very proud of it. As far as Memorial Day Weekend and getting to race is a privilege, so for me to complain about second sounds pretty dumb. I’m proud to live in this country and I’m happy that I just get to race. … (When it came down to you and Truex, were you like, ‘Here we go again’?) Yeah, of course. Haven’t we every time?”

MORE: Results, standings after Coca-Cola 600

Kyle Busch — finished 3rd: “I don’t really know what all went down (in the final 5 laps). Just trying to find holes and trying to make room and trying to make ground on guys that we were around. I thought we had a second-place car tonight. If we would have gotten in behind the 19 (Martin Truex Jr.), I never would have passed him. I thought I could get the 22 (Joey Logano), but the 22 was fast at the end. I don’t know. Frustrating for how challenging it is. I guess I shouldn’t be complaining about that, but overall our M&M’s Camry was fast. It had good speed, just not the 19-car speed. I don’t know what the 19 had different than us, but they were way faster. … (What did you feel like you were missing tonight?) I don’t know. I thought that through much of the race we had a fast car. We were there. We led some laps. We ran around – the 4 (Kevin Harvick) was fast, 19 (Martin Truex Jr.) was fast. The 19 was the fastest car. I’m not sure what they had different than us. Obviously we were just off a little bit. Otherwise, I felt like we had a race-winning car capable of at least running second. Overall, the red white and blue M&M’s Camry was fast. We brought it home where we should have – close anyways I think. If you want to support the USO go get some red, white and blue M&M’s bags made through August. We’re going to be donating money and the proceeds go to the USO.”

Chase Elliott – finished 4th: We had a really solid car. It was a solid race all around. We just needed a little bit more there at the end and needed to not give up control to get to Martin (Truex Jr.) in those last 40 to 50 laps. We just needed to finish a little stronger. I think I have some work to do on my end to make sure I’m keeping up with the track, giving the right information and not getting behind. I feel like I’ve made some mistakes the last couple of weeks and have just gotten a little off. … The track just gains a lot of grip when the sun goes down. Yesterday in practice it was kind of weird that it didn’t really lose any grip during the day, but when the race started today, I felt like it was the normal Charlotte. I had to adjust to that a little bit and luckily we were able to hit it pretty close. We just needed a little bit more there at the end.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – finished 5th: “I wasn’t real happy about that final caution. I was hoping it was just gonna run out. We were running down the 18 and that was good for us. It’s been a while since we’ve been up there contending like that with caliber of a car. We did it at Kansas and came back here and struggled at the All-Star Race, but we made really good changes to our Fastenal Mustang to get ready for the 600 and felt really, really good with it. That’s something to build on. We still have to get more consistent throughout the race. Having a car like that at the end, we need to be able to have stage points throughout the whole race. All in all, a great night for us, a good points night, and we just have to keep this momentum going that we started at Kansas. … (When did the car come to life?) Once the sun went down. I’ve always told people I don’t really ever feel the track change a whole lot. I feel like we always stay the same, but we were making a lot of adjustments, but once the sun went down I felt like the track stayed more consistent and we were able to catch up with where our car needed to be. I felt like we had a really strong car the last 200 laps and proud to finally get a top five with it.”

Chris Buescher – finished 6th: “What a great night for us. Our Kroger Thrill of the Grill Camaro ZL1 had great speed from the drop of the green. The second stage we just tried to get it up a little too high and I got up in the fence. I cut a tire down later and lost a lap. We knew we had speed still, but this group did a terrific job of repairing it. We worked really hard after practice making a lot of changes. It was just a great effort all around; the pit crew did a terrific job. We were able to come out there at the end and get an awesome finish. We have to keep improving a little bit, but it was a pretty awesome night.”

Alex Bowman – finished 7th: “I fired off pretty poorly; it was just really tight to start. The guys did a really good job of getting our car better. We got up towards the front and then late there I decided to get up in the fence and tear the right side off of it. I’m really glad we were able to fix it, overcome a flat right rear, and still end up 7th. I just need to not make that mistake and we definitely had a top five car. It was my fault that I drove it into the fence, so that makes me frustrated with myself. People make mistakes and that was just one that I made. I’ll just learn from it and move on. Stuff happens.”

