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Long Pond, PA (Sports Network) - Kasey Kahne made one more stop than everyone else, but his Dodge was so fast that he easily made up for it and won Sunday afternoon's Pocono 500 Sprint Cup race at the Pocono Raceway. The No.9 Gillett Evernham Dodge took the checkered flag 3.702 seconds ahead of Brian Vickers.
The victory was Kahne's second of the regular season and ninth of his "Cup" career.
The key to winning the race was how Kahne calmly rebounded when his team stumbled on an early pit stop.
"It was a great afternoon, this car ran so well, there was nothing close when we ran out front," said Kahne.
Kahne won the pole, but Jimmie Johnson took the lead coming out of Turn 2 and led them across the start/finish line for the first time. Johnson led the first 16 laps before Kahne mounted a successful attack for the lead and five bonus points. But the pole winner didn't stop there, he built the lead to more than three seconds after 25 laps.
A debris caution flag erased Kahne's big lead and following pit stops the No.9 Dodge was in second place behind Scott Riggs, who had pitted just before the caution flag. But Kahne had the faster car and after fighting off Johnson, he slipped underneath Riggs to regain the lead on lap 35.
By lap 39 Kahne's lead was rebuilt to two seconds but this time a Kurt Busch spin brought out the caution flag to slow the action.
Varying pit stop strategies shuffled the field. Johnson took just two tires and came out first of those who pitted, while Kahne took four tires and came out 13th. Martin Truex Jr. didn't stop at all and inherited the lead.
It took Johnson just one turn to get around Truex Jr. for the lead. Kahne was flying again too. He was 10th after the first green-flag lap. He was up to eighth when Kyle Busch and Jamie McMurray collided to bring out another caution flag.
Vickers stayed out this time to inherit the race lead with Johnson in second place. But Kahne's crew was confused as to whether they were making a two-tire or four-tire stop and did neither. Officials were forced to bring Kahne back for a second stop when some of the lug nuts were left off the left-front tire. He restarted in 39th place, but he never panicked.
"I called a two-tire and we had already knocked a couple of lugs off the left front," said crew chief Kenny Francis.
A small shower in Turn 2 forced NASCAR to dry the track and they brought everyone down pit lane for a short red flag period. When they got back to racing, Johnson, who had passed Vickers, began to expand his lead. It quickly became a one-second lead, but another caution flag jumbled the order once again. Johnson worked his way back through the field and was second behind Denny Hamlin at lap 90.
Meanwhile, Kahne was knifing his way through the field. By lap 75 he was up to 20th and at lap 89 he cracked the top-10.
"The driver dug us out of a big hole," said Francis.
Hamlin was enjoying the fresh air out front and built his lead over Johnson to almost three seconds as the field reached the 100-lap mark.
Green-flag pit stops had just begun on lap 104 when Michael Waltrip slapped the outside wall to bring out a caution flag. The timing left Elliott Sadler, Tony Stewart, Bobby Labonte and Martin Truex Jr. who had just finished their stops in the lead. Behind them were Dale Earnhardt Jr. Greg Biffle, Kahne, Carl Edwards and Hamlin.
Stewart slipped under Sadler for the lead as they went back to green and Biffle was also moving up, into third place. Kahne was also showing off his horsepower as he charged around Earnhardt Jr. for fifth place on lap 113. Hamlin, who had won twice at Pocono in just four career starts, also slipped past "Junior."
Stewart, meanwhile, had built a lead of two seconds as Biffle was side-by-side with Sadler for second place. Eighty laps to go and Biffle, Kahne and Hamlin were now looking to cut into the No.20 Toyota's lead.
After the next round of stops it was Johnson (did not pit), Jeff Gordon (did not pit), Kahne and Stewart on the restart. By lap 129 Kahne was the leader as the new tires did their job. Stewart and Biffle also got around Johnson just before Franchitti went on an off-road excursion.
It was too early for any of the leaders to pit and the race went back to green on lap 132 with the order still Kahne, Biffle, Stewart, Johnson and Hamlin.
Johnson had to pit on lap 136, took four tires and fuel and fell to 36th. Crew chief Chad Knaus was hoping that he would only have to pit once more while everyone else would still needed to stop twice more. For the strategy to work, any caution flags would have to come at the correct times.
Up front, Kahne's lead on Biffle was over five seconds at the 150-lap mark. On the next lap he pitted and 15.8 seconds later he was gone with four new tires. Green flag stops cycled through with Kahne regaining the lead on lap 165 and his lead was almost 10 seconds over Hamlin.
But Hamlin wasn't looking forward at Kahne, he was busy dealing with Edwards. The No.99 passed Hamlin with 29 laps to go, but he too was still 10 seconds behind Kahne.
Kahne stopped on lap 175 and off he went. Where would he come out?
The No.9 Dodge came out ahead of Johnson, but behind Vickers who was one of the last to stop on the previous cycle. Then Kyle Busch spun out for the second time and it jumbled the standings again.
They would restart with 19 laps to go and Vickers leading "Junior" and Kahne to the green flag. Kahne had the newest tires of the top-three cars. Kahne got "Junior" with 18 laps to go and Hamlin got around him two laps later. Kahne slid underneath Vickers with 16 laps to go, but Hamlin was still stalking him.
If Hamlin could get around Vickers quickly, he might give Kahne a run for his money. But Vickers held him off and it gave Kahne the room he needed. Kahne's lead was two seconds with 10 laps to go and he cruised to the checkered flag unchallenged.
Hamlin, Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Burton completed the top-five.
The next event is scheduled for Sunday, June 15th at the Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, MI.
06/08 19:11:51 ET
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