Kahne takes California victory

Kasey Kahne gave his NASCAR Nextel Cup championship hopes a shot in the arm by winning the Sony HD 500 at California Speedway

Kahne, who won the Busch series race at the same track last night, seemingly had the best car during the latter stages of the race but had to bounce back from a pit-lane speeding penalty, which dropped him to 24th.

The 26 year-old vaulted a bunch of places when his pit crew chose to change two instead of four tyres on his penultimate stop, but he looked set to lose out in the battle for victory to Reed Sorenson, who had gambled on fuel strategy.

During what proved to be the final caution period, Sorenson came back into the pits and topped off on fuel, which meant he believed he would be able to make the finish without making a further pitstop.

He took the lead when the rest of the field went for their splash-and-dashes under green flag conditions, but ultimately, he ran dry a lap and half from the chequered flag, handing the win to Kahne.

"This was an unbelievable race," Kahne said. "To fall down a lap like that and come back. It's brilliant. I didn't notice going over the speed limit.

"The car got better when the sun went down and I can't thank the team enough. This is the way we are going to get back into the Chase [positions]."

Kahne's victory sets up an intriguing race at Richmond next weekend, after which the top ten are frozen for this year's Chase.

After Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson secured their spots last week, the rest of the field are still too closely bunched for anyone to have already secured their Chase spot.

Only 147 points cover Kevin Harvick in third down to Kahne in 11th, meaning that one driver from a selection of nine will almost certainly suffer heartache next weekend by not making this year's Chase.

Dale Earnhardt Jr's hopes were boosted however by moving up three spots to sixth in the standings with his second consecutive top-three finish.

"This is my best finish here," an elated Earnhardt said. "We're just taking things one week at a time and having a good finish is what it is all about. The pressure is just trying to run good."

While Reed Sorenson's gamble failed, Clint Bowyer's similar risk paid off to give him his best NASCAR Nextel Cup finish yet. Bowyer stayed out when the rest came in for fuel in the final stages, and was happy to be rewarded with third.

"It was just an incredible call to come back in and top of with fuel in that yellow. Finally we've had something do our way. I'm just really proud of Gill [Martin, crew chief] for that call."

Carl Edwards' fourth position wasn't good enough to keep his faint Chase hopes alive, and like teammate Greg Biffle, was eliminated from the Race to the Chase tonight.

Jeff Gordon secured fifth with his own comeback drive, after he had to make an unscheduled pit-stop to get all of the wheel nuts on his car.

Pos  Driver               Make        Laps
 1.  Kasey Kahne          Dodge        250
 2.  Dale Earnhardt Jr    Chevrolet    250
 3.  Clint Bowyer         Chevrolet    250
 4.  Carl Edwards         Ford         250
 5.  Jeff Gordon          Chevrolet    250
 6.  Denny Hamlin         Chevrolet    250
 7.  Matt Kenseth         Ford         250
 8.  Kyle Busch           Chevrolet    250
 9.  Tony Stewart         Chevrolet    250
10.  Dale Jarrett         Ford         250
11.  Jimmie Johnson       Chevrolet    250
12.  Mark Martin          Ford         250
13.  Elliott Sadler       Dodge        250
14.  Casey Mears          Dodge        250
15.  Kevin Harvick        Chevrolet    250
16.  Jeff Burton          Chevrolet    250
17.  Scott Riggs          Dodge        250
18.  Martin Truex Jr      Chevrolet    250
19.  Reed Sorenson        Dodge        249
20.  J.J. Yeley           Chevrolet    249
21.  Jamie McMurray       Ford         249
22.  Jeff Green           Chevrolet    249
23.  Ken Schrader         Ford         249
24.  Greg Biffle          Ford         249
25.  Joe Nemechek         Chevrolet    249
26.  Bobby Labonte        Dodge        249
27.  Kurt Busch           Dodge        249
28.  Scott Wimmer         Chevrolet    248
29.  Sterling Marlin      Chevrolet    248
30.  Dave Blaney          Dodge        248
31.  Michael Waltrip      Dodge        248
32.  David Gilliland      Ford         248
33.  Ryan Newman          Dodge        248
34.  Travis Kvapil        Chevrolet    248
35.  Kyle Petty           Dodge        247
36.  David Stremme        Dodge        247
37.  Tony Raines          Chevrolet    247
38.  Kevin Lepage         Dodge        246
39.  Kenny Wallace        Chevrolet    246
40.  Terry Labonte        Chevrolet    245
41.  Brian Vickers        Chevrolet    237
42.  Bill Elliott         Chevrolet    224
43.  Robby Gordon         Chevrolet    193

Secure position for the Chase:
  1.  Matt Kenseth         3638
  2.  Jimmie Johnson       3629   -9

Current Chase contenders:
 3.  Kevin Harvick        3296   -342
 4.  Jeff Gordon          3251   -387
 5.  Kyle Busch           3244   -394
 6.  Dale Earnhardt Jr    3226   -412
 7.  Denny Hamlin         3225   -413
 8.  Tony Stewart         3194   -444
 9.  Mark Martin          3181   -457
10.  Jeff Burton          3179   -459

Still with a chance for the Chase:
11.  Kasey Kahne          3149   -489
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