LONG POND, Pa. — It was the difference between one lap and all 160.
Almost eight weeks ago, Kasey Kahne couldn’t complete one lap at Pocono Raceway before he was headed to the garage with drivetrain problems.
Sunday, Kahne’s No. 5 Chevrolet also ended the day in the garage, but after an extended stay in Victory Lane.
Kahne passed his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon on a restart with two laps remaining and held on to win the GoBowling.com 400 at Pocono, his second Sprint Cup Series victory of the season.
Two months ago, Kahne and crew chief Kenny Francis knew how good a car they had for the triangular-shaped flat track.
Sunday, they finally got to show it.
“This was the same car. So Friday we started practice and (it) felt really close to how I felt in June,” said Kahne, who earned his 16th career win. “The track didn’t change much and the tire didn’t change.
“Not having practice (Saturday) didn’t bother me at all because I knew that we had put 40, 45 minutes in on Friday and we were in a good spot.”
What made Kahne’s early exit even more difficult to accept in the Pocono race in June was how fast his car was on the track once repairs had been made. By that time, however, Kahne was far out of contention.
“After the race, it was amazing how many other crew chiefs and crew members and stuff came up to us over the next few weeks,” Francis said. “They were like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe how fast your car was.’
“So it was cool to bring that same car back and actually win the race. It doesn’t always happen that you come back the next time to Pocono and the (same) setup works. Usually, you’re scrambling again.”
Kahne was strong from the start even though in the early-going it appeared his teammate, Jimmie Johnson, would be the one to wind up in Victory Lane.
Johnson led 43 of the first 75 laps but blew a tire and slammed the wall on Lap 76. The incident knocked him out of contention although he did rally, finish 13th, and continues to lead the series standings.
As the race wound to a finish, two late restarts decided the outcome.
Gordon passed Kahne, then the leader, on a restart with eight laps left and looked as if he would earn the win. Matt Kenseth’s accident brought out another caution on Lap 157 and bunched the field again.
This time, Gordon restarted on the bottom lane but Kahne quickly maneuvered around him into the lead and opened up a wide margin over the final two laps.
“On that last caution, I just knew it was two laps to go, it’s whoever gets the lead, whoever gets clear, is going to win the race,” Kahne said. “I had some help from Kurt Busch – he pushed me down the frontstretch
“I just drove into (Turn) 1 as far as I felt I could, and I got some speed and momentum down the back and beat Jeff to Turn 2. That was kind of the race at that point.”
The move surprised Gordon, not because he thought Kahne wasn’t capable of it, but because Gordon felt he had done everything right.
“I’m pretty disappointed that I allowed them to get to the outside of me down in (Turn) 1. I thought all I needed to do was get in there and get the bottom and I’d be good,” Gordon said.
“But, man, he got a killer run and blasted on the outside of me. Caught me by surprise, I’ll be honest.”
Kurt Busch finished third. Last week’s winner, Ryan Newman, finished fourth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. rounded out the top five.
Kahne’s win helped cement a spot in this season’s championship Chase. He is eighth in the series standings but even if he were to fall out of the top 10, his two wins on the season will likely ensure him of a wild-card spot.
“I needed one bad,” Kahne said of the win. “I felt our team did. We’ve been fast this whole season just things have happened and we don’t have much to show for it.
Sunday “we finished it off and put it all together.”