Kahne leads most laps en route to runner-up finish

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Kasey Kahne led a race-high 138 laps tonight at Charlotte Motor Speedway but was unable to hold off eventual winner Brad Keselowski in the closing laps and had to settle for a second-place result.

However, the finish serves as the best by far for Kahne and his No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports team in the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup. Kahne opened the post-season with a 12th place finish at Chicagoland, but stumbled with a 37th place finish at New Hampshire after crashing early on, and then put up finishes of 13th and 15th at Dover and Kansas.

You had to figure Kahne was due for a good result and that Charlotte would be a pick-me-up of sorts considering his strong history at the 1.5-mile oval (four wins, nine Top-5s). After tonight’s race, Kahne said he wasn’t sure why CMS seems to bring out the best in his abilities.

“I wish I knew how to get my car to drive like it does here at other places,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s the tire or the track itself, what it is. But we just always run pretty good here. It’s a confidence, [it] kind of always gives us confidence when we leave here, so it’s nice.”

Kahne first took the lead at the Lap 28 restart, but lost it shortly afterwards to teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. However, he got it back at Lap 44 and would keep it until his first green flag stop 30 laps later.

Once he returned to the front, he proceeded to lead his 1,000th career lap at Charlotte and would continue to run at the head of the field. Jimmie Johnson took the lead from him off a restart at Lap 178, but Kahne remained in striking distance as the race headed for its final conclusion.

Kahne had been told to start saving fuel around 100 laps to go, but the debris caution with 28 laps to go solved that problem for him. Running second at the time, Kahne took two tires and proceeded to take the lead. However, while he was able to clear Jeff Gordon on the final restart of the night, his car didn’t seem to react well later on.

“I thought I did pretty good, but as soon as I got to Turn 1, my left side was a little bit ‑ I could feel they weren’t working quite as well,” Kahne said. “They were just rough, kind of bouncing a little bit, so I knew I was in trouble at that point.”

With 11 laps remaining, Keselowski and Kahne had a dice for the lead and the win. Initially, Kahne turned back Keselowski’s attempt but with nine to go, the 2012 Cup champion was able to clear him off Turn 2.

“It was just about racing hard,” Kahne said. “He drove it into Turn 3 way far to clear me, and I got back under him, so it was a great battle. I had a good time racing with him. We came out on the wrong side of it.”

Miguel Oliveira wins MotoGP Thai Grand Prix, Bagnaia closes to two points in championship

MotoGP Thai Grand Prix
Mirco Lazzari / Getty Images
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Miguel Oliveira mastered mixed conditions on the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand to win the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix. Oliveira showed the adaptability as he navigated a race that began in wet conditions and turned dry over the course of the race. Oliveira won the Indonesian GP in similar conditions.

“It was a long race, but I can’t complain,” Oliveira said on CNBC. “Every time we get to ride in the wet, I’m always super-fast. When it started raining, I had flashbacks of Indonesia. I tried to keep my feet on the ground, make a good start and not make mistakes and carry the bike to the end.”

All eyes were on the championship, however. Francesco Bagnaia got a great start to slot into second in Turn 1.

Meanwhile Fabio Quartararo had a disastrous first lap. He lost five positions in the first couple of turns and then rode over the rumble strips and fell back to 17th. At the end of the first lap, Bagnaia had the points’ lead by two. A win would have added to the gain and for a moment, it appeared Bagnaia might assume the lead.

Early leader Marco Bezzecchi was penalized for exceeding track limits, but before that happened, Jack Miller got around Bagnaia and pushed him back to third. Oliveira was not far behind.

After throwing away ninth-place and seven points on the last lap of the Japanese GP last week, Bagnaia did not allow the competition to press him into a mistake. He fell back as far as fourth before retaking the final position on the podium.

“It’s like a win for me, this podium,” Bagnaia. “My first podium in the wet and then there was a mix of conditions, so I’m very happy. I want to thank Jack Miller. Before the race, he gave me a motivational chat.”

Miller led the first half of the Thai Grand Prix before giving up the top spot to Oliveira and then held on to finish second. Coupled with his Japanese GP win, Miller is now fully in the MotoGP championship battle with a 40-point deficit, but he will need a string of results like Bagnaia has put together in recent weeks – and he needs Bagnaia to lose momentum.

Miller’s home Grand Prix in Australia is next up on the calendar in two weeks.

Bagnaia entered the race 18 points behind Quartararo after he failed to score any in Japan. The balance of power has rapidly shifted, however, with Quartararo now failing to earn points in two of the last three rounds. Bagnaia won four consecutive races and finished second in the five races leading up to Japan. His third-place finish in Thailand is now his sixth MotoGP podium in the last seven rounds.

Aleix Espargaro entered the race third in the standings with a 25-point deficit to Quartararo, but was able to close the gap by only five after getting hit with a long-lap penalty for aggressive riding when he pushed Darryn Binder off course during a pass for position. Espargaro finished 11th.

Rain mixed up the Moto2 running order in the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix as well. Starting on a wet track, Somkiat Chantra led the opening lap in his home Grand Prix. He could not hold onto it and crashed one circuit later, but still gave his countrymen a moment of pride by winning the pole.

Half points were awarded as the race went only eight laps before Tony Arbolino crossed under the checkers first with Filip Salac and Aron Canet rounding out the podium.

American Joe Roberts earned another top-10 in eighth with Sean Dylan Kelly finishing just outside the top 10 in 11th.