Kahne, Gordon fall short of victory

Updated: April 5, 2004, 1:42 AM ET
By Jerry Bonkowski | Special to ESPN.com

Kasey Kahne
Kahne
Jeff Gordon
Gordon
FORT WORTH, Texas -- Even though nearly 12 years and 64 Cup victories separate them, rookie Kasey Kahne and four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon were kindred souls in Sunday's Samsung/Radio Shack 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Both had the checkered flag in their sights and a career-first Cup victory on their minds -- the first for Gordon at TMS and the first in Cup racing for Kahne -- yet both came up short in disappointing fashion.

Perhaps it's a measure of the difference in their experience, but Gordon was rather matter-of-fact about coming in third.

"I'm not really too bummed out right now because third is a good finish for us," Gordon said. "We needed this kind of finish. I can't wait to get to Martinsville." Which takes place two weeks from now. Gordon won both races last season and is a five-time winner overall there

Kahne, however, is a different story. The soon-to-be 24-year-old (his birthday is Saturday) was beaten by race-winner Elliott Sadler by an ever-so-slim margin of 0.028 seconds, the eighth-closest finish in NASCAR Cup history.

It marks the second time Kahne has been involved in a near-photo finish: he was runner-up to Matt Kenseth by a 0.010-second margin at Rockingham.

All told, Kahne now has three runner-ups and a third-place finish in seven starts in his rookie Cup campaign. The car he drove Sunday was also the one he drove to a second-place showing a month ago at Las Vegas.

"It really is disappointing," Kahne said. "We had the best car, the car to beat all day long. NASCAR ran so many yellow flag laps that we couldn't get back to the front. We had 'em covered, but we couldn't get back there. It's disappointing."

While Kahne may be disappointed, Gordon couldn't be blamed if he carried more of a grudge. After all, he seemed to have the field beat -- partly thanks to a well-timed caution -- until the primary battery in his No. 24 Chevrolet failed with 26 laps left.

"All of a sudden, things started missing, popping and banging," said Gordon, whose last win was at Atlanta last fall. "I pushed all the buttons, flipped the ignition, then I thought it was the motor and finally got to the second battery and the thing came back to life."

By the time Gordon got the car restarted, he had dropped from first to fourth place. At that point, it was too late and Gordon was forced to settle for third. It marked the fourth consecutive top-five finish at TMS for Gordon -- tops among all drivers -- and his first top-five finish of the '04 season.

Kasey Kahne
Getty ImagesKahne has finished 13th or better -- including four top-threes -- in five of the season's seven races.

"At first, I thought we were going to win here, then I thought we were going to finish last," Gordon said. "And then I was just glad to come home, get a top-five and finish third.

"We've had some crazy things happen to us here at Texas, but the last three or four races have been phenomenal. We've come close to winning here a couple times now. We've always had fast race cars here, we just haven't always been able to make it past 25 or 30 laps to show it up until three or four years ago."

While he'd prefer the checkered flag, Gordon can't complain too much about jumping three places in the standings, from 12th to ninth, after Sunday's race.

"I've been saying that top-10s are okay, but we've got to start putting some top-fives together," Gordon said. "Texas has turned into a track that's been good for us. It used to be where we didn't look forward to coming here because we'd crash or have some kind of problems.

"But here recently, it's been one of our top tracks, top-five the last four times, carry some momentum, kind of get the critics off our backs a little bit, go to Martinsville and hopefully putting it to these guys."

Gordon is one of only a few drivers in the Cup series that carries a backup battery in his car. "I'm very thankful that we did, because right now I'm happy to be third," he said. "That could have been disastrous."

Kahne, meanwhile, had laughed at his previous two runner-ups and one third-place finish. But after coming so close Sunday, his demeanor has changed noticeably -- and not for the better.

Kahne desperately wants his first Cup win and was not happy about falling short -- especially considering he had arguably the best car in the field Sunday, leading a race-high 148 of the event's 334-lap, 500-mile jaunt.

"It's good to finish second, but I'm kind of disappointed because of how much we led," Kahne admitted. "We had the dominant car all day. It was as good as anybody's all day."

While he's quickly developed a reputation as a quiet driver, letting his actions on the racetrack do his talking for him, Kahne surprisingly criticized NASCAR after the race for what he perceived as overly long yellow caution periods. Had one or two of those been shortened, he very well may have beaten Sadler to the finish, he said.

"I think NASCAR needs to look at the yellow flag laps," he said. "We had 15 or 20 laps where the track was cleaned up.

"I didn't see debris half the time. They're putting speedy dry down the bottom of the backstretch where nobody ever runs. It's just ridiculous how long they took. That's something that NASCAR needs to look into. They do the one-lap safety rule, and that's great, but the extra eight, 10 or 20 laps that they run, that was ridiculous."

While the first half of the race may have seemed rather boring to some, the finish was a completely different ballgame. If Sadler had not managed to wedge through the gap between Kahne's No. 9 Dodge and the lapped car of Johnny Sauter just before the finish line, it could have been a different outcome.

"We had a real good run off Turn 4 and we just about got there," Kahne said. "I wouldn't have needed that much more."

But Kahne can't be too upset. He increased his comfortable lead in the Rookie of the Year battle, and moved up four places to a solid seventh in the overall Cup standings heading into the off week.

Still, Kahne's goal is abundantly clear. He wants to win.

"I'm tired of running second by .1 or .01 or whatever it ends up being. Hopefully next time we can be the winners on that side of it."

Jerry Bonkowski covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Motorsportwriter@MSN.com.

Jerry Bonkowski | email

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Award-winning sportswriting veteran Jerry Bonkowski returns to ESPN, having previously served as NASCAR columnist/writer for ESPN.com from 2001 to 2004. A lifelong Chicago native, Jerry spent 15 years with USA Today, where he covered all sports -- with heavy emphasis on Chicago-area teams -- and the past 4½ years as National NASCAR Columnist with Yahoo! Sports.

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