Kasey Kahne won Sunday’s Oral-B USA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway in dramatic fashion, taking the lead from Matt Kenseth with a little over a lap to run on the second try at a green-white-checkered-flag finish.
In winning the race, Kahne also locked up a berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, the 10-race, season-ending run to the championship that begins after Saturday’s regular-season finale at Richmond International Raceway. By taking the runner-up spot, Kenseth also grabbed a Chase berth based on the points standings.
“I did all we could,” Kenseth said. “We had the best crew on pit road tonight. Things are looking good.”
For much of Sunday’s 500-miler, which ran before a relatively large crowd in the grandstands, it looked as if polesitter Kevin Harvick would score an easy win.
But late in the race, Kahne sped away from Harvick and Hamlin on a restart and appeared headed to victory when Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch collided, bringing brought out the caution flag with two laps to go, sending the leaders to pit road for fresh tires and setting up a two-lap dash to the checkered flag.
Kenseth and Paul Menard took the front row thanks to taking just two tires, while Hamlin and Harvick lined up in the second row, with Kahne and Joey Logano in Row 3.
A wreck on that restart collected Harvick and set up another try at a green-white-checkered-flag run to the finish.
When the green flag flew again, Kenseth and Hamlin started on the front row ahead of Kahne and Danica Patrick, with Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch in the third row.
At the drop of the green flag, Kahne surged from third to first and got the victory.
“We’ve had kind of a downer year at times,” Kahne said. “But we’re in the Chase now.”
Tony Stewart, returning to racing for the first time since an Aug. 9 incident in which sprint car driver Kevin Ward Jr. died after contact with Stewart’s car at Canandaigua Motorsports Park in New York, had a strong run going in the early laps. But just after a restart at Lap 123, he was forced into the wall by a sliding Kyle Busch, and the damage to Stewart’s No. 14 Chevrolet led to several trips down pit road and relegated him to running at the back of the lead lap. Then on Lap 172 his right-front tire blew, which his crew chief Chad Johnston attributed to the earlier damage. This time the contact with the Turn 2 wall was so hard that he took his car directly to the garage.
Stewart left the track without speaking to reporters, but Johnston did comment.
“We thought we had a shot at winning, and with two races to go to get into the Chase this was one of the two chances obviously left to get it done and to get into the Chase,” he said. “We will just have to lick our wounds and go onto Richmond and see if we can do it there and, if so, it will be pretty exciting.”
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