LONG POND — The dominance came later than expected from an unlikely source.
That was just fine with Kasey Kahne as he was the driver who conquered Jimmie Johnson’s mastery of Pocono Raceway on Sunday afternoon.
Kahne took control for the most part over the final 60 laps — and after Johnson’s fate was sealed by a blown right front tire — to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup GoBowling.com 400.
“I felt like our car was the best car today,” said Kahne, who led a race-high 66 laps. “(Crew chief) Kenny (Francis) called a great race with strategy and kept me out front once we got there. We started 18th and had a ways to go. We were gaining on the leaders from the time the race went green.”
Kahne won at Pocono before in June 2008. He had three top-10 finishes here since then, but also some forgettable performances. That list included a 36th in the June race where a faulty drivetrain early made for a miserable day.
Despite a strong performance in his No. 5 Chevrolet, the day nearly soured for Kahne late. He led Jeff Gordon by 7.6 seconds on Lap 148 of the 160-lap race when a caution for debris tightened up the field.
On the restart, Kahne and Gordon dueled door-to-door before Gordon pulled ahead in turn three. Matt Kenseth, though, spun on Lap 155 to bring out another caution.
“I knew on that caution there would be two laps to go,” Kahne said. “It would be whoever gets the lead, whoever gets clear is going to win the race.”
Kahne made amends on the restart on Lap 158 as he started on the outside of Gordon. There was another door-to-door battle until Kahne powered past Gordon in turn two.
“He was super fast all day,”Gordon said. “Those guys, they deserved that win today. We had him, though. We certainly had the positioning and a good restart. I’m pretty disappointed I allowed him to get to the outside of me down in one. … I did everything I needed to do and looked in my mirror and thought the inside lane got a good run on him.
“I thought all I needed to do was get the bottom and I’d be good. But, man, he got a killer run and blasted up on the outside of me.”
As beneficial as the last restart was, Kahne felt he might have caught Gordon anyway had there been no caution … maybe.
“We would have definitely had a shot,” Kahne said. “We had the speed and could run around. But to clear him and make the pass would have been really difficult.”
Kahne and Gordon made it a one-two finish for Hendrick Motorsports. But it was a third member of the team who looked like the driver to beat for some time.
Early on, the race appeared it would be a replay of the June event where Johnson led 128 laps to cruise to a win. Johnson once again had the car to beat until his right front tire shredded on Lap 76. His No. 48 Chevrolet slapped into the wall, causing significant damage. He limped around in the mid-20s the rest of the race and finished 13th.
With Johnson out of the picture, the race to the checkered flag became wide open. The Busch brothers, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brad Keselowski and Ryan Newman were among the drivers who looked like contenders.
Kurt Busch finished third. And while he didn’t challenge Kahne or Gordon at the end, he left Pocono pleased.
“It was certainly a run where we were able to close the chapter, so to speak, on having little problems here or little problems there,” Busch said. “What I mean by that is we executed really well today. Pit strategy, pit stops, two tires, four tires and to be in position at the end.”
Kahne picked up one spot in the points standings, moving up to eighth. Moreover, a second win this season gives him a cushion for a wild-card spot — awarded to the two drivers with the most victories who are 11-20 in points — should he backslide over the next five races.
“We really needed this one to get into the Chase, we really did,” Kahne said.