SONOMA, Calif. - Kasey Kahne gave struggling Richard Petty Motorsports a much-needed boost yesterday, holding off Tony Stewart at the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway to snap a personal 37-race winless streak.
Kahne was met in Victory Lane by Petty, who made his first trip there as a car owner in more than a decade; a Petty-owned car had not won a race since John Andretti's victory at Martinsville, Va., in April 1999.
"I feel just as good as he does," said "The King," clad in his trademark cowboy hat and sunglasses. "It's great, man. It's great."
Petty's race team teetered on the verge of collapse at the end of last season and needed a January merger with Gillett-Evernham Motorsports to stay in business. The team was rebranded as Richard Petty Motorsports and kicked off the season with a strong showing at the Daytona 500.
But it's been a rough ride, since. Team manufacturer Chrysler is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, and funding to RPM has slowed to a crawl as Dodge restructures. The team laid off nine employees earlier this month and made companywide salary cuts, and it has been plagued by whispers of financial instability the last several weeks.
And just Saturday, majority team owner George Gillett agreed to sell the NHL's Montreal Canadiens in a deal that should help him fight any solvency issues.
It has made for a frustrating season for Kahne, the star of the four-driver team, who at times this year has been vocal about RPM's progress. His criticism prompted team officials to push out a new Dodge engine, and the improved motor had given Kahne hope that there's reason for optimism.
Now he has his first victory on a road course.
"I learned how to drive on dirt," Kahne said. "So to come out and win on a road course . . . it feels great. I can't believe it."
The victory moved Kahne to 13th in the standings, one spot shy of qualifying for the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
Stewart finished second and was followed by Marcos Ambrose, Jimmie Johnson in fourth, fifth-place Denny Hamlin and Juan Pablo Montoya in sixth. AJ Allmendinger, Kahne's teammate at RPM, was seventh and Clint Bowyer, Jeff Gordon and RPM driver Elliott Sadler rounded out the top 10.