Winners: 2011 NASCAR Champions

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series: Austin Dillon
NASCAR Nationwide Series: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Tony Stewart

Monday, June 22, 2009

Kasey Kahne surprises at Infineon

The only thing more surprising than Kasey Kahne's victory on Sunday in the Toyota/SaveMart 350 at Infineon Raceway was the fact that he held off Tony Stewart -- one of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series' best road course racers -- to do it.

Kahne even said so himself in Victory Lane.

But win Kahne did, picking up his first of the season and the 10th of his career. Kahne also got owner Richard Petty back into Victory Lane; the last time The King saw one of his cars win a race was in Martinsville, where John Andretti won in the No. 43 in 1999. For a team struggling with funding and resources, Kahne's win was a bright spot for Richard Petty Motorsports and a possible building block.

RPM also saw A.J. Allmendinger (seventh) and Elliott Sadler (10th) finish in the top 10.

Kahne led 37 laps in taking the win and putting himself three points outside of the cutoff for the Chase, but he really had to fend off Stewart, who finished second, to do it. On four separate occasions in the late stages of the race, Kahne had to battle Stewart on double-file restarts, trying to get the preferred line going up the hill and into the second and third turns. Amazingly, he was able to do so each time.

When you beat Stewart on a road course, you've really accomplished something.

The restarts worked better than most anticipated, creating excitement for the fans and turning the race into an exciting finish without creating too much chaos. Many of the turns heading up and down that hill after the start-finish line at Sonoma aren't wide enough to handle one car, so it was impressive to see restart after restart go incident-free. Infineon was the first true test of the new restart rule, and I daresay it was a success.

The race didn't come down to fuel mileage, thanks to the bevy of late cautions, but several teams tried that strategy to little avail. Robby Gordon, who's pretty stout on road courses in his own right, was the hardest hit. Leading during a round of green-flag pit stops, Gordon was trying to get into his fuel window when a caution flag came out before he had a chance to pit.

On an oval, pitting under caution is usually a good thing. But at Sonoma, with so many other cars on the track having already pitted, the strategy backfired on Gordon, who finished 36th.

As expected, the field surrounding the 12th spot in the standings tightened considerably. Juan Pablo Montoya finished sixth to vault himself into 12th place, but he's only three points ahead of Kahne, 40 ahead of David Reutimann and 46 ahead of Jeff Burton. Brian Vickers, in 17th, is only 123 points out of the Chase, while seventh-place Denny Hamlin is only 92 points ahead of 12th.

Though Kyle Busch is still in ninth, 45 points ahead of Montoya, his 22nd-place finish on Sunday was indicative of the way the No. 18 team has run the last several weeks -- really, since his win at Richmond back in early May. Even though Busch has three wins this season, tied for the most with Mark Martin, he is in danger of potentially missing the Chase if his team can't turn things around.

With Daytona in July and Watkins Glen in August still on the schedule, there's a chance for another jostle or two in the point standings. The Race to the Chase will likely come down to the wire again, and that, combined with the new double-file restarts, should make for some exciting racing heading down the "regular season" stretch.

Not that Kahne cares much. He's probably still sipping that Northern California wine in Victory Lane.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/SaveMart 350
1. Kasey Kahne**
2. Tony Stewart*
3. Marcos Ambrose
4. Jimmie Johnson
5. Denny Hamlin*
6. Juan Pablo Montoya
7. A.J. Allmendinger
8. Clint Bowyer
9. Jeff Gordon
10. Elliott Sadler
11. Partick Carpentier
12. Max Papis
13. Carl Edwards
14. Jamie McMurray
15. Kurt Busch*
16. Brian Vickers*
17. Ryan Newman
18. Matt Kenseth
19. Joey Logano
20. Bobby Labonte
21. Paul Menard
22. Kyle Busch*
23. Casey Mears
24. Boris Said
25. Martin Truex Jr.
26. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
27. Ron Fellows
28. Greg Biffle
29. Kevin Harvick
30. John Andretti
31. David Reutimann
32. David Gilliland
33. David Ragan
34. Jeff Burton
35. Mark Martin
36. Robby Gordon*
37. Scott Speed*
38. Sam Hornish Jr.
39. David Stremme
40. Reed Sorenson
41. Brandon Ash
42. Dave Blaney
43. P.J. Jones

*led a lap (5 bonus points)
**led most laps (5 more bonus points)

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