It was the sort of moment when the race leader doesn’t necessarily want to be the race leader.
Kasey Kahne was in that spot with 15 laps to go in the Coca-Cola 600. His team decided not to pit during the final caution; every other driver in the lead group did pit.
Kahne was suddenly on an island of his own. Without fresh tires, he was almost certain to be passed over the race’s 11 closing green-flag laps.
In fact, he was passed on the first lap of green. Kevin Harvick, who pitted for two tires, zipped past Kahne on the restart and won the race easily, leaving Kahne, who had led 161 laps, in second place.
The circumstance was all too familiar for Kahne. He had strong cars in earlier races this year at Las Vegas and Kansas but finished second in each race.
“This is the third time we’ve been to a mile-and-half (track) and run second, and we’ve been the fastest car at all of them,” Kahne said.
“We had a great car from the drop of the green. I drove to the front from sixth. It was definitely our race to lose, especially those last hundred laps. We thought some of the guys would stay out [during the last caution] and that that would be a big enough buffer to someone who had two or four tires and we could get away.
“Harvick held it flat through one and two, and I had to lift. When I went back down, he was in front of me. That was the end of our race, and I just made sure we got second from there.”
Crew chief Kenny Francis apologized to Kahne after the race, but he was in a difficult situation. If he had decided to pit and the other leaders had stayed out, Kahne would have been in trouble on another level.
“We were in a tough spot,” Kahne said. “We raced all day, and I thought we were in a really good position at the end and just didn’t get it done.
“But it was a solid, great performance by the whole team. We just didn’t get the win. I feel good about where we’re at. We’re good on these tracks. We just need to finish it off.”
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 31 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.