In a wild 500-mile event at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Kasey Kahne hoisted the trophy for the first time in over a year. Holding off Matt Kenseth during a green-white-checkered restart, the driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet took the victory as he sliced himself between the Joe Gibbs Racing duo of the No. 20 team and Denny Hamlin.
With the victory, Kahne has locked a spot inside of the Chase for the Sprint Cup after being on the verge of earning a position in NASCAR’s version of the playoffs. Now, all four Hendrick Motorsports car are locked inside of the Chase. The victory marks the 17th in his career, and his fifth triumph while racing for HMS.
“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.”
“Yeah, we are locked in and I hate it comes down to this Atlanta or Richmond just about every year for me. Sometimes we are in, sometimes we are out. But thankful that now at HMS I have been in all three years now. We have the pressure all the way to Richmond, but we made it again, thankful for that.”
Kenseth clinched a spot in the Chase based on points with a runner-up finish. Clint Bowyer is now on the outside looking in after finishing Sunday evening’s race in the 38th position due to a broken shifter. Greg Biffle currently holds the final spot in the Chase, and it would take a victory by a win-less driver inside of the top 30 to take that away from the Roush Fenway Racing driver.
Kevin Harvick was forced into the wall in front of Joey Logano after Paul Menard spun his tires on the final restart. Menard evidently took the middle lane on the outside of Danica Patrick; shoving the No. 4 car into the wall to end his evening after leading a race-high 195 laps. Harvick was the fastest car throughout the evening as his No. 4 car pulled out in front during each restart.
After Kahne led 23 laps while holding off Harvick, the caution came out with just two laps to go. Everyone on the lead lap came onto pit road, with Kenseth and Menard taking two tires. Kahne slipped to the fifth position, but was able to work his way back up after Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch tangled with a pair of laps left in the race.
While leading early in the race, Harvick nearly hit a squirrel – as he was entering Turn 3. He radioed in on the radio to tell his crew what happened as he was in disbelief; thinking a cat ran from the fence down to the apron while Harvick’s car was approaching. Prior to the first caution, just 23 cars were on the lead lap as the No. 4 car was setting a blistering pace – over seven seconds ahead of Jeff Gordon, who was in second.
On Lap 78, while running in the runner-up position, Gordon blew a left-front tire while entering Turn 3. The No. 24 car pancaked the wall, but he was able to come back and finish 17th after being stuck two laps down and having untimely cautions – preventing him from taking the wave around until the two green-white-checkered runs.
Danica Patrick earned a career-best finish as she ended the evening in the sixth position. Patrick received two free passes on Sunday evening after getting lapped. However, she consistently worked on her No. 10 car and earned a spot inside of the top 10. Ty Dillon finished 25th at Atlanta in his Sprint Cup Series debut for Richard Childress Racing in the No. 33 Chevrolet. Although he finished three laps behind the leader, Dillon gained valuable experience and finished one position behind his brother, Austin Dillon.
In the midst of the final green-flag pit cycle, Keselowski was attempting to go around Hamlin, but he missed pit road after Cole Whitt blocked him; leading the No. 2 car to slam into the back of Josh Wise’s No. 98 car.
Tony Stewart received a warm welcome by race fans during driver introductions on Sunday evening. Stewart rapidly worked his way to the sixth position within two laps of the green flag waving after starting 12th. He ran inside of the top 10 for the majority of the race until Kyle Busch and he collided on a restart. Stewart later blew a tire – ending his night in the No. 14 car as he made a return to NASCAR competition due to missing the past three events after the tragedy that occurred on the weekend of the Watkins Glen race. After the incident, he was not available for comment, but his crew chief did.
“The car has had speed all weekend long and we qualified well,” Chad Johnston said. “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. We got into a little trouble with the 18 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.”
On Tuesday afternoon, NASCAR announced the 2015 schedules for each of the top-three tier divisions. Although no major changes were made for the upcoming season, NASCAR did swap a few events in the Sprint Cup Series.
The largest change in the schedule will be between Darlington Raceway and Atlanta Motor Speedway. Instead of racing on Mother’s Day weekend such as Darlington has since 2005, the egg-shaped track will be moving to Labor Day weekend, which has been held by Atlanta. Atlanta will now be the second race of the year – replacing Phoenix, which moves to the fourth event of the season.
Besides moving around Atlanta and Darlington, NASCAR also added an off-weekend for the Sprint Cup Series before the Chase for the Sprint Cup begins. The Cup Series will be off on the weekend of Aug. 30, and moves the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Road America to that Saturday. Road America was previously the 14th race of the 35-race schedule, but it will now be the 23rd circuit.
As previously announced, Bristol will be moving from March to April for their first of two races.
Daytona’s July race will be making a swap with Kentucky Speedway in 2015. As a part of the inaugural race weekend for NBC broadcasting NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition, Daytona will be the first race on their schedule. However, previously held as a Saturday evening race, NASCAR has moved the 400-mile spectacle to Sunday with the Nationwide Series race preceding it on Saturday. Kansas and Charlotte will be swapping races inside of the Chase, but no other races will be changed inside of NASCAR’s version of the playoffs.
But what good is all of this going to do for NASCAR?
Well, in a year that NASCAR expects to have another new competition package, a swap in a few tracks should help spice things up. Moreover, it should boost ratings and fill up seats in the grandstands.
Bristol’s March race had horrific weather over the course of the past several seasons. People were pleading to move it later in the year, and NASCAR listened. However, NASCAR moved Atlanta to the second race of the year for the first time in the track’s history. Previously, the earliest the 1.5-mile track had a race was March 7 in 2010. In addition to moving the race, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will return to the speedway after not appearing at the track in 2013 and 2014. The Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series contests are going to be held on the same day as a part of a “double header” to bring more fans to the stands after attendance has seen a decline for one-race deals.
What is the biggest part about the changes?
Fox. NBC. That’s the only thing that is huge for the schedule change in 2015.
20 events (including non-points) will be carried on the FOX family of networks. FOX Sports 1 will be broadcasting the Sprint Cup Series races at Richmond, Kansas, Dover, Pocono, Michigan and the final event of their schedule – Sonoma in June. Meanwhile, NBC is going to provide coverage of the remaining races in 2015. However, NBC Sports Network will be making their Sprint Cup Series debut with races at Kentucky, New Hampshire, Indianapolis, Pocono, Watkins Glen, Michigan, Bristol, Richmond, Chicagoland (first Chase race), New Hampshire, Dover, Talladega and Martinsville. Daytona, Darlington, Charlotte, Kansas, Texas, Phoenix and Homestead will each be shown live on NBC.
FOX and FOX Sports 1 will carry the first 14 Nationwide Series races, but NBC and NBCSN will have the final 19 events. FOX also has exclusive rights to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series 23-race season. All races will once again be on FS1 with the exception of Talladega in Oct.