Monday morning NASCAR recap: Pocono win removes Kahne from Chase bubble

Will Schneekloth

As Kasey Kahne celebrated a victory that took him off the Chase bubble, Jeff Gordon, Brad Keselowski and others continue to see their playoff fortunes hang precariously in the balance.

As one driver was in Victory Lane celebrating a win Sunday at Pocono Raceway that virtually cemented his playoff status, another was lamenting a race that had gotten away.

For Kasey Kahne, it was a much-needed victory and the emotions he was experiencing were a combination of elation and relief.

"It could have gone either way, and I'm just glad I didn't give that one away, because I knew we had the best car," Kahne said following his 16th career victory. "If I didn't win the race today, I would have felt pretty bad about giving it away."

On the other end of the emotional spectrum was the disappointment being felt by second-place finisher Jeff Gordon.

"I'm frustrated right now because we had a shot at it," Gordon said. "We know how important wins are, but second is a great points day for us as well."

So goes life on the playoff bubble.

Every move made by those fighting for a spot in the Chase will be second-guessed and analyzed with the repercussions having far-reaching consequences. It's an emotional rollercoaster that won't end until the regular season concludes in five weeks at Richmond.

One slip, one bobble, one wrong decision and a potential Chase berth will disappear quicker than free beer at the Elk's Lodge.

Following the 400, drivers nine through 15 in the standings find themselves separated by a mere 27 points. The names in contention reads like an All-Star roster.

In ninth is Gordon, without a win to his name and just eight points ahead of 11th-place Tony Stewart, who himself is teetering on playoff eligibility and precariously holds the No. 1 wild card slot.

But at least Stewart has a win in his back pocket; the same can't be said for Brad Keselowski. The defending Sprint Cup champion is somehow winless, and if the playoffs began today, he would not qualify. It's been a summer freefall for a driver who opened the year with four consecutive finishes of fourth or better and once held the points lead.

"I am more frustrated than tired," Keselowski said after placing sixth. " ... We were close to the 5 (Kahne) and 24 (Gordon) but they were probably a tad faster. Damn, we were just a little bit short."

Then there is Kurt Busch, who has taken single-car Furniture Row Racing to unprecedented heights this season. Yet, he still can't get over the hump and find Victory Lane.

And charging hard is Ryan Newman. In the past two weeks he has a fourth and a win and is racing for more than just a spot in the Chase, as he sorts through an undecided future.

Before this past weekend Kahne was also included on this list. However after completing an all-or-nothing pass on Gordon with two laps to go, he has all but solidified, barring a total collapse, his presence in the Chase.

"The Chase is what it's all about in NASCAR," Kahne said. "I mean, you need to make it for the sponsors, for the teams. We've been right there on the edge with kind of the way our summer went.

"It was nice to get two wins. It gives us much more hope going in."

As much attention as his Hendrick Motorsports teammates have gathered for their near-misses this season, Kahne has been saddled with his own misfortune.

He began the year getting wrecked by Kyle Busch in the Daytona 500, which was replicated in the subsequent restrictor plate race at Talladega. Kahne also tangled with Busch at Darlington as the two battled for the lead and would later cut a tire while out front at Michigan.

It was a cavalcade of adversity that crew chief Kenny Francis would call "crazy."

Through it all, Kahne maintained his team had the speed to challenge for the championship. The reality, however, saw him staring at the possibility that he would be a Chase bystander. A scenario which seemed unlikely after an early season victory at Bristol had seemingly foreshadowed a year where the No. 5 team would emerge as bona fide title contenders.

"I needed one bad," Kahne said. "I felt like our team did. We've been really fast this whole season, especially through the summer months. Just things have happened and we don't have much to show for, but today we finished it off and put a full race together."

The promise he exuded in the spring has returned, and with it comes a different kind of pressure. But it's a pressure Kahne will gladly accept, as it beats the alternative: He could be like Gordon and the others, still living life on the bubble.

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