Jimmie Johnson – finished 8th: “This has always suited my style well. I’ve always taken a lot of pride in being competitive in this race (both) physically and mentally. We did that tonight and had a strong performance. I had some handling issues. We got ourselves through most of that and got into a good position and I hit the wall with about 10 (laps) to go and took us out of like a fourth or fifth place spot back to eighth. But, all in all, it was a solid performance. We had respectable speed and I was in the mix most of the night. … Clean air was a lot. So, I don’t know. I never really got a look at the lead. The No. 9 (Chase Elliott) led a lot and then was just right there in front of me in the end and I was trying to pass him when I hit the wall. So, I feel like we were probably fourth or fifth, if fifth, they way things kind of unfolded. And then I hit the wall and the car got super loose after that. … To have that trouble late and slip to eighth is good. We stayed in the mix for most of the night, so that was encouraging. We’re going the right way.”

William Byron – finished 9th: “It was okay. I expected the track to kind of come to us when night time came but it just didn’t really. We didn’t have the best restarts on the bottom. And, we had a couple of restarts on the top at the end and were able to finish 9th. So, that was good. We’ll just keep working and figure out what we need to do next time. We were pretty good during the day. I had pretty good speed. Top five. And I knew we were pretty tight-off but then it just kept escalating as the runs got longer. When night time fell we were just too tight. So, it is what it is. But ultimately it was a good solid two weeks in a row. And a ninth place finish is not bad. It seems like we’re getting better, for sure. With all four of us (Hendrick Motorsports teammates) in the top 10 is pretty good. And we’ll just work from there.”

Kevin Harvick – finished 10th: “It was different for sure. For us, we lost the handle on the car. We had some different shift codes in the tires that we had to run because that’s what we had. As soon as we put all those shift codes on, the car just went to absolute junk. … (What was it like with all the pushing and shoving to get around tonight?) I don’t even know.”

Aric Almirola – finished 11th: “It was a struggle most of the night. I don’t know. We can’t make it handle the way we need it to. It won’t go on restarts. I don’t know. We have to just keep working and get better.”

Ryan Blaney — finished 13th: “We had a pretty good DEX Imaging Ford tonight. I felt like we had a shot at Martin (Truex Jr.) and Joey (Logano) late. Unfortunately a late race issue with a loose wheel ruined our night.”

David Ragan – finished 15th: “Our Select Blinds Ford Mustang was a top 10 or 12 car a lot of the night. We had some trouble on pit road and felt like I had to pass a lot of cars often throughout the night, but our team did a great job preparing a good car. That was the best mile-and-a-half car we’ve had in a long time and we just ran out of tires. I had some damage from that Kyle Larson wreck with about 30 or 40 to go. We used an extra set of tires and we didn’t have any. We had some with about 20 laps on it, but I felt like if I could have got a good restart I would be able to hold them off. If it would have been two or three laps, we could have got a top five or top 10, but once all the dirty air got around we just didn’t have the grip to hang on there at the end. But that was fun. It was a fun 600-mile race and we learned a few things that will hopefully help us for down the road. … (And you weren’t going to pull over for the 19 on that restart with 5 to go?) No, absolutely not. We were doing all we could. You never know. I mean, those guys could get back there body slamming and I could have gotten a five or 10 car length lead. You just never, never know what may happen on a deal like that. I felt like I hit my marks on the restart good. I got through turns one and two and was leading down the back straightaway and that’s all you can ask for. It helped that Newman was on two tires underneath me and he kind of held them up a little bit, but five laps was just too much.”

Ryan Newman – finished 16th: “We didn’t have the best of cars, but we got ourselves in position and tried. Two tires was kind of my idea, but I just didn’t have enough to hold on. We were off a little bit in speed all day and that’s what we needed there at the end.”

Daniel Suarez — finished 18th: “Our Coca-Cola Ford Mustang was tight most of the night, but my guys kept working on it. We came back from being two laps down, and they just never gave up on adjusting the car. Unfortunately, on the last pit stop we had a penalty and that put us one lap down to end the night 18th.”

Brad Keselowski — finished 19th: “We had power steering issues and I got into the wall late in the race. A few laps later I cut the right-rear tire and spun. That pretty much ended our night.”

