HAMPTON, Ga. - Tony Stewart's return to the track ended only a little over halfway through the race last night at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
HAMPTON, Ga. — Tony Stewart’s return to the track ended only a little over halfway through the race last night at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Stewart hit the wall for the second time after his right front tire blew out on lap 172 of the Oral-B USA 500, ending his night. He drove his battered car to the garage and then exited without speaking to reporters.
Kasey Kahne grabbed the lead on a restart following a caution with 23 laps remaining and held off Matt Kenseth in a two-lap shootout to win the race. Kahne’s first win of the season earned him a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. Kenseth also qualified for the Chase on points.
Denny Hamlin finished third, followed by Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards and Danica Patrick.
Stewart’s crew chief, Chad Johnston, said the No. 14 team was disappointed but will now start focusing on next weekend’s race at Richmond — Stewart’s last chance to get a win and earn a spot in the Chase, which starts the following week.
“I wish we could have had a better effort and a better finish for him,” Johnston said. “We’ll go on to Richmond and hope we can do better there.”
With only two laps remaining and Kahne holding a solid lead over Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch collided, forcing a caution flag and the first shootout. Harvick, who led 195 laps, had contact with Joey Logano in heavy traffic and hit the wall on the restart, bringing another caution flag and a second shootout.
Harvick finished 19th.
Kahne, who had four fresh tires, started behind Kenseth and Hamlin on the final restart.
“I struggle with restarts a lot, and that’s big,” Kahne said. “That’s one of the things you have to be good at. It worked really well tonight.”
Kenseth began the night fifth in the points race but not yet locked into the Chase because he had no wins. He needed to finish seventh or better to secure his place in the playoffs.
Harvick, who started from the pole, led the first 80 laps. Hamlin passed him for the lead after Jeff Gordon, who had been second, blew a tire and slid into the wall on turn 3 on the 78th lap, forcing a yellow flag.
Stewart’s problems started when he went into the wall earlier in the race following a collision with Busch.
Stewart started 12th and opened strong, moving up to sixth in the first five laps. Driving high on the track, three-wide at times, he made two more passes to move to fourth a few laps later.
Stewart fell back to 12th before his first big setback. Busch, attempting to move to the top of the track, cut in front of him, forcing Stewart into the wall.
After two visits to pit row for repairs, Stewart didn’t last long. Only 50 laps later, he hit the wall on turn 2 after his right front tire blew. This time he drove his more heavily damaged car to the garage, and his race was over.