Monday, May 28, 2012

Kahne Tames Early Hendrick Woes to Win Coca-Cola 600

Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR

NASCAR's Memorial day Sunday counterpart to the Indianapolis 500, 43 Sprint Cup Series cars were readied for a race into the night at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The longest race on the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series calender, the Coca-Cola 600 started under the early evening sun with the #43 Ford of Aric Almirola leading the field to a green flag for 400 laps. In the Thursday qualifying, a strong effort by the Richard Petty Motorsports cars of Almirola and the #9 of Marcos Ambrose secured the front row positions at the 1.5-mile Charlotte track.

When green fell on the Coca-Cola 600, the Richard Petty Motorsport Ford Fusion stock cars would exchange the lead on three occasions in the first 6 laps. On lap 9, another member the Ford brigade would break Richard Petty Motorsports very early hold of the 400-lap event. The #16 Roush Fenway Racing Ford of Greg Biffle pass on Ambrose amounted to what would be 204 laps leading the Coca-Cola 600. After another brief exchange of the first spot with Marcos Ambrose's #9 car, Biffle's #16 Ford would lead from lap 23 for 90 consecutive circuits around the Charlotte Motor Speedway oval.

Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Greg Biffle's domination in the first quarter of the Coca-Cola 600 was aided by the lack of a yellow flag slowing the NASCAR Sprint Cup field. Completing 113 caution-free laps opening the race, debris on the racetrack finally slowed the stock cars. After not seeing a caution for the race's first 169.5 miles, lap 113 to lap 179 would see the yellow flag pop out for what was four of the five caution periods during the Coca-Cola 600 event. All but one of the yellow flags in the event were a result of debris (Travis Kvapil's #93 Toyota scraping with the turn 4 wall on lap 174 was the only exception).

Past the halfway point of the event, the race-contending #9 Ford of Marcos Ambrose was brought to the garage due to a damaged hub on his racing machine. Though the determined Richard Petty Motorsports team were able to return Ambrose to the racetrack after losing just 13 laps to the garage, the effort by the #9 car resulted in a 32nd place finish for the Tasmanian driver. A similar hub failure was also connected to a loss of laps for the #22 Penske Racing Dodge of AJ Allmendinger.

The season for Kasey Kahne started with 4 finishes of 29th or worse in the first 6 races. After a 38th place finish at the Martinsville race, Kahne and the #5 Hendrick Motorsport team turned their fortunes around by placing in the top-8 in each of the five NASCAR Sprint Cup races leading up to the Cola-Cola 600. Taking the lead of the 2012 Coca-Cola 600 for the first time on lap 220, Kahne's #5 Chevrolet blazed to the front of the field just as the lights brightened the Charlotte Motor Speedway. A race Kasey Kahne had won twice before, the pursuit of his first win with Hendrick Motorsports was coming fruition in the second-half of the Charlotte Motor Speedway event.

In the last 180 laps of the Coca-Cola 600, it was largely a battle between the #5 Chevrolet of Kasey Kahne and the #16 Ford driven by Greg Biffle. On lap 357, the race's final lead change resulted in Kahne out front of the NASCAR Sprint Cup event. Crossing the line with a 4.3 second advantage over second-place, the win for the #5 Chevrolet is the second win of the season for Hendrick Motorsports. For driver Kasey Kahne, he has now won a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race driving for all four active manufacturers on the 2012 stock car tour.

Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Unseating Greg Biffle from the top-3 in the Coca-Cola 600, Denny Hamlin finished a strong second in the #11 Toyota and #18 car of Kyle Busch came across the line third for Joe Gibbs Racing. With Biffle finishing fourth, the Roush Fenway Racing driver holds onto the NASCAR Sprint Cup points lead by 10 points over teammate Matt Kenseth. Brad Keselowski's #2 Dodge rounded out the top-5 in a race that was completed at a record average speed of 155.687 miles per hour.

Winning the last two races on the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series tour, Hendrick Motorsports delivered a strong overall performance with all 4 cars in the top-11. Dale Earnhardt Jr finished 6th and Jeff Gordon's #24 Chevrolet finished 7th (only Gordon's 3rd top-10 result in a difficult 2012 season. While Johnson did not lead a lap during the 600-mile event, the #48 Hendrick Motorsports car was considered a contender for the throughout the course of the Charlotte Motor Speedway event based on the previous weekend's performance in the Sprint All-Star race. However, a late pit miscue by the #48 crew caused by a stuck fuel can resulted in a penalty that would prevent Johnson from climbing any higher than 11th place.

Next race for the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series tour is the FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks at Dover International Speedway on June 3rd. Matt Kenseth is the defending winner of the last Spring race at the Dover 1-mile track.

2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup
Coca-Cola 600
Charlotte Motor Speedway
Race Results

1 5 Kasey Kahne Quaker State Chevrolet
2 11 Denny Hamlin FedEx Ground Toyota
3 18 Kyle Busch M&M's Red-White-Blue Toyota
4 16 Greg Biffle Fastenal Ford
5 2 Brad Keselowski Miller Lite Dodge
6 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. National Guard-An American Salute Chevrolet
7 24 Jeff Gordon Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet
8 29 Kevin Harvick Budweiser Folds of Honor Chevrolet
9 99 Carl Edwards Fastenal Ford
10 17 Matt Kenseth Fastenal Ford
11 48 Jimmie Johnson Lowe's Patriotic Chevrolet
12 56 Martin Truex Jr. NAPA Auto Parts Toyota
13 15 Clint Bowyer 5-hour Energy Toyota
14 39 Ryan Newman US ARMY Chevrolet
15 27 Paul Menard Menards/Serta Chevrolet
16 43 Aric Almirola US Air Force Ford
17 78 Regan Smith Furniture Row Chevrolet
18 83 Landon Cassill Burger King Real Fruit Smoothies Toyota
19 31 Jeff Burton Wheaties Chevrolet
20 42 Juan Pablo Montoya Target Chevrolet
21 1 Jamie McMurray Bass Pro Shops/Arctic Cat Chevrolet
22 13 Casey Mears GEICO Ford
23 20 Joey Logano Dollar General Toyota
24 21 Trevor Bayne Motorcraft/Quick Lane Tire & Auto Ctr. Ford
25 14 Tony Stewart Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet
26 38 David Gilliland Mod Space Ford
27 51 Kurt Busch Phoenix Construction Services Inc Chevrolet
28 47 Bobby Labonte Kingsford Charcoal Toyota
29 93 Travis Kvapil Dr. Pepper Toyota
30 10 Danica Patrick Chevrolet
31 32 TJ Bell Green Smoke Ford
32 9 Marcos Ambrose DeWalt Ford
33 22 AJ Allmendinger Shell Pennzoil Dodge
34 55 Mark Martin Aaron's Armed Forces Foundation Toyota
35 34 David Ragan Al's Liners/Scorpion Coatings Ford
36 98 Michael McDowell Presbyterian Healthcare Ford
37 95 Scott Speed Jordan Truck Sales Ford
38 30 David Stremme Inception Motorsports Toyota
39 33 Stephen Leicht Little Joe's Autos/Precon Chevrolet
40 36 Dave Blaney SealWrap Chevrolet
41 87 Joe Nemechek AM/FM Energy / SWM Toyota
42 74 Cole Whitt Turn One Racing Chevrolet
43 26 Josh Wise MDS Transport Ford

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