"I used to be a lot shyer," Kahne said. "Tonight, knowing I had a great car, that Tony Stewart was on my heels and knowing what happened so many times before - I was definitely nervous."
With six laps to go, on the final restart Stewart was able to get his car alongside Kahne's coming out of turn two, but Kahne maintained his composure, regained the advantage and pulled away.
"The pressure was tough," said Kahne. "Every time I was in the front, I found myself thinking, `Maybe we can win.' It's so funny, in everything else I've raced, I never thought about it. The races were always over before I knew it. But we'd come so close, so, to just finally do it - it's unbelievable to get it done."
Five times during his rookie season, he finished second in Cup races, unable to maneuver his No. 9 Ray Evernham Dodge to victory lane. And this year, he had finished second and third, adding to his runner-up image.
"But I never doubted this day would come," he said.
His team didn't doubt, either, but crew chief Tommy Baldwin did admit his relief when the race was won.
Did he say, "It's about time" when Kahne crossed the finish line?
"No. No. Yes," said Baldwin. "It's been a long 46 races. I know that sounds funny, but we'd been so close to winning four, five, six times. It really is a big relief. Now, we can just concentrate on winning."
The victory by Kahne put a different driver in victory lane here for the eighth straight race. Kahne follows Jeremy Mayfield, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ryan Newman, Joe Nemecheck, Matt Kenseth, Stewart and Ricky Rudd.
It was also the first victory for a Dodge Charger since Neil Bonnett won in one in Ontario, Calif., on Nov. 20, 1977.
It was a popular victory. The crowd of 115,000 was on its feet screaming. "I heard them as I was making my victory lap," said Kahne, "and inside my car I was screaming back."
And Stewart, whom Kahne said before the race was his first choice of a driver to beat for his first victory because of his talent, couldn't wait to celebrate with him.
Stewart jumped from his car at the end of the race, ran to Kahne's car and pushed half of his bulky body through the driver's window.
"I just told him the second one wouldn't take so long to get," said Stewart. "I told him I was honored to finish second to him tonight. That kid has done an awesome job for two years and he deserved this."
Stewart, who with Kahne combined to lead for 385 of the 400 laps, heaped on the praise.
"He did everything right tonight," Stewart said. "He ran a really, really smooth, perfect race. And he was smart. When he didn't have position on a car to hold someone off, he let them go until he was ready. He gave guys respect all night and he got it in return. And, at the end, he had the fastest car. He certainly earned this victory."
Overall, the race was a spectator's joy. It was an old-fashioned affair with a new-age twist. It was a race in which the young, open wheel-trained stars - Kahne, Stewart, third-place finisher Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch, who had battled among the top three before a brake problem dropped him to a 17th-place - put on a traditional stock car racing show.
It was a race in which two or three cars constantly battled for the lead. Together, those drivers combined for the majority of 21 lead changes.
And the race had other unusual moments, too.
On lap 234, Stewart, while leading, spun without hitting anything as he came out of turn four. The sometimes touchy 2002 Cup champion laughed off the incident and continued.
Jeff Gordon, who was mad at himself after hitting the wall during an accident involving Rusty Wallace on lap 166, finished 60 laps down.
"I know exactly what happened [during the wreck]," Gordon said. "It was one of the stupidest things I've ever done in my life. You know, a car spun in front of me. I saw the smoke and I slowed down, decided to take it a little high and just ran straight into the wall - by myself."
NASCAR Nextel Cup
Chevy American Revolution 400
1. (1) Kasey Kahne, Dodge, 400, $257,325.
2. (3) Tony Stewart, Chevy, 400, $204,611.
3. (2) Ryan Newman, Dodge, 400, $162,316.
4. (10) Kyle Busch, Chevy, 400, $119,300.
5. (7) Kevin Harvick, Chevy, 400, $141,261.
6. (9) Greg Biffle, Ford, 400, $103,225.
7. (5) Elliott Sadler, Ford, 400, $117,341.
8. (39) Bobby Labonte, Chevy, 400, $118,100.
9. (23) Michael Waltrip, Chevy, 400, $105,914.
10. (17) Jamie McMurray, Dodge, 400, $87,600.
11. (6) Ricky Rudd, Ford, 400, $101,214.
12. (26) Matt Kenseth, Ford, 400, $116,746.
13. (15) Jeremy Mayfield, Dodge, 400, $98,720.
14. (27) D. Earnhardt Jr., Chevy, 400, $113,633.
15. (14) Mark Martin, Ford, 400, $84,755.