BRISTOL, Tenn. (AP) — Kasey Kahne was fed up with all of Joe Gibbs Racing by the time contact with Matt Kenseth ended his race at Watkins Glen earlier this month.
It was the fourth time a JGR driver had wrecked Kahne, and he took to Twitter to voice his displeasure, posting: “Headed to Joe Gibbs Racing to talk to whoever will come out front.”
But when Kahne had his chance Saturday night to right all of those wrongs, he passed on retaliation.
A clean racer to his core, he trailed Kenseth for a dozen laps around Bristol Motor Speedway, trying every which way possible to pass him without wrecking him and failing miserably. Kenseth ended up with his Sprint Cup-leading fifth win of the season, and Kahne settled for a disappointing second.
“I don’t know,” sighed Kahne, winner of the spring race at Bristol. “I just … I think at the end of the day, I just don’t wreck people. I just didn’t get it done and I’m upset with myself for not figuring out how to win.”
It’s the third time this season Kahne has finished second behind Kenseth, who wrapped up at least a wild-card berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
“Kasey’s as good as they get and he’s a clean driver,” Kenseth said. “He raced as hard as he could, we ran out of room off (turn) four, we were both digging as hard as we could to try to get it. Kasey’s just an unbelievable talent, he wanted it bad. We raced as hard as we could race and used every inch of race track.”
Kahne, meanwhile, is still hoping just to make it into the Chase. With two wins on the year he’s in pretty good shape, but he’s only eighth in the standings with two races remaining to set the 12-driver field.
“I needed a win bad, but I also needed a finish,” Kahne said. “I just basically ran as hard as I could, tried to pass him two different times and ran on his bumper and hoped he’d screw up, and he really never did.”
After Kahne passed Juan Pablo Montoya for second, he set his sights on Kenseth and tried numerous times over the final dozen laps — “It felt like 112,” Kenseth said — to make the pass, but never could make it stick. He went for the bump and run on the last lap and missed, and has to settle for second.
“I had a better car. I just couldn’t clear him,” Kahne said. “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.”
Montoya, who learned two weeks ago he won’t be brought back to Chip Ganassi Racing next season, was third. Although he could use a win, especially on an oval to prove he belongs in NASCAR, he said he was pleased with the result — especially since he came back from an early speeding penalty.
“To be honest with you, where we are with the team and the result, it’s pretty good,” he said. “I’m still running until the end of the year with (sponsor) Target, and I want to make sure I can do the best for them.”
Brian Vickers was fourth, followed by Joey Logano, Paul Menard and Jeff Gordon. Marcos Ambrose was eighth and Greg Biffle and Dale Earnhardt Jr. rounded out the top 10.
With two races remaining, at Atlanta and Richmond, to set the Chase field, only points leader Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer and Kenseth have locked up berths. The rest of the top 10 in points are Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Earnhardt, Kahne, Biffle and Logano.
Defending series champion Brad Keselowski is 11th, four points out of 10th and not in Chase contention because he’s winless so far on the season. Keselowski admitted he’s not breathing easy the next two weeks.
“If you’re not in right now, I don’t care if you’re running eighth or you’re running 13th, every team is worried and concerned — not just mine,” he said. “I’m not going to be out of the worried zone unless I make it or it’s over. That’s my job as a race car driver. I care about my team. We’ve got two races left. I think they’ll be good race tracks for us.”
The two drivers currently in position for the wild-card berths are Ryan Newman and Martin Truex Jr., who maintained his position despite finishing 35th when he was collected in an accident that began on a restart when pole-sitter had his tire cut by contact with Vickers. Also caught in the accident was Harvick, who drove his battered car into Hamlin’s pit, and Hamlin responded by intentionally shoving it out of the way.
An animated Harvick had to talk his way past a NASCAR official to get to Hamlin’s car window, where the two quickly came to a resolution.
“He was under the impression that I caused it. He didn’t see the replay,” Hamlin said. “I talked to him. Luckily, we were able to talk right away and hash it out.”
It was a long and disappointing night for Kurt Busch, who started second in his effort to make the Chase for single-car team Furniture Row Racing. But a vibration dropped him from first to fifth, then sent him to pit road for a repair. He was then flagged for speeding, the pit stop was slow, and by the time he served his penalty for speeding he had dropped three laps to 39th place.
Then he made contact with Josh Wise to cause damage to his car, sending him back to pit road. The original vibration wasn’t fixed, and Busch had to go behind the wall for a length repair. He wound up 31st and dropped three spots in the standings to 12th.
“When you are 20 laps down there is nothing you can do,” he said. “We are not out. My thoughts all through the race were we just have to go to Atlanta and Richmond and win them both. We have two races to go and I heard we are only five points out of 10th.”