More importantly, Kahne climbed from 11th to sixth in the standings.
“It’s all about making the Chase,” Kahne said. “That certainly put us in a better position going to Richmond.
“(It was) a great team effort. Something that everyone at Richard Petty Motorsports really needed.”
Kahne was just one of the Chase for the Sprint Cup bubble boys to make up ground Sunday. Juan Pablo Montoya sported one of the most dominant cars of the evening, leading 31 laps before finishing third and vaulting to eighth in the standings.
“It was awesome,” Montoya said on TV before heading straight to the monitor to check on his position in the standings. “I thought I was going to get him but I was freakin’ sideways out of three. If you look at the bigger picture, we’re pretty good.”
“If we keep running like this, we might have a shot at the championship.”
Other drivers that remain in precarious positions fought back for top 10 finishes:
Brian Vickers ran in the top five before axle issues knocked him back to 18th. His No. 83 Red Bull team rallied to finish seventh and move into 13th — 20 points outside of the Chase.
Ryan Newman’s evening was less dramatic. He started 23rd, was dragging through most of the race but charged into contention for the final 50 laps for a ninth-place finish. Nevertheless, Newman still lost two positions, falling to ninth.
Matt Kenseth, who bounced off the wall before Lap 10 and dropped to 31st, made a miraculous recovery to finish 12th and maintain the final position in the Chase Zone.
Each of these drivers capitalized on problems experienced by Chase locks — Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch.
Edwards had problems with his oil pan on Lap 82. He finished 37th, 23 laps down. Johnson had his own issues. First he spun on Lap 201 and then 47 laps later he was in the garage with a broken axle. Johnson ended the night ranked 36th, 22 laps down. Kurt Busch spun after 244 laps, got hit by Reed Sorenson in an unavoidable accident and slammed the wall. The damage was not repairable. Busch was scored 38th and fell to seventh in the standings.
Entering Richmond next weekend, from Kahne to 14th-place Kyle Busch the difference is a mere 113 points. The most one driver can make up over another competitor in a race is 161 points.
For many of these teams, the sleepless nights are far from over.
Kevin Harvick had the fastest car on the long runs. But when Clint Bowyer brought out the ninth and final caution, Harvick opted to take the outside line on the restart on Lap 315 and Kahne easily took the lead.
“He left us what he thought was the weaker line for us,” said Kahne’s crew chief Kenny Francis, who admits his driver preferred the inside line throughout the night.
Kevin Harvick led 66 laps and finished second in the Pep Boys Auto 500. It was the first time the No. 29 car led laps since the third race of the season in February in Las Vegas.
For Harvick, who has struggled this season and is currently 23rd in points, it was his best finish since the Daytona 500 and his first top five since Atlanta in the spring.
Underdog of the day
The decision for Yates Racing to choose Eric Darnell over Bobby Labonte paid dividends … for Labonte. The 2000 Cup champ was able to run as high as seventh before finishing 18th — his best showing since his 12th-place run at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in May. Darnell finished 30th in his Cup debut.
On Thursday, Labonte, 45, picked up the ride with TRG Motorsports — an underfunded team with less than a dozen crewmen that receives its cars and engines from Richard Childress Racing. Don’t be surprised if Labonte parlays this opportunity into a full time ride with RCR in 2010.
On Lap 299, Kyle Busch, who had a tire issue and dropped to 17th after leading three times for 24 laps, couldn’t help but vent his frustration:
“Just what we need at the end of the race — to fall on our butts.”
Busch rebounded to finish 13th in the race but fell to 14th in the points, 37 markers out of the Chase.