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Kahne savors Sonoma victory
Before Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Infineon Raceway in the heart of California’s wine country, Kasey Kahne said the twist and turns of road racing went against everything he knew about being a race car driver.
That’s hard to believe after the Enumclaw native held off veteran road course ace and NASCAR Sprint Cup points leader Tony Stewart for four late-race, double-file restarts including a green-white-checker overtime to win the Toyota/Save Mart 350.
“It’s crazy,” Kahne said. “We qualified really well here the last couple of years and it feels good to qualify well here, run out front, and to hold off Tony Stewart, that’s awesome. That guy (Stewart) is as good as it gets on any type of race track and we were able to go hard with our Budweiser Dodge Charger. Kenny (Francis, crew chief) and the guys did an awesome job. It’s unbelievable to win here. To win any race and to win at a road course for me is crazy. It feels really good.”
“We could run about the same pace,” Stewart said. “I just couldn’t get (to him). I was a little too loose in the right-handers, and Kasey never made a mistake. The kid did an awesome job and just ran a perfect race.”
It was Kahne’s first victory of the 2009 season and his 10th Sprint Cup career victory. His highest road course finish until Sunday was 14th at Watkin’s Glen in New York.
It was a good day for Richard Petty Motorsports. It was the first time co-owner Richard Petty has been to Victory Lane since 1999. Kahne’s teammates A.J. Allmendinger and Elliott Sadler also had top 10 finishes.
“To see Richard Petty in the winner’s circle with us today, that was big,” Kahne said. “That was a neat deal, and excited to see him up there. I don’t think coming in today he expected the nine to win. I don’t know if anybody did.”
“It has been a long time, but when we joined with the Gillett crowd in the fall, I guess, or spring this year, wintertime, we knew they had a good team,” Petty said.
“It was a winning organization, and I’m happened to get involved in it, and hopefully we can make it a little bit better from time to time,” he continued.
Kahne took the lead at Lap 80 of the 110-lap race, but the yellow-flag kept flying. Each caution meant another restart. Kahne suffered through four restarts, under NASCAR’s new double-file restart rule, with Stewart hot on his wheels each time.
“My biggest thing was don’t spin the tires, work on getting into Turn 1 there and just being beside him at the top of the hill and hopefully hold him off there,” Kahne said, reliving those moments on the 1.99-mile course. “A few of the times we were able to jump the start and beat him into 1 no problem. So that was it was tough.
“That new restart deal is tough. For the last three weeks I think every weekend I’ve had some good ones and some bad ones as far as the restarts go. Today we were able to pick where we wanted to be, and it worked out really good for us, and we were able to hold him off. But yeah, two to go, another restart, I was like, I can’t believe this.”
Kahne credited Francis for making the right calls and chalked the rest up to his six years of Sprint Cup experience.
“I think that was the key to what we did today personally, just the experience and where I’ve been in the past and how I remembered things, mistakes that I’ve made and how to not make those mistakes today. To beat Tony, we had an unbelievable car. The Budweiser Dodge was really quick. The restarts we were able to hold him off.”
The victory moves Kahne to 13th place in drivers’ standings, three points from the coveted 12th-place, the last position eligible for the NASCAR Sprint Cup title.
Sprint Cup racing continues Sunday from New Hampshire International Speedway. Television coverage begins at 9:30 a.m. on TNT.