Since 1997, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series has been making the trek to the Lone Star State to take on the 1.5 mile Texas Motor Speedway, but of the 32 events that have taken place at the track, just one sticks out as the best of the best.
In this week’s “Throwback Thursday Theater,” we’ll take a look back at the 2004 Samsung Radioshack 500, which produced the closest Cup Series finish ever at the track.
After coming up just short of his first Cup Series win at Rockingham two weeks prior, it looked like Kasey Kahne had things figured out when they rolled into the Lone Star State in early April, but 500 miles later, it would be déjà vu for Kahne again.
Taking the lead for the first time on lap 49 after starting third, Kahne showed early and often that he would be a force to be reckoned with as the day went along, leading a total of 148 laps before giving the lead up in the final 73 laps to Jeff Gordon, who assumed the lead at lap 262.
Texas was a track that had eluded Gordon in the seven years prior and although it looked like Gordon might just be able to add Texas to his trophy case, things went awry for the four-time champion in the closing laps. As Gordon had a steady hold on the lead over Elliott Sadler and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. following a restart with 33 laps to go, he began having issues with his engine losing power due to his battery, which allowed Sadler to close in and take over the race lead with 27 laps remaining.
While Sadler scooted away with the race lead thanks to Gordon’s misfortune, the driver that had been dominant earlier in the race, Kahne, was slicing and dicing through the pack and quickly making his way back to the rear bumper of Sadler with 10 laps to go.
Kahne stalked Sadler for the lead over the final handful of laps, looking for his way around Sadler’s No. 38 car and back into the lead, and he finally had his opportunity on the final lap.
Heading through Turn 3 and 4, Kahne pulled his No. 9 Dodge to the outside of Sadler and looked to have the momentum to power by him, but the lapped car of Johnny Sauter forced Sadler to run a higher line, which caused Kahne to lift out of the throttle momentarily.
As Sadler moved back to the middle groove, Kahne once again charged on the high side, but it was too little, too late, as Sadler was able to beat the rookie back to the finish by .028 seconds, marking the closest finish in Texas Motor Speedway history, and breaking a 108-race winless streak for Sadler.
Following Sadler and Kahne to the line was Gordon in his ailing car, along with Earnhardt, Jr. and Rusty Wallace rounding out the top-five.
“It’s M&M’s sweet,” said Sadler. “To be able to go to victory lane with Robert Yates and M&M’s is unbelievable. We thought we had a good car yesterday and they proved it to me again today. We got it out front and it was clean. Kasey raced me clean; he’s going to be a great champion one day. I’ve just got to thank all of the guys back at the shop, the motor room, great job, and the fab shop. My family, I wish you were here with me right now to share this with me.”
“It’s a great win for M&M’s, Robert Yates, and everybody and I’m glad to get a Ford here in victory lane,” he continued. “To come to a track that you love so much, I love the fans down here, they always welcome you to the state of Texas. I’ve always had a good knack for this track as soon as I got here, so to be able to win here is very, very special. I’ve got to thank Eddie Gossage and all of his guys for hosting a great race weekend and it’s just cool to pull this car into victory lane.”
While Sadler was celebrating in victory lane, Kahne was left disappointed with how close he came to his first Cup Series win.
“It really is disappointing this time,” Kahne said. “Tommy Baldwin and this whole UAW-Dodge Dealers team gave me the best car and we had the car to beat all day long. We got back in that whole thing that happened and then NASCAR ran so many yellow flag laps that we couldn’t get back to the front. We had them covered and we just couldn’t get back there. It’s disappointing, but we had a good race, I mean, it was exciting and we just about won it there at the end.”