Matt Kenseth held off Kasey Kahne in a barnstorming finish to take victory in the NASCAR Sprint Cup night race at Bristol. It was a fantastic comeback by the Joe Gibbs Racing driver, who had earlier been sent to the back for speeding in the pitlane. The victory clinched a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup for Kenseth.
“When he got there with about eight (laps) to go, I knew we had our work cut out for us,” Kenseth said. “I didn’t know what would happen. The interesting thing about this track is that there’s only one really fast groove, and I knew I couldn’t let him outside of me
“He almost cleared me into (Turn) 3 one time. I had to drive in really, really hard to make sure he couldn’t get up in front of me. That’s when I had that rubbing together off of (Turn) 4. There wasn’t a lot of extra room there. It was an intense race. Kasey’s got a great reputation. He’s a really hard racer, really talented and he’s also a really fair racer.
“I thought he was going to pass me. I thought he was going to get around me there but we had just enough to hang on.”
Kahne felt he couldn’t have cleared Kenseth’s car without putting both drivers in jeopardy.
“Yeah, I thought Matt did a good job of just running as hard as he could as close to the wall as possible, which helped him a lot, and then I was just trying to gain speed,” Kahne said. “I had a better car. We were on the right strategy and I just couldn’t clear him. There was a couple shots I took and I had to have been close, but I could feel him on the right side of my car and I just didn’t clear him.
“I didn’t figure out how to get by. It’s disappointing not to win here. I thought we had the best car the last 200 laps and it was a lot of work. We didn’t start the best, but (crew chief) Kenny (Francis) made a lot of good calls and our strategy was perfect at the end. It was a great night for us, good for the points and things, but yeah, I wish I could have figured out how to get by him.”
Kahne had to fight his way by an inspired Juan Pablo Montoya to set up the thrilling showdown, but despite getting the nose of his Hendrick Chevrolet in front a couple of times, he could not make the pass stick. Montoya had also been busted for pitlane speeding, but drove a great race to take third for Earnhardt Ganassi.
Brian Vickers was fourth for Michael Waltrip Racing, while Joey Logano boosted his Chase chances with a recovery drive to fifth following contact with Kyle Busch.
Busch’s hopes of a hat-trick of Bristol wins following Truck and Nationside triumphs were undone when he brushed the wall and slid into Logano. He did well to keep pace with the leaders, but his car was not good in traffic and he eventually finished 11th.
A host of potential winners were taken out in a huge restart crash that brought out the red flag. Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick touched, probably after Hamlin cut a cut tire following contact with Vickers, smashing into the wall and taking out Ryan Newman, Martin Truex Jr. and Brad Keselowski. Truex suffered the most damage, but five strong cars were out of contention in an instant.
Carl Edwards had been the dominant driver for much of the race, but during a late-race caution period his Roush Fenway Ford started to splutter. He switched ignitions, but to no avail and he was forced to bring the Fusion in to retire. Remarkably, it was the first Roush Fenway mechanical retirement of the season.
“I didn’t have any warning,” said Edwards. “That was the most fun I’ve had in a car for a long time. The car was perfect. The engine aside, we were the dominant car here.”
Poleman Hamlin led the opening laps, but was balked by series debutant Ryan Truex, which gave Kurt Busch the opportunity he was waiting for.
Busch was running comfortably out front when he felt the handling of the Furniture Row Chevy go off. He pitted to have a loose wheel inspected, and lost over 20 laps as lengthy repairs were required.
Jimmie Johnson’s recent poor run of luck continued. The five-time champion’s Hendrick Chevy sustained heavy damage when he was powerless to prevent running into the spinning David Reutimann.
Results - 500 laps:Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap 1. Matt Kenseth Joe Gibbs Toyota 3h00m46.000s 2. Kasey Kahne Hendrick Chevrolet +0.188s 3. Juan Pablo Montoya Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet +4.589s 4. Brian Vickers Waltrip Toyota +6.471s 5. Joey Logano Penske Ford +7.989s 6. Paul Menard Childress Chevrolet +8.637s 7. Jeff Gordon Hendrick Chevrolet +8.979s 8. Marcos Ambrose Petty Ford +9.208s 9. Greg Biffle Roush Fenway Ford +9.496s10. Dale Earnhardt Jr Hendrick Chevrolet +9.530s11. Kyle Busch Joe Gibbs Toyota +12.342s12. David Ragan Front Row Ford +12.709s13. Jeff Burton Childress Chevrolet +14.468s14. Clint Bowyer Waltrip Toyota +17.816s15. Aric Almirola Petty Ford +1 lap16. Travis Kvapil BK Toyota +1 lap17. David Stremme Swan Toyota +2 laps18. Ricky Stenhouse Jr Roush Fenway Ford +2 laps19. Jamie McMurray Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet +2 laps20. Mark Martin Stewart-Haas Chevrolet +2 laps21. Ryan Newman Stewart-Haas Chevrolet +2 laps22. Dave Blaney Baldwin Chevrolet +2 laps23. Landon Cassill Circle Sport Chevrolet +2 laps24. JJ Yeley Baldwin Chevrolet +3 laps25. David Gilliland Front Row Ford +4 laps26. Danica Patrick Stewart-Haas Chevrolet +6 laps27. Ken Schrader FAS Lane Ford +8 laps28. Denny Hamlin Joe Gibbs Toyota +12 laps29. David Reutimann BK Toyota +16 laps30. Brad Keselowski Penske Ford +21 laps31. Kurt Busch Furniture Row Chevrolet +23 laps32. Tony Raines Circle Sport Chevrolet +24 laps33. Casey Mears Germain Ford +32 laps34. Kevin Harvick Childress Chevrolet +50 laps35. Martin Truex Jr Waltrip Toyota +54 laps36. Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Chevrolet +59 lapsRetirements: Josh Wise Front Row Ford 418 laps Bobby Labonte JTG Daugherty Toyota 394 laps Carl Edwards Roush Fenway Ford 387 laps Scott Speed Leavine Ford 223 laps Michael McDowell Parsons Ford 175 laps Ryan Truex Phoenix Chevrolet 39 laps Joe Nemechek NEMCO Toyota 1 lap