BRISTOL — As determined as Kasey Kahne was to get by Matt Kenseth in Saturday’s IRWIN Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway, Kenseth was even more determined to hold him off.
Kenseth’s No. 20 Toyota led the final 126 laps, but spent the final 15 circuits around the .533-mile oval holding off Kahne’s No. 5 Chevrolet. It was Kenseth’s fifth win of the season, tying his previous career-best in 2002.
“We wanted it bad and we raced as hard as we could race,” Kenseth said. “We used every inch of race track. We had just enough fuel and just enough tires.”
Kenseth had pitted on lap 336, while Kahne made his final stop on lap 441. Not only was Kahne’s car faster on the fresher tires, Kenseth ran out of fuel during his victory celebration.
It was Kenseth’s his third win in the night race and his 29th career Sprint Cup victory overall.
“To win the Bristol night race is pretty awesome,” Kenseth said. “We led a lot of laps early this year, but we haven’t led much lately. We needed this win.”
Kahne’s Chevrolet dived to the inside of Kenseth’s car with 13 laps to go and briefly pulled ahead. Kenseth stayed in the throttle, however, and maintained the top spot. They continued to battle side-by-side over much of the next 10 laps before Kenseth pulled ahead for good.
Kahne had the option of bumping Kenseth’s car out of the way on the final lap, but decided not to. It was a decision he questioned after the race.
“There are always other options,” Kahne said. “(Crew chief) Kenny (Francis) made a great call to come get tires and not have to worry about fuel. I just didn’t get it done. I had a better car and I didn’t get it done. I feel bad for the guys in the pits.”
Kahne, who won the Food City 500 back in March, talked about the moment he pulled ahead, but Kenseth forced his way back in front.
“I was racing him as hard as I could,” Kahne said. “I had him at one point, had a good run and tried to slide across. He just kept position, and kept running all the way off turn four. I just didn’t clear him, didn’t get it done. I’m upset with myself because I clearly had a better car.”
Juan Pablo Montoya in a Chevrolet finished third. He was cheering for the leaders to race each other a little too hard at the end.
“I hoping they would take each other out at the white flag,” Montoya said.
Brian Vickers in a Toyota and Joey Logano in a Ford rounded out the top five.
Paul Menard and Jeff Gordon in Chevrolets took the next two spots ahead of the Fords of Marcos Ambrose and Greg Biffle.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. rounded out the top 10 in a Chevrolet.
Kyle Busch, in a bid for a weekend sweep, used strategy to move from a last-place starting spot to second on lap 256. He wasn’t able to maintain the spot and finished 11th.
Contact between Brian Vickers and defending race champion Denny Hamlin triggered an eight-car accident on lap 447 which eliminated several of the top contenders.
They included Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Ryan Newman and Martin Truex Jr. It caused a red-flag delay for nearly five minutes.
They weren’t the only big names to see trouble.
Five-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson was caught up in an accident between Brian Vickers and David Reutimann on lap 355.
The front end of Johnson’s car including the radiator had to be pulled off for repairs. It was the second straight week Johnson finished outside the top 20. He finished 36th, and now holds an 18-point lead over Clint Bowyer in the season standings.