Slow finish is just fast enough for Sadler

Rookie Kahne can't close gap in Radio Shack 500

Auto Racing

April 05, 2004|By George Diaz | George Diaz,ORLANDO SENTINEL

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Kasey Kahne is getting a little peeved at his uncanny consistency for receiving those fabulous consolation prizes as NASCAR's second-fastest man on Sunday afternoons.

"The other ones were great," he said of two previous second-place runs. This one kind of [stinks]."

Kahne made another strong -- but ultimately futile -- run toward Victory Lane at Texas Motor Speedway yesterday. Chasing Elliott Sadler for 10 laps, he fell two-hundredths of a second short in the Samsung/Radio Shack 500.

And so ends another frustrating day for NASCAR's most consistent driver this season, a rookie quickly establishing himself as one of the sport's rising stars under the tutelage of team owner Ray Evernham. Kahne, who led for a race-high 148 laps, now has three runner-up finishes and a third in seven races.

"You were still the best," Evernham told him moments after the race along pit road. "We'll get a break. Good job."

Not good enough to run down Sadler, who started 19th and worked his way up the field to gain his second Nextel Cup victory in 184 career starts, dating back to a victory at Bristol in March 2001.

"I'd like to thank [speedway president] Eddie Gossage for having the finish line closer to Turn 4 than to Turn 1," Sadler said.

Another few seconds would have likely bumped Sadler off the winner's circle. Sadler was doing all he could to hold off Kahne in the closing laps when he almost got caught up in the lapped car of Johnny Sauter, who chose to run the inside groove, blocking Sadler momentarily.

Kahne had made one last run coming out of the last turn, with the left front panel of his Dodge on the outside rear of Sadler's Ford. More than 200,000 fans -- most of them standing -- would watch a dramatic finish that was the eighth-closest in Cup history.

"He should have done like every smart person, pull over," Sadler said of Sauter. "His awareness is hideous. I wish he had left it to me and Kasey to race, and he should never have been a factor here."

There were other mitigating circumstances, mostly pit stops and the untimely death of a battery in Jeff Gordon's Chevy.

Kahne was leading when he pitted on Lap 262, but Ward Burton spun on the backstretch to bring out a caution. Gordon and Sadler stayed on the track and took the first two spots, with Kahne restarting eighth.

Three more caution flags followed before the final restart on the 302nd of 334 laps. Gordon's lead then vaporized on Lap 308 because his battery died. He frantically flipped switches trying to figure out what went wrong before clicking on his backup battery.

Too late. He had dropped to fourth. He caught Dale Earnhardt Jr. for third, but had no chance of gaining significant ground on Sadler and Kahne.

"I was looking at everything on the dash to see what I could do," Gordon said. "It seemed like an eternity."

That was the feeling Sadler and his crew had trying to hold off Kahne, who clearly had the fastest car on the track.

Not wanting to fluster his driver, crew chief Todd Parrott didn't say a word.

"I couldn't stand it," he said. "I didn't know how much he had left. I didn't want him to look in his mirror."

The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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