Nationwide rookie, points leader wins first pole at his home track
Kahne earns first victory -- and Chase berth -- with thrilling finish RELATED: Complete results " Updated standings " Current Chase Grid HAMPTON, Ga. -- It was Tony Stewart's return to racing that dominated the headlines before Sunday night's Oral-B USA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway , but it was Kasey Kahne who stole the show -- and a berth in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . In a race that went 10 laps beyond its scheduled distance of 325 laps, Kahne surged past Matt Kenseth on the second attempt at a green-white-checkered-flag finish to win for the first time this year and the third time at the 1.54-mile speedway. Kenseth finished second and clinched a Chase spot on points , leaving just two of 16 positions in NASCAR's 10-race playoff available in Saturday's regular-season finale at Richmond International Raceway . After streaking into the lead on a restart with 24 laps left, Kahne held the top spot until a caution for a fracas between Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. slowed the field with less than two laps left. On the first attempt at overtime, a multicar wreck in Turn 1 wiped out the dominant car of polesitter Kevin Harvick, requiring a second attempt at a two-lap shootout. With four fresh tires to Kenseth's two, Kahne overtook the No. 20 Toyota after he and Kenseth battled for a lap after the restart and pulled away to win the 17th race of his career by .574 seconds. "We were all over the place during the race, but the guys stayed with me and worked hard," Kahne said. "On those restarts -- I didn't know what would happen, because I had great restarts all night, and I struggle with restarts a lot. "That's big, because that is one of the things you have to be good at, and it worked really well tonight." It also took a huge weight off Kahne's shoulders, as the end of the regular season approached. "Yeah, we are locked in, and I hate that it comes down to this Atlanta or Richmond just about every year for me," Kahne said of the pressure to make the Chase . "Sometimes we are in, sometimes we are out. But thankful that now at HMS ( Hendrick Motorsports ), I've been in all three years now. We have the pressure all the way to Richmond, but we made it again--thankful for that." Denny Hamlin ran third, followed by Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards . Danica Patrick finished sixth, beating by four positions the best previous finish by a female driver at Atlanta (Janet Guthrie was 10th in 1978). The race that turned the season around for Kahne provided little solace for Stewart. Starting a Cup race for the first time since his involvement in the fatal sprint car accident that took the life of Kevin Ward Jr. on Aug. 9 at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Speedway, Stewart charged forward from his 12th-place starting position and ran as high as fourth in the early going. But Stewart's race came undone moments after a restart on Lap 123, when Kyle Busch's Toyota pinched Stewart's Chevy into the outside wall off Turn 2, significantly damaging both cars. On Lap 160 Matt Kenseth, then the leader, passed Stewart to put the No. 14 a lap down. Twelve laps later, a blown right front tire sent Stewart hard into the Turn 2 wall, forcing him to the garage and out of the race. Credited with a 41st-place finish, Stewart has one more chance—on Saturday at Richmond—to take advantage of a NASCAR dispensation that kept him eligible for the Chase . Having missed three races, Stewart must win at the .75-mile short track to qualify for NASCAR's 10-race playoff. After exiting his car, Stewart declined requests for interviews, but crew chief Chad Johnston spoke to reporters in the garage. "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," Johnston said. "We got into a little trouble with the 18 (Busch) and got into the outside wall, knocked the toe out of it, and a lot of heavy right side damage. "We were just trying to fix that and salvage what we could out of the day but then we blew a right front there right before that caution came out." If Stewart had issues on the track, so did one prominent driver on the Chase bubble. The shifter on Clint Bowyer' s No. 15 Toyota broke, preventing him from getting the car into high gear. Bowyer lost 22 laps in the garage as his team made repairs. He finished 38th, leaving his chances to make the Chase on points in dire jeopardy. MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news WATCH: Latest NASCAR video PLAY: NASCAR Fantasy Live FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Matt Kenseth talks about clinching a spot in the Chase based on points while