And under the lights during Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400, Kahne was contending for the win in the closing laps when he got wrecked by Marcos Ambrose. Of course, like most racing incidents, who was actually to blame for the crash that took Kahne out was hotly disputed after the race.
It happened like this: On Lap 156 of the scheduled 160-lap race, the field was heading down the backstretch with eventual race-winner Jimmie Johnson running the outside lane and Kahne second on the inside. Johnson drifted high and Marcos Ambrose, who was third, tried to dive below Johnson and pass him for the lead. Johnson pinched down on Ambrose, who went into Kahne. In turn, Kahne’s Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet went nose first into the inside wall on the backstretch.
Instead of winning or finishing second, Kahne ended the race 32nd and plenty frustrated.
“Jimmie moved up to block the outside row coming so I kind of at that point had the lead,” said Kahne. “…Next thing I know I got slammed and shot left. It was the end of our night.”
Ambrose blamed Johnson.
“He (Johnson) moved down off the wall and ran into me and then I moved to try to get away from him a little bit and just pushed me straight into the 5 (Kahne),” said Ambrose.
For his part, Johnson admitted he threw a block on Ambrose, but both he and crew chief Chad Knaus insisted Johnson’s car never touched Ambrose’s.
Regardless of how it all happened, the end result was another bad finish for Kahne at a restrictor-plate track.
“It’s kind of how these races go,” Kahne said. “You don’t have a lot of control over some of the things that happen here. I’m happy our car was fast and we put a good showing out. We ran up front the whole race.”
The one consolation? There’s always next year.
In 2012 at Daytona, Johnson’s average finish in the two Daytona NASCAR Sprint Cup races was 39th. This year, it’s 1st. Kahne can only hope for a similar reversal of fortune in 2014.