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Kahne Stakes Claim To Keep Hendrick Ride with Dramatic Victory in Brantley Gilbert Big Machine Brickyard 400

Sure, Kasey Kahne wondered if he would ever win again.

And it’s not like he could block out the media speculation that his No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet SS ride with Hendrick Motorsports might be in jeopardy after this season. Although signed through 2018, Kahne arrived at Indianapolis Motor Speedway last weekend on a 102-race winless streak.

At the end of a physically and emotionally draining Sunday, in a crash-filled race that took 6 hours, 14 minutes to finish and included three red flags, Kahne drove with determination until dark and departed minutes before sunset with a much-needed confidence boost to win the Brantley Gilbert Big Machine Brickyard 400.

It could be the biggest win of the 18 triumphs in his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career, considering the timing of the accomplishment. His future is still uncertain. On a day that began with a press conference to announce Alex Bowman taking over the car of retiring teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. next season, owner Rick Hendrick was non-committal on the future of the No. 5 car.

If nothing else, Kahne asserted he shouldn’t be counted out just yet.

“I think this just shows I still want to win races,” Kahne said. “This shows that I gave it all that I can to get a win. It shows that I'm passionate about driving stock cars, that I can still win races, too.

“I have a deal through 2018 with Hendrick Motorsports. (You) hear a lot of things, but tough to say exactly what's going to happen because I don't know at this point this time. I know me and Mr. H will figure it out.”

Hendrick said before and reiterated after celebrating his record 10th Brickyard 400 victory that nothing had been decided on the No. 5 car.

Asked what the win means for Kahne, Hendrick said: “Puts him in the Chase, in the Playoffs. You know, we're excited about that. I hope this turns the corner. The team’s had a lot of bad luck.”

Kahne indeed qualifies for the playoffs with the win, but the big-picture question isn’t going away. Hendrick was later asked specifically if Kahne will be driving the No. 5 car next season.

“Our plans are not set for the 5 car,” the owner said. “You guys asked me that this morning, and I told you that we hadn't made any plans yet. There's nothing concrete or done, and that hasn't changed.

“We'll see how things shake out the rest of the year. There's a lot of things involved, sponsors and a lot of things we look at. We're going to try hard. But there's no decisions made at this time.”

Kahne, 37, of Enumclaw, Washington, was a capable Cup contender from his debut in 2004, when he won Rookie of the Year honors. His three biggest triumphs before Sunday came in the Coca-Cola 600 in 2006, 2008 and 2012.

But driving for Hendrick means living with the highest of expectations. Consider who Hendrick celebrated with in the previous nine Brickyard 400 victories — Jeff Gordon five times and Jimmie Johnson four times.

“I think it's a huge moral victory for him and everyone on our team,” crew chief Keith Rodden said of Kahne. “He does an incredible job. I don't think he gets near the credit that he deserves. I feel like every race we actually run pretty good lap times at some point in the race, (but) we never can get anybody to pay any attention to us. We don't have the exposure, not high enough, don't qualify high enough, something happens, get a flat tire, get caught by a caution.

“I feel like when you start letting that all pile on, it just builds and builds and builds. I think today we caught a break. At the same time, he had to defend everyone else that was left in the race and have really good restarts three times in a row. Ultimately, restarted second and won the race. I think that says a lot to his talent and his ability. I was really glad that happened.”

The fact that Kahne is quiet and understated might suggest he lacks the competitive fire to race with NASCAR’s best, an assertion Rodden vehemently refutes.

“As far as his passion, he's really quiet,” Rodden said. “Just because you're quiet doesn't mean you don't want it. You don't need to scream and shout.”

Kahne, who overcame cramping throughout his body late in the race, visited the IU Health Emergency Medical Center in the infield to receive intravenous fluids afterward.

The groggy winner looked and sounded relieved more than anything but acknowledged a win of this magnitude will impact his perspective moving forward.

“Maybe just be more, like, excited to be at the track, you know, more excited,” he said. “I love driving the cars. I love racing. I go and race my sprint car when I have time because I enjoy that stuff. But just be a little more happy in doing it.

“There are a lot of reasons to be happy. After a win like this, hopefully that gets all of us just pointed in the right direction a little bit better, working for each other a little bit more, having faith in each other. I think all those things help. There has to be things that you lack after a couple years of not winning races.”

In seems a lifetime ago, in 1999, when Kahne moved to Indianapolis and spent three summers based in the Hoosier capital city while racing USAC Sprints and Midgets. He and his father took the tram ride around the IMS 2.5-mile oval, and Kahne envisioned himself racing on that track someday.

Three years later with nothing happening at the facility, he hopped a fence to get into Gasoline Alley. Kahne’s curious jog lasted about two minutes before security caught up with him and he was ejected.

“I just wanted to run around the racetrack,” he said. “(I’ve) spent a lot of time here thinking and dreaming about winning at this track.”

On Sunday’s final restart, Kahne passed leader Brad Keselowski to achieve that dream, winning when another crash behind them brought out the caution flag.

“I think the best thing for me is I get a call from (21-month-old son) Tanner on FaceTime after a race, and I'm instantly happy from my son,” Kahne said. “That's who I got to stay happy and grounded in my life.

“But as far as the team stuff goes, I just keep trying hard. I keep working hard. I keep wanting it.”

Race fans can renew their tickets now for the 2018 Big Machine Brickyard 400 and Lilly Diabetes 250 – at 2017 prices – as the annual NASCAR race weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway enters an exciting new era next year.

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race will move to the cooler temperatures of Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018, with NASCAR XFINITY Series action also taking place during the race weekend. The Big Machine Brickyard 400 will serve as the final race of the regular season, determine the regular-season champion and set the field for the NASCAR Playoffs, which begin the following weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Fans are encouraged to renew or upgrade their Big Machine Brickyard 400 event weekend tickets at www.ims.com/renew. The renewal window will continue through Monday, Aug. 7.

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