Kasey Kahne appeared to have his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet on cruise control during the final laps at Pocono on Sunday. He had built his lead to almost eight seconds and was clearly the class of the field until a caution flag waved with only 12 laps remaining.
On the restart, Jeff Gordon in second started on the inside of Kahne and was able to grab the lead on the huge two-and-a-halfmile track before they returned to the start/finish line. Being in the lead as the final laps go off the board is definitely the place to be this season as the new Gen-6 car has made passing a car in clean air extremely difficult.
Pocono is one of Gordon’s favorite tracks as he has posted wins there each of the past two seasons and has the career record for wins at the track with six. Unfortunately for Gordon, Matt Kenseth spun out with four laps left bringing out the ninth caution flag of the race. This time the restart had Gordon leading with Kahne alongside in second.
Every restart up to this one, the leader choose to restart the race from the outside lane but Gordon decided on the inside lane since he had made his pass for the lead on the previous restart from that lane. When the green flag waved, Gordon got off to a great start, but Kahne quickly showed that he had the best car on the track as he pulled up even with the leader as they entered the second turn on the three-turn track.
By the time the two cars were even heading into the third turn it was apparent that Kahne had a ton of momentum and that the outside lane would allow him to keep it as the two entered the longest straightaway on the entire Cup schedule. He took the lead and never looked back as he posted the 16th win of his career. More importantly, it was his second win this season.
The win will go a long way in ensuring Kahne’s spot in the Chase as he now sits in the eighth position, but he is only 13 points ahead of Greg Biffle in 10th. The Chase automatically takes the top 10 drivers after the 26th race of the season in September at Richmond. The remaining two spots in the field go to the drivers with the most wins inside the top 20 but outside the top 10.
Kahne’s second win puts him in a great position if he falls out of the top 10 over the course of the next five races leading up to the Chase as there are only four drivers below him in the standings that have posted a win. Greg Biffle, Tony Stewart, Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Newman all have one win and, like Kahne, the easiest way for them to secure their Chase spot is to post another victory.
Each of these drivers will be looking for that all important second win, but there are a couple of other drivers just outside of the top 10 that could race their way into the Chase with a win. Defending Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski is still looking for his first win of the season and it could be that is all it would take for him to make it back to defend his title as he sits 12th in the standings. A win would put him ahead of Truex Jr. and Newman for the final transfer spot to the Chase.
Former Sprint Cup champion Kurt Busch sits is the same position as Keselowski. Even though he hasn’t posted a win this season, he does occupy the 13th position. The road may seem tougher for Busch as he drives for a one-car team in Front Row Motorsports, but he has posted five top 5 finishes this season, showing that he can be a threat to win at any stop on the schedule.
The Chase has done for the sport what it was intended and that was to keep the interest building throughout the season for not only the championship, but also just the right to race for the title. This is one “race to the Chase” that will no doubt change four more times before Richmond, and that could become a win-and-you-arein type of race.
Event: Cheez-It 355 at The Glen
Track: Watkins Glen International
(2.45-mile road course, 11 turns
banked 60 – 100)
Date: Aug. 11, 1 pm
Defending Champion: Marcos