Kasey Kahne worked real hard on his restarts Sunday night to win the Oral-B USA 500 in an overtime victory at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Winning the race qualified Kahne for NASCAR’s Chase, the season ending finale for the Sprint Cup Series.
Kahne led only 25 laps during the race but when it mattered most, during the second “green-white-checkered” overtime brought on by some late yellow flags, he was able to overtake Matt Kenseth and power his way to the finish line for the win and into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
“We were all over the place during the race, but the guys stayed with me and worked hard," Kahne said. "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."
Most of the early pace had been set by Kevin Harvick who led 195 of the scheduled 325 laps. His early dominance paid few dividends as a late run-in with the wall put him in the wall and dropped him to 19th on the night. It’s been that kind of season for harvick who has led more than 1,000 laps but has just two wins to show for his consistency around the track.
Other highlights of the race included Danica Patrick’s best ever Sprint Cup Series finish as she took advantage of late problems suffered by other drivers to assert herself and finish sixth on the night.
While Kasey Kahne won the race and Danica Patrick got her career-best the spotlight was also on Tony Stewart who made an emotional return to NASCAR three weeks after a sprint car he was driving struck and killed Kevin Ward Jnr., a fellow competitor in a different race series.
Earlier in the week an obviously emotional Stewart made a statement about the emotional toll the accident has had on he and his family and it was apparent during driver introductions that he was still reeling from the shock and sadness of the accident. The fans let him know they were behind him as they stood and cheered when he was introduced.
Stewart competed well during the race until hitting the wall caused a puncture and forced him out of the race finishing in 41st.
Kahne's win puts all four Hendrick Motorsports drivers into the Chase, and his teammates all came to Victory Lane to congratulate Kahne. Team owner Rick Hendrick said “You know, that really was special to see all three of them come to Victory Lane to celebrate and congratulate Kasey and (No. 5 crew chief) Kenny (Francis),” adding, “I think that shows the kind of chemistry we have with our drivers, and they know they got to race each other, and they want to beat each other, but they were pulling for Kasey to get in.”