Kasey Kahne wasn’t the only driver that clinched a Chase berth Sunday night at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Matt Kenseth was vanquished by Kahne in the second green-white-checkered attempt, but the runner-up performance was more than enough to punch his own ticket to the 2014 post-season.
Kenseth put himself at the front of the field with a two-tire stop going into the first GWC attempt. However, that ended with a multi-car incident that involved the dominant driver of the night, Kevin Harvick (led 195 laps, finished 19th).
That brought about the second attempt, where Kahne charged from third at the green flag and pulled alongside Kenseth on the outside before clearing him.
“I had a really good restart on the first time,” Kenseth said to ESPN afterwards. “I was hoping it went green there because Paul [Menard] was in there and I think the 5 [Kahne] and the 4 [Kevin Harvick] were stuck on the top. But that didn’t work out.
“The second one was OK – it wasn’t as good. I just spun the left rear a little bit and the 5 got up the middle there. I was able to get through [Turns] 1 and 2 wide open, and I had him cleared and somehow, he had enough momentum to get back up alongside me. We did all we could.”
As for the rest of the Chase hopefuls, Ryan Newman narrowly missed being the third driver to clinch Sunday at Atlanta. His seventh-place finish was not enough to do the job, but he is still a healthy 42 points over the cutoff going into next Saturday’s regular season finale at Richmond International Raceway.
Greg Biffle finished 10th for the third race in a row and also netted his fifth consecutive Top-10 result. He stays in the 16th and final Chase Grid position at 23 points over the cutoff.
But beyond the Grid, things changed dramatically for Clint Bowyer and definitely not in a good way.
Bowyer entered Sunday with a 31-point cushion, but a broken shifter during the first half of the race sent him to the garage for a period and ultimately relegated him to a 38th-place finish.
The disastrous result sent him from 15th and in the Grid to 17th and behind Biffle by 23 points. Now, he potentially could be the biggest story going at Richmond, where in the same event one year ago, he played a critical role in Michael Waltrip Racing’s race manipulation scandal.
Kyle Larson will also be in the pressure cooker at Richmond, too. He finished eighth in Atlanta, but his points gain on Biffle was minimal. The Cup rookie will be 24 points back for next Saturday’s final battle.