Welcome to the Chase, Kasey Kahne.
Kahne took advantage of NASCAR’s new win-and-you’re-in Chase format, passing Matt Kenseth during a second two-lap overtime to win Sunday night’s Oral-B 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Kahne and his No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports team had struggled much of this season, but in one race – and with his first victory of the season – Kahne was able to give his team the opportunity to compete for the series championship.
Kahne was winless this season and 13th in the series standings prior to his unexpected victory.
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Denny Hamlin finished third, Jimmie Johnson was fourth and Carl Edwards was fifth.
The race was also marked the return of Tony Stewart to Sprint Cup Series competition for the first time since Aug. 3 at Pocono Raceway, and he received a thunderous standing ovation from fans during driver introductions.
Stewart had sat out the previous three races following his involvement in an Aug. 9 incident at an upstate New York dirt track, where a sprint car driven by Stewart struck and killed driver Kevin Ward Jr., who was walking on the track while the race was under caution. The Ontario County (N.Y.) Sheriff’s department continues to investigate the incident.
Stewart made no sponsor or public appearances Sunday before the mandatory drivers meeting two hours before the scheduled start and driver introductions, which began around 6:55 p.m.
Stewart – nicknamed “Smoke” – started 12th in the race which went green at 7:52 p.m. He was credited with a 41st-place finish after being involved with two accidents.
“Sorry guys, you deserve better than this,” Stewart radioed to his crew as he drove his No. 14 Chevrolet to the garage.
Kevin Harvick who started on the pole, led the first 80 laps, mimicking his performance Saturday night in winning the Nationwide Series race at the track.
Jeff Gordon hit the wall on Lap 78 to bring out the second caution. Hamlin was the first car off pit road following pit stops and took over the lead on the restart on Lap 85 followed by Harvick and Kenseth.
Harvick moved back into the lead on Lap 108.
Marcos Ambrose blew his engine on Lap 124 which brought out a caution. On the restart on Lap 132, Kenseth led the way followed by Hamlin and Kurt Busch, who moved out to the lead on Lap 136.
Kenseth rebounded quickly and powered back around Busch for the lead on Lap 158. Harvick re-claimed his spot out front on Lap 165.
Shortly after teams began a round of green-flag pit stops Stewart slammed into the Turn 2 wall after a right-front tire went down.
“The car has had speed all weekend long, and we qualified well. I went into today with some pretty high hopes of finishing well and possibly coming out of here with a win, but it just didn’t work out in our favor,” said Stewart’s crew chief, Chad Johnston.
Stewart declined to comment.
Kenseth and Harvick had already pitted before the caution and restarted first and second, respectively, on the restart on Lap 179.Five laps after the restart, Harvick moved back around Kenseth and into the lead.
Debris on Lap 209 brought out the sixth caution. All of the lead-lap cars pit for fuel and tires with Kenseth taking over the lead on the restart on Lap 215, followed by Harvick and Joey Logano.
Harvick ran down Kenseth and retook the lead on Lap 228.
Once again as teams began a round of green-flag pit stops, caution was displayed for debris on the track. Harvick, Kenseth, Logano and Johnson had already pit before the caution and restarted first through fourth, respectively, on the restart on Lap 264.
Brad Keselowski hit the wall on Lap 297 to bring out the eighth caution of the race. All of the lead-lap cars pit for fuel and tires and Hamlin once again led the way on the restart on Lap 303, followed by Harvick and Kasey Kahne.
Kyle Busch slammed into Martin Truex Jr. on Lap 324 just before Kahne took the white flag signifying the final lap, sending the race into the first two-lap overtime. Kenseth took over the lead on the restart on Lap 329.