Daniel Hemric — finished 21st: “I really hate this night did not turn out better than it did for everyone on this Cessna Chevrolet Team. Luke Lambert and everyone on this team gave me a really fast No. 8 Cessna Chevy. We showed that in practice throughout the weekend and in qualifying on Thursday night. The car took off really well to start the race but we got so many cautions in Stage 1 that we made a strategy call to stay out and were able to grab the lead by doing that. Being able to lead in my first Coca-Cola 600 was a cool experience for sure, but the cars with fresher tires were much quicker on the restart. One of them made contact with the right rear and sent me into the outside wall off Turn 4. I’m really proud of everyone on this team, because they never gave up. We hit pit road as much as possible the rest of the night and they made repairs as best they could. We kept adjusting on it and just tried to do all we could to get to the end. When the caution came out with about 35 laps to go, we took the wave around to get one lap back and hoped for a quick caution, but we never got that when we needed and had to hit pit road under green with 20 laps to go. We will head to Pocono and try to change our luck there.”

Ty Dillon – finished 23rd: “We had a great night going in our GEICO Military Camaro ZL1. I was really happy with it while the sun was out. I could run any lane around the track, and my front end cut great through the corner. As it got darker, I started to lose my front end and kept building tight on each run. But, we were still having a good night. We were running in the top 20 and had stayed on the lead lap all night, really showing the strides that we have made with our intermediate track program. It’s unfortunate that a flat tire in Stage 3 ultimately ruined what was going to be a solid night for our team. Our strategy to make up those laps we lost almost worked out, but we got caught up in that final stage wreck while we were sitting in the free-pass spot to get back on the lead lap. We’re going to be proud of all the positive improvements from this night, though, and keep building on them for our next mile-and-a-half track because that’s what we do. We will keep grinding.”

Clint Bowyer — finished 24th: “That was a long night. We struggled with everything at some point. But you know, close at the end we were seventh, and it was looking like it was going to turn out OK. I think we were going to get a top-10. Two times tonight we were in the wrong place at the wrong time and got wrecked.”

Kyle Larson – finished 32nd: “I just got in there and lost grip and slid up into Clint (Bowyer). I got stuck in the middle and then just put myself in a bad spot and got sideways. So, it was an up and down day for us. I finally put myself in a good spot for about a lap and then screwed that up. So, that was all me. So, we’ll go wherever we race next week and try to do better.”

Austin Dillon – finished 34th: I saw the No. 42 (Kyle Larson) spinning. I don’t know if I should have just slowed down and try to get stopped but I thought I had a gap there and maybe squeeze and get by as best as I could and it didn’t work. We shouldn’t have been back there. We just really didn’t have the car I thought we were going to have. I’m disappointed because I felt like in practice we were pretty decent and it just looks like the No 18 (Kyle Busch) made it through and I was the one that got wrecked. It’s just part of it. But, we’ll try better next time and get our cars a little better and hope it’s better for us.”

Erik Jones – finished 40th: We just blew a right-front. There was no real warning. It’s unfortunate. We had a pretty good car. The Reser’s Camry was moving forward and driving really well. I was trying to get some track position and work my way to the front. It sucks. It’s a long race and we are obviously out of it early. We had a really good Reser’s Camry. I think we were in a really good position to work our way forward and just lost a tire. That hasn’t happened to me in a long time so it’s just unfortunate. I don’t know if we ran something over. It’s a bummer, you don’t want to be out of the 600 this early and we had a car that could have contended today. Just have to go back to work and go get them next week.”

We’ll continue to add driver quotes as they become available. Please check back.

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Wood Brothers, Team Penske drivers win first NASCAR Heat Pro League races

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CONCORD, N.C. – Drivers for Wood Brothers Racing and Team Penske were the winners of the season-opening NASCAR Heat Pro League races held Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Slade Gravitt, the driver for the Wood Brothers, won the PlayStation 4 race while Brian Tedeschin won for Penske on the Xbox One.

Twenty-eight drivers competed for 14 NASCAR teams across both races.

Gravitt was the No. 1 overall draft pick among PS4 players back in March.

The next races are scheduled for Wednesday.

You can watch both races in the below video.