Rocket Man: Kahne Vaults Through Field and Cup Chase In Atlanta

Kristina LaFountainContributor ISeptember 7, 2009

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

HAMPTON, Ga. -- Rocketing himself through the field as well as the Sprint Cup point standings, Kasey Kahne, driver of the No. 9 Budweiser Dodge for Richard Petty Motorsports, found himself in victory lane for the second time this season, this time at the Pep Boys Auto 500 and first scheduled night race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Kahne began the night in second position, just behind pole-sitter Martin Truex Jr. and later found himself in the same position in a battle for first place.

With just 11 laps to go Kahne made a rocket-like move past Kevin Harvick, claiming not only the lead, but also a comfortable position in the Chase for the Petty team.

Aside from Kahne, rounding out the top-five in the race in Atlanta were Harvick in second, followed by third-place finisher Juan Pablo Montoya, then David Reutimann and finally Mark Martin.

In his first NASCAR Sprint Cup win since Infineon Raceway in June, Kahne entered Sunday night’s race in the 11th out of 12 Chase contender positions and he left with a peachy 6th place rank.

"I knew Harvick and Montoya were going to be tough there at the end," said Kahne, "But I got 'em. We were really good there for about 10 laps.”

This win gives Kahne 11 career wins, but only two victories since driving under the Richard Petty Motorsports name. Of this accomplishment Kahne said, “It was great team effort, something that Richard Petty Motorsports really needed."

Unfortunate engine troubles during practice at Michigan International Speedway left the Petty team starting from the rear of the field, but earning themselves an 11th place finish.

During the following week’s race at Bristol, Kahne qualified 29th for the Sharpie 500 and after battling an ill-handling car, finished 28th, just one spot from where he started.

In what seemed to be a similar pre-Chase situation as the one experienced last year by Kahne, in which he had unfortunate runs just a couple of races before the start of the Chase, this win at Atlanta was not only a vindication of the past week’s performances, but also of a much coveted spot in the Chase by Kahne and his team and most definitely by his fans.

Next week’s race at Richmond International Raceway marks the last before the beginning of the Chase and the final chance for Sprint Cup drivers to prove they have what it takes to be top contenders for the championship.

Just above Kahne, in the top-five points positions respectively, are Tony Stewart who remains on top, followed by Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards.

Next Saturday night’s Chevy Rock & Roll 400 at Richmond will broadcast live at 7 p.m. ET on ABC.