Monday, September 1, 2014

Scorching Night in Atlanta Gives Kahne His Ticket to the Chase

Kasey Kahne takes home win in Atlanta and secures Chase spot.
Credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs  

Sunday night’s Oral-B USA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway proved to be fast, furious and fraught with emotion as drivers scrambled for position and points. One of just two races remaining before the start of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, the 500-mile race was a critical one as the momentum of the regular season comes to a close.

Kasey Kahne came away victorious, scoring his only Cup win this season and securing a spot in the Chase.

Despite an uncertain 2014 to date, winning at Atlanta is nothing new for Kahne, who marked his third victory in 18 career Cup starts at the speedway. As the race wound down, Kahne led Kevin Harvick until a skirmish between Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. brought out a caution with two to go, and Kahne lost several positions on pit road. The first attempt at a G-W-C restart ended with a wreck that took Harvick out of contention after he dominated much of the race. Thanks to a solid pit strategy with four new tires, Kahne snatched the lead from Kenseth on the final G-W-C restart, and took the checkers.

It’s been a frustrating season for Kahne so far. He's watched teammates Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. stand in Victory Lane multiple times while he’s dealt with a streak of errors, close calls and bad luck.

"It's been tough and we have had kind of a downer year at times and then we started running really good," Kahne said. "Last week we were really fast at Bristol and then we had a problem. So it's been kind of one thing after the other, but we are in the Chase with my teammates."

Polesitter Harvick, who led seven times for a race-high 195 laps, had a rather squirrelly night. At one point a small animal -- which Harvick radioed his team was a cat -- darted in front of his car, barely making it to the safety of the infield. Shortly afterward, an incident between Joey Logano and Paul Menard caused damage to Harvick’s No. 4 car, and he wound up finishing 19th.

The cat, confirmed by NASCAR to actually be a squirrel, was later spotted hiding near Turn 3.

In his first Sprint Cup race in four weeks since an August 9 fatal sprint-car incident unaffiliated with NASCAR, Tony Stewart’s big return was met with thunderous applause and cheering during driver introductions. But his night ended early after he hit the wall and lost a tire on Lap 172. On top of damage sustained in an earlier entanglement with Kyle Busch, the No. 14 car proved to be beyond repair.

With Kahne’s win, all four Hendrick drivers now quality for the Cup Chase. Kenseth finished second and will make the Chase based on points. Other notables included Denny Hamlin, who finished third, Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards, fourth and fifth respectively, and Danica Patrick in sixth -- her best career Sprint Cup finish.

The Race to the Chase ends next weekend at the last regular season race at Richmond International Speedway. Additional drivers who qualify for the Chase include AJ Allmendinger, Aric Almirola, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Earnhardt Jr., Edwards, Gordon, Harvick, Hamlin, Johnson, Brad Keslowski and Logano. Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer and Ryan Newman are on the bubble and can still qualify for the Chase based on points or a win.

In 2015, the Sprint Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway moves to the second race, much earlier in the season.

Click here for final race results. 


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