Kasey Kahne Avenges Narrow 2004 Defeat To Win Inaugural Truck Series Race At The Rock

Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images for NASCAR

ROCKINGHAM, N.C. — 8 years and 53 days.

That might not mean much to many race fans but to those who used to make the annual pilgrimage(s) up or down US-1 to Rockingham Speedway it has felt like an eternity.

8 years and 53 days since the last time NASCAR engines roared around the one-mile weathered asphalt oval nestled deep among the pines of North Carolina’s Sandhills.

8 years and 53 days since the residents of Richmond County, a county whose economic fortunes declined alongside the expansion of NASCAR racing to new, bigger, and brighter markets, have been able to walk with a bit of pride in knowing that their tiny rural county played a role in the sport which so many here live and breathe.

On that fateful February day in 2004 Kasey Kahne found himself locked in a tight battle with Matt Kenseth as the final laps wound down.  Every driver in the field that day wanted the win, every driver knew what it would mean to win the last NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at “The Rock”.

After taking the white flag only Kenseth and Kahne would have a chance to lay claim to the honor, “final Rockingham winner”.  Kahne did all he could to lay claim to that moniker but it was for naught as Kenseth would hold on to win by a scant .010 seconds.

Kahne assumed he would never again have a chance to avenge that close defeat of 8 years and 53 days ago.  Most NASCAR purists would have assumed the same thing.

But one man, Andy Hillenburg, had a dream.  He purchased Rockingham Speedway, then known as North Carolina Motor Speedway, from Bruton Smith and Speedway Motorsports and sat out to revive Rockingham.  All involved knew the challenge was great.

Hillenburg refused to listen to the doubters and would persevere, knowing full well that although the track had sat dormant for a number of years it still offered the one key ingredient to once again becoming a successful track and that was good racing.

Race car drivers desire to race a good race track, a track that allows them to do things with their cars and a track which lets the driver dictate the race, not the car dictating the driver.

It is almost impossible to engineer a good racing track, regardless of the amount of cash thrown at it, as many newer tracks have successfully illustrated.  The racing never had to be manufactured here. Rockingham was racy from the the beginning way back in 1965, when the Rock opened as NASCAR’s fourth paved track of a mile or greater in length.

Fast forward almost five years after Hillenburg took the keys to Rockingham and to today’s inaugural running of the Good Sam Roadside Assistance 200, a race run in front of an estimated and enthusiastic crowd of 27,500.  This would be the day in which Kahne would finally get the chance he had not thought possible, the chance to make amends for the loss to Kenseth.

Kahne, road-weary but bright eyed from the long trip east to Rockingham from last night’s Sprint Cup Series event in Texas, would wheel the #4 Turner Motorsports machine from dead last on the starting grid to the lead with 40 laps to go.

Rewind to earlier in the race and it appeared a dominant run was in store for the #30 of Nelson Piquet, Jr.  Piquet, who started from the pole, was in charge from the beginning, leading 107 laps on the day.

With 25 laps remaining the caution flag would fly for debris on the track, setting up a final pit stop which would see all the leaders come down pit road for a new set of all-important tires.

Kahne would emerge from pit road maintaining his grasp on the lead.  It would initially appear Piquet would restart just as he came in, in second, but NASCAR quickly confirmed that Piquet was too fast upon exit.  This would result in Piquet having to move to the rear of the lead lap, effectively ending his challenge for the win.  A disappointing ending to a dominant early part of the day for the fast rising young star.

Piquet’s penalty would set up a battle between Kahne, Buescher, and Matt Crafton in the races final laps with the field getting the green with only 20 laps remaining.

Kahne was more than up to the challenge and although he does not have the final Sprint Cup trophy resting on his mantle he  now has laid claim to the first Rockingham Camping World Truck Series trophy.  The win would be Kahne’s fourth victory in his last five Camping World Truck Series races.

After the victory Kahne would say, “It feels good to come back to the Rock and get a win.”  Kahne would go on to say of the track, “I’ve always really liked this place, the seams were the same, it felt the same.”

Crafton would not be able to manage a real assault on Buescher in the closing laps and would bring the #88 Menard’s Chevrolet to the garage with a third-place finish. Johnny Sauter and Timothy Peters would round out the top-5.

Sixth through 10th would find the #22 of Joey Coulter in Sixth, the #30 of Nelson Piquet, Jr. in Seventh, the #3 of Ty Dillon in Eighth, the #29 of Parker Kligerman in Ninth, and the #6 of Justin Lofton in 10th.

With his Fifth-place finish Timothy Peters would increase his points lead to six over Justin Lofton. Ty Dillon, James Buescher, and Parker Kligerman comprise the remainder of the top-5 in points after three races.

The Camping World Truck Series will now move on to Kansas Speedway for the running of the SFP 250 on Saturday afternoon, April 21st.  The race from Kansas Speedway can be seen live on SPEED at 1:30pm.