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Win and in: Kahne clinches Chase spot

By Gray Caldwell

HAMPTON, Ga. – In one fell swoop, Kasey Kahne clinched his first victory of the 2014 season – and Hendrick Motorsports’ fourth spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

At Atlanta Motor Speedway Sunday night, Kahne used fast restarts down the stretch – including two crucial attempts at a green-white-checkered finish – to hold off competitors for the Chase-clinching win.

“We’re in the Chase with my teammates,” Kahne smiled. “I have a great group of teammates and it’s awesome to work with those guys.”

Seconds after the Victory Lane interview concluded, those teammates swarmed the driver of the No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet SS.

“I’m so proud of you,” Jeff Gordon said as he, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. congratulated Kahne.

Johnson gave Hendrick Motorsports two top-five finishers at Atlanta. Below is a rundown of all four drivers’ performance in Sunday night’s event.

KASEY KAHNE, NO. 5 FARMERS INSURANCE CHEVROLET SS
Finished:
 1st
Standings: 11th
Recap: Starting in 10th position, Kahne fell back in the pack early in the race. By Lap 27 he was running in 21st position. But before Lap 50, he found his way back into the top 20 and quickly found a rhythm on the track. At Lap 49, he was in 17th. At Lap 57 he hit 13th, 10th position on Lap 89 and as high as sixth on Lap 109. After a yellow flag was waved on Lap 116, the No. 5 team elected not to take new tires and after the restart lost some positions, but after falling back to 17th position, he once again found his rhythm. With 62 laps to go, Kahne restarted in 14th position but quickly gained two spots in one lap to inch closer to the top 10. At Lap 282 he passed teammate Johnson for sixth place, and after a caution flag waved at Lap 296 Kahne was so happy with his Chevrolet SS that the car didn’t take any adjustments on pit road – just fuel and four tires. The quick stop allowed him to restart in third position, and on the restart he jumped to first place. He led 23 laps before an incident caused a caution. Kahne and the rest of the leaders headed to pit road for four tires, and he restarted in fifth position for a green-white-checkered finish. He quickly passed two competitors before another yellow flag waved, and restarted in third position for the second attempt at a green-white-checkered finish. He passed both competitors in front of him and held on for the win.

JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 PANASONIC TOUGHBOOK CHEVROLET SS
Finished:
 17th
Standings: 1st
Recap: After rolling off the grid in ninth position, Gordon made the early stages of his 750th career start count. He jumped up to sixth position within a lap, and moved into the top five by Lap 3. On the ninth lap of the race, Gordon moved into second place, where he would stay until Lap 78, when he was involved in an incident that caused a caution. “I blew a tire, guys. I got the wall pretty good," Gordon reported over the radio. After repairs were made on pit road, Gordon was two laps down. He battled to be the top car two laps down and when a caution flag flew during a green-white-checkered finish restart, after taking a wave-around, Gordon became the lucky dog and moved to the lead lap. He finished the race 17th.

JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S/KOBALT TOOLS CHEVROLET SS
Finished:
 4th
Standings: 6th
Recap: Johnson began the race in 16th position, and that’s where he remained for the first 30 laps. He gained his first position of the day on Lap 30, and didn’t stop there. On a Lap-44 restart following a caution, he was in 14th position and quickly jumped up to ninth before a yellow flag waved once again. He remained in the top 10 for the next portion of the race, and on Lap 180, he moved into the top five. That’s where he stayed for the majority of the remainder of the race until Lap 282, when he fell to seventh position as he was passed by teammate Kahne. But a quick performance by the No. 48 pit crew during a caution with 28 laps to go allowed Johnson to restart in fourth position. He took the checkered flag in fourth.

DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 88 NATIONAL GUARD CHEVROLET SS
Finished: 
11th
Standings: 2nd
Recap: A 20th-place start didn’t last long for Earnhardt, who jumped into the top 15 by Lap 30. On Lap 84, Earnhardt moved as high as 11th position, and remained in the top 20 for the first half of the race. During a caution at Lap 172, a piece of debris struck the grill of Earnhardt’s National Guard Chevrolet SS, which required him to come to pit road three times for repairs. He took the green flag on the ensuing restart at Lap 180 in 17th position. He settled in at 19th, but began moving back up the field at Lap 221. By Lap 265, he was in the top 10, and a scheduled pit stop for four tires and fuel at Lap 293 left him in 11th position after a caution flag waved three laps later. After two attempts at a green-white-checkered finish, Earnhardt scored an 11th-place finish.

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