Kasey Kahne was up front to take the checkered flag at Bristol on Sunday. Kahne won his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Bristol after Brad Keselowski suffered a terrible final restart that may have been caused by a wreck involving Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano. The win was Hendrick Motorsports' 11th Sprint Cup Series victory at Bristol, tying the team with Roush Fenway Racing and Penske Racing for the most wins at the track among active teams.
"I love driving for Hendrick Motorsports," Kahne said. "This whole team was flawless again today."
The 15th victory of Kahne's career could have been his third of the season, which he has started apparently having lost none of the momentum from a 2012 Chase for the Sprint Cup in which he finished a career-best fourth. The Chase For The NASCAR Sprint Cup will culminate at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 17.
"I think it's all definitely going in the right direction," said Kahne, who had a strong car collected in a Daytona 500 crash and was beaten by Matt Kenseth last week at Las Vegas despite leading a race-high 114 laps.
It's been a stark contrast to how 2012 started for Kahne in his first campaign with Hendrick. He didn't earn his first top 10 finish of 2012 until the seventh race and needed two regular-season victories to make the Chase as a wild-card berth.
Kyle Busch overcame an early-race speeding penalty to finish in the runner-up spot. Reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Keselowski was third in the No. 2 Penske Racing Ford.
"I need to stop getting penalties and stay up front all day," Busch said.
Busch started on the pole, but lost the lead when he took four tires and then was nabbed for pit road speeding during a caution on Lap 54. Kahne inherited the lead, with the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing car of Hamlin in second. Soon after the restart, Hamlin took the lead from Kahne.
Hamlin led the most laps, keeping his No. 11 car out front for 117 of the 500 laps. But on old tires in the final laps, he began scraping the wall with about eight laps to go and then hit the wall multiple times. Hamlin came close to being black-flagged by NASCAR in the closing laps for not being able to keep his car up to minimum race speed.
He wound up getting lapped with five laps to go and finished 23rd.
Logano, driver of the No. 22 Penske Racing Ford, had an issue with Hamlin earlier in the race. Right after racing Jeff Gordon for the lead on with 150 laps to go, Logano and Hamlin made contact that sent Logano's car hard into the wall. Logano was able to continue and finished the race in the 17th position. The bad blood between Logano and Hamlin – former teammates – boiled over after the race when Logano leaned inside Hamlin’s car window to complain about Hamlin spinning him during the race. Logano was pulled away from Hamlin’s car by crew members for both drivers and wouldn’t discuss what he told Hamlin.
“He said he was coming for me,” Hamlin said. “I usually don’t see him, so it’s usually not a factor.”
The two sparred briefly on Twitter after the season-opening Daytona 500, when Hamlin complained Logano ruined the closing laps of the race. But he said Sunday’s flap was not a carryover.
“It didn’t have anything to do with that,” Hamlin said. “You’ve really got to control your car, and he slipped up into me. Really, he would have been in the garage with no radiator in it if I had not checked up twice. I meant to run in to him. I didn’t mean to spin him out, but his day was fine. We finished bad, and he finished bad. It’s even.”
Things are certainly looking good for Junior Nation this season.
NASCAR’s most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., finished sixth at Bristol, climbing another spot to second in the standings. He has four top-10 finishes in four starts, matching points leader Keselowski in that category.
Earnhardt Jr. admitted he’s not completely content with the opening stretch of races. While he’s earning top finishes, and has moved up in the standings, he’s still looking for a little more.
“We had a lot of attrition today too as a lot of guys wrecked out and that certainly makes your day easier when you aren’t racing the whole field out there,” he said. “So we have to do a little bit better and I am not real satisfied with the overall performance but what Steve does on pit road is magic every week. He is pretty sharp.”
Danica Patrick had a long day at Bristol. She finished five laps down in 28th with an ill-handling car, her third consecutive disappointing finish.
Patrick, who finished eighth in the season-opening Daytona 500, had been running on the lead lap when she was wrecked at Bristol last summer with just 66 laps remaining, so she had higher hopes in her Stewart-Haas Racing car.
“We’ve been really loose the last couple of races so we wanted to make sure we were tight,” Patrick said. “So we decided that was our accomplishment today was to aim to be tight, and we were.
“So we probably didn’t need to and, in fact, we probably kind of knew we were overcompensating. But we just never really got it completely freed up like we needed to. It was better later in the race but by then the damage is done.”
Patrick started the season as the first woman ever to win a pole for a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race and her eighth-place finish at Daytona was the best finish for a female driver in that event. But since then, she has crashed at Phoenix to finish 39th and then was six laps down in 33rd at Las Vegas.
Improving two spots to 28th in the championship standings, Patrick heads next week to Auto Club Speedway in California.
“I’ve never been there in a Cup car at Fontana, so (I’ll) just get up to speed, be smart and there are a lot of things that I have to work on at this point in time,” she said.
“So for us, the most important thing is to find a decent balance to start off the race so that we don’t drop back.”
Next up for the Sprint Cup drivers is Auto Club Speedway on Sunday, March 24 (3 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN Radio)—Race 5 of 36 en route to Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 15-17). The Top 12 drivers in points after Race 26 qualify to contend for the 2013 Sprint Cup Championship, to be crowned in Miami on Nov. 17.
Tickets for NASCAR’s series-crowning Ford Championship Weekend—Nov. 15-17 at Homestead-Miami Speedway—go on sale to the general public on May 1. Renew your championship tickets today! Be a part of the most exciting race weekend in America November 15-17. Save as much as $40 per ticket and keep the same seat as last year. Be first in line to upgrade, exchange, or add seats before the general public.
NASCAR Ford Championship Weekend Renewal Deadline: March 29, 2013
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