HAMPTON, Ga. – Kasey Kahne wouldn’t take no for an answer.
On Sunday night at Atlanta Motor Speedway, he was going to win and earn a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Simple as that.
“I told a couple friends that this week,” he said. “I just kept saying, ‘I have to win. I have to win Sunday night.’ It was all that I could think about.”
It didn’t start out as well as he would’ve liked, as he fell back from 10th position to 21st. And after gaining momentum and making it all the way up to sixth, he fell back to 17th midway through the event.
But he somehow always felt that the race was his to win.
"That's what I felt like,” Kahne said. “I felt like that all night. I felt confident. I stayed with it all night. We were good and we were bad and we were back to good.
“I stayed really under control and positive throughout the race, and the guys just kept working hard, and they kept making adjustments. And at the end we had the speed again.”
Did he ever.
Kahne looked to have the win locked up as he was pulling away from the competition late – but a caution flag sent the leaders to pit road before a green-white-checkered finish, and he ended up restarting in fifth.
No. 5 crew chief Kenny Francis said he expected to lose a couple spots on pit road due to positioning, but couldn’t have anticipated that some other teams’ strategies would put Kahne in prime position.
“When I saw two cars drive by on two tires, I thought that was the best thing that could ever happen right there,” Francis said, noting that Kahne took four fresh tires. “That put us in a perfect position, because I knew that then the restart would be way more chaotic and that would give us a good chance.”
The restart was chaotic, and Kahne picked up two spots before another caution flag flew. But it was on the second green-white-checkered finish attempt that Kahne showed how much he wanted the race.
Restarting third, he split the cars in first and second position to dart into the race lead, never looking back.
“Kasey did a heck of a job the last restart when he went through the middle,” Hendrick Motorsports Owner Rick Hendrick said. “That was a race-winning move.”
The restarts sealed the win for Kahne, who became the fourth Hendrick Motorsports driver to clinch his spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
“Restarts just really worked out for us tonight,” Kahne said. “The acceleration of my car and everything was perfect.
“So, yeah, we took advantage of those.”