Kasey Kahne unable to hang on late at the Brickyard

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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.”

Cooper solidifies PWC GT presence with Callaway Corvette

Callaway, Cooper, Gill. Photo: PWC
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Pirelli World Challenge could use a “face” of the series from a driving standpoint, and American Michael Cooper is a good candidate to fill that role for 2018.

Cooper, 27, has won PWC Touring Car, GTS and, most recently the SprintX GT titles within the series and has quickly blossomed into one of the series’ top GT stars.

It’s been a rapid rise for the Syosset, N.Y. native, entering into a world filled with series stars and champions such as Johnny O’Connell, Patrick Long, Alvaro Parente and a host of others.

But under O’Connell’s tutelage, Cooper admirably filled the rather gaping shoes vacated by Andy Pilgrim at Cadillac Racing, steering the Cadillac ATS-V.R to multiple race wins in the last two years – including a sweep of this year’s season finale weekend at Sonoma.

Cooper and Jordan Taylor were the model of consistency in SprintX this year, winning once at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and surviving contact at Circuit of The Americas to take that title.

With Cadillac withdrawing its ATS-V.R program at the end of the year though, Cooper was left a free agent for 2018. Fortunately with one door closed another opened, in the form of the GM-blessed but full Callaway Competition USA effort with its Callaway Corvette C7 GT3-R that will come Stateside next year. Cooper and Daniel Keilwitz will be in the team’s two cars for the full season; the car was fully unveiled last week at the PRI Show in Indianapolis.

The Callaway is a proven commodity in Europe but couldn’t run in the U.S. unless the path was cleared by one of GM’s factory programs to end a direct, potential head-to-head competition.

Moving from the Cadillac to the Callaway Corvette should be a natural transition, Cooper said last week.

“It worked out incredibly well that GM decided to allow Calloway to run the car in the United States and it created an opportunity for me that wouldn’t have been there otherwise,” he told NBC Sports. “I talked to a lot of other GT teams and at the end of the day, I felt like this was the best direction for me to be competitive next year and to also continue furthering my career with General Motors.”

Indeed Cooper has graduated from the Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R in GTS to the Cadillac and now to the Callaway Corvette. Cooper hailed the Cadillac team for what they did for his career growth.

“Working with Cadillac Racing has been instrumental in developing my abilities both on and off the track,” he said. “So I’m definitely a much more well-rounded driver now and have a lot of experience in the World Challenge GT field, so I kind of know what to expect going into that first race and going into that first corner in St. Pete.”

As noted, the car’s success in Europe means it’s a well-oiled machine by the time Reeves Callaway has worked with PWC to bring it Stateside next year. And as Cooper explained, discussions had been underway for a bit of time to ensure his presence in this car and team.

“I think the car is going to be extremely capable. It’s already won championships and races in Europe. I think, in bringing it over here, we’re going to hit the ground running straight away,” he said.

“Calloway had wanted me to come drive for them in July or August. We always kept in touch since then, and there was a lot of work trying to put together a program before they decided that they were going to do a fully fledged factory program. So once they made that decision, I think the pieces were kind of in place already, and the conversations had been had to be able to say ‘You’re going to be our guy.’”

December is late for IMSA programs to get finalized, but it’s relatively early for PWC, with the season not starting until mid-March in St. Petersburg. An extensive testing program should follow, as Callaway establishes its U.S. base and infrastructure.

“It’s definitely early for a Pirelli World Challenge program to be announced in December when we start racing in March. So that’s very good,” he said. “But, the team has a lot of work ahead of them in terms of getting infrastructure set up here in the United States, because a lot of their racing program has been in Europe. So, there will be a testing program, but they have to get the infrastructure in place first. But, we’ll be well prepared for St. Pete, I’m certain of it.

“Last year was the first year when I could sit back, kick my feet up, and know what I was doing next year. So, to be able to have everything done and be able to announce it this early on makes my life less stressful and now I can just focus on preparing myself and my team for next year.”