Kasey Kahne scored the most important Nextel Cup victory of his young career as he completed a California Speedway weekend sweep in Sunday's Sony HD 500.
Kahne and his Evernham Motorsports team made the correct fuel decision on two consecutive nights at the two-mile California oval, winning the Busch Series race on a fuel gamble and then flipping their fuel strategy in the Cup race and earning the same result.
Sunday's victory couldn't have come at a better time for Kahne, who clawed back 60 points on tenth place in the standings in what the penultimate race before the Chase for the Championship begins. The 26-year old led more than half of the 250-laps and was leading comfortably with 20 laps to go when the final round of 'splash and dash' pitstops began.
Unlike Saturday night, when Kahne stayed out in the final laps and made his fuel last, on this occasion Kahne was among the first drivers to make a late pitstop for a few extra litres of gas. While he then found himself running fifth with just six laps remaining he was able to pick off gamblers Jamie McMurray JJ Yeley and Clint Bowyer with ease and then watch as Yeley and Bowyers' fellow rookie Reed Sorensen ran dry with a lap and a half to go.
Sorensen's late heartbreak gave Kahne a huge lead for the final lap, which he duly reeled off with no worries about fuel at all for his fifth win of the year. Although Sunday's win wasn't enough to push him into the top ten in the points table he now runs just 30 points behind the tenth place driver as opposed to 90 with next Saturday's race at Richmond left to decide who will make the Chase and who will miss out.
After Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth clinched a place in the chase last week, incredibly nobody else was able to secure a Chase berth in Sunday's race, leaving nine drivers battling for eight Chase places at Richmond.
Dale Earnhardt Jr finished second after a strong run, gaining three places in the standings in the process. The driver of the #8 Budweiser Chevrolet now lies sixth in the standings, but just 77 points ahead of Kahne.
Bowyer was one of the few drivers to make their fuel gamble work, finishing a career best third after running on the fringes of the top 20for most of the night but while Bowyer, tenth placed Dale Jarrett and 14th place finisher Casey Mears were all able to eke out their fuel mileage successfully, Sorensen, Yeley and McMurray all ran dry in the final five laps, costing them dearly. Sorensen would be classified 19th with Yeley 20th and McMurray 21st.
A fourth place finish for Carl Edwards wasn't enough to keep him alive in the Chase while Greg Biffle's disappointing 24th place finish also eliminated him from contention.