LONG POND, Pa. - A long afternoon at Pocono Raceway was worth it for Kasey Kahne.
Kahne, the pole-sitter, won his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Pocono race yesterday by leading the last 16 laps. Driving the bright red No. 9 Dodge, Kahne finished 4.068 seconds ahead of Brian Vickers.
And Kahne also beat Jimmie Johnson, the sixth-place finisher, for most laps led, 69-59.
The last driver to win from the pole at Pocono was Denny Hamlin, who did it twice 2 years ago. Hamlin finished third yesterday in a Toyota.
With 10 caution periods, the race lasted just a tick under 4 hours (3:59:39).
In gaining his ninth career Cup victory, Kahne overcame a mishandled pit stop early in the race that sent him to 38th in the 43-car field. Kenny Francis, Kahne's team director, abruptly called off a four-tire change, deciding to change just two tires. Not realizing that the tire changer already had removed three of five lug nuts on the left-front wheel, Francis sent Kahne back on the track.
Francis was close to hitting himself upside the head with a wrench.
"I was pretty mad at myself," Francis said. "When he drove it back up to the top 15, I thought we'd be OK."
Said Kahne: "When I left the pits, we came out second and I thought, 'Great call.' Then he said, 'You're going to have to bring it back in, you've only got two lug nuts on the left front.'
"I never said anything. I thought we'll do what we can to get back up [front].
"I never had a car that dominant. When the front end turns that good, it's fun to drive. This place is a tough track to win at. To win here, in the hottest race of the year, 500 miles with three completely different corners, feels really good."
The victory, in the first Car of Tomorrow race at Pocono, moved Kahne to ninth in points. For the past few weeks he had been 12th, the final qualifying spot for the Chase for the Championship.
For Vickers, it was his second runner-up finish at Pocono; he was second in the June race 3 years ago.
Two weeks ago, in the Coca-Cola 600, Vickers led 61 laps in his No. 83 Toyota before an accident relegated him to 42nd place. He is 17th in points.
When Vickers saw Kahne closing on him late in the race, he knew his chance of winning was threatened.
"I wouldn't say it was over," an exhausted Vickers said, "but I knew it was going to be tough. If we could have just got far enough ahead of him to stay in front of him for another 5 or 6 laps, I thought the tires would even out and we would hold him off. But he was still too fast and [his] tires were too good."
Kahne has won two of the last three Cup races after making improvements during testing prior to the Coca-Cola 600. Two years ago, Kahne won a series-high six races. Last year, as NASCAR introduced the Car of Tomorrow, he was winless.
"The team was really strong [2 years ago]," Kahne said. "You go to Gillett Evernham [his car owners] now and everybody is walking around with a smile on their face. That's not how it was a month-and-a-half ago. But that's probably how it was in '06. I'm glad I can be part of it." *