NASCAR Chase Patrol: Kahne Digs It At Atlanta As Vickers Closes In For Top 12

Rob TiongsonSenior Analyst ISeptember 7, 2009

HAMPTON, GA - SEPTEMBER 06: Kasey Kahne, driver of the #9 Budweiser Dodge, celebrates winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pep Boys Auto 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on September 6, 2009 in Hampton, Georgia.  (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Richmond might be hosting some dramatic developments for the Chase contenders in next Saturday night's Chevy Rock and Roll 400 following the events of the Pep Boys Auto Parts 500 at Atlanta.

After all, it was home to Jeremy Mayfield's incredible victory that bagged the No. 19 team's spot in the inaugural Chase for The NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship.

It was where Jeff Gordon's inconsistent 2005 season witnessed its lowest point by missing the top 10 spot despite having three victories.

Tony Stewart's anger got the best of him in 2006, and that was not even during the race. Smoke's Chase efforts wrecked immediately after his primary car rolled off the hauler, crashing in turn two...during pre-qualifying practice!

However, Sunday evening's race at the Atlanta Motor Speedway may have gained itself a new reputation as the "House That Chase and Kahne Built."

Fans and competitors witnessed some interesting events at AMS, which have tightened up what is shaping up to be an already exciting race for those final, coveted playoff positions.

Kasey Kahne, who entered the night from the 11th position in the points race, helped his cause with a stout victory ahead of a seemingly rejuvenated Kevin Harvick and Juan Pablo Montoya.

With the K-Man's second victory of 2009, the 29-year-old Enumclaw, Wash. native leapfrogged up to sixth place in the championship standings.

Glancing over the top 10 finishers of the 500-miler, the usual Chase suspects lived up to their expectations, with David Reutimann and Brian Vickers making their presence known outside of the top-12 drivers.

That said, Kahne and Vickers have certainly boosted their chances of making the top-12, with the former just needing to have a solid day to book the No. 9 Budweiser Dodge team's ticket for title contention.

As for Vickers, the No. 83 Red Bull Toyota program may not be in the Chase, but they are certainly within striking distance to make it into postseason play (making Katie Stephenson very happy!).

Although Richmond is not exactly their strongest track, the Ryan Pemberton-led team could ruffle some feathers from perennial Chase figure Matt Kenseth and NASCAR's "bad boy" in Kyle Busch.

Sitting just 20 markers behind Kenseth, who finished 12th in a fading No. 17 DeWalt Ford, Vickers' night was salvaged despite a broken axle just past halfway in the event. Working diligently, the No. 83 crew was able to repair their machine in seemingly Cole Trickle-esque fashion (think Days of Thunder in the Daytona 500 race).

TRB's No. 83 entry was able to stay on the lead lap, beating the pace car on the track and eventually gaining positions by finishing in a stout seventh spot.

Sunday night's contenders saw some of the sport's budding stars fiercely competing against some of the series' struggling faces all going for a common goal: the checkered flag.

Harvick, whose No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevy team has endured something of an off year, composed his best race of the 2009 season with a runner-up effort. It was not by luck or pit strategy.

Rather, Harvick and his fledgling Richard Childress Racing collective compiled an excellent effort altogether, with a car that was untouchable on the long runs.

For a moment, particularly in the waning stages of this race, it appeared as if Harvick was going to end his 95-race winless streak which dates back to the 2007 Daytona 500.

Instead, a late race caution by a spinning Clint Bowyer, a teammate to Harvick, effectively ended the Bakersfield, Calif. native's chances for a victory as his car did not respond well in a short-run, green flag period.

Nevertheless, the Pep Boys 500 had to be an encouraging sign for the RCR efforts, which needed a morale boost in a lost year for this staying power.

Juan Pablo Montoya was also in position to win Sunday evening's race, as he urged his No. 42 Target Chevy to a third-place run.

Using the same mount that nearly earned him victories at Indianapolis and Pocono, JPM padded his Chase position and distance between himself and 13th-place Vickers.

That said, when the circuit hits up the "Action Track," rest assured, anyone sitting between fifth to 14th position will still find themselves under the gun of Chase elimination.

From a multi-car collision, to mistakes on pit road ranging from a driver error, a miscue during a stop, or equipment ailments could cost these teams from competing for the coveted Sprint Cup trophy.

Until next Saturday night, Kahne and his No. 9 crew can revel and enjoy a remarkable victory not only from the winner's circle, but from their points position spot indeed.