LONG POND, Pa. - Kasey Kahne started on the pole for yesterday's Pocono 500, but he could not maintain the lead on the first tour around the 2.5-mile tri-oval.
But by battling throughout the sweltering afternoon, and overcoming a pit-road gaffe that shuffled him back to 38th on Lap 60, Kahne managed to lead the most important lap - No. 200 - to post his ninth career win.
"I've never had a car that dominant; it was great all day," Kahne said after visiting Pocono Raceway's Victory Lane for the first time in nine starts.
Kahne's No. 9 Gillett Evernham Motorsports Dodge surged into the lead with 16 laps to go and checked out, crossing the finish line 3.7 seconds ahead of runner-up Brian Vickers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series event.
"It's tough racing all the way through the field here, but I could go anywhere on the track with this Budweiser Dodge," Kahne said. Crew chief "Kenny [Francis] does a great job, better than anybody I've ever worked with. He had a great [fuel mileage] plan."
Still, it was Francis who took the blame for an early pit stop that went awry.
"I called for a two-tire stop and then realized that the front tire changer had removed three lug nuts" on the left side tire, Francis said. "We had to bring Kasey back in, and it wasn't until he drove into the top 15 on a restart that I figured I could stop kicking myself."
Kahne led for 69 laps and was one of a dozen drivers who ran up front on a day that slogged on for long stretches.
Six cautions and a red-flag period for rain that halted the action for 7 minutes, 48 seconds contributed to an excruciatingly slow pace over the first half of the race. The span from the opening green flag to the 100th completed lap covered a numbing 2 hours, 20 minutes.
Denny Hamlin, who took third, went in search of liquid relief upon climbing out of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.
"This feels like the longest race I've ever been a part of," Hamlin said. "These cars are way too hot. They're hotter than the old car, by far."
It was also a forgettable experience for NASCAR Sprint Cup Series leader Kyle Busch, who ended up last in the 43-car field.
Although Busch qualified 10th fastest on Friday, a crash during practice Saturday forced the Joe Gibbs Racing team to roll out a backup car and, by rule, sent Busch's No. 18 Toyota to the back of the field for the start of the race.
In completing a historic triple - competing in NASCAR's top three series at tracks in three states over three days - Busch had barely made a move toward the front when he collided with Jamie McMurray on Lap 47. The sight of Busch's yellow Camry limping to the garage with significant damage brought a huge cheer from the crowd, estimated at 105,000.
Busch, far from a crowd favorite on the circuit, saw his lead in the points standings cut to 21 points over Jeff Burton, who finished fifth.
NASCAR's Bermuda Triangle also wreaked havoc with several highly successful open-wheel racers who were making their maiden visits to Pocono.
Cup rookies Sam Hornish Jr., Patrick Carpentier and Dario Franchitti endured a litany of tribulations, with no one in the trio finishing better than 32d.
Even second-year stock-car driver Juan Pablo Montoya, who posted a pair of top-20 efforts here last season, had to survive a trial by fire. The Colombian escaped his burning No. 42 Dodge after a crash on Lap 80 and wound up 38th.
The Sprint Cup Series continues Sunday with the LifeLock 400 at Michigan International Speedway.