BRISTOL — There doesn’t have to be a wreck for it to be a classic Bristol duel.
Matt Kenseth and Kasey Kahne staged a memorable duel at the end of Saturday’s IRWIN Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Kenseth, driving the No. 20 Toyota, spent the final 15 circuits of the 500-lap race holding off Kahne’s No. 5 Chevrolet.
Kenseth had pitted for tires on lap 336, while Kahne made his final pit stop on lap 441. Kahne’s car was faster with the new tires, but a determined Kenseth never gave up for his series-best fifth win of the season.
“I knew it was going to be a hard race,” Kenseth said. “I had to drive the final laps looking out the front windshield, not looking in the rear-view mirror. If somebody gets in the back of you, there isn’t really anything you can do about it. It was an intense race, but Kasey has a reputation as a good and fair racer.”
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 chose not to. It was a decision he questioned after the race.
“(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,” Kahne said. “I had a better car and I didn’t get it done.”
Kenseth’s wreck with Tony Stewart while battling for the lead in the 2012 night race was shown as the major clip to promote this year’s racing at Bristol.
Just because the racing with Kahne didn’t result in an accident or having a helmet bounced off the hood of Kenseth’s car, it didn’t mean it was any less compelling.
Kenseth knew he couldn’t let up. With the older tires, he felt it would be impossible to regain a lost lead and his only hope of winning was to stay ahead of Kahne.
“When he got that run off (turn) two and he got that fender in front of me, I knew he was going to do the dirt-track slide job,” Kenseth said. “I knew if he got by me we were done.”
Instead, it was Kahne who was beating himself up after the race. He knew it was a golden opportunity to sweep the year’s races at Bristol, and wondered aloud if he should have been more aggressive.
“I was racing him as hard as I could,” Kahne said. “I had him at one point, had a good run. I tried to slide across, be he just kept position. We were rubbing all the way off turn four. I just didn’t clear him, didn’t get it done. I’m upset with myself for not figuring out how to win because I clearly had a better car.”
While the leaders didn’t tangle, there were many angry drivers afterwards. Kenseth said not everyone was cutting others slack, evident by 11 caution periods, which included an eight-car pile-up on lap 448.
“I saw a lot of hard racing tonight,” Kenseth said. “I saw one guy pull under another and slide up and not have enough room to clear him. That made him mad and the next corner, he slide up and did the same thing, caused a wreck.”
Kenseth’s crew chief Jason Ratcliff wasn’t surprised with the racing. Matter of fact, he fully expected “The Last Great Coliseum” to produce another memorable ending.
“It was the same old Bristol, a dramatic finish right at the end,” he said.