HAMPTON, Ga. - Kasey Kahne gave himself a huge boost in the Chase for the Championship with a victory Sunday night at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Kahne jumped from 11th to sixth in the Sprint Cup standings with the victory in the Pep Boys Auto 500, allowing him to breathe a little easier going into Saturday's race at Richmond that will set the 12-driver field for the season-ending playoff.
Kevin Harvick, who won the Nationwide race Saturday night, was in position for a weekend double until teammate Clint Bowyer spun with 15 laps to go, bringing out the final caution of the night. Kahne got Harvick on the restart and pulled away to an easy 1.766-second win.
Harvick held on for second, matching his best performance in a disappointing season. Juan Montoya finished third and solidified his odds of making the Chase for the first time.
"We did it right at the end," Kahne said. "We had an unbelievable car throughout the race. I think Kevin was the best on the long runs. We did it at the end."
Denny Hamlin became the fourth driver to clinch a Chase spot with a sixth-place showing. Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon and three-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson were already in.
Kahne feels a lot better about his chances.
"I knew Harvick and Montoya were going to be really tough there at the end," Kahne said. "We just got them. We had a really good car for about 10 laps."
There was no change among the top 12 in points, though there was some shuffling. Stewart still leads, followed by Gordon, Johnson, Hamlin, Carl Edwards, Kahne, Kurt Busch, Montoya, Ryan Newman, Mark Martin, Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth. Brian Vickers will go to Richmond 20 points behind Kenseth, with Kyle Busch 37 points out.
The first scheduled night race in Atlanta history and a new Labor Day weekend date was a big hit with fans. At least 100,000 turned out on a comfortably warm night after years of declining attendance at the 1.54-mile tri-oval south of Atlanta.
Johnson went in saying he never has felt better heading into a Chase. He was probably feeling a little different after a miserable performance under the lights, 22 laps behind in 36th place.
Johnson was running second when he lost control of his No.48 car coming out of Turn 2. He controlled his slide, avoided the inside wall and got back to the pits for another set of tires, but the mishap knocked him back to 19th. He was on the verge of getting back into the top 10 when a broken axle during a pit stop forced him back to the garage for repairs. With all chances of winning gone, he had to go back to the garage one more time to fix a balky gearbox.
Edwards hobbled to his car on crutches after breaking his right foot playing Frisbee a few days earlier. His pedal foot didn't give him any problem, but his night was ruined by a hole in his radiator. He had to go to the garage for lengthy repairs and wound up just behind Johnson in 37th.
Edwards won this race a year ago, one of nine victories on his way to a second-place finish in the season standings. He has yet to win this year but maybe that's for the best. There's no way he can do his customary victory celebration, a backflip off his No.99 car, with his ailing foot.
Kurt Busch, who won the spring race in Atlanta, finished 38th after slamming the wall coming out of turn four on Lap 244 of 325.