NASCAR Barometer: Kahne Takes Surprise Brickyard Win

NASCAR Barometer: Kahne Takes Surprise Brickyard Win

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

An early summer storm disrupted the start of Sunday's Brickyard 400, but that and multiple crashes didn't hold Kasey Kahne back from snatching a much-needed win in Sunday's Brickyard 400. The Hendrick Motorsports driver took advantage of circumstances with some fortunate moves to lead 12 laps from the 19th starting position, claim the win and book a spot in the playoffs. It was a surprise win from a driver who desperately needed the shot in the arm, as questions over his future continue to mount.

Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. had the fastest cars in the field throughout the afternoon but didn't close out the effort. The pair seemed to be in a race of their own as the rest of the field battled one another seconds behind the leaders, but they took each other out on a late restart. Their demise opened the door for varied pit strategy, which enabled new faces to appear in the top 10 and have a shot at victory. In the end, multiple overtime restarts and a well-time stop for tires and fueled gave Kahne the positioning he needed. He then seized the opportunity and out-dueled Brad Keselowski to capture one of the marquee wins of the series.

UPGRADE

Kasey Kahne – Kahne got the break he needed late Sunday in the Brickyard 400. A fortunate pit stop just before a red-flag period and then a monster restart, enabled Kahne to steal an unlikely win with his future at Hendrick Motorsports squarely on

An early summer storm disrupted the start of Sunday's Brickyard 400, but that and multiple crashes didn't hold Kasey Kahne back from snatching a much-needed win in Sunday's Brickyard 400. The Hendrick Motorsports driver took advantage of circumstances with some fortunate moves to lead 12 laps from the 19th starting position, claim the win and book a spot in the playoffs. It was a surprise win from a driver who desperately needed the shot in the arm, as questions over his future continue to mount.

Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. had the fastest cars in the field throughout the afternoon but didn't close out the effort. The pair seemed to be in a race of their own as the rest of the field battled one another seconds behind the leaders, but they took each other out on a late restart. Their demise opened the door for varied pit strategy, which enabled new faces to appear in the top 10 and have a shot at victory. In the end, multiple overtime restarts and a well-time stop for tires and fueled gave Kahne the positioning he needed. He then seized the opportunity and out-dueled Brad Keselowski to capture one of the marquee wins of the series.

UPGRADE

Kasey Kahne – Kahne got the break he needed late Sunday in the Brickyard 400. A fortunate pit stop just before a red-flag period and then a monster restart, enabled Kahne to steal an unlikely win with his future at Hendrick Motorsports squarely on the line. The veteran driver now has a spot booked in the playoffs that will, at a minimum, serve to advertise his abilities as he looks to settle his future in the series. Kahne has a contract with Hendrick for 2018, but questions surround his ability to consistently deliver top results as well as sponsorship. He has a chance to prove the doubters wrong after Sunday's career-high win on one of the biggest stages.

Kevin Harvick – Harvick did well to put his Ford on the front row in qualifying for Sunday's Brickyard 400. The former Brickyard winner then immediately succumbed to the domination of the two Toyotas of Truex and Kyle Busch. The pair's demise brought a glimmer of opportunity to the Harvick camp, however. Pit strategy cycled him too far back to truly make an impact in the final laps, but as the overtime restarts piled up, Harvick found his way further forward to end up sixth. It may have been a victory that got away, but the top-10 is his fourth in the last five races. Harvick has never won at Pocono, but he only finished outside of the top 10 once in the last six races there.

Ryan Newman – Hometown driver Newman used home field advantage to his benefit on Sunday. The Richard Childress Racing driver, with a 2017 victory in his pocket, used his visit to Indianapolis Motor Speedway to build momentum in the run up to the playoffs. He kept his nose clean throughout the race's carnage and came home third after the overtime restarts were complete. That top-five was his fourth of the season and second in the last five races. He's an underdog in the championship battle, but his ability to be in the mix marks a significant turnaround at the organization. Newman started 10th and finished 14th at Pocono earlier this season, and won at the circuit back in 2003.

Brad Keselowski – Ford started the 2017 season with a clear power advantage. That edge faded as the summer approached, and Keselowski's fortunes faded along with it. With two finishes worse than 30th in two of the three races leading up to the Brickyard 400, it was a valid question to ask if the team would regain their footing before the playoffs. They seem to have done just that. Keselowski drove an assured race on Sunday and was always in the mix in the top 10, which gave him a clear shot at victory in the final overtime miles. Kahne beat him on Sunday, but the second-place finish is Keselowski's best since finishing third in Sonoma. This team may have rediscovered its swagger with consecutive top-10s heading to Pocono.

DOWNGRADE

Martin Truex Jr. – Truex closed on Kyle Busch in the final laps of Sunday's first segment but didn't get close enough to make a pass or get off pit road with the lead for the second segment. The pair was also fastest in that segment and finished it on top, but it all came undone on a restart where the two made contact in turn one and crashed out of a race either one of them could have easily won. These two have been among the best drivers this season and ultimately beat each other on Sunday. Both will walk away feeling disappointed but both need to recover quickly. Truex finished sixth at Pocono earlier this season and won at the circuit in 2015.

Kyle Busch – Busch not only earned pole position for Sunday's race but he jumped out to the lead at the start as if he had been fired from a cannon. He won that first stage, leading all of the laps in the segment, making it 400 consecutive miles he led at the track when combined with the laps he led at the speedway last season. The second segment required more work, but he found a way back to the front yet again. However, he still walks away winless after colliding with the only car that could compete with him. Busch has to be wondering when his top efforts will convert into a win. He watched domination slip past again on Sunday.

Chase Elliott – Elliott began to suffer problems with his machine shortly after the rain delay. With less than 30 laps into the race he began to drop down the running order and was significantly off of the pace. He struggled on through most of the first segment but ultimately lost the motor before making it to that first waypoint. It was the first time Elliott was unable to finish a race due to a motor failure, and it came at one of the biggest races of the season. The young driver has two top-10 finishes from three Pocono starts and led 51 laps at the circuit in the spring race last season. He finished eighth there earlier this summer.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. – Poor track position meant Earnhardt was buried deep in the field on a restart in segment 2 of Sunday's race. He then became the meat in a sandwich of cars and hit the car ahead of him. That contact caused significant damage and sent him immediately behind the wall and out of his final Brickyard 400. The team still needs to fix the small things that are robbing them of competitive finishes, and the season is quickly slipping away without a playoff spot in his final season of full-time competition. This week's race could be his best opportunity to grab a late win. He has two victories at Pocono but dropped out of the race there earlier this season.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – Stenhouse was running 15th on the restart for the final segment of Sunday's race but lost control while racing Jimmie Johnson and spun into the inside wall. The front-end damage ended his day and took away a chance for him to outperform expectations. With two wins, this has already been Stenhouse's best season in the series, but that momentum is starting to show at tracks where you wouldn't expect him to be at his best. A top run last week may have enabled him to carry confidence into Pocono where he has never scored a top-10. He came close earlier this year when he finished 11th with three laps led. Fantasy players should watch to see how he reacts and if he recovers that confidence quickly.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Erik Jones – Jones was not one of the dominant cars in Indianapolis, but he drove smartly and took advantage of the openings that were afforded him. He cycled to the front of the field mid-race to get some laps out front and found himself in contention for the win when the top two contenders took one another out. Differing pit strategies put him back in the field in the closing laps, but that shouldn't dissuade fantasy owners from seeing him as a contender for the future. Jones started 15th and finished third at Pocono earlier this season in another impressive performance. He led 20 laps in that effort and is likely to be even stronger with experience when he revisits the track this weekend.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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