CONCORD, N.C. — Kasey Kahne powered to victory in the Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday night, taking NASCAR’s longest race for the third time for his first win with Hendrick Motorsports.
Kahne also gave car owner Rick Hendrick his 201st Sprint Cup series victory.
Kahne crossed the finish line nearly 5 seconds ahead of Denny Hamlin. Kyle Busch was third and series points leader Greg Biffle fourth.
“It’s just so great to win for Mr. Hendrick,” Kahne said.
As Kahne celebrated, teammate Jeff Gordon gave him a bear hug and told him, “Proud of you.”
Kahne became the 16th Hendrick driver for to take the checkered flag.
It was Kahne’s 13th career win and first since last November in Phoenix.
Hendrick drivers were all near the top. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was sixth, and Gordon seventh — just his third top 10 finish of the season.
Five-time series champion Jimmie Johnson was 11th. He was in contention until the final pit stop when he left with his gas can still engaged, dragging his crew member along. NASCAR docked him with a stop-and-go penalty to end his chances.
Danica Patrick, the first woman to drive in the race since Janet Guthrie in 1976, was five laps down in 30th. Still, it was her best finish in three career Sprint Cup races.
Patrick says “this is still good experience for me and that’s what this is all about.”
Patrick says she got nostalgic earlier in the day watching the Indianapolis 500 on television and is considering running both races in the same day at some point.
For now, Patrick is done with Sprint Cup racing for a while. Her next race is Aug. 25 at Bristol.
Car owner Chip Ganassi flew to Charlotte after celebrating Dario Franchitti’s win at the Indianapolis 500 earlier Sunday. Ganassi, part of Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, had hoped to double up with drivers Jamie McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya. But 250 laps in, McMurray was a lap down and Montoya two behind after needing an extra pit stop to tighten a loose wheel.
“The minute I walked into the garage, people were high-fiving me,” Ganassi said. “Right now, we’ve got to get our cars up the grid.”
It didn’t happen as Montoya finished two laps down in 20th and McMurray right behind in 21st.
For much of this race, it looked as if Biffle wouldn’t be caught. He led 204 laps to dominate early and was clearly best as the race began in the hot, bright sunshine. Once the night cooled off the track, Biffle was no match for Kahne.
“Kasey’s car was just better at night,” Biffle said.
An early crash took Patrick out of contention in the season-opening Daytona 500 and she finished 38th. Patrick returned to Sprint Cup two weeks ago at treacherous Darlington Raceway and lasted throughout at the track considered “Too Tough to Tame” and crossed the line in 31st.
Patrick’s goals this week were simply to be running at the end — and that she was. Starting 40th after a poor qualifying effort, Patrick quickly fell top laps down. But she held on throughout the long, long night.
Patrick also kept her humor. When she was cautioned by her team to keep hydrating, Patrick cracked, “Copy that. Every time you don’t get an answer to a question, that’s what I’m doing.”
Patrick’s next Sprint Cup race will be at Bristol Motor Speedway on Aug. 25.
Earnhardt had hoped to avenge last year’s heartbreaking loss when he ran out of fuel 700 feet from the finish line while leading. Earnhardt came as close to second and was drag-racing Hamlin for the lead on the final restart before as the large crowd at Charlotte Motor Speedway howled. Earnhardt, too, couldn’t keep up with his teammate and his winless drought grew to 141 races.
NASCAR’s king, career victory leader Richard Petty, had both his entries starting 1-2. But polesitter Aric Almirola quickly fell back and finished 16th. Marcos Ambrose, who started second, broke a wheel hub and ended up 32nd.
TALE OF TWO RACES: Howard Comstock of SRT Motorsports said the Coca-Cola 600 is a tale of two races because the first 300 miles are in the heat, while the last 300 are in the cool of the night.
He believes that benefits teams with experienced crew chiefs.
“If you don’t have adjustability built into the cars, you’re going to suffer because it’ll be hot and slippery the first part of the race and then we see the race getting faster as it goes on, rather than slower,” Comstock said. “Even though the track gets rubbered up there’s nothing like Charlotte with that cool night air and losing sunlight off the racetrack.”
MICHIGAN IS WAITING: The Sprint Cup series will be at the Michigan International Speedway on June 17 and early talk is the track is expected to be extremely quick after being repaved.
Jeff Gordon is among those who tested there.
“The track has a lot of grip and I’m anxious to see what happens when we get back there with multiple cars,” Gordon said. “And the temperatures are probably going to be a lot higher too. It’s going to be challenging to maintain the pace that we’re going to be able to run there. But I’ve always love Michigan and I was just happy to know that other than new pavement and a smooth race track, not a lot had changed, which I was happy to hear.”
LUGNUTS: Country singer Tim McGraw introduced the field Sunday. … Actress and swimsuit model Brooklyn Decker, a Charlotte native, served as the honorary race director. Prior to the race, she spent time in victory lane with Danica Patrick. They met while modeling swimsuits for Sports Illustrated.