Kasey Kahne rallies in last 2 laps to win at Atlanta, makes Chase

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HAMPTON, Ga. – Kasey Kahne’s 17th career Sprint Cup win couldn’t have been any larger.

Battling Matt Kenseth in a two-lap, green-white-checker drag race to the finish, Kahne punched his ticket into the upcoming Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Kenseth’s Toyota wiggled heading into the white flag lap and that’s all it took for Kahne to get past, rolling to his first win in 39 starts, dating back to August 2013 at Pocono.

“We were all over the place during the race, but the guys stayed with me and worked hard,” Kahne said in Victory Lane. “I’m really happy and real thankful. We’ve had a downer year at times. … It’s been one thing after another, but now I’m in the Chase with my teammates and it’s great to be part of HMS (Hendrick Motorsports).”

Kahne becomes the 13th different driver to win a race this season, with just next week’s race at Richmond for any other winless driver to win and also make the Chase.

“This is a team effort,” Kahne said. “The guys did great tonight and I’m pretty pumped to be in here. We’re locked in. I hate that it comes down to this, Atlanta and Richmond for me. Sometimes we’re in and sometimes we’re out. We made it again, third time with HMS. I’m thankful for that.”

Beating Kenseth by a margin of .574 of a second, Kahne now joins his other three Hendrick Motorsports teammates – Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon – in making the Chase.

That gives the overall organization now a 25 percent chance to win the championship – the best odds of any of the 16 teams that will make up the expanded playoff field.

All three of his HMS teammates came over to congratulate Kahne in Victory Lane.

“How the heck did you get past them?” Jeff Gordon laughed to Kahne while giving him kudos for the win.

While he came up short for a second-place finish, Kenseth still has reason to feel elated, having officially clinched his spot in the Chase on points. While he’d like for it to have been a win, he gladly settled for second and a place in the playoffs.

“Those last two laps were really intense,” Kenseth said. “… Things are looking up. I’m looking forward to the next 11 (races).”

Kenseth and Denny Hamlin, who finished third, led the field to the green flag for the final restart on Lap 333, but Hamlin’s could not catch Kenseth nor hold off Kahne, ultimately finishing third.

“I couldn’t capitalize, couldn’t get the restarts and couldn’t accelerate,” Hamlin said. “We just came up short. Third is about the place car we had tonight.”

Jimmie Johnson finished fourth, followed by Carl Edwards.

Danica Patrick had an outstanding run, finishing sixth, followed by Ryan Newman, Kyle Larson, Aric Almirola and Greg Biffle.

Pole-sitter Kevin Harvick dominated the race, leading 195 laps and appeared headed for a weekend sweep, having won Saturday night’s Nationwide Series race.

But Harvick got into a late wreck when he was pushed into the wall and the trailing car of Joey Logano by Paul Menard.

Harvick finished 19th.

It was a rough night for a number of drivers:

* Tony Stewart, making his first start after missing the last three Sprint Cup races due to the Kevin Ward Jr. tragedy, ran a very strong race until Lap 122, when his car and that of Kyle Busch made contact.

Both cars suffered right side damage that required several pit stops for Stewart under caution to repair the damage. Busch’s crew was able to repair the damage to his car on just one stop.

While Stewart was able to stay on the lead lap until just before halfway (Lap 161), dropping one lap down at that point, things went from bad to worse 11 laps later.

Stewart appeared to suffer tire failure and his car went directly into the Turn 2 wall, sustaining significant damage, forcing him to limp his injured ride back to the pits and then on to the garage area, where it appeared his night had come to an end.

* Jeff Gordon was running second when his car hit the wall on Lap 79 heading into Turn 3, apparently due to a blown left front tire, Gordon told his crew over the team radio. Gordon’s car was never quite the same, ending up in 17th-place.

* Clint Bowyer, trying to hold on to his spot in the Chase, suffered a broken shifter in his car early in the race, leading to being sidelined for more than 20 laps in the garage while. Bowyer finished 38th.

