INDIANAPOLIS — The marathon that was the Brickyard 400 produced the moment of the 2017 season Sunday as Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne and Brad Keselowski went three-wide into turn three on what they thought was the next-to-last lap of the race.
It wasn’t. Johnson — whose car was smoking as the three drove into the corner — went spinning into the wall. Two wrecks later, Kahne was in victory lane for his first win since August 2014 and is also in NASCAR’s playoffs.
Kahne had the lead after Johnson’s wreck but lost it on the ensuing restart to Keselowski, who accelerated quicker and had the lead when the field wrecked behind them as the green flag flew.
After a 24-minute delay, Keselowski took the outside line on the next restart and Kahne beat him into turn one. Kahne had the lead as Denny Hamlin and others crashed on the backstretch.
Because the race was in overtime, NASCAR’s overtime line came into play. Kahne wasn’t even close to the overtime line when the wreck happened. But perhaps wanting the race to end because of the darkness enveloping the track, NASCAR waited a handful of seconds to call for the caution after Kahne crossed the OT line and he was declared the winner.
Kahne entered Sunday’s race outside the top 20 in points and with his career seemingly at a crossroads. His contract with Hendrick Motorsports is set to expire at the end of 2018 and his No. 5 car needs sponsorship for two-thirds of the 2018 season as two longtime sponsors have said they’re leaving at the end of the season.
“To win at this track is unreal. We used to always be really close. We lost to [Jeff Gordon in 2014] and we lost to [Tony Stewart in 2005]; just some fast cars back then. Today’s strategy got us here.”
His status at Hendrick has been the source of much speculation and team owner Rick Hendrick said after the race there had been no decisions about the No. 5 car for 2018 made “at this time.”
“I have a deal through 2018 with Hendrick Motorsports,” Kahne said. “Hear a lot of things, but tough to say exactly what’s going to happen because I don’t know at this point this time. I know me and [Hendrick] will figure it out.”
“But I think this just shows that I want to do it, and that I still have the drive and passion to do it, and I enjoy it. So I’m going to keep trying hard, I know that.”
Much like Keselowski, Kahne was in position for the win thanks to some pit strategy. He stayed out on the track after a wreck with 12 scheduled laps to go because he had just pitted previously. Keselowski, meanwhile, had stretched his fuel to the limit before the caution in the hopes of getting the yellow flag.
The race took over six hours from its start time of after 2:45 p.m. ET thanks to three red flags, including a 107-minute red flag for a thunderstorm 12 laps into the race. And it also included a crash that took out the two fastest cars in Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch.
Busch was the dominant car in the race’s first two stages and Truex wasn’t far behind. But as the two raced into turn one on a restart on lap 112, Truex got loose under Busch and both cars went spinning into the wall.
Kahne’s newfound presence in the NASCAR playoffs tentatively bumps Clint Bowyer to the outside with six races left before the postseason.
Kahne is the 12th driver to guarantee a spot in the playoffs via a win, joining
Martin Truex Jr. Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Larson, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Austin Dillon. The other spots outside of winners are filled with the drivers highest in the points standings, and right now those positions go to Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, Jamie McMurray and Matt Kenseth.
Bowyer is 33 points behind Kenseth and Joey Logano is 18 points behind Bowyer.
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