BRISTOL, Tenn. – Kasey Kahne had the muscle, but Matt Kenseth had the determination.
Kenseth was able to hold off a vigorous challenge from Kahne in the final 15 laps to win Saturday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series IRWIN Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
The victory was Kenseth’s series-leading fifth of the season and allowed him to clinch his spot in the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup. It certainly didn’t come easy for the 2003 series champion.
Kenseth was the race leader when the caution flag waved on lap 256 for debris on the backstretch. Kenseth and the rest of the front runners came down pit road for fuel and tires, but Kenseth got caught speeding and had to restart the race in 26th place.
While Kenseth was battling his way back through the field, Carl Edwards was dominating at the front of the pack. It took Kenseth more than 100 laps, but by lap 367 Kenseth had made his way back to second. He was able to snatch the lead from Edwards moments before a caution flag on lap 374 when Jeff Burton spun.
The green flag waved again on lap 379 and Edwards quickly fell off the pace, his engine going sour. He circled the track for a few more laps before retiring to the garage.
Kenseth continued to lead the field until a caution flag on lap 438 for debris in turn four and on the front stretch. At that point Kahne was running third and opted to come down pit road for fuel and tires. He was the first car off pit road and restarted the race in ninth on lap 446.
The field didn’t even complete a lap when a huge crash broke out in turns three and four. Contact between Brian Vickers and polesitter Denny Hamlin led to a cut tire on Hamlin’s car, causing Hamlin to go up the track and collect Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski, Ryan Newman and several others.
After a brief red flag for cleanup, the field returned to racing on lap 454. Kenseth grabbed the lead, but Kahne quickly began flying through the field. Kenseth, trying to stretch both his fuel and his tires more than 130 laps, was able to put more than a second between himself and second-place Juan Pablo Montoya.