How strange was it for Kasey Kahne to win a road-course race?
The driver of the #9 Richard Petty Motorsports Dodge had to ask his crew chief for directions to victory lane after taking the chequered flag in a green-white-chequered finish in Sunday's Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway.
Kahne held off road-course ace Tony Stewart through a succession of four late-race double-file restarts, the final time after Scott Speed's spin on lap 108 caused the seventh caution of the day. After starting from the rear because of an engine change, Marcos Ambrose chased the top two finishers to the line to claim third place, matching the best result of his Sprint Cup Series career.
“Awesome — not too bad for a dirt-tracker from Washington!” Kenny Francis, Kahne's crew chief, radioed after his driver crossed the stripe on lap 113, three laps beyond the scheduled distance at the 1.99-mile road course.
“Unreal,” replied Kahne, who gave owner Richard Petty his first victory since John Andretti in 1999. “Gosh, we had to hold him (Stewart) off for a while. We won a road-course race! Oh, my God, I can't believe this.”
Jimmie Johnson recovered from a pit-road speeding penalty to finish fourth. Denny Hamlin, who led 33 laps — second only to Kahne's 37 — came home fifth. Juan Pablo Montoya, AJ Allmendinger, Clint Bowyer, Jeff Gordon and Elliott Sadler completed the top ten.
The victory was Kahne's first of the season and the tenth of his NASCAR Sprint Cup career. Before Sunday's race, his highest finish on a road course was 14th at Watkins Glen.
“It was crazy,” Kahne said, after following Francis' directions to victory lane. “Stewart's as good as they get out there, and I had to restart beside him about four times. Cautions kept coming out, and we were having to hold him off. He was giving me tons of room, which is normal Stewart. The guy's an awesome racer.”
After Kahne took the lead from Speed on a restart on lap 80, he stayed out front the rest of the way. Stewart's attempts to pressure Kahne into a mistake failed to produce the desired result.
“The second-to-last run there (when Stewart was leading Kahne), we were looking in our mirror and we were fast, but Kasey was matching us lap for lap,” Stewart said. “Then when he came out in front of us after that last set of pit stops, I was like, 'Oh, we might be in trouble here.'