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BRISTOL -- The Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway is one that every NASCAR driver wants to win.
If the front tires on Kasey Kahne’s Budweiser Ford Fusion had worked a little better during the last 80 laps, he might have added that notch to his gun belt on Saturday night.
Despite a pit-road miscue and a flat tire, Kahne came roaring through the field and looked to have a plan for taking down leader Kyle Busch in the late race stages, only to fall victim to an ill-handling set of tires.
“We had a pretty good car,” the top Ford finisher of the night said when the race ended. “We were right there the whole race as far as speed goes. I really felt like I could challenge when we came out of the pits that final time and started eighth, but the front tires just didn’t work as good as they needed to.”
Kahne was involved in a spirited battle with Clint Bowyer, Jamie McMurray and Ryan Newman during the last segment, and still finished fifth.
“I was a little bit loose in and I just slid the nose too much and I couldn’t get to the outside of anybody and couldn’t beat them across the center on the bottom,” Kahne said. “It still wasn’t too bad.”
The Irwin Tools Night Race, also the 100th NASCAR Sprint Cup event held at Bristol, was a race of stages. Nearly every driver had a period during the 500 laps where his car just would not run, turn or do what the driver wanted.
Such was the case for eighth-place finisher Greg Biffle in the No. 16 3M Ford Fusion.
“It was a pretty good night,” Biffle shrugged at the end. “We had a decent car. It wasn’t the best car we’ve had here and I just think it was a mistake on the tire. It just seemed like this tire didn’t have the grip and it was really, really hard to pass. It was definitely interesting out there tonight.”
Biffle was one of the few drivers in the top 12 who didn’t have major problems, though a bit of contact with Jeff Burton slowed Biffle down some.
“I think it was a good night in the points,” Biffle said. “We’re thinking about the Chase. I definitely wanted a better night than that, but an eighth is OK.”
Biffle is 11th in points, but leads 13th-place Jamie McMurray by a whopping 235 points with two races to go until the Chase is set.
Matt Kenseth had a good race at times and one he would rather forget at others. A flat tire forced him to pit under green, losing two laps in the process. Despite the hole that was dug for him, Kenseth got out of it and finished 10th with a solid consistent run to the finish.
“I got lucky that everybody had to pit under green [after the flat], so we got lucky there to stay on the lead lap,” a relieved Kenseth said. “That was good and to finish 10th was OK. We hoped for more than that, but we just kind of lost the handle on the car the last two or three runs.”
Kenseth is solidly in eighth place in the points, 275 up on McMurray, but he’s still not convinced that the Chase will go the way he wants.
“We need to do it every weekend,” Kenseth said. “We need to get running better and get running more consistently in the top 10. I mean, we finished 10th tonight but that needs to be your worst finish if you’re ever going to contend for a championship, so we need to keep working on it and get a little better.”
The final Chase contender who drives a Ford, Carl Edwards, didn’t fare as well as he might have had he not left pit road without a lug nut following a pit stop.
For the first third of the race, it looked as if Edwards would be the Ford with the most chance to end up in victory lane, but the pit-road miscue meant he had to return to get one lug nut.
The pause killed his chances and he finished 12th, but still jumped two spots to fourth in the points after others in the Chase had trouble.
Edwards is 408 points behind the leader, but 293 up on 13th-place with a couple of races to go until the Chase. That means all he has to do, essentially, is start the remaining two races to be assured of a spot.
Kenseth and Biffle will likely clinch Chase spots at Atlanta, or by starting the regular-season finale at Richmond.
There’s an interesting battle among the drivers from fourth to 12th. Just 193 points separate them, and Edwards leads a pack of seven drivers who are within 40 points of each other.
Paul Menard finished 21st, the last car to complete 500 laps. Travis Kvapil was 22nd, two laps down, and Jeff Green soldiered to a 24th-place finish in the Air National Guard Ford, three laps in arrears. David Gilliland was 26th, five laps down, followed by Tony Raines in 28th and Elliott Sadler in 29th.
AJ Allmendinger was 31st in the Valvoline Ford, while David Ragan had a tough night in the UPS Ford and finished 32nd. Ragan tangled with Allmendinger, triggering a caution and spinning into the infield after contact with the wall.