|KASEY KAHNE Effervescent victory|
CONCORD, N.C. - Tony Stewart suffered his second heartbreaking defeat of the season last night when a flat tire late in the
Stewart, who lost the season-opening Daytona 500 when he was passed on the last lap by Ryan Newman, had the tire go flat with three laps to go. He was forced to pit, allowing Kahne to zip past him for the victory.
Stewart has yet to win the 600 in 10 career tries, an agonizing stretch for a former open-wheel driver who grew up dreaming of an Indianapolis 500 victory. With his focus now on NASCAR, he'll settle for any sort of Memorial Day weekend win.
Instead, he wound up a frustrating 18th and stormed into his hauler without comment. He could be seen inside the truck kicking at the cabinets as crew chief Greg Zipadelli was left to answer questions about yet another near-miss.
"It's just stupid. I don't know," Zipadelli said. "We must have run over something, small leak or something. But I'll just say we lost a tire with a 5 1/2-second lead. I don't even know what to say, I'm so frustrated. I feel bad for everybody.
"All day we did a good job. We knew we needed to keep our car where it was and it would be good at the end and we did exactly that, and we just fell short."
It was the second consecutive defeat in the 600 for Stewart, who led 55 laps here last May only to fall short on fuel and forfeit the lead for a late gas-and-go.
Meanwhile, it was the second straight week Kahne made his way to Victory Lane.
He became the first driver since Jimmie Johnson in 2003 to win both the All-Star race and the 600 in this eight days of racing at Lowe's Motor Speedway. A week ago, he was voted by the fans to compete in the All-Star race when he failed to earn a spot in the event through on-track performance.
He gambled with a no-tire stop to win the $1 million race, then vowed to carry momentum from the win into the 600.
He succeeded, snapping a 52-race winless streak in points events dating to October 2006.
"That momentum helped a lot," Kahne said. "It gave us a lot to be excited about coming into this weekend. We stepped it up again tonight, just put on a great show."
Stewart's failure was par for the course in this race of attrition. Most of the heavyweights dropped out of contention during an event that started in the late afternoon, ended in the evening and requires both intense mental focus and luck to make it to the finish.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Johnson, Brian Vickers and Kurt Busch all led laps but had parts failures or tire issues that prevented them from winning.
Greg Biffle finished second to Kahne for the second straight week and Kyle Busch, the Sprint Cup Series points leader and winner of Saturday night's Nationwide Series race, finished third despite two battery changes.
Kahne led 65 laps, but forfeited the lead to Stewart with 16 laps to go when Kahne had to stop for gas. Stewart stopped for gas later, but had a shorter fill-up that cycled him back into the lead.
Stewart was then cruising toward his first win of the season when he smacked the wall, causing his tire to go flat.