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Big win helps Kahne breathe easier

8/5/2013 - NASCAR

LONG POND, Pa. -- Jeff Gordon had taken his seat in the Pocono Raceway media center, thoughts racing through his head of how he let a much-needed victory get away to teammate Kasey Kahne on Sunday's final restart, when the moderator introduced Gordon as the winner.

The somewhat embarrassed moderator corrected himself.

Gordon smiled, but not necessarily a happy one.

"Could you have fixed that last caution for me?" he said.

With the standings so tight with five races left before the Chase, Gordon knows how important a victory is at this point. That he had a chance to get one to help solidify a playoff spot would have made his 42nd birthday one to remember ended up to be frustrating.

And he was close.

Painfully close.

The four-time champion had about a nine-car advantage over his Hendrick Motorsports teammate with five laps remaining when Matt Kenseth spun to bring out the final caution.

Gordon then got a great jump on the restart with two laps to go, only to have Kahne blow past him on the outside after an unintended push from third-place Kurt Busch.

"I thought [on] that last [restart] I did everything I needed to do," Gordon said. "But man, he got a killer run and blasted outside of me. Caught me by surprise, honestly."

So instead of celebrating, Gordon was left to lament after literally driving like it was 1993, when he first came onto the scene.

"It's something we can build a lot of momentum on," Gordon said. "Yeah, I'm frustrated now because we had a shot at it. We know how important wins are."

He should be frustrated. As Busch said of the race to the Chase, "It's tight."

How tight? Gordon moved up a spot to ninth, but he's only three points ahead of 10th-place Greg Biffle and eight points ahead of 11th-place Tony Stewart without a win to help him in the wild-card race.

Only 24 points separate 15th-place Ryan Newman and 10th, If the Chase started today, Busch, in 13th place, and defending champion Brad Keselowski, in 12th, would be on the outside looking in because neither has a victory. Stewart and 14th-place Martin Truex Jr. -- both with victories -- would be in as wild cards.

But don't think the win wasn't important for Kahne. It was huge. At eighth in points with two wins, he's all but assured a spot in the Chase.

It was also an emotional win for Kahne. When he was here in June, he never had a chance to show what the car had because of a mechanical issue that sent him to the garage on the first lap.

That was also the last weekend he got to spend with good friend Jason Leffler, who was killed a few days later in a sprint car race in New Jersey.

Kahne also understands how big the win was because he'd blown so many opportunities the past few months. Now, he and crew chief Kenny Francis can take chances over the next five weeks in order to get another win or two to close the gap on this season's four-time winners, Jimmie Johnson and Kenseth.

"I wanted to win bad," Kahne said. "We've been really fast this whole season, especially the summer months, and we don't have much to show for it."

"

Kahne I wanted to win bad. We've been really fast this whole season, especially the summer months, and we don't have much to show for it.

"-- Kasey Kahne

There was the mechanical issue here, crashes at Talladega, Michigan and Daytona, all with cars capable of challenging for the win. Take away those incidents and we might be talking about the No. 5 team as championship contenders the way we do points leader Johnson.

Maybe now we should.

"It gives [me] self-confidence and gives the whole team confidence," Kahne said."We can run with them [Johnson's team] if we do everything right."

Anybody in a Hendrick Motorsports car or with an HMS engine should have confidence after the past two races.

HMS took three of the top five spots on Sunday with Kahne and Gordon one-two and Dale Earnhardt Jr. fifth. Throw in Newman's fourth-place finish for Stewart-Haas Racing and HMS engines represented four of the top five.

A week ago at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, HMS engines took the top four sports.

But this one didn't come down to horsepower as much as it came down to restarts, just as it did the day before in the Camping World Truck Series.

Kahne restarted on the outside with eight laps remaining and lost the lead to Gordon on the inside.

Gordon started on the inside on the final restart and lost the lead to Kahne.

It appeared the worst place to be was in the lead with such a wide frontstretch that allowed the rest of the drivers in the field to sit back and pick their spots.

"I didn't want to see that last caution, that's for sure," Gordon said.

Kahne didn't want to see the previous one, either, because he had the race seemingly in his hands.

And the restarts might have meant nothing to either had Johnson not blown a tire and gotten into the wall after starting on the pole and leading the first 33 laps.

But he did, and that left it up to a pair of teammates who needed the win much more than he did.

"I knew we had the best car today," Kahne said. "If we didn't win the race I would have felt pretty bad about giving it away."

Kind of like Gordon did, which is why the moderator's introduction wasn't nearly as funny from his seat.

"I'm happy that we were in position [to win]," Gordon said. "I'm bummed that it worked out the way it did."

He should be.

As Busch reiterated, "it's so tight," and there are no signs that's going to change.