Kasey Kahne owes his fans.
The driver No. 9 Dodge would not have been in the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race Saturday night at Lowe's Motor Speedway had he not won a fan vote to give him the final available slot.
But he won the vote and then, thanks to a great call on pit strategy by team director Kenny Francis, won the race and the $1 million prize that goes with it.
Never miss a local story.
"I can't believe it," Kahne said. "I can't believe we won $1 million."
There was a lot about what happened in the 24th running of this non-points race that was difficult to believe.
Certainly, for instance, no one expected there to be no cautions in the 100 laps other than those marking the breaks between the four 25-lap segments.
And Greg Biffle, who wound up second, certainly was shocked that the two tires he changed on his Ford before the final segment didn't allow him to gobble up Kahne, who took no tires.
"I can't believe I got beat by no tires," Biffle said.
This is the first all-star victory for Dodge in the 24-year history of the event.
"It feels so good to get back to victory lane," said Kahne, who last won in a Sprint Cup car at this track in the Bank of America 500 at this track in October 2006. "It feels like we did a lot tonight to pass every car. It gives me a ton of confidence as a driver."
What made it even more unexpected was the car that beat him had only managed to finish fifth in the Sprint Showdown preliminary, from which A.J. Allmendinger and Sam Hornish Jr won their way into the main event.
Two other drivers have won the all-star main event after advancing through the preliminary - Michael Waltrip in 1996 and Ryan Newman in 2002. But past winners of the fan vote had been largely ceremonial participants in the varsity race.
Until this time.
Kahne started 24th and was 13th after the first segment, which was won by Kyle Busch. Busch led until Lap 39 before dropping a cylinder in the engine of his Toyota.
"We just didn't make it today," Busch said after his crew tried changing a rocker arm during the 10-minute "halftime" break, but then decided it was done for the night.
Edwards wasn't glad to hear that.
"I wanted to beat him fair and square tonight," he said.
The near-sellout crowd had a different view. As the field rolled off to start Segment 3, Busch's Toyota was pushed back down pit road toward the garage to a loud ovation.
Kahne was eighth after that segment, which was won by Carl Edwards, and seventh at the end of Segment 3 that Biffle won.
Jimmie Johnson, Kahne and Denny Hamlin did not take tires on the stop before the final segment and got off pit road ahead of Biffle.
"That's what we had to do," Kahne said of the strategy. "It was our only shot at winning the race."
Dale Earnhardt Jr., who finished second in the third segment, took four tires and was 13th when the green flew. Falling that far back on a night when track position proved so important was the death knell for Earnhardt Jr.'s chance to win. He wound up eighth.
There was a scramble for the lead as the final segment began, with Hamlin eventually popping his Toyota out front on Lap 79. Kahne didn't quit, though, and he fought his way back into the lead with a move coming off Turn 4 on Lap 84.
A moment later, Hamlin's car slowed dramatically and dropped off the pace with an engine problem. He drove to the garage as Kahne dug in to try to hold Biffle off over the final 13 laps.
Biffle said he had one good shot to get the lead back.
"He kind of closed the door on me a little bit and I figured, 'No sense pressing it right now,' " Biffle said. " 'I've got plenty of laps to go.' But my car just got tighter and tighter and I never got a chance to get back at him again."