HAMPTON, Ga. – Kasey Kahne knew that he needed a victory if he was going to lock himself into the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Kahne drove his way from third to first during a green-white-checkered restart to win Sunday’s Oral-B USA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
“We’re in the Chase with my teammates,” Kahne said. “I’m glad we’re in the Chase.”
As the race was drawing to a close it looked like it was going to be Kevin Harvick and not Kasey Kahne celebrating in victory lane. Harvick had the dominant car all night after starting from the pole and was leading when the caution flag waved on lap 258 when Brad Keselowski ran into the back of Josh Wise and hit the outside wall in turn four.
The leaders all came down pit road during the caution period, with Denny Hamlin beating Harvick off pit road to take the race lead. Kahne was third for the restart ahead of Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth.
Hamlin got a solid restart on the low line while Harvick, who restarted in the dreaded high line, slipped back. That opened the door for Kahne to drive from third up to the outside of Hamlin through turns one and two. A push from Harvick coming out of the corner was enough to get Kahne out front as Harvick overtook Hamlin for second.
Once out front Kahne slowly built a lead on Harvick’s Chevrolet. The gap eventually got to about half a second as Harvick began searching the track for different lines in an effort to catch Kahne. It looked like Harvick was going to run out of time, but with two laps to go the caution flag waved for an altercation between Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr.
With fresh tires being so important on the worn Atlanta Motor Speedway surface, all of the lead lap cars came down pit road under the caution period. Kenseth and Paul Menard both took two tires and beat everyone off pit road first, with Hamlin coming out third ahead of Harvick and Kahne.
The green flag waved for the first green-white-checkered restart and Kenseth got a solid jump on the field. Unfortunately for him the race didn’t stay green as behind him a stack up on the outside lane resulted in contact between Harvick, Menard and Joey Logano. Harvick ended up hitting the wall in his Chevrolet, bringing out another caution flag.
Kenseth had managed to maintain his lead with Hamlin alongside him, but Kahne was now up to third with Danica Patrick suddenly in the mix in fourth.