Denny Hamlin and Danica Patrick comment on their solid runs at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Four spots in the Chase Grid remain heading into the 25th race of the season RELATED: Play NASCAR Fantasy Live " Sign up for RaceView today All 12 race winners in 2014 have clinched a spot in the top 30 in driver points and a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, provided they attempt to qualify for the final two races of the regular season. Those drivers, in current Chase Grid order, include: Jeff Gordon , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Brad Keselowski , Joey Logano , Jimmie Johnson , Kevin Harvick , Carl Edwards , Kyle Busch , Denny Hamlin , AJ Allmendinger , Kurt Busch and Aric Almirola . If a winless driver is victorious this weekend, and is 49 or more points ahead of 31st place, he or she will also clinch a spot. If there is a repeat winner, the top 3 winless drivers would clinch if they are at least 45 points ahead of the fourth highest winless driver after the Oral-B USA 500 (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ABC). Matt Kenseth , Ryan Newman , Clint Bowyer and Greg Biffle are in the provisional grid for now and on the bubble. The first four on the outside looking in include: Kyle Larson, Kasey Kahne , Austin Dillon and Paul Menard . Kahne is a two-time winner at Atlanta (2006, '09). Kenseth controls his destiny if he scores 32 points AND there's a repeat winner. If there's a new winner, he's guaranteed a clinch with 37 points . See the full rundown below. 2014 Chase Grid Outlook Pos. Drivers Wins Points Chase Bonus Pts 1 Jeff Gordon 3 845 9 2 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 3 818 9 3 Brad Keselowski 3 776 9 4 Joey Logano 3 761 9 5 Jimmie Johnson 3 726 9 6 Kevin Harvick 2 721 6 7 Carl Edwards 2 716 6 8 Kyle Busch 1 629 3 9 Denny Hamlin 1 594 3 10 AJ Allmendinger 1 586 3 11 Kurt Busch 1 582 3 12 Aric Almirola 1 559 3 13 Matt Kenseth 0 751 0 14 Ryan Newman 0 710 0 15 Clint Bowyer 0 699 0 16 Greg Biffle 0 694 0 Outside Looking In 17 Kyle Larson 0 668 0 18 Kasey Kahne 0 661 0 19 Austin Dillon 0 654 0 20 Paul Menard 0 649 0 21 Jamie McMurray 0 634 0 22 Marcos Ambrose 0 626 0 23 Brian Vickers 0 621 0 24 Casey Mears 0 561 0 25 Martin Truex Jr. 0 540 0 26 Tony Stewart 0 537 0 27 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 0 514 0 28 Danica Patrick 0 462 0 29 Justin Allgaier 0 425 0 30 David Gilliland 0 376 0 Green = Locked into the Chase , provided they attempt to qualify for the remaining four races Orange = No wins, Inside the current Chase Grid's top 16 - Currently in the Chase , not locked in Red = Inside the current top 30 in points , outside of the Chase cutoff MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news WATCH: Latest NASCAR video PLAY: NASCAR Fantasy Live FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView
NASCAR President clears up postseason status RELATED: Full coverage of Tony Stewart incident NASCAR President Mike Helton said Tony Stewart would be eligible for the 2014 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup if he wins one of the final two regular-season races. Helton said that "this has been a very unique set of circumstances to Tony and to out sport. As the league, it's our responsibility to try and make decisions that are correct and right. Sometimes we evaluate circumstances that are given to us and then we make those decisions as correctly as we can. After evaluating the circumstances around this occurrence, we've come to the conclusion that Tony would be eligible to participate in the Chase if he were to earn a spot in it." At Atlanta Motor Speedway , Stewart is set to participate in his first Sprint Cup Series after sitting out the past three races. Stewart is 26th in points . To be eligible for this year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, a driver must attempt to qualify for all 26 races leading up to the Chase and be in the top 30 in points . However, according to NASCAR, for rare instances the requirement can be waived as long as the driver is in the top 30. Stewart missed three races following his involvement in a sprint car racing incident earlier this month that resulted in driver Kevin Ward Jr. suffering fatal injuries at Canandaigua Motorsports Park, a half-mile dirt track on the Ontario County Fairgrounds. The investigation regarding the incident is ongoing. Stewart's racing plans outside NASCAR have been canceled and will not resume until further notice. Denny Hamlin experienced his own form of exemption into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs after he missed the fifth race of the season, at Auto Club Speedway in March, with an eye injury. Five races