Kahne's wild reign

Jonathan Baum
Yahoo! Sports

BROOKLYN, Mich. – Sunday was a day of comebacks here at Michigan International Speedway.

Some were dramatic. Some were sudden. Some were continued. All were impressive.

List Carl Edwards' rebound from both a recent slump and a poor qualifying effort and Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s continued resurgence from a terrible 2005 campaign as Nos. 2 and 3 on the list.

But for the most impressive comeback, one need only look at the top.

Really, there's no way Kasey Kahne should have won this race. He did land pole on Friday, only to bang up the right side of his Dodge Charger a day later in a crash during practice.

Team director Kenny Francis, was surprised the car didn't sustain more damage in the wreck, and he and the No. 9 crew were faced with the dilemma of deciding whether to repair the car and maintain the pole at the risk of sending Kahne out in a sub-par ride on Sunday, or going to a backup car that had seen no action this weekend and giving up the pole in the process.

A difficult choice, but Francis had been here before.

He was on Dale Jarrett's team back in 2000 when DJ damaged his pole-winning car in the final practice before the Daytona 500 after having essentially dominated Speedweeks.

The team decided to spend the long hours repairing the car rather than going to a backup, and it paid off.

Jarrett won that Daytona 500.

Estimating that the damage to Kahne's No. 9 could be fixed, mainly because the frame of the car wasn't bent in the crash, Francis followed suit more than six years after that Daytona call and chose not to dust off Kahne's backup car – which was no slouch itself, having finished fourth at Michigan's sister track, California Speedway, earlier this season.

Again, the call paid off.

Kahne lost his lead early but easily was fast enough to run second right behind Jeff Gordon in the early stages of the race.

Then, once again, trouble got in the way of a good day, as debris clung to the grille of Kahne's Dodge, causing it to overheat.

Francis says the engine might have lasted only four or five more laps had Kahne stayed out.

There only was one option.

"I was trying to pass Jeff Gordon, racing with him and then we just had to pit and get [the debris] off the nose," Kahne said. "We fell back to 38th and started battling back from there."

The debris, consisting of hot dog wrappers and the like, was removed.

"I told Kasey if he wanted a hot dog, we'd have just bought him one," team owner Ray Evernham joked after the race.

But the situation wasn't all that amusing at the time, as the pit stop knocked Kahne off the lead lap. And just like that, his prospects for victory looked about as dreary as the dark skies looming over the Irish Hills.

The good news? Kahne was the only car one lap down, meaning a quick caution would put him right back on the lead lap.

Kahne's rivals can blame it on the rain, as a drizzle less than 10 laps later brought out that yellow and put Kahne back in contention.

Fast forward 20 laps or so, throw in a two-tire stop along the way, and Kahne is in the top 15.

Fast forward another 20 and Kahne is back in the top five, and it's abundantly clear that his car still has its pole-winning stuff.

Fast forward another 20 laps and Kahne is back out front.

Edwards, meanwhile, was charging hard. He already had led 25 laps and had his sights set on Kahne. And he might have gotten to him, but the rain would have none of it.

The skies opened again, the red flag came out, the drivers got out of their cars.

A short while later, NASCAR made the call and the race was over. Kahne had his fourth win of the season.

This after crashing a pole-winning car. This after falling a lap down.

"I never have [had a weekend like this]," Kahne said. "It's been a great weekend. We've had some ups and downs.

"It's pretty crazy to win in the rain and be in the right place there at the end. But we did have the best car."

If Kahne's No. 9 was the head of the class, Edwards' No. 99 may have been the salutatorian.

Edwards, who narrowly lost a race off pit road to Kahne late in the race, thought he might have something for the eventual winner. And although Kahne says he wasn't too concerned about the hard-charging Edwards, he admitted a battle for the lead could have been in the cards.

"If we had gone 200 laps, it probably would have been a good show between the 9 and 99 because Carl was really good," Kahne said.

But Kahne and Co. have taken off at these fast tracks, with his three other wins this season all coming on 1½-milers. When asked what he has seen from Kahne's red-hot team – which now has four consecutive finishes of seventh or better, including two wins – Edwards painted a clear picture.

"I saw his rear bumper really, really well," he laughed. "That thing on the last run of the day he just took off. He's real good and they've got their stuff together."

Edwards, however, knew what the real culprit was.

"We didn't need the rain, or we needed a better weatherman on the box," he said.

Edwards' lament could do nothing to overthrow Kahne's rainy reign, which climaxed with a makeshift indoor victory lane celebration in the garages.

Not that Kahne minded.

"Man, it's cool," he said. "Four wins already this season. Ray Evernham has a great race team here."

A team which took advantage of the elements and overcame adversity all weekend that likely would have left many other teams all wet.

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