* Marcos Ambrose’s two remaining chances to make the Chase with a win were abruptly cut in half when the motor on his Ford Fusion broke on Lap 123 of the 325-lap event.

* After making contact with Denny Hamlin and Josh Wise, Brad Keselowski slammed into the wall with under 30 laps to go, sustaining enough damage to send his Penske Racing Ford to the garage.

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Haas F1 tussling in middle of pack in 2nd season

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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) For a second-year Formula One team, Haas F1 should be all smiles.

The only U.S.-based team on the grid has faster cars and has already scored more points this year behind veteran drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen than it did in all of 2016.

Yet it’s that sort of success that can both please and frustrate team principal Guenther Steiner and test the patience of industrialist owner Gene Haas: Despite the better results, Haas hasn’t moved any closer to the front of the team standings as it scraps around the middle of the pack while Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull grab all the glory.

“There are so many people fighting for the crumbs,” Steiner said ahead of the U.S. Grand Prix. “I didn’t expect the competition in the midfield to be so brutal this year.”

Still, it’s better to be in the middle of the scrap than left behind.

“It’s been an up-and-down season,” Magnussen said. “When we’re quick, we’re very quick, but our lows have been perhaps a bit too low.”

For Haas F1, this race weekend is a homecoming of sorts. While the team is based in North Carolina, the Texas race is the only one on the calendar in the U.S., making Haas F1 the home “favorite” with American fans even if it really has no chance of winning.

“It would be nice to put a whole weekend together, have good practices, good weather, not wreck your car… kind of like we did in Japan,” Haas said.

The Japanese Grand Prix two weeks ago delivered Haas F1’s best overall performance this year. It was the first time this season both cars finished in the top 10 and put them at seventh in the team standings with 42 points, one place and already 13 points better than their 2016 finish.

While Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton are closing in on another team and drivers’ championship, only 24 points separate the team standings from fifth through eighth place. The most exciting battles and daring drives over the final four races could come from the middle of the pack as teams scuffle for points and the season-ending money that comes with them.

“We’re in that tight pack that ebbs and flows from race to race,” Gene Haas said. “It’s a constant dance around each other for position.”

Haas is still getting used to a Formula One reality that only a few teams have a realistic chance of winning each week and others just dream for a shot at a podium finish. He came to Formula One from NASCAR – where he is still a partner in Stewart-Haas Racing – and a track environment where “at any race, every team has a chance to win.”

Haas F1 impressed the rest of the teams just by not finishing on the bottom in its first season in 2016. That only raised expectations the team could fight its way to the front of the second tier this year. This season began with a thud when both Haas cars failed to finish the first race in Australia. That hasn’t happened since and the team has scored in three of the last five races.

Gene Haas figures reliability problems – a failed suspension system recently knocked Magnussen out of a top-10 finish – have cost his team dearly.

“Right now I feel like our drivers are better than our cars,” he said.

Haas got into F1 with an admitted goal of boosting his commercial enterprises as a high-tech tool manufacturer and he says that’s paying off away from the track. The trick is staying long-term in a very expensive sport that sees heavyweight manufacturers like Ferrari and Mercedes sometimes double or triple the budgets of other teams.

Formula One has not been kind to small teams that join the grid only to go bust within a few years. Haas is the first American-owned team in the series in 30 years. Three other teams that tried to start from scratch since 2010 – Caterham, HRT and Manor – all collapsed and went out of business. Haas said he as a five-year plan in F1 to see if he can stay longer.

“If you do the five-year plan and you look at (those) teams from the past, their five-year plan was they went out of business. You want to avoid that one,” Haas said.

Grosjean, who signed with Haas from Lotus, said he expects the team to be on the grid for the long haul.

“He’s the best team owner I’ve ever had,” Grosjean said. “He’s passionate about racing and really loves it to a high extent. We know the gap is big right now, but that’s where the patience is.”