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.”
The focus of the Detroit Monster Energy Supercross round was on the mid-pack battle while Aaron Plessinger pulled away from the field, but when he crashed after hooking his foot in the dirt, the results once more looked like we’ve come to expect, with Chase Sexton, Cooper Webb and Eli Tomac sharing the podium for the fifth time in 10 rounds.
For Sexton, Plessinger’s late-race crash was a vindication of sorts. Several times already this season, Sexton has crashed while battling for the lead and the points that has cost him keeps him sporting the red plate. He lost points in Detroit for a different reason, however.
Sexton was allowed to keep the win, but was penalized seven points for jumping in a red cross section of the course. As a result, he dropped four points to Webb and two to Tomac. Sexton is now 17 points behind Webb in the championship hunt.
One week after snatching the red plate from Tomac for the first time in 2023, Webb stretched his advantage by two. With his second-place finish, Webb holds a three-point lead over Tomac, which essentially means both riders control their fate in the coming weeks. Webb continues to have a sweep of the top five this season with his sixth consecutive podium.
Coming off his worst finish of the season, Tomac rebounded to finish third. His eighth-place result last week was partially attributed to a stiff neck that hindered him in traffic and he still suffered some of those same effects in Detroit. Before Plessinger’s crash, he was destined to be the only rider in the three-man title scrum to finish off the podium in Detroit.
It is surprising what one position can do for one’s confidence.
Justin Barcia scored his fourth top-five of the season. He was part of the exciting four-man battle that dominated the middle stages of the race before Sexton and Webb gained a little separation. Finishing less than three seconds behind Tomac, he kept that rider honest for the entire race.
Coming off his first win of the season, Ken Roczen finished fifth. It was his seventh top-five of the season and it elevated him to fifth in the standings.
Hunter Lawrence tied his brother Jett Lawrence with 10 wins each after another dominating ride in the Detroit Supercross race and the results in the points continue to widen. With his fifth win in six rounds and a worst finish of third, Lawrence now has a 35-point advantage over Nate Thrasher with four rounds remaining. Finishes of 14th or better in the final four mains will give him his first 250 championship.
Jett will have an opportunity to retake his wins’ lead as Supercross heads west for the next two rounds in Seattle and Glendale, Arizona.
Nate Thrasher earned his third second-place finish of the season with a gap of 7.6 seconds to Lawrence. He won the overall in Arlington earlier this season, but a 15th-place finish in the opening round in Houston and 10th in Daytona hurts his championship chances.
Haiden Deegan scored his second podium and fourth top-five in six rounds of his young career. On his way to that finish, he rode aggressively against his teammate Jordon Smith in the heat race. Fans are getting a glimpse of what his on-track personality might be.
Jeremy Martin continues to be the model of consistency. He has not finished worse than sixth or better than fourth in six rounds now and that has allowed him to close to within two points of third in the 250 East championship standings.
Max Anstie entered the race weekend second in the points, but a hard crash in heavy traffic early in the main forced him to retire after two laps. Earning only one point for the round, he plummeted to fifth in the standings.
The news was worse for Smith, who was dropped out of the top nine in his heat after the altercation with Deegan and failed to advance through the LCQ. In the last chance race, he stalled his engine and had to mount a determined charge. He got only as high as seventh in that race after crashing while attempting to make a pass on fourth-place Jack Chambers.