Matt Kenseth is the driver that you can count on to finish inside – or near – the top-10 each and every week.
That was until recently as the 2003 Sprint Cup champion hit a stretch where he finished two of the past three races outside the top-20.
And in the races where his finishes weren’t outside the top-20, the driver of the No.20 never showed his early-season form in which he won four races.
The last time the Sprint Cup Series visited Bristol Motor Speedway, Kenseth had one of the strongest cars on the day. However when Jeff Gordon cut a right-front tire while leading the race, Kenseth was collected in the wreck, ending his race.
Saturday night, Kenseth was in need of a strong run; if not a win.
His four wins are more than enough to get him into the Chase, but he and his Joe Gibbs Racing team needed the boost before the championship stretch began.
From the very start, it was obvious Kenseth had one of the stronger cars on the track.
Running up near the front, Kenseth battled his former Roush Fenway Racing teammate, Carl Edwards, for the top-spot.
The pair of drivers would combine to lead 268 of the race’s 500 total laps.
Kenseth’s chances at winning Saturday night’s race appeared over after a speeding penalty on pit road sent the No.20 Toyota to the tail end of the field.
Meanwhile, Edwards found himself up in the lead of the race with a host of challengers including; Paul Menard, Juan Pablo Montoya and Jeff Gordon all pressuring the No.99.
However, much of that came to an end when Denny Hamlin’s cut tire send his pole-winning Toyota into the outside wall collecting Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman, Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski, and Ken Schrader.
The race was red flagged due to wrecked racecars occupying the majority of turn-four.
On a late-race restart, Edwards was lined-up on the inside of the front row in the second position. Looking to grab the lead back, the No.99 never had the chance as his engine let go on the restart.
With Dale Earnhardt Jr. now out in front of the field, many drivers were trying to stretch the limits on fuel.
Through more late-race drama, Kenseth found himself back in the lead.
As the laps wound down, Kasey Kahne, who passed Juan Pablo Montoya for second, was closing fast on the No.20.
Battling door-to-door in the late laps, the two drivers made contact on numerous occasions, but it was never enough for Kenseth to lose the lead.
Looking for a way around Kenseth, Kahne opted not to use the classic “bump and run” seen at the NASCAR short tracks and Kenseth went on to win Saturday night’s IRWIN Tools Night Race at Bristol.
“I think Kasey is getting tired of battling me,” Kenseth said in victory lane. “We’ve finished first and second a few times this year and he wanted it bad. We raced as hard as we could race.
“I used every inch of race track and had just enough to hold on.”
Saturday night’s win was Kenseth’s third at Bristol Motor Speedway and the 29th victory of his Sprint Cup Series career.
The win is Kenseth’s first since Kentucky Speedway in June.
“I hope we’re back,” Kenseth said about what this wins means for his team heading into the Chase. “We led a lot of laps earlier this year, the last month and a half….not so great.”
With the win, Kenseth clinches his spot in the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup based on his number of wins.
Kahne, on the other hand, vaulted back into the top-10 in the series points in eighth.
“I just didn’t get it done. I didn’t win,” Kahne said. “I feel bad we didn’t win. We needed this, it was big for us.”
A big moment for the rest of the drivers inside the top-10 in points occurred Saturday night when points leader, Jimmie Johnson, crashed and finished 36th.
Johnson holds an 18-point lead over second-place Clint Bowyer, who also clinched his spot in the Chase along with Edwards, heading into next Sunday’s race at the Atlanta Motor Speedway.
IRWIN Tools Night Race at Bristol Unofficial Results
- Matt Kenseth
- Kasey Kahne
- Juan Pablo Montoya
- Brian Vickers
- Joey Logano
- Paul Menard
- Jeff Gordon
- Marcos Ambrose
- Greg Biffle
- Dale Earnhardt Jr.
- Kyle Busch
- David Ragan
- Jeff Burton
- Clint Bowyer
- Aric Almirola
- Travis Kvapil
- David Stremme
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
- Jamie McMurray
- Mark Martin
- Ryan Newman
- Dave Blaney
- Landon Cassill
- JJ Yeley
- David Gilliland
- Danica Patrick
- Ken Schrader
- Denny Hamlin
- David Reutimann
- Brad Keselowski
- Kurt Busch
- Tony Raines
- Casey Mears
- Kevin Harvick
- Martin Truex Jr.
- Jimmie Johnson
- Josh Wise
- Bobby Labonte
- Carl Edwards
- Scott Speed
- Michael McDowell
- Ryan Truex
- Joe Nemechek