It took a photo finish to prove that Kasey Kahne had indeed manage to edge Erik Jones by mere inches at the line to take victory in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series North Carolina Education Lottery 200 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Friday evening. The electronic timing translated that to a winning margin of just five thousandths of a second.
CLICK: Full race results from Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The dramatic green-white-chequered finish was a truly stunning climax to a genuinely thrilling race. Kahne's win was second-closest finish in series history - the closest was at Talladega in 2010 when Kyle Busch beat Aric Almirola by 0.002s. It's the first success for JR Motorsports' new Truck squad co-owned by Kahne's Cup team mate Dale Earnhardt Jr., and also hands Chevrolet its landmark 200th championship victory.
“We are very proud of Kasey Kahne and his win tonight at Charlotte Motor Speedway,” said Jim Campbell, US vice president of performance vehicles and motorsports for the manufacturer. "On behalf of everyone at Chevrolet, we congratulate the entire #00 Haas Automation JR Motorsports Silverado team on this milestone victory.
"The dedication and tireless effort of all our Team Chevy members have made this important achievement possible," Campbell added. "We salute all the drivers, team owners, and crews for their performance and contribution in securing each and every one of the 200 wins for Chevrolet from 1995 to 2015 in NASCAR's Camping World Truck Series."
It's only the sixth start that Kahne has ever made in the Truck Series since his début at Darlington way back in 2004, but he has an unparalleled success rate of five wins in those half dozen starts. The one that got away was Pocono in 2010, when he "only" finished in second place, and his most recent Truck race (and win) before this week was at Rockingham in 2012.
Kahne had earlier successfully claimed his first-ever Truck Series pole position, his final round lap clocking in just 0.055s ahead of that of Jones, who was back in his 'day job' for Kyle Busch Motorsports after weeks competing at Xfinity and Cup level with Joe Gibbs Racing. Kahne himself had been lucky to still be in the pole shoot-out at all, having narrowly scraped through when half the field had failed to set a second round fast lap time following Spencer Gallagher's spin in the GMS Racing #23 coming off turn 4.
However luck appeared to have run out for both Kahne and Jones as they were subsequently sent to the back of the field for the green flag, Kahne for having to replace a broken shock absorber after qualifying and Jones for being late to the drivers' meeting. That left Matt Tifft in effective pole position but he was quickly passed at the start by Brad Keselowski who had been promoted alongside him up to the new-look front row by the time the green flag came out.
Reigning Truck Series champion Matt Crafton wasted no time in catching and passing Keselowski for the lead on lap 5, and by the time Korbin Forrister spun out on lap 20 to trigger the first caution of the night Erik Jones had already managed to bounce straight back from his early penalty to pull up to Keselowski's rear fender in third place ahead of Tyler Reddick and Justin Jennings, with Tifft having faded to fifth ahead of Scott Lagasse Jr.
Keselowski had a slow pit stop under the caution and dropped to 23rd place for the restart which was headed by Crafton and Jones, with Kahne now completing his own recovery drive from the back to take up third place behind them. Jones was acutely aware of the threat and surged to the front and then did his best to disappear and hide, leading for all but four of the next 83 laps, the brief hiatus coming when Crafton won the race off pit road on lap 65 following a caution for Travis Kvapil blowing a tyre and crashing out.
It looked like Jones was out of reach of his pursuers, but another caution on lap 106 for Ray Black Jr. spinning in turn 2 reeled him back in again. Jones was still trying to get away from Kahne and Reddick when Mason Mingus spun on the backstretch and took a hard hit against the wall. When the race went green again it seemed that the momentum had swung to Kahne and this time it was his turn to start pulling inexorably away from the field leaving Jones struggling for matching pace. The 18-year-old dug deep and pushed the #4 for everything it had, risking overheating as he finally found a way past Kahne with just four laps remaining and it seemed all he had to do was keep it pointing in the right direction to clinch his first Truck win of the season.
Unfortunately it wasn't to be: on the penultimate scheduled lap of the race, Daniel Hemric hit the outside wall in turn 1 after a tyre went down on the NTS Motorsports #14. That set up a green-white-chequered sudden death play-off, and while Jones had the lead it also meant Kahne was right alongside him as they took the restart with two to go. The pair ran side-by-side battling all the way to the chequered flag; inevitably there was contact as the finish line approached and Kahne's truck wobbled ominously, but the Sprint Cup regular maintained control long enough to cross the finish line by less than a nose ahead of Jones, followed by Crafton, Reddick and Keselowski.
"That was a fun win, it felt good," said Kahne in victory lane afterwards. He was sitting in this week for the #00's regular driver Cole Custer, who at 17 is still too young to drive on NASCAR's 1.5-mile tracks including Charlotte. "Cole has a great team here.
"Jones was really fast," Kahne continued. "He was kind of in a league of his own when he could get to clean air. I knew if we could stay back and stay with him [at the end] as long as he didn't get to clean air, it would be all right.
"We just had another opportunity to use the side-draft. He did it to us [earlier] and I tried to use it on him then," he explained. "It worked out perfect to get back to the line."
Unfortunately the famous victory was somewhat marred by NASCAR's subsequent announcement that Kahne's truck had failed the post-race inspection for being too low in the front on both sides and too high on the right rear. Any penalties forthcoming as a consequence will be announced midweek, but won't affect the declared winner of the race.
Jones was apologetic to his pit crew over the team radio at being unable to seal the deal with a win despite leading for a race high of 88 laps compared with just 21 out in front for Kahne.
"To lead the most laps and lose two weeks in a row just sucks,” said a disconsolate Jones after the race, recalling last week's disappointment at Kansas when he ran out of fuel and was forced to make a late splash-and-dash that cost him a shot at the win. "It's really a shame that we can't bring it home.
"It just sucks. I don't know what to say. It just really, really hurts. I can't believe it, man. I really wanted this one, and it's hard to come home second," he continued, clearly frustrated at the last caution being called when he had a big lead in hand over Kahne. "I can't believe that NASCAR can't let us just finish the race," he said. "I can't believe that the lapped cars can't just let us finish the race.
"I really thought tonight was the night. Unfortunately, we just couldn't do it," he sighed. "We have fast trucks, but I wish we could win ... We'll just keep working harder."
In the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship standings, second place is still good enough to move Jones past Tyler Reddick for second place and slightly close the gap on current leader Matt Crafton to 16 points. In the owners standings, Crafton's #88 ThorSport Toyota holds the same margin lead over Jones' Kyle Busch Motorsport #4 heading into the sixth round of the season at Dover International Speedway on May 29.
See full race results, plus qualifying and practice speeds and full Camping World Truck Series championship standings.
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