NASCAR: Kahne, Kenseth lock down places in the 'Chase'

Posted Sep 1, 2014 by John Duarte
Kasey Kahne jumped into the lead of the Oral-B USA 500 with 24 laps remaining in the Sunday evening race and held on for the win, claiming his place in the final 16 as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series prepares to begin its championship chase.
Kasey Kahne applies the decal to his car after after winning the Oral-B USA 500  the NASCAR race at ...
Kasey Kahne applies the decal to his car after after winning the Oral-B USA 500, the NASCAR race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, in Georgia, on Aug. 31, 2014.
Nick Laham/NASCAR via Getty Images
Kahne said that he almost expects his fate and prospects of being in the Chase for the Sprint Cup to come down to the final races of the regular portion of the schedule, Atlanta Motor Speedway or Richmond International Raceway.
“It comes down to this just about every year for me,” said Kahne with a sigh of relief. “Sometimes we are in. Sometimes we are out. We have the pressure all the way to Richmond. But we made it again — thankful for that.”
Kahne actually had to wait longer than he would have liked to win the race after incidents kept postponing the end of the race. The first accident happened just two laps before the scheduled distance of 325 laps. The first attempt at a green-white-checker finish was aborted by another wreck and another restart. The Oral-B USA 500 finally came to an end after 10 laps of overtime.
“It feels really good to get a victory here tonight.” Kahne summed up his race saying, “We had an up-and-down night. We started — I could barely get through the corner, I was loose. Then made some adjustments. I felt really good about the car. And, then, we kind of dialled ourselves out again. Fell back. Went a lap down. Then, came back again at the end.”
On the second restart attempt at the green-white-checker finish, Kahne got by Matt Kenseth and sped to the win. Kenseth said he was doing all he could just to stay on the racetrack while battling Kahne and eventual third-place finisher Denny Hamlin.
“That last lap and a half, last two laps, was fairly intense,” he said. “I thought I got rolling okay on the restart. Denny spun his tires a little bit. Kasey got rolling and just drove up in between us. I was able to get alongside of him and get a good run down the back stretch — just didn't have enough muscle to clear him.”
The good news for Kenseth is that a second-place finish clinches his place in the final 16 and a shot at the Sprint Cup. He said that he feels his car is competitive, but has some work to go if he is going to make a good run at the championship.
“We're working on it. We are always working on it and trying to always get them always better and I feel like we are gaining on it,” Kenseth said. “Hopefully, some races will come down to longer runs and handling will come more into play and we can try to wear (the competition) out.”
With only one race left in the regular portion of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule, 14 of the 16 spots have been filled for the Chase for the Sprint Cup, which starts at Chicagoland Speedway on Sept. 14, 2014. Currently, Ryan Newman and Greg Biffle occupy the last two available places on the Chase grid, with Newman having a 19-point advantage in the driver points standings. Should there be a new race winner, Biffle would be bumped from the Chase. It will all be decided at the Federated Auto Parts 400, at Richmond International Raceway on Sept. 14, 2014.
Tony Stewart dominated attention this week. Stewart returned to the track in Atlanta after the tragic incident that claimed the life of another racer in upstate New York. NASCAR fans showed their appreciation for Stewart's return to racing with heartfelt greetings and messages of encouragement written on the pit wall. Stewart addressed the media with a statement, expressing thanks for the support he received from family, friends, fellow racers and the racing community in general.
“This has been one of the toughest tragedies I've ever had to deal with, both professionally and personally,” he said. This is something that will definitely affect my life forever.”
He acknowledged the desire by media to ask questions regarding the incident, but added “I need to respect the ongoing investigation” before answering any and all questions.
“There will be a day when I can sit here and answer the questions,” Stewart said. “Emotionally, I'm not sure if I could answer them (today) anyway.”
It was the first time Stewart was active in competition since the Aug. 9, 2014, incident. He qualified 12th for the Oral-B USA 500 and exited after 172 laps after blowing a tire sent him crashing into the wall.