If Kasey Kahne fails to make this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup, he may think about today’s Brickyard 400 as the golden opportunity that slipped away.
Kahne led a race-high 70 laps at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, looking as if he would become the 12th different driver to lock himself into the post-season with a regular season win.
But Kahne was iffy on fuel late and on a restart with 17 laps to go, he was unable to hold back eventual winner Jeff Gordon – who took the lead on the outside as the field made its way through Turns 1 and 2.
The Joe Gibbs Racing trio of Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth then made their way past Kahne, knocking him down to fifth. The Washington state native would cede one more spot in the final laps before finishing sixth.
Looking back on the fateful restart, Kahne said that he thought NASCAR allowed Gordon to control the restart. But he also conceded that Gordon was going to be faster anyway.
“Looking back, I should have chose the top [lane] obviously,” Kahne told ESPN. “They pretty much let Jeff control that restart. I took off and never spun a tire, and the inside, there had been more grip in a straight line throughout the race. And I started on both sides, so I thought [the inside] was the right decision.
“I didn’t spin a tire and Jeff was driving by me before we were even at the second red, so they just let him control it. But either way, he was gonna pass me in 1 and 2, so looking back, I probably should have chose the top.”
However, while Kahne missed a big chance to put himself into the post-season, he still has everything to race for in the final six regular season events.
Within this stretch are several places where he’s been strong in the past – particularly Pocono (next weekend), Bristol (Aug. 23) and Atlanta (Aug. 31). And now, he’s just four points behind fellow winless driver Austin Dillon for the 16th and final spot on the Chase Grid.
That gap could have been much bigger if he had run out of fuel late while trying to battle Gordon for the win. Instead, once Gordon and the Gibbs clan passed him by, Kahne went about saving enough fuel to make it home.
“If I had beat him [on the restart], I would’ve had to race the heck out of him and he was faster than I was – so, we probably would’ve finished a lot worse,” said Kahne. “I guess for points, it was good.”
But while Kahne looked to the big picture, he was still bummed about not being able to win at Indy.
“I would have loved to win the Brickyard,” he said. “We had a great car. I thought I gave it all I had and the team gave it all they had. We just came up a little short.”