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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Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen had already wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.