It took 325 regularly scheduled laps and two attempts at a green-white-checkered finish, but when all of the late-race drama was over, Kasey Kahne was left celebrating in Victory Lane at Atlanta Motor Speedway with the Oral-B USA 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup trophy.
The win was huge for Kahne, who not only earned his first win in a season that boasted only two previous top-5 finishes – he also cemented a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
“It was just an unbelievable way to make the Chase, and to win at Atlanta – it’s a tough track, a track that I love going to,” Kahne said of his third win at the fast 1.54-mile quad-oval.
Kahne was leading in the final laps when Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. tangled, bringing out the caution and setting up the first green-white-checkered attempt. All of the leaders pitted for tires, but Matt Kenseth and Paul Menard opted for just two while the rest picked up four, leaving Kenseth and Menard out front when the field restarted.
A slow restart by Menard held up Kevin Harvick, who had dominated much of the race, damaging both cars and starting a chain reaction to immediately bring the caution back out.
With Menard and Harvick out of the mix, Kenseth restarted inside the front row on worn right-side tires, while Hamlin flanked him and Kahne stalked him from behind
When the green flag fell for the final time, Kahne charged straight up the middle, easily getting past Hamlin and setting up a lap-long duel with Kenseth. But the time the duo came back to the white flag, though, Kahne was in command.
“I had a really good restart the first time; I was kind of hoping it went green there,” Kenseth said. “The second one wasn’t as good. I just spun the left rear a little bit and (Kahne) got up the middle there. I was able to get through one and two wide open and almost wide open through (three and four). I had him cleared, somehow he had enough momentum to get back up alongside of me. We did all we could.”
Hamlin finished the race third without feeling like he left anything on the table.
“We couldn’t get the restarts,” Hamlin said. “I couldn’t accelerate like I needed to keep (Kahne) behind me.”