CONCORD, N.C. -- Kasey Kahne won a popularity contest, then parlayed it into a $1 million payday.
After failing to qualify for the All-Star race, Kahne grabbed a spot in the field when the fans voted him into Saturday night's event at Lowe's Motor Speedway.
Already running on house money, he gambled on his final pit stop to steal the $1 million prize. And in holding off Greg Biffle in the final segment, Kahne became just the third driver in All-Star race history to advance from the preliminary race into the show and then win the main event.
"We got voted in by the fans which was really, really special, and it feels good to know that we have that many fans following our team," said Kahne, who could have raced his way in by finishing first or second in the Sprint Showdown. He was fifth, and needed the fan vote to claim the third transfer spot in the 24-driver field.
The fan vote gave Kahne a chance to run in the 100-lap shootout, which was intermittently dominated by Kyle Busch, Biffle and Dale Earnhardt Jr. But he used the gamble on the final pit stop -- not taking any tires -- to put the field in his rearview mirror to become the first driver ever voted in by the fans to win.
He had no shame in winning because his fans put him in the race.
"Yeah, I want to race my way in. I don't even want to be in the Open," said Kahne, the first Dodge winner in the event. "I want to be in because we won races last year or the beginning of this year. But the situation is that it's really cool they give the fans an opportunity to vote. They put us in and for some reason, we ended up being the best car tonight and that's just part of the rules.
"That's just the way it is, what this race is about, and we took advantage of it and we won the race."
The gamble on final pit strategy helped Kahne advance his position and restart in second when the final 25-lap segment began. Biffle, who had led the final 11 laps of the third segment, took two tires and was mired back in traffic on the restart.
Biffle never got a chance to run down Kahne, who slid past leader Jimmie Johnson to lead the final 17 laps and claim the victory and credit crew chief Kenny Francis with the winning pit strategy.
"That's what we had to do, it was our only shot at winning the race," Kahne said. "We took our time, got in the right place and Kenny made the right call of no tires at the end. I didn't think we needed them. The car was exceptional. I was just making sure I didn't make any stupid mistakes and lose the race."
Biffle finished second and was surprised his two-tire stop lost him the race.
"We put two tires on, he said he didn't change anything. We'll have to see if [Kahne's] got a little mouse in the bag," Biffle said. "In the end, I thought it was going to be just easy, a Saturday night drive. It's kind of crazy to think if I had just stayed out ... I would have won. But I thought two tires was the call."
Ryan Newman, who in 2002 was the last driver to advance from the preliminary race to win the main event, finished sixth. He was followed by teammate Sam Hornish Jr., who finished second in the Sprint Showdown to make the race.
Earnhardt faded to eighth after leading 14 laps in the third segment and was followed by Mark Martin and Carl Edwards, who was picked by track president and master prognosticator Humpy Wheeler to win the race.
Busch started from the pole, led 38 of the first 50 laps and seemed to be in cruise control as he easily won the first 25-lap segment and pulled out to a controlling lead in the second. Out to a lead of almost 2 seconds, his engine began to sputter and Busch radioed the words his Joe Gibbs Racing team didn't want to hear.
"Motor's gone, dude," Busch said. "I dropped a cylinder. You want me to turn it off?"
"Just get us to the intermission, we'll work on it then," crew chief Steve Addington replied.
Edwards passed Busch for the lead moments later, and he dropped to third two laps later when Earnhardt moved past him.
"Sorry, dude," Addington said. "We went for it."
The team experimented with a new motor that boasted increased horsepower, but team president J.D. Gibbs said before the start it was unknown if the engine would last the entire 100-lap race. Busch had fallen all the way to sixth by the end of the second segment -- when he finally was able to go to pit road and give his crew a chance to diagnose the problem during the 10-minute break.
"All right guys, the big thing right here is we've got to get on the motor deal," Busch said as he headed to pit road. "Let's get the motor done."
Edwards went on to win the segment, but took no joy in inheriting the victory.
"I hate to see Kyle blow an engine," Edwards said during the break. "I want to beat him head-to-head tonight."
Unable to fix the engine, the team told Busch during the break his race was over. He wound up last in the 24-driver field.
In the final segment, teammate Denny Hamlin also had an engine failure while leading. Stewart, the third JGR driver, had to change his engine before the race. His lasted the entire race, and appeared to be strong as he charged late for his fifth-place finish.