Kasey Kahne’s “downer” year received an important boost when he overcame his struggles with restarts with a big power move when he needed it the most.
Kahne charged past Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin in a two-lap shootout to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Georgia on Sunday night.
Kahne’s first win of the season earned him a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
“I struggle with restarts a lot and that’s big,” Kahne said. “That’s one of the things you have to be good at. It worked really well tonight.”
Meanwhile, Tony Stewart’s much-anticipated return to racing ended a little more than halfway through the race. Stewart hit the wall for the second time after his right front tire blew out on Lap 172, ending his night with a 41st-place finish.
Kahne took his third career win in Atlanta and his first win of the season.
“We’ve had kind of a downer year at times,” Kahne said.
Kenseth, who finished second, also qualified for the Chase on points. He began the second restart in first place, but couldn’t stop the charge from Kahne.
“I was able to get alongside him and get a good run down the back stretch,” Kenseth said. “… I got back to the gas as soon as I could. I just didn’t have enough muscle to clear him.”
Hamlin was third, followed by Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards and Danica Patrick.
It was Stewart’s first race since the sprint car he was driving struck and killed 20-year-old Kevin Ward Jr. in an Aug. 9 race at a dirt track in upstate New York. The fatal wreck is still under investigation.
With only two laps remaining and Kahne holding a solid lead over Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch collided, forcing a caution flag and the first shootout. Harvick, who led 195 laps, had contact with Joey Logano in heavy traffic and hit the wall on the restart, bringing another caution flag and a second shootout. Kahne, who had four fresh tires, started behind Kenseth and Hamlin on the final restart.
“I felt better about the first restart because the outside lane was really slick and I hardly spun the tires,” Kenseth said. “I felt really good about that. The second one I didn’t feel nearly as good about. (Kahne) was behind me. They had so much speed. They drove right up between me and Denny.”
Harvick, who won the Nationwide Series race on Saturday night, started from the pole and led the first 80 laps, but was denied his attempt for a weekend sweep.
Logano, who won last week at Bristol, finished 14th.
Stewart’s problems started when he went into the wall earlier following a collision with Kyle Busch.
Kenseth began the night fifth in the points race, but was not yet locked into the Chase because he had no wins. Kenseth needed to finish seventh or better to secure his place in the playoffs.
Ryan Blaney edged German Quiroga by 0.049 seconds to win the Truck Series race at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park in Bowmanville, Ontario.
The win was Blaney’s first of the season, but third of his career. He used a pass in the final turn to give Brad Keselowski Racing its second consecutive victory – Keselowski won last week at Bristol driving the truck.
It’s also Blaney’s second win in a week. He won the Nationwide Series race at Bristol last week with a late pass of Kyle Busch.
Erik Jones was third and followed by Gray Gaulding and Andrew Ranger.
Truck Series points leader Johnny Sauter finished eighth and is seven points ahead of ThorSport Racing teammate Matt Crafton in the standings.
At Brownsburg, Indiana, John Force took home the Traxxas Nitro Shootout victory, concluding an action packed day of racing at the 60th annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, the world’s most prestigious drag race.
Force, a 16-time Funny Car world champ, earned $100,000 when he beat teammate Robert Hight with a 4.061-second run at 317.19 mph in a Ford Mustang.
He defeated fan vote/lottery winner Tim Wilkerson and two-time season winner Alexis DeJoria to reach the final.
It was Force’s second Traxxas Shootout win and seventh career victory in an NHRA all-star race. Force will look to conclude the weekend today with his fifth U.S. Nationals victory.