HAMPTON, Ga. - Rest easy, mature ladies of NASCAR. Your boy made the Chase.
If this race were a romance novel, which fits the boyish good looks of race winner Kasey Kahne, it'd be titled "Kahne's Konundrum," or "Racin' Kasey," and it'd have dashing heroes (Kahne, of course) and scheming suitors (Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick) and even a villain (Kyle Busch) who almost vanquished our hero's chances of winning the heart of his beloved Chase Bertha. (All right, we'll work on the name.)
Alas, this was only a race, albeit a crucial one for the points standings, and the only romance taking place in the Atlanta Motor Speedway infield probably isn't the kind we can discuss in any detail on a family website. Regardless, Kahne captured his spot in the Chase, bringing a satisfying end to a long and frustrating regular season for the Hendrick Motorsports driver.
And for a moment, it looked like Kahne was going to watch it all slip away. He was dominant through the race's final laps, out in front of Harvick and riding the smooth clean air. But then Busch and Martin Truex Jr. got together — more on that in a moment — and Kahne saw his lead evaporate. Kenseth, Denny Hamlin, and Paul Menard all beat Kahne off pit road for a green-white-checkered finish, and for a lap or so, it appeared Kahne's best chance to make the Chase was over and done.
But then onetime teammates Menard and Harvick collided, taking them out of the mix and bringing out the second late caution flag. Kahne was able to outrun Kenseth, not exactly a surprise given the fact that Kenseth was on two fresh tires to Kahne's four, and just like that, the fourth of four Hendrick cars was locked into the Chase.
Kahne's three teammates — Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, and Jeff Gordon — all stopped by victory lane to congratulate Kahne. After the race, team owner Rick Hendrick pronounced this year's quartet "the most balanced" he's ever fielded in the Chase.
The race's drama came about when Busch and Truex collided in the closing laps, each repeatedly hammering each other. After the race, Truex stopped his car at Busch's hauler, holding up the entire line of entering cars, and leaned in Busch's window to express his displeasure.
Truex continued the discussion with Busch's crew chief Dave Rogers as Busch climbed out of the car and left the garage without speaking. It marked yet another low point in Busch's ongoing late-season skid, and while Kyle is locked into the Chase, there's little indication at the moment that he'll be entering with any momentum.
The series now heads to Richmond for its regular-season finale on Saturday night. Two Chase spots remain up for grabs, with a victory guaranteeing a berth. If Sunday night in Atlanta was a romance novel, that night is going to be an MMA fight.