Quicken Loans 400: Kasey Kahne crashes while leading, finishes 38th

Robert Laberge

A tough week for Kasey Kahne concluded with a fiery crash while he was in the lead during Sunday's NASCAR race at Michigan.

Kasey Kahne wanted to win Sunday's NASCAR race at Michigan International Speedway to honor the memory of Jason Leffler, who was killed in an accident earlier in the week.

He was on the way to doing that when just past halfway an apparent right-front tire failure on his Chevrolet sent him crashing into the Turn 1 wall. The impact was so jarring it ignited a fire underneath the No. 5, which left Kahne quickly scrambling out of his car.

"I would say it was a tire that went down, but I don't know for sure," Kahne said. "I just was going into the corner and then it went ‘boom' and turned right and went straight into the wall. It was a hard hit."

Kahne had been among the fastest cars on the two-mile oval all weekend, and was considered the consensus favorite to win his second race of the year.

His troubles were among the myriad issues that hampered Hendrick Motorsports throughout the Quicken Loans 400. On Lap 6, Jeff Gordon wrecked when Bobby Labonte slid into his path, and later Dale Earnhardt Jr. would lose an engine while in the lead.

The problematic afternoon mercifully concluded with Jimmie Johnson, running in the second position, cutting a tire and grazing the wall with two laps to go.

As a result of finishing 38th, Kahne took a considerable hit in the standings Sunday. He plunged from eighth to 12th, and is now 10 points behind 10th-place Tony Stewart. At one point in the season he had been second overall, but a six-race stretch heading into Michigan where he posted just one finish better than 17th has him in a bit of a freefall.

That precipitous drop continued Sunday with the fiery crash.

"We were kinda cruising," Kahne said. "I knew it was going to be a battle with Jimmie (Johnson), but I thought we were good. I felt really good about it."

If there is a silver lining for Kahne, it's that he has a win earlier this year at Bristol. This gives him a distinct advantage in the fight for one of two Wild Card spots to claim a Chase berth, if needed.

It's also been a tough week off the track for Kahne, who on Wednesday dealt with the news that his close friend Leffler had been killed in a sprint-car crash at Bridgeport Speedway (N.J.).

Leffler and Kahne had shared a plane ride to Pocono last weekend in what was Leffler's final Sprint Cup Series start before his death. It was Kahne who throughout the weekend distributed black hats across the garage with Leffler's "lefTurn" nicknamed embroider on the side.

And despite the frustration of another disappointing finish, Kahne made sure to recognize his fallen friend.

"I know it's been a tough week for a lot of people," Kahne said. "Jason Leffler was a good buddy of mine and it's neat to see how the racing world and the fans and his friends and everybody has supported him for the last four or five days. That showed the person and the racer that he was.

"I'm just glad I could say he was one of my good friends."

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