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NASCAR: Kasey Kahne ends drought, captures first win for car owner Rick Hendrick

By Steve Reed

Associated Press

Published: Monday, May 28 2012 6:15 a.m. MDT

Kasey Kahne celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Coca-Cola 600 Sprint Cup Series auto race in Concord, N.C., Sunday, May 27, 2012.

Terry Renna, Associated Press

CONCORD, N.C. — Kasey Kahne was starting to feel a little guilty.

Sure, he'd finished in the top 10 in five of the last six Sprint Cup races, but he still hadn't picked up that elusive first victory for car owner Rick Hendrick.

"Our team is solid. Our car is solid. Mr. Hendrick gives us everything we need to win races and run up front," Kahne said. "I just knew for myself I needed to step up."

And he did just that.

Kahne pulled away to victory in the Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday night, winning NASCAR's longest race for the third time and gaining his stripes for Hendrick Motorsports the only way that matters — taking the checkered flag.

"I never really doubted myself," Kahne said. "I was upset at some of the things that may have happened. I made a huge mistake at Phoenix, hit the wall there. But other than that, we were solid, we were fast. It was just a matter of getting past those five weeks and moving on and putting some solid races together."

The self-imposed pressure grew this week before Charlotte Motor Speedway at a party Hendrick threw to celebrate the owner's 200th career win Jimmie Johnson earned at Darlington Raceway two weeks back. Kahne was introduced as part of the current team — after the 15 drivers who won races for Hendrick took a bow.

Hendrick then challenged him to win the Coca-Cola 600.

Despite the challenge, Hendrick could tell the losing streak was wearing on Kahne and tried to assure him that better times were ahead.

"Well, I could see that it was bothering him," Hendrick said. "A racer doesn't like to wreck a car or have bad luck. You could see it with Kenny, too. They hated to have those problems. When you can see, again, they had speed. I tried to reassure them, 'Look, we're in this for the long haul. You guys are running good. You just have to have some breaks.'"

And it was a popular victory.

Teammate Jeff Gordon rushed up to hug Kahne after the race and told him, "Proud of you."

What a roll for Hendrick Motorsports. The program was stuck on 199 victories since October. Then came Johnson's milestone win at Darlington. The five-time champion followed that with a victory in the All-Star race at Charlotte last week.

Kahne led four Hendrick cars in the top 11. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was sixth and Gordon was right behind in seventh — only his third top 10 finish of the year. Johnson came in 11th. He was vying for more but fell from contention with a mistake on the final pit stop as he left the stall with his gas can still engaged, dragging his crew member behind.

Johnson was docked with a stop-and-go penalty that ended his chances at winning a third straight week.

"I think we're showing the consistency from all of our teams," Hendrick said. "I can't wait for the second half of the season."

Kahne crossed the finish line nearly 5 seconds ahead of Denny Hamlin. Kyle Busch was third and series points leader Greg Biffle fourth.

It was Kahne's 13th career win and first since last November in Phoenix.

Kahne's a racing gym rat who can't stay away from competition. He drives in NASCAR Truck races when the Sprint Cup series is off — as he did at Darlington in 2011 and Rockingham this spring — and raced this weekend in the World of Outlaws dirt track contest across the street from Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Kahne led 96 laps, including the final 42. He doesn't see why the winning can't continue.

"I just know that the cars and the people we have that Mr. Hendrick gives us is everything that we need to win," Kahne said.

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