Kasey Kahne scored a timely win holding off Matt Kenseth on a green-white-checkered flag finish Sunday night to power to victory in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series Oral B 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. After scoring only two top five finishes the entire season, Kahne got his first win since August of 2013 at Pocono Raceway to secure his spot in this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Kahne took the lead on a restart with 23 laps to go from a dominant Kevin Harvick and the race appeared to be down to those two. But a caution with two laps to go set up the first green white checkered flag finish. That restart led to a crash that ended Harvick’s night, brought out the final caution and the second attempt at the green white checkered flag finish. Kahne charged from third under Denny Hamlin and outside Kenseth. The two battled until they exited turn 4 and headed towards the white flag; Kenseth got loose and Kahne was able to power ahead and onto victory.
“We were all over the place during the race,” Kahne said. “But the guys stayed with me and worked hard. On those restarts – I didn’t know what would happen because I had great restarts all night and I struggle with restarts a lot. That’s big, because that is one of the things you have to be good at and it worked really well tonight.”
Hamlin was third, Jimmie Johnson was fourth, Carl Edwards was fifth. Harvick who led race a high 195 of the 335 laps finished 19th.
“I had a really good restart the first time,” Kenseth said. “ I was kind of hoping it went green there because Paul (Menard) was in there and the 5 (Kasey Kahne) and the 4 (Kevin Harvick) were stuck at the top, but that didn’t work out. The second (restart) was okay, it wasn’t good, just spun the left rear (tire) a little bit and the 5 got up the middle there and I was able to get to (turns) one and two wide-open and almost wide-open through there and cleared him but somehow he was able to get back up alongside me. We did all we could.”
Harvick shot to the lead from the pole at the start of the race as second place starter Brad Keselowski fell back on the outside; the biggest mover was Tony Stewart. Stewart, who was in his first race back after missing the last three events, moved up from his 12th place starting spot to seventh in two laps. By lap 16, Stewart was in fourth. Gordon was second, Keselowski third.
By lap 20 Harvick had started to lap the field and by lap 35 his lead was just over six seconds. The first caution came out on lap 37 for debris. The leaders came down for the first stops of the night. All took four tires with Harvick leading off pit road, Jeff Gordon was second, Matt Kenseth third, Denny Hamlin fourth, Carl Edwards fifth and Stewart sixth. Harvick led to the green on the restart came on lap 45. It didn’t take long for him to stretch out his lead over second place Gordon. By lap 70, Harvick’s lead was back up to 3.3 seconds.
Caution two came out on lap 78 when Jeff Gordon scraped the wall and slowed on the bottom of the track after blowing a left front tire. The leaders came in for stops.
Hamlin won the race off pit road followed by Harvick, Kenseth, Keselowski and Logano. The restart came on lap 85; Hamlin and Harvick dueled side by side for the lead for several laps until Hamlin pulled ahead two laps later. Keselowski passed Kenseth to settle into third. By lap 104 Hamlin’s lead was 1.3 seconds. On lap 108 though, Harvick was able to catch and get by Hamlin to retake the lead. Harvick was nearly 2 second ahead by lap 114 has Hamlin was sliding back.
The third caution came out when Ryan Truex spun exiting turn 4 on lap 117. The leaders came in for stops and Hamlin once again won the race off pit road, followed by Harvick, Kenseth, Logano and Keselowski.
Hamlin led to the green on lap 122; Kenseth was able to get by Harvick and then past Hamlin to take the lead. The fourth caution came on lap 127 when the Ford of Marco’s Ambrose lost an engine. Kyle Busch and Tony Stewart had made contact on the restart and both pitted before pit road opened to repair damage. After a lengthy clean up, pit road opened; the top five stayed out, Jimmie Johnson was the first to pit from sixth place.
The green came out on lap 135 with Kenseth leading , Hamlin second, Kurt Busch third, Harvick fourth and Keselowski fifth. A lap after the restart, Kurt Busch was challenging for the lead and took over the top spot on lap 137. A few laps later Hamlin began to slide back and by lap 145 was in fifth behind Keselowski. Kenseth never lost sight of Busch and on lap 158 he got back by Busch for the lead. Harvick was close behind and was soon challenging for second. Stewart was passed and put a lap down on lap 162. On lap 165 Harvick retook the lead.
