Auto Racing / Sports

After inconsistent NASCAR season, Kahne finds new hope with Atlanta

HAMPTON, Ga. -- Win and you're in.

NASCAR's new Chase format sounds simple enough.

Well, Kasey Kahne finally won, and he hopes he's far from done.

Kahne powered around Matt Kenseth in the second two-lap overtime to win Sunday night's Oral-B 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway and clinch a spot in the championship Chase with his first Sprint Cup Series victory of the season.

"I just kept saying, 'I have to win. I have to win Sunday night.' That was, it was all that I could think about," said Kahne, who earned the 17th win of his career.

"I knew Atlanta was a better opportunity for myself to win at than (next weekend's race at) Richmond. I feel better here than I do at Richmond."

Kahne and his No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports team have been widely inconsistent this season, and without a victory it looked as if they would sit out this season's battle for the series championship.

Kahne appeared to be the odd man out at Hendrick as his three teammates -- Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- each has three wins so far and were Chase locks.

"When I came off Turn 4 and I could see the checkered (flag). Right there is the first time I knew I was in the Chase, and it's such a relief," he said. "I have the best teammates, and Mr. (Rick) Hendrick gives us everything that we need.

"Up until now we weren't going to be in the Chase, and that hurt."

Both Kahne and his crew chief, Kenny Francis, hope Sunday night's win presses a restart button of sorts on their season.

"As s a team, we put it together tonight," Kahne said. "We can just build off of it. Hopefully, we can build some confidence, some momentum, and go into Richmond and even get better."

Francis was happy just to catch a break.

"It's been a rough year for us, as we all know," he said. "We have had a lot of good cars and just seems like nothing goes our way.

"We have been working hard, just we have been kind of under the limelight. So, finally we broke free."

Kevin Harvick dominated most of the race, leading a race-high 195 of the 335 laps, but Kahne took the lead for the first time on a late restart on Lap 303.

He did a surprisingly good job at keeping Harvick at bay and appeared to have the race won until with two laps remaining when a wreck between Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. brought out a caution and sent the race into a two-lap overtime.

Another wreck on the restart forced a second overtime, and Matt Kenseth led on the restart. Kahne made short work of Kenseth and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin to take the lead and earn the win.

"Kasey did a heck of a job on the last restart when he went through the middle," team owner Rick Hendrick said. "He started fifth and went through the middle. That was a race-winning move."

Hamlin finished third, Jimmie Johnson fourth and Carl Edwards fifth. Gordon continues to lead the series standings with a 21-point advantage over second-place Earnhardt.

Tony Stewart appeared in his first race since his involvement in an Aug. 9 incident at a New York dirt track that left driver Kevin Ward Jr. dead.

Stewart started 12th and ran in the top-five before he was involved in two accidents, the second of which sent him to the garage after 170 laps.

"Not the end of the day that we wanted," said Stewart's crew chief, Chad Johnston. "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.

"We will just have to lick our wounds and go on to Richmond."

(c)2014 The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.)

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