Kahne has been quick study at Indy
Having already passed Tony Stewart once during the race, Kasey Kahne wasn't ready to give up over the closing laps -- even if Stewart's car just seemed to keep getting stronger. Kahne looked around for help. His teammate, Jeremy Mayfield, had piloted the 19 Dodge Charger up into the top 10.
"If he can get up here, we can do something," Kahne said.
At the end of the day, though, Stewart and Kahne were by far the class of the field in Sunday's Allstate 400 at the Brickyard, outrunning everyone else. Stewart would hold Kahne off for the victory he's awaited his entire career for, and Kahne -- master of the runner-up speech -- was left talking about his most prestigous second-place finish.
But overall, it wasn't a bad day for team owner Ray Evernham. Although Mayfield never made it up to the front to help Kahne draft by Stewart, he was within shouting distance at fourth. With two top-five finishes, Evernham Motorsports walked away with heads held high.
"I thought one of the Evernham Dodges was going to be able to win the race," Mayfield said. "But all-in-all it was a good day for us."
"If Jeremy was up there and running with us maybe we could have done something with some sort of a draft, even coming out down the straightaway," Kahne said. "But, it's so tough to do that. I think myself and Tony had the two best cars at the end of the race and nobody else was close enough to work with. But overall it was a great day for Evernham Motorsports."
For Kahne, the second-place finish did little for his points outlook. Though he closed the gap on the guys among the top 15, sitting about 100 points away from that post, Kahne didn't budge from his 21st-place ranking. But the stellar run at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway had the No. 9 team abuzz with confidence -- and hope that one day soon it can put the former open-wheel racer in Victory Lane at the Brickyard.
"Really, I remember growing up watching the Indianapolis 500 before the Brickyard 400 was even here, then watching the Brickyard 400," Kahne said. "This has always been a track that I've wanted to win at and now we've raced here twice and had two top-fives. It's been good to us, but it will be nice when we do get that Brickyard win."
Kahne said that there are many reasons for his early successes at the Brickyard.
"I guess you can learn a lot watching certain racetracks and watching certain drivers at racetracks. I've learned a lot from Tony by watching him here in the past, watching Jeff Gordon here, and even Bill Elliott."
Whatever he picked up from those three -- winners now of a combined six Indy trophies -- has paid off. But Kahne said there was a bigger reason for his Indy fortunes.
"It's driving for Ray Evernham," Kahne said. "He's given myself, Mayfield -- and Bill [Elliott] last year -- great race cars. We've always been real close to the top 10 for all of us. We made a lot of good calls yesterday in practice, [crew chief] Tommy Baldwin did, and we made some more today. Just having good people and a good race team, I think our Dodge Chargers are getting better."
In fact, Kahne was so excited about the program after Sunday's big event he insisted that the fortunes shouldn't end at IMS.
"It's probably the best that it's been all year this weekend," he said of his cars and team. "We just hope to keep improving them from here."
And there's no reason to believe things won't improve. Obviously, looking at Mayfield's team, the resources are there. While the No. 19 car finished two spots behind its partner, Mayfield's team is getting the job done in the points race. The fourth-place finish on Sunday retained Mayfield's eighth-place holding in the standings -- only 92 points away from fifth.
If the cutoff were today, Mayfield would grab a berth for his second straight playoff. The cutoff isn't today, however. It's about a month away. But after Sunday's top-five, Mayfield is feeling pretty good about his chances.
"It was a good points day for us," he said. "It was a good top-five and we had a shot to win the race. The car just got tight at the end. My hat's off to this team. We had a good car today, and Kasey had a good car, too. If you've got a shot to win that's all you can ask for. It's a good feeling to be able to run up front. It's been a long time since I ran good like that here."
Mayfield reiterated Kahne's praise for the Evernham team, pointing out how both teams successfully walked the line between setting up the car to handle in turns and being able to pass while not sacrificing tire conservation.
"It's hard to pass here," he said, "but we passed a lot of cars today and Kasey passed a lot."
While Mayfield lamented the car growing too tight at the end for him to make a serious bid at the checkered, he said he can always come back and try for another win at Indy. For now, he's got his eyes on a prize he values much more -- getting Evernham, winner of three Cup titles as a crew chief, his first Cup title as an owner.
"Hopefully this will keep us solidly in the Chase," Mayfield said. "To come out of Indy with a top-five is great. We had a great day and the guys did a great job in the pits, too. I thought I had a shot at the end until the last run and we got tight and I couldn't get off the corners.
"I feel real good about the Chase now. I'm going to remember it as a good points day and a good solid day for us to stay up in The Chase. We knew we needed a top-five finish, and that's what we got."
Rupen Fofaria is a freelance writer living in Chicago and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.