Matt Kenseth overcame a pit-road speeding penalty and then held off a hard-charging Kasey Kahne during the final 15 laps to win Saturday night's Sprint Cup Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
With his series-leading fifth win of the season, Kenseth clinched at least a wild card spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. The 41-year-old Kenseth is in his first season with Joe Gibbs Racing. He joined Jimmie Johnson and Clint Bowyer as those drivers who have secured a spot in the playoffs. Just two races remain before the Chase begins (Atlanta and Richmond).
Kenseth led a race-high 149 laps. He passed his former Roush Fenway Racing teammate, Carl Edwards, for the top spot on lap 236. But Kenseth gave it up shortly after when he was penalized for too fast off of pit road on lap 259, dropping him to 27th. He overtook Edwards for the lead again with 126 laps to go and held it for good.
Kahne, who won the spring race at Bristol in March, passed Juan Pablo Montoya for second and then caught up with Kenseth before he ran side-by-side with him for the lead several times in the closing laps. Kenseth beat Kahne to the finish line by just 0.2 seconds.
"We won the Bristol night race. It's pretty awesome," Kenseth said.
It was the third time this season Kenseth finished first and Kahne second. Both drivers placed 1-2 at Las Vegas and Kansas in the spring.
"I think Kasey is getting tired of battling me," Kenseth said. "Kasey is a heck of a talent. We've finished first and second a few times this year. I know he wanted it bad. We raced as hard as we could race. We used every inch of the racetrack. I had just enough fuel and tires to hold on."
Kahne's second-place run allowed him to move from 11th to eighth in the point standings. He has not clinch a Chase spot yet but is almost assured of making the 12-driver field.
"I thought Matt did a good job of just running as hard as he could as close to the wall as possible, which helped him a lot, and then I was just trying to gain speed," Kahne said. "I had a better car. We were on the right strategy, and I just couldn't clear him. There was a couple shots I took, and I had to have been close, but I could feel him on the right side of my car, and I just didn't clear him. I didn't figure out how to get by. It's disappointing not to win here."
Juan Pablo Montoya finished third, followed by Brian Vickers and Joey Logano, who won last weekend's race at Michigan. Logano moved up three spots to 10th.
Paul Menard, Jeff Gordon, Marcos Ambrose, Greg Biffle and Dale Earnhardt Jr. completed the top-10.
Johnson, the current points leader, finished 10 laps down in 36th after he was involved in a multi-car crash late in the race. Last week, the five-time Sprint Cup champion placed 40th at Michigan after he suffered engine failure in the early going. His lead over Bowyer has been trimmed from 75 points to 18 in the past two races.
"It's been a bad few weeks, but that's racing," Johnson said.
Bowyer was running among the top-five before he ran out of fuel on the last lap and coasted across the line in 14th. He locked down his spot in the Chase at Bristol.
Edwards had an opportunity to clinch his playoff spot here, but he finished 39th after suffering engine failure due to a broken valve spring late in the race.
"The car was almost perfect, aside the engine issues," said Edwards, who led a total of 119 laps. "I think we had a dominant car tonight."
Kyle Busch, who was attempting to win all three NASCAR national touring series races at Bristol on the same week for the second time, finished 11th. Busch had to start from the rear of the field after he wrecked in qualifying. He won the Camping World Truck Series race on Wednesday and then scored the victory in Friday's Nationwide event.
The 500-lap race at this 0.533-mile, concrete-surfaced oval featured 11 cautions. The final caution featured an eight-car crash with 53 laps to go. Brad Keselowski, the defending series champion, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin, the pole sitter, were among those involved.
Hamlin suffered a cut tire when he was hit from behind by Martin Truex Jr., causing Hamlin to plow into the back of Harvick.
"I saw the 11 (Hamlin) shoot up, and it looked like he was trying to get back at somebody, which caused a wreck," Harvick said. "He said the 56 (Truex) got into him there. I just wanted to know what happened. It's all good."
Following the incident, Hamlin shoved Harvick's damaged car out of the way after he had parked in Hamlin's No. 11 pit stall. Harvick walked over to Hamlin, who was still in his car, for what at first looked to be a heated discussion.
"Luckily, we were able to talk right away and hash it out," Hamlin said.
Truex finished 35th and dropped from 12th to 14th in points. With Kahne and Logano moving into the top-10 in points, Truex is now first in the wild card rankings, and Newman holds the second spot, despite his 21st-place run.
"I tried to follow the 29 (Harvick) through, and it just closed up," Truex said. "I got smashed into the fence and then hit a couple of times."
Keselowski and Kurt Busch took a hit in their hopes of making the Chase. Both drivers fell out of the top-10 in points. Keselowski wound up finishing 30th, one spot ahead of Busch, who experienced a loose wheel early in the race and then was involved in a wreck with Josh Wise.