Tuesday, September 5, 2006
He will go to Richmond just 30 points behind 10th-place Jeff Burton.
FONTANA, Calif. (AP) -- Kasey Kahne knew exactly what he needed to do in Sunday night's NASCAR Nextel Cup race at California Speedway.
"I came here telling myself, 'You've got to win. You've got to win. You have to go out there and lead laps,' " Kahne said.
The 26-year-old Cup star managed both in the Sony HD 500, earning his series-leading fifth win of the season and closing in on a spot in the Chase for the championship with one race remaining.
To do it, Kahne had to overcome a penalty, a series of challengers and a daring fuel gamble by rookie Reed Sorenson at the end.
Credit to crew
"These guys fought back with great pit stops," Kahne said. "I just can't thank this team enough. They just worked their butts off to get us back in this Chase and at least now we have a chance going into Richmond next week."
Not even a penalty for speeding on pit road halfway through the 250-lap race could stop Kahne, who fell back briefly to 24th. His No. 9 Evernham Motorsports Dodge stuck with the leaders and, thanks to a two-tire pit stop on lap 176 that got him up to second, Kahne was in position to drive past Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the lead after the green flag came back out on lap 180.
After falling back again when several other cars made two-tire pit stops, Kahne outdueled new teammate Elliott Sadler to regain the top spot on lap 197. But there was yet another challenge for the 26-year-old driver, who led a race-high 132 laps.
Several drivers, including Sorenson, tried to stretch their final tank of gas to the finish and the 20-year-old Sorenson, who drives for Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, almost pulled off his first victory and the first for the team since 2002. He took the lead on lap 241 after most of the top cars pitted for a splash of gas and two tires.
Gave up lead
Kahne, who gave up the lead when he made his final stop on lap 238, found himself in fifth, nearly 14 seconds behind Sorenson. Kahne charged hard, grabbing second from rookie Clint Bowyer on lap 247, but was still more than 7 seconds behind the leader.
But Sorenson lost his gamble, running out of gas starting lap 249. Kahne zoomed past and raced away for the sixth victory of his career, beating Earnhardt to the finish by 3.428 seconds. Sorenson wound up 21st.
"You think a lot," Kahne said of all the ups and downs in the race. "You think about not making mistakes, not doing anything wrong. But you still have to be aggressive.
"We made a lot of good calls tonight and we definitely deserved this one."
Kahne had slumped badly after getting off to a tremendous start this season, with four wins in the first 15 races. Team director Kenny Francis was ecstatic after Sunday's win.
"That's the biggest win of the year so far," he said. "We have to race into this thing and the guys did a great job. Kasey did an awesome job driving tonight."
Kahne started the night 90 points behind 10th-place Mark Martin and remained 11th in the battle for a spot in the 10-man Chase. But he will go to Richmond for next Saturday night's race just 30 points behind Jeff Burton, who fell behind Martin into 10th.
"This is all we could do," Kahne said. "We gained the most points we could possibly gain on a weekend. These other guys up there in the top 10, they're up there for a reason. You're not going to make that kind of a gain on them every week.
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