Sep 1, 2014, 12:14 AM EDT
HAMPTON, Ga. – Kasey Kahne‘s 17th career Sprint Cup win couldn’t have been any larger.
Battling Matt Kenseth in a two-lap, green-white-checker drag race to the finish, Kahne punched his ticket into the upcoming Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Kenseth’s Toyota wiggled heading into the white flag lap and that’s all it took for Kahne to get past, rolling to his first win in 39 starts, dating back to August 2013 at Pocono.
“We were all over the place during the race, but the guys stayed with me and worked hard,” Kahne said in Victory Lane. “I’m really happy and real thankful. We’ve had a downer year at times. … It’s been one thing after another, but now I’m in the Chase with my teammates and it’s great to be part of HMS (Hendrick Motorsports).”
Kahne becomes the 13th different driver to win a race this season, with just next week’s race at Richmond for any other winless driver to win and also make the Chase.
“This is a team effort,” Kahne said. “The guys did great tonight and I’m pretty pumped to be in here. We’re locked in. I hate that it comes down to this, Atlanta and Richmond for me. Sometimes we’re in and sometimes we’re out. We made it again, third time with HMS. I’m thankful for that.”
That gives the overall organization now a 25 percent chance to win the championship – the best odds of any of the 16 teams that will make up the expanded playoff field.
All three of his HMS teammates came over to congratulate Kahne in Victory Lane.
“How the heck did you get past them?” Jeff Gordon laughed to Kahne while giving him kudos for the win.
While he came up short for a second-place finish, Kenseth still has reason to feel elated, having officially clinched his spot in the Chase on points. While he’d like for it to have been a win, he gladly settled for second and a place in the playoffs.
“Those last two laps were really intense,” Kenseth said. “… Things are looking up. I’m looking forward to the next 11 (races).”
Kenseth and Denny Hamlin, who finished third, led the field to the green flag for the final restart on Lap 333, but Hamlin’s could not catch Kenseth nor hold off Kahne, ultimately finishing third.
“I couldn’t capitalize, couldn’t get the restarts and couldn’t accelerate,” Hamlin said. “We just came up short. Third is about the place car we had tonight.”
Jimmie Johnson finished fourth, followed by Carl Edwards.
Pole-sitter Kevin Harvick dominated the race, leading 195 laps and appeared headed for a weekend sweep, having won Saturday night’s Nationwide Series race.
Harvick finished 19th.
It was a rough night for a number of drivers:
* Tony Stewart, making his first start after missing the last three Sprint Cup races due to the Kevin Ward Jr. tragedy, ran a very strong race until Lap 122, when his car and that of Kyle Busch made contact.
Both cars suffered right side damage that required several pit stops for Stewart under caution to repair the damage. Busch’s crew was able to repair the damage to his car on just one stop.
While Stewart was able to stay on the lead lap until just before halfway (Lap 161), dropping one lap down at that point, things went from bad to worse 11 laps later.
Stewart appeared to suffer tire failure and his car went directly into the Turn 2 wall, sustaining significant damage, forcing him to limp his injured ride back to the pits and then on to the garage area, where it appeared his night had come to an end.
* Jeff Gordon was running second when his car hit the wall on Lap 79 heading into Turn 3, apparently due to a blown left front tire, Gordon told his crew over the team radio. Gordon’s car was never quite the same, ending up in 17th-place.
* Clint Bowyer, trying to hold on to his spot in the Chase, suffered a broken shifter in his car early in the race, leading to being sidelined for more than 20 laps in the garage while. Bowyer finished 38th.
* Marcos Ambrose‘s two remaining chances to make the Chase with a win were abruptly cut in half when the motor on his Ford Fusion broke on Lap 123 of the 325-lap event.
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