At first glance, Kasey Kahne's win of the 2008 Coca-Cola 600 seems impressive. He won the longest race of the season, and if you count his previous week's victory in the all-star event, Kahne has won two races in a row. Not only is it a rare feat for any driver to win consecutive races at Lowe's Motor Speedway, but Kahne also outlasted Kyle Busch, which is an accomplishment in any week, it seems.
Yet it's too early to get excited about a sudden Kahne turnaround. As we recently have seen with Jimmie Johnson at Phoenix, a driver must sustain the momentum of a win for more than one race to build a true turnaround. Winning the all-star race was nice for Kahne's pockets and his fans, but it didn't count in the point standings. Once we see Kahne string together a run of, say, three or more points races in which he consistently runs near the top of the pack, I'll believe in him again. For now, he's a guy who is a good driver at a selected track who benefited from a few strokes of luck in an event that was certain to have its healthy share of mishaps due to its length.
Kahne and his fantasy owners should be thankful for some notable occurrences that paved his way to Victory Lane, because in any other race of shorter length, he would have been happy with a "solid finish" instead of a win. This was Tony Stewart's race to win, especially after he came from a starting spot toward the back of the field to seize the lead late. Kahne lucked out when Stewart fell victim to yet another disappointing finish caused by a flat tire. It's the kind of bad luck that has plagued Stewart this season, and seemingly every time he is able to run up front. At some point soon, fate will balance out for Stewart and his owners, so despite the continued frustration, he might be ready to go on one of his usual strong summer runs.
Kahne and his owners can also be thankful that Dale Earnhardt Jr. made contact with the wall at a point in the race when it seemed he was about to make his best play for his long-awaited first win this season. Earnhardt clearly had a dominant car and appeared primed for a strong finish when he shot out to the lead. The fact that he was able to finish fifth despite a heavily damaged vehicle shows how well he was performing overall. Earnhardt's owners should look forward to that elusive victory in the near future, which will lead to celebrations in the streets by Junior Nation and an impressive string of strong finishes. The best is yet to come with Earnhardt in his first season at Hendrick Motorsports.
Kahne and his owners can be thankful Jimmie Johnson had to give into engine troubles after leading for 35 laps. Sure, Johnson has been a disappointment this season, but his successful history at Lowe's was well documented coming in, and he certainly looked capable of winning before his car troubles doomed him. Johnson's owners can only hope for a turnaround right now, especially in ESPN FSR leagues. He has either looked mediocre or run into bad luck too often this season, and there's nothing one can really do but hope for better times ahead. You can't bench Johnson, and you can't trade him. There's still a lot of season left, and a good run of races can hopefully pull your fantasy team back into contention and turn his currently forgettable campaign around.
Kahne and his owners should also be thankful that Brian Vickers wrecked. Putting crashes and car problems aside for a second, Vickers would have been the best bet to challenge Stewart and Earnhardt for the win Sunday. Those three drivers had the best cars on the track at Lowe's, yet Kahne was the winner. Had those three been able to finish the race, Kahne would have been looking at a fourth-place finish. Vickers led for 61 laps, and his owners must be encouraged by the performance even though he has an average finish of 21.6 this season. More top-15 outings are on the way for Vickers.
Kahne and his owners can also be thankful that Kyle Busch's car didn't seem to be in optimum form Sunday. Busch seemed to be complaining of some troubles that prevented him from sustaining winning form over the entire race. Busch had led for 61 laps, and early in the race it seemed he was on his way to yet another outstanding, and maybe winning, performance. Busch still finished third, and while his owners might feel slightly disappointed today, the top-5 showing displays just how amazing he has been this season. It was not Busch's best day, and he still delivered a great finish, and his owners still have the team to beat in both FSR leagues and typical points-league games.
Kahne and his team obviously came out of Lowe's with increased confidence and renewed hope for better races ahead. Yet the sheer reality of the situation is that Kahne was more fortunate than dominant, and his owners should treat his performance more like a top-5 finish than a stellar victory. It should be more a relief than a reason to pound the chest. I'm as big a fan of Kahne as anybody, but I just have to be realistic here.
The glaring fact is that it was Kahne's first top-5 finish of the season and just his second top-10 showing in his past seven Cup events. Sure, a win can lead to a turnaround, yet Kahne clearly could be back in the tank, so to speak, next week at Dover. I'm not putting him on my Stock Car Challenge roster, and I won't accept any trade offers involving him in any of my other leagues right now. That's simply based on his results since the fourth race of the season, which have been mostly mediocre. If you're a Kahne owner, I sincerely hope this is the beginning of better times ahead, but I'm not convinced it will be. Again, that's putting aside the fact that I cringe when his "Rock You Like A Hurricane" commercial comes on. I hope the ladies from the commercial don't come to New York looking for me if they read this article.
I actually saw more encouraging performances from other drivers who were out of the spotlight after Sunday's race. It should be clearly noted that Jeff Gordon finished fourth after languishing out of the top 15 for much of the race. Gordon's good finish was more due to strategy and the willingness to take a risk on fuel than having a good car. Yet such risks have turned to victories for Gordon in the past, and when he is performing at his best, Gordon combines great talent with great work between him and a solid crew chief in Steve Letarte. The elements of being a championship driver are apparently still there for Gordon, and a run of strong finishes and more than one win seems inevitable in the near future.
Carl Edwards started toward the back of the pack, didn't have an optimum car and still finished ninth. I still believe he is the one guy who can give Kyle Busch a real run for the Cup title and boost his fantasy owners near the top when it counts the most. Kurt Busch wasn't able to finish what he started, but he led for 64 laps and was able to provide his owners with a glimmer of hope. Greg Biffle overcame adversity to finish second, and he is showing real signs of putting together some strong showings for a while. Kahne has the headlines this morning, but in the fantasy racing world, he hasn't fully earned them just yet, and he is certainly not the top story yet. Not even close.
Scott Engel covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can contact Scott here.