later, Hamlin scored a regular-season victory at Talladega Superspeedway to clinch a Chase berth. While he didn't know all the particulars of Stewart's situation and his three-race absence, Hamlin said he had no problem with the three-time Sprint Cup champion being eligible should he win one of the remaining two regular-season events. "I don't know. It's a very vague thing," Hamlin said. "I know that originally, you had to have some kind of medical note or something like that, and that's kind of what happened to me with my eye when I met with Mr. Helton and the doctors at California. They said that this is kind of why they've built this program in place to just get better and come back when you can and just win a race. We did that and got ourselves in, but it's tough to say what's considered medical and not, but either way, I'm fine with Tony either in or out, it's good with me." Six-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson said he was pleased that NASCAR could be flexible to allow exemptions and that he hoped that course of action would be used going forward. "Obviously, they're setting a precedent here and we'll see what other extreme circumstances develop in future years and how NASCAR looks at that," Johnson said. "I'm happy that they're sympathetic to situations and look at it and are giving a team and driver that opportunity. But again, they've set a precedent here that we're just going to have to be aware of, and hopefully they can continue to evaluate these and handle them in a similar manner." MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news WATCH: Latest NASCAR video PLAY: NASCAR Fantasy Live FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
See who is NASCAR's playoffs with one race to go
Rookie takes NNS points lead into first national series start at Atlanta
Four spots in the Chase Grid remain heading into the 24th race of the season RELATED: Play NASCAR Fantasy Live " Sign up for RaceView today All 12 race winners in 2014 have clinched a spot in the top 30 in driver points and a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, provided they qualifying for the final three races of the regular season. Those drivers, in current Chase Grid order, are Jeff Gordon , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Brad Keselowski , Jimmie Johnson , Joey Logano , Kevin Harvick , Carl Edwards , Kyle Busch , Denny Hamlin , Aric Almirola , AJ Allmendinger and Kurt Busch have clinched a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, provided they attempt to qualify for the remaining four races. If a winless driver wins this weekend, and is 97 or more points ahead of 31st place, he or she will also clinch a spot. No winless drivers can clinch a spot in the Chase after the Irwin Tools Night Race (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ABC). Three-time Bristol winner Matt Kenseth , Ryan Newman , Clint Bowyer and Greg Biffle are in the provisional grid for now and on the bubble with Kasey Kahne , Austin Dillon , Kyle Larson and Marcos Ambrose , fifth-place finisher at Bristol in March, who are the first four drivers outside the grid. See the full rundown below. 2014 Chase Grid Outlook Pos. Drivers Wins Points Chase Bonus Pts 1 Jeff Gordon 3 816 9 2 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 3 813 9 3 Brad Keselowski 3 733 9 4 Jimmie Johnson 3 686 9 5 Joey Logano 2 714 6 6 Kevin Harvick 2 687 6 7 Carl Edwards 2 679 6 8 Kyle Busch 1 620 3 9 Denny Hamlin 1 589 3 10 Aric Almirola 1 556 3 11 AJ Allmendinger 1 556 3 12 Kurt Busch 1 543 3 13 Matt Kenseth 0 709 0 14 Ryan Newman 0 679 0 15 Clint Bowyer 0 672 0 16 Greg Biffle 0 660 0 Outside Looking In 17 Kasey Kahne 0 651 0 18 Austin Dillon 0 638 0 19 Kyle Larson 0 636 0 20 Marcos Ambrose 0 616 0 21 Paul Menard 0 614 0 22 Brian Vickers 0 598 0 23 Jamie McMurray 0 596 0 24 Casey Mears 0 543 0 25 Tony Stewart 0 537 0 26 Martin Truex Jr. 0 516 0 27 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 0 476 0 28 Danica Patrick 0 445 0 29 Justin Allgaier 0 400 0 30 Michael Annett 0 364 0 Green = Locked into the Chase , provided they attempt to qualify for the remaining four races Orange = No wins, Inside the current Chase Grid's top 16 - Currently in the Chase , not locked in Red = Inside the current top 30 in points , outside of the Chase cutoff MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news WATCH: Latest NASCAR video PLAY: NASCAR Fantasy Live FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView
Moments that changed the course of the 25th race of the 2014 season
Kasey Kahne addresses the media at Atlanta Motor Speedway after clinching a birth in the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup with his first win of 2014.