After several strong runs this season including a second place last week, Kasey Kahne was finally able to seal the deal and win his first race of the season Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway. Kahne took the lead for the final time with 59 to go and held off polesitter Kyle Busch to score his first win in 20 races the last coming at New Hampshire last summer.
"This is a tough track to win at, and we pulled it off today” Kahne said.” This whole team stepped-up, and did an unbelievable job. The pit stops were flawless; the adjustments to the car; the preparation Friday-Saturday, and prior to that. The engine in the car is unbelievable. I had a great day. This is a lot of fun. I have always wanted to win a Cup race here. To finally do it feels really good."
It was the end of a dominant day for Kahne who led the second most laps in an event filled with crashes that took out many of the top contenders including Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth. Busch finished second after starting from the pole and overcoming a pit road speeding penalty and fighting back from 32nd place restart.
"Just need to stop getting penalties and just stay up front all day, but I don't know,” a clearly disappointed Busch said. “We're trying to take too much on pit roads and it's not working for us, so we just need to back off. Just never really had the car that was worth being able to run the bottom as long as it needed to. And then on the top, it was too tight on the top as well too. It's a good day, I guess."
Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch and Clint Bowyer completed the top five.
There were 11 cautions in the race, including five for Chevrolets that blew right front tires. Tony Stewart was the first to crash when he lost a tire on lap nine. Gordon was leading on lap 389 when he lost a right front tire and careened into the wall; the crash took out second place Matt Kenseth who was fast catching him. Jimmie Johnson too suffered a flat tire on lap 454 while running inside the top ten. Johnson was able to hold on to finish 22nd, while Gordon was forced to park and finished 34 with Kenseth just behind him in 35.
“Maybe we were just a little bit too hard on that right front,” Gordon said. “Not really sure there. Right fronts never blow out when you are up against the wall. I was up against the wall the entire run, and as soon as I went to go under a lapped car - boom - it popped down at the bottom of the race track and went all the way to the top, and we got the wall. Really hate that we collected Matt Kenseth in that. He had a great race car, and a great day going. We were really trying to get by with a top-five, top-10 and get some points. This is a bad way to end it."
Denny Hamlin and Denny Hamlin tangled on and off the track. On lap 341 while catching Gordon for the lead, Hamlin in third bumped Logano sending him into the wall. After the race, Logano confronted Hamlin and had to be pushed back by Hamlin’s crewmembers.
“Really, you've got to control your car and he slid up into me and really he would have been in the garage with no radiator in it had I not checked up twice,” Hamlin said. “So I just -- I meant to run into him. Didn't mean to spin him out, but his day was fine. He still had a bad day anyway for whatever reason. We finished bad. He finished bad. It's even."
Dale Earnhardt Jr. battled back to finish sixth. Ryan Newman, Brian Vickers, Paul Menard and Jamie McMurray who overcame a crash earlier in the race rounded out the top ten.
With his fourth top five finish of the year, Keselowski took over the points lead with Earnhardt Jr., in second. The series travels west to Auto Club Speedway in Los Angeles for next Sunday’s Auto Club 500.
“I just feel like for myself it’s a really big accomplishment to win here,” Kahne said. “This is a tough place. It’s been a tough track for me at times, just for this whole team to step up and do it together we have prepared pretty hard this year and it feels good to win.”