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Keeping Pace

Kahne Holds Off Stewart For Infineon Win

Enumclaw, Wash. native Kasey Kahne grabbed the checkered flag for Richard Petty Motorsports on Sunday–this first Petty-owned car to win a race in over 10 years.


By Reid Spencer
Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service
 
SONOMA, Calif.—How strange was it for Kasey Kahne to win a road-course race?
 
The driver of the No. 9 Richard Petty Motorsports Dodge had to ask his crew chief for directions to victory lane after taking the checkered flag in a green-white-checkered finish in Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway.
 
Kahne held off road-course ace Tony Stewart through a succession of four late-race double-file restarts, the final time after Scott Speed’s spin on Lap 108 caused the seventh caution of the day. After starting from the rear because of an engine change, Marcos Ambrose chased the top two finishers to the line to claim third place, matching the best result of his Sprint Cup Series career.
 
“Awesome—not too bad for a dirt-tracker from Washington!” Kenny Francis, Kahne’s crew chief, radioed after his driver crossed the stripe on Lap 113, three laps beyond the scheduled distance at the 1.99-mile road course.
 
“Unreal,” replied Kahne, who gave owner Richard Petty his first victory since John Andretti in 1999. “Gosh, we had to hold him (Stewart) off for a while. We won a road-course race! Oh, my God, I can’t believe this.”
 
Jimmie Johnson recovered from a pit-road speeding penalty to finish fourth. Denny Hamlin, who led 33 laps—second only to Kahne’s 37—came home fifth. Juan Pablo Montoya, AJ Allmendinger, Clint Bowyer, Jeff Gordon and Elliott Sadler completed the top 10.
 
The victory was Kahne’s first of the season and the 10th of his NASCAR Sprint Cup career. Before Sunday’s race, his highest finish on a road course was 14th at Watkins Glen.
 
“It was crazy,” Kahne said, after following Francis’ directions to victory lane. “Stewart’s as good as they get out there, and I had to restart beside him about four times. Cautions kept coming out, and we were having to hold him off. He was giving me tons of room … which is normal Stewart. The guy’s an awesome racer.”
 
After Kahne took the lead from Speed on a restart on Lap 80, he stayed out front the rest of the way. Stewart’s attempts to pressure Kahne into a mistake failed to produce the desired result.
 
“The second-to-last run there (when Stewart was leading Kahne), we were looking in our mirror and we were fast, but Kasey was matching us lap for lap,” Stewart said. “Then when he came out in front of us after that last set of pit stops, I was like, ‘Oh, we might be in trouble here.’
 
“We could run about the same pace. I just couldn’t get (to him). I was a little too loose in the right-handers, and Kasey never made a mistake. The kid did an awesome job and just ran a perfect race.”
 
Ambrose, who suffered a blown engine in Saturday morning’s practice session, got to the front through a combination of pit strategy and talent.
 
“It was just a great recovery for our team,” said the Australian driver, who duplicated last year’s third-place finish at Watkins Glen, where he also started at the back of the field. “We kept the car fairly straight. Up there, when you’re in that rare air with those drivers, you don’t want to slip up when you’re around them—when you’ve got the chance to run well.
 
“We would have liked to have won the race, and I feel like I disadvantaged (us) Saturday, blowing up that motor, but it feels like a win.”
 
Notes: Stewart expanded his lead in the Cup standings to 84 points over second-place Gordon. … Montoya moved up two spots into 12th, the last position eligible for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Kahne also gained two places to 13th and trails Montoya by three points. … Jeff Burton finished 34th and dropped from 12th to 15th. … Stewart finished second for a season-high fourth time. … A late-race accident dropped Dale Earnhardt Jr. to 26th at the finish.

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Motorsports correspondent Doug Pace keeps up with motorsports news and notes from around the region.

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