By David Morgan, Associate Editor
A bridesmaid no more.
Kasey Kahne had come so close to capturing his first win in the NASCAR Cup Series in 2004 and early in the 2005 season only to agonizingly fall short over and over again, but when the series rolled into Richmond Raceway in May 2005 for the Chevy American Revolution 400, everything changed.
After a rookie season that saw him rack up 13 top-five finishes, 14 top 10 finishes, four poles, and five runner-up finishes – some by the slimmest of margins – Kahne was primed to take the series by storm in 2005. However, through the first nine races, he would find himself in a sophomore slump, scoring only two top-five finishes and six finishes of 22nd or worse.
The rocky season start began to turn around at Darlington when Kahne won the pole and finished the race in third place after leading 60 laps. He would be able to take that momentum into Richmond, where all the puzzle pieces finally fell into place.
Starting the Saturday night Cup Series race from the pole, Kahne established himself as a threat for the win early on. The only driver that seemed to be able to match him stride for stride that night would be Tony Stewart, with the two drivers separating themselves from the rest of the pack as the race played out. Between Kahne and Stewart, the two would combine to lead 385 of 400 laps.
As the race entered its final stages, Kahne was leading the way, with a healthy margin over Stewart, when two late race cautions broke out, giving Stewart a couple of chances to try and best the youngster.
The first of the two cautions was a result of Hermie Sadler’s engine letting go in Turn 1, oiling down the track in the process. Sadler was able to get his car back to the garage, but not before Mike Bliss spun in the oil and backed his No. 0 Chevrolet into the outside wall.
On the ensuing restart, Stewart gave Kahne a run for his money, but Kahne was able to pull away by a handful of car lengths before the ninth and final caution flag flew with 10 laps remaining when Dale Jarrett and Robby Gordon tangled on the front stretch, setting up a seven-lap dash to the finish.
Just as he had done on the previous restart, Stewart stuck with Kahne when the green flag dropped, even pulling alongside him at one point in the first couple of laps after the restart. Despite Stewart’s best efforts, Kahne was just too strong as he was able to keep ahold of the lead for the remainder of the race.
Kahne was aided in his pursuit of his first career win by Ryan Newman, who was in a heated battle with Stewart for second, allowing Kahne to cruise to victory by 1.674-seconds over Stewart. Newman would finish the race a close third, followed by Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick to round out the top-five.
After taking the checkers and making a celebratory lap around the track, Kahne pulled down pit road and was met by Stewart, who leaned into his window and offered his congratulations. After all, the two now shared something in common, with both scoring their first career Cup Series win at Richmond.
“I told him the second one won’t take that long to get,” the 1999 Richmond winner said of his conversation with Kahne. “Years down the road when they talk about his first win, at least the good thing is I got the honor to be the guy they mentioned that he had to race for the win. I’m just really happy for him. He’s long overdue. I mean, the kid has done an awesome job for two years now. He just needed that perfect night and tonight was that night.”
“Man, this is such a great moment for us. I can’t believe it,” Kahne said in Victory Lane. “We drove so hard all-night racing Tony and to wind up beating him, that was pretty cool.
“Thanks to Ray Evernham, everybody at the engine shop and the race shop. Definitely my family, my Mom and Dad, everybody back home in Enumclaw, Washington, my grandma and grandpa, my Papa and Nana. I used to tell by Papa that I was going to be a racer someday. I wish he was here to see it.
“I don’t know what to say. Everybody on this team did such an unbelievable job. It’s great to finally win a race.”