Harvick pitted under green on lap172; Kenseth and Kurt Busch followed. Busch had damage from a flat rear tire that caused him to scrape the wall. On the track, Stewart blew a tire and hit the wall in turn 2 bringing out the fifth caution. The rest of the leaders pitted. Stewart was forced to the garage ending his night early.
Having just pitted, Kenseth led followed by Harvick, Hamlin was third, Keselowski fourth, Johnson fifth.
The restart came on lap 180; Hamlin shot to the lead, Harvick dropped back but was soon back in second and looking for the lead; Keselowski fell into third, Edwards took over fourth. Harvick got a run entering turn 3 on lap 183 and retook the lead. Ten laps later Keselowski took over second from Kenseth.
Caution six came out on lap 209 for debris and all the leaders came in for stops. Kenseth won the race off pit road, Harvick was second, Logano third, Hamlin fourth, Johnson fifth. Keselowski slid though his pit box and had to back up, he restarted 16th. The restart came on lap 214; Kenseth went to second, Harvick was close behind in third. Behind, Kyle Larson passed Edwards for fifth. Harvick got by Logano for second on lap 219. By lap 227 he was able to get by Kenseth for the lead. By lap 240 Harvick’s lead was 2.2 seconds, by lap 249 the separation was 6.4 seconds.
A round of green flag stops started on lap 254. Harvick came in for his stop on lap 260 with most of the leaders following. Just as they came in the seventh caution came out for debris. Thanks to their fortuitous timing on pit stops, Harvick led followed by Kenseth, Logano and Johnson. Kurt Busch was among those that were caught out and restarted back in the pack. Harvick took a clear lead when the restart came on lap 262, Logano took over second, Hamlin third, Kenseth fourth and Johnson fifth.
The final round of stops began under green with 30 laps to go. Keselowski hit the wall after making contact with Josh Wise with 28 to go bringing out caution eight; Logano was on pit road and able to complete his stop. Logano was forced to come back in after his crew failed to get him full of fuel. Hamlin led off pit road, Harvick was second, Kahne third Johnson fourth and Kenseth fifth, Logano rolled off seventh. The restart came with 23 laps to go.
Hamlin dueled Kahne for the top spot with Kahne coming out with the lead, followed by Harvick. Kahne and Harvick began to break away from the field as the laps wound down.
The duo caught a group of lapped cars with seven laps to go with Kahne gaining an advantage. But with two laps to go, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. got together bringing out the ninth caution and setting up the green white checkered flag finish. There were 16 cars on the lead lap and Kahne led Harvick and the other leaders down pit road. All took four tires, Kenseth and Paul Menard took only two tires and left pit road one and two; Hamlin was third, Harvick fourth and Kahne fifth.
On the restart, Kenseth was on the inside, Menard on the outside; Hamlin was behind Kenseth, Harvick behind Menard.
Kenseth got a big lead and the inside line began to move ahead; but behind them Harvick was jammed up behind Menard and got hit by Logano and put into the wall. The caution quickly flew and set up a second attempt at a green white checkered flag finish. Kenseth led, Hamlin was second, Kahne was on the inside in third, Danica Patrick restarted fourth, Johnson fifth.
On the restart Kahne shot to the outside and it was side by side with he and Kenseth. As the two exited turn 4, Kenseth got loose, Kahne pulled ahead and went on for his 17th career win. It was Kahne’s third win at Atlanta and his first since 2009.
“It’s been tough and we have had kind of a downer year at times,” Kahne said. “Then we started running really good. 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.”
Danica Patrick scored a career best sixth place, Ryan Newman was seventh, Kyle Larson eighth, Aric Almirola ninth and Greg Biffle tenth. The full finishing order can be found here.
Gordon remains the points leader after he came back from two laps down to finish 17th. Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 11th and holds on to second; with his second place finish, Kenseth moved up to third and secures a spot in the Chase, Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski round out the top five. The updated championship points can be found here.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup series heads to Richmond International Raceway for Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400, the race that will lock in the field for this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup.