Kasey Kahne picked up his second NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win of the season, driving the No. 9 Budweiser Dodge Charger to victory in Sunday nights Pep Boys Auto 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The win greatly enhanced Kahnes chances of making the 12-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Kahne, who qualified second, jumped from 11th to sixth in the point standings. He now has a 96-point advantage over 13th with only one race Richmond remaining to finalize the Chase field. It was a gain of 40 points.
The top 12 drivers in the season point standings following Saturday nights race at Richmond will compete for the season championship and the Sprint Cup over the final 10 races of the year.
Kahnes Dodge, powered by the R6 engine, was strong throughout the race, but especially on short runs. His challengers excelled on longer runs. Kahne was third when the ninth and final caution appeared with just 15 of the scheduled 325 laps remaining. It was a made-to-order opportunity for Kahne and the No. 9 team.
All the leaders elected to pit for tires. Kahnes over-the-wall crew made a four-tire change and had the No. 9 Dodge back on the track in the second spot. That was the norm most of the night as the No. 9 crew was flawless on pit road and frequently gained a spot or two in track position on each stop.
Race leader Kevin Harvick took the outside for the double-file restart with Kahne on the inside. When the green flag appeared for the final 11 laps, Kahne had the lead before the field reached the second turn and quickly built a comfortable advantage en route to his 11th career victory.
The entire Budweiser Dodge team did great tonight, said Kahne. The pit stops were awesome. (Kevin) Harvick was best on the long run, but when we got that last caution, I knew we had a shot at the victory. Its all about making the Chase. That certainly put us in a better position going to Richmond. I knew Harvick and (Juan Pablo) Montoya were going to be tough. I hadnt gotten through the gears all night, but (David) Reutimann gave me a little push on the front stretch and got me going. It was a great win for Richard Petty Motorsports and the Budweiser Dodge team.
If Kahne finishes 21st or better or 23rd or better and leads a lap at Richmond next week, he is assured a Chase berth.
That was something else, said Kenny Francis, crew chief for the No. 9 Dodge. I said about three-quarters through the race that if it came down to a short run, we might have a shot at it (the win). Man, when that caution came out, it was perfect for us. Kasey had a great restart, got the lead and drove away. I just couldnt believe it. The guys did a great job all night. The pit stops were flawless. We picked up spots just about every stop. The car was real good on short runs. It got a little too loose on the long run, but it still wasnt bad. It just played into our hand tonight. We just thank the Lord for making us smart enough to make the right decisions.
It was Kahnes second victory and seventh top-10 finish in 12 races at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
The win gives Dodge a sweep at AMS this season. Kurt Busch dominated the spring event, leading 234 laps en route to victory. The No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge just didnt handle as well this time around. Numerous attempts to tighten the car during pit stops fell short in correcting the issue. Running in the top 20, Busch was involved in a mishap in turn four on lap 246. Extensive damage ended the night for the Blue Deuce. Busch finished 38th.
“I had a loose race car all night, Busch said. We just couldn’t get a handle on our Miller Lite Dodge. I was sideways and I guess the 43 hit us. He had nowhere to go. It was a real hard hit; that was a bummer. We were just trying to get a handle on it, but couldnt do it. I felt like we were on the spring (race) tires and everybody else was on the fall (race) tires.
“I was trying to hang on to it and get to the next pit stop, but it kept getting looser and looser. We just got bit tonight by the loose bug.”
Busch came into the event sixth in points with a 192-point advantage over 13th. He dropped one spot to seventh and the margin over 13th has been reduced to 95 points. Busch can secure a spot on the Chase by finishing 20th or better at Richmond or 22nd and lead a lap.
David Stremme recorded his second top-15 finish in the last three races. He finished 14th in the No. 12 Penske Racing Dodge Charger. He started ninth, ran as high as eighth and was in the top 20 throughout the race.
AJ Allmendinger finished 20th and teammate Elliott Sadler was 21st as 21 cars were on the lead lap when the checkered flag appeared.
Driver Team Finished
Kasey Kahne No. 9 Budweiser Dodge Win
David Stremme No. 12 Penske Racing Dodge 14th
AJ Allmendinger No. 44 Hunt Brothers Pizza Dodge 20th
Elliott Sadler No. 19 Stanley Dodge 21st
Reed Sorenson No. 43 Air Force Dodge 27th
Sam Hornish Jr. No. 77 Mobil 1 Dodge 35th
Kurt Busch No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge 38th
Driver Rank Starts Points Behind Wins Poles T5s T10s
Kasey Kahne 6 25 3153 -541 2 0 5 10
Kurt Busch 7 25 3152 -542 1 0 6 13
AJ Allmendinger 25 25 2361 -1333 0 0 1 3
Elliott Sadler 26 25 2355 -1339 0 0 1 3
Sam Hornish Jr. 27 25 2292 -1402 0 0 2 6
Reed Sorenson 28 25 2275 -1419 0 0 0 1
David Stremme 31 25 2204 -1490 0 0 0 0
NSCS Driver Points after 25 of 36 races
1. Tony Stewart 3,694 +637
2. Jeff Gordon 3,457 400
3. Jimmie Johnson 3,404 347
4. Denny Hamlin 3,296 239
5. Carl Edwards 3,162 105
6. Kasey Kahne 3,153 96
7. Kurt Busch 3,152 95
8. Juan Montoya 3,145 88
9. Ryan Newman 3,138 81
10. Mark Martin 3,126 69
11. Greg Biffle 3,125 68
12. Matt Kenseth 3,077 20 (points ahead of final Chase spot)
13. Brian Vickers 3,057 -20
14. Kyle Busch 3,040 -37
– 30 –