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Kahne wins, but not in the standings
By BRANT JAMES
Published October 15, 2006
CONCORD, N.C. - Kasey Kahne got to make the smoke, but Jeff Burton was still standing when it cleared.
Kahne was dominant through a series of bizarre events and led a race-high 134 laps, including the last 26, to win for the second straight time at Lowe's Motor Speedway on Saturday night in the fifth race of the Chase for the Championship.
But while he celebrated his series-leading sixth Nextel Cup win of the season with a burnout, points leader Burton completed an essay in damage control when he climbed out his No. 31 Chevrolet with a third-place finish.
Kahne's victory was ultimately worth just one spot, as Burton again showed the kind of resilience than wins championships.
"The new ice man, Jeff Burton," said Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was fourth. "You can't break him; he's there every week. You almost have to pull for him to win a championship."
Jimmie Johnson was second, 1.6 seconds behind Kahne. Johnson had won five straight races at the track until Kahne swept the schedule there this season.
Burton expanded his points lead to 45 points over Matt Kenseth.
"If he keeps running great races, you're not going to be able to catch him," Kahne said.
A lap down on Lap 242 of 334 after a bizarre pit sequence, Burton got back in the lead lap as the beneficiary of a caution 34 laps later and raced back into the top five. A week after he lost a top-five finish because of a tire in the waning laps, he felt a vibration and considered pitting, he held on for his fourth top-seven finish in five Chase races.
"If you can run second, fifth, if you can do those things, you're hard to beat," Burton said. "But it's hard to do those things. Our luck has not been as bad as some people."
Not as bad as several Chase hopefuls on Saturday night.
Rookie Denny Hamlin finished 28th after being involved in a Lap 2 accident. Kenseth had numerous problems and finished 14th. And four-time champion Jeff Gordon suffered an engine failure while running fifth with 33 laps left and finished 24th.
The race was marred early by four cautions that consumed 23 of the first 52 laps, threatening to mimic the messes that had occurred here the last two years, but the race calmed later.
The race changed markedly on a bizarre green flag pit sequence that began on Lap 240. Mark Martin lost a car that had run in the top five for much of the night on Lap 242 when he was sent airborne and into the wall coming out of Turn 4 because J.J. Yeley cut down on him trying to make a dip onto pit road. Yeley claimed he signaled his intentions to Martin with a hand waggle out of his window, but Martin said if he did, he did it too late to be seen.
It was Martin's first unfinished race of the season. He fell to fourth in points, 102 back.
Martin, following through on a vow to have fun in his final bid for a championship before retiring from full-time Cup racing, climbed atop his smashed No. 6 Ford to salute the crowd. He said a championship was against the will of some higher power after his second costly crash in the Chase in as many years.
But he wasn't in the mood to air his grievance personally.
"I wasn't ready to meet my maker tonight," he said.
Burton benefited from the caution, as he had stalled on pit road and was being pushed by his crew when the yellow light lit.
Just 11 cars were scored on the lead lap after the caution period as several had just completed green flag stops.