Kasey Kahne doesn't think he "stole" the race at the Lenox Industrial Tools 301, and he may be right. But at the very least, a healthy dose of luck played into Kahne's victory.
That luck could ultimately have big consequences for NASCAR, as the Hendrick Motorsports racer moved into the first wild card position with the win. Nobody who watched the race would say that Kahne didn't have a good car - he was near the front almost the entire time. Then again, not many would say he had the best car, either.
That honor would have to go to Denny Hamlin, who led 150 of the 301 laps and looked like he had the race in the bag as it got closer to the end. Yet a miscommunication between Hamlin and his crew chief, Darien Grubb, ultimately cost him the race.
Hamlin was in the lead when he went in for his final pit of the day. The driver wanted to keep his good track position with a quick pit, so he could beat the other racers back onto the track.
Yet when Hamlin radioed Grubb, there was a breakdown in communication. Hamlin only wanted two new tires on the car, but Grubb sent out the crew to put on four tires.
"Darian asked me how much of the tires I felt I'd used up. I felt like I had used up a substantial amount," Hamlin told ESPN. "[I said] give me tires and no adjustments. He thought I meant four tires. Nothing's a given. Even though it looked like we had one in the bag if we took two tires, you never know."
Four tires take a bit longer to put on than just two, and that was the edge Kahne needed. When Hamlin came out of pit road, he had fallen all the way back to thirteenth.
That didn't stop Hamlin from trying to win the race, and the closing minutes were essentially seeing if Hamlin could get back out front in time. Yet in the end, Hamlin just ran out of time. He made it all the way back to second place, but Kahne got the victory.
That wasn't the only lucky break that Kahne benefitted from. For much of the race, Kahne was separated from Hamlin by Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch in second and third, respectively. Johnson and Busch pitted at the same time late in the race, but they picked a bad time to do it. While they were on pit road, David Reutimann's engine went out. Although Reutimann turned off to the side, NASCAR officials determined that the fluids leaked onto the track warranted a caution.
Racers on pit road when the caution comes down ultimately lose a lap. While Johnson regained his lap due to the "Lucky Dog" rule, Busch was stuck a lap down. Johnson then had to race from the back of the pack, and ultimately made it all the way to seventh before the race ended.
After the race, Johnson restrained himself from criticizing the decision to throw a caution, as many felt that Reutimann's engine failure posed no risk to the other drivers.
"I'm going to keep my mouth shut on that caution," Johnson told NASCAR News Service. "Anyway, we had a great race car, a lot of speed in the car. It was the Gibbs cars and the Hendrick cars. And at times, I was the best Hendrick car running in the top three."
Kahne's win ultimately gave him two victories for the year and moved him from 16th to 12th in the overall standings. Because he has more wins than any other driver ranked 11th through 20th, Kahne is in position to be the first Wild Card racer in the Chase for the Cup later this year.