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Kenseth holds off clean Kahne

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By Ngozi Ekeledo

BRISTOL, Tenn. ( David Newton / ESPN.com ) -- Few would have blamed Kasey Kahne had he wrecked Matt Kenseth to take the lead in the final laps of Saturday night's Sprint Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver might have actually gotten cheers for finally getting mad enough to take a stand, considering he was outside the top 10 in the Chase heading into the race in large part because he was involved in a wreck with a Joe Gibbs Racing driver four times this season. And Kenseth races for JGR.

You halfway expected it after Kahne went on Twitter after Kenseth wrecked him two weeks ago at Watkins Glen and wrote, "Headed to Joe Gibbs racing to talk to whoever will come out front #that's4".

But wrecking another driver is not Kahne's style.

And, because it isn't, Kenseth won for the fifth time this season to put himself in position to be the points leader when the Chase begins.

"I just wanted to pass him," Kahne said in his usual soft-spoken manner as he left the media center. "And after I took the checkered flag, I wanted to wreck him."

There's nothing wrong with being NASCAR's Mr. Nice Guy. You'll gain a lot of respect -- from drivers and fans.

But it may not get you a championship.

That's not to suggest Kenseth is a dirty driver. He's not at all, and, had the circumstances been reversed, Kenseth likely wouldn't have wrecked Kahne for the lead.

But, as Kahne noted, the 2003 champion -- Kenseth -- easily could have avoided the wreck at Watkins Glen by lifting.

"And he didn't," a dejected Kahne said. "It wasn't a mistake he got loose. He didn't lift. These things discourage me because that's just not how I race.

"At the end of the day, I don't wreck people."

Kahne is as talented as almost any driver in the sport, but he doesn't have that nasty gene like seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt had when he came to Bristol. You don't have to ask what the "Intimidator" would have done to Kenseth.

Bump and run.

Victory Lane.

Boos and cheers from the fans, but a victory nonetheless.

And it would have been accepted, applauded, because that's what fans want when the series comes to Bristol.

Instead, Kahne finished second to Kenseth for the third time this season. The other two were at Las Vegas and Kansas, mile-and-a-half tracks at which wrecking a driver for the victory isn't as accepted as it is at the half-mile Bristol.

That's probably as frustrating to Kahne as the four wrecks with JGR drivers.

Had Kahne won two of those, he would be considered one of the favorites to win the Chase instead of Kenseth and five-time champion Jimmie Johnson with four wins.

Wins mean a lot. Kenseth certainly understands the significance.

After dominating early in the season, he'd fallen into an uncomfortable rut with three straight finishes of 15th or worse and six of 15th or worse in the past 10 races.

After crossing the finish line on Saturday, he shouted into his radio, "We got our mojo back. Time to get serious."

There are a lot of drivers who need to get serious with two races left in the regular season. As big as Kenseth's win was at the top of the standings, there were much bigger implications at the bottom.

Kurt Busch, who began the night ninth, had a wheel-hub problem to put him down 25 laps after leading 54 laps early. He finished 31st to fall to 12th in points, six out of the top 10 with no win to help get him in as a wild card.

Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Newman, who are fighting for a wild-card spot with one win each, were part of a wreck with 53 laps remaining that dropped them to 14th and 15th in the standings, respectively.

Fortunately for them, Kahne and his two wins and Joey Logano and his one victory moved into the top 10, so Truex and Newman are first in line for the two wild cards, which go to the drivers ranked in the 11-20 range with the most victories during the season.

Reigning Cup champion Brad Keselowski, also involved in that wreck, finished 30th and fell three spots to 11th. Without a win, he's on the outside looking in with regular-season races left at Atlanta and Richmond.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was so cognizant of everybody's troubles that he pitted late for gas instead of gambling for a much-needed victory, which was the plan before the big crash. He finished 10th to stretch the margin over 11th place to a more-comfortable 33 points.

But a lot can still happen. As Busch, who is in the process of deciding whether to leave Furniture Row Racing for Stewart-Haas Racing after this season, said on his radio, "Two wins gets you in the Chase."

One may.

Two solid finishes may as well.

It could, and probably will, get crazy.

But Kahne wasn't willing, as he said, to "do anything crazy" in the final laps at Bristol.

"I just basically ran as hard as I could, tried to pass him two different times and ran on his bumper and hoped he'd screw up -- and he really never did," Kahne said.

That's because Kenseth is equally talented and typically races others as clean as Kahne does. He believes the whole situation with Kahne wanting revenge against JGR has been blown out of proportion, and he's probably right, even though Kahne opened the door for this with his Twitter comment.

And don't lose sight that Kenseth won because he overcame a pit-road speeding penalty, nursed his tires well beyond what anybody could have imagined and was about a lap to the good on fuel to win.

He also had a fast car, leading a race-high 149 laps.

Even if Kahne had tried the bump and run, there are no guarantees he would have won.

In Earnhardt's day, when the preferred line at Bristol was low, a driver would nudge the lead car up a lane and make the pass. Now that the preferred line is almost against the wall, there's really no place to move the lead car.

Had Kahne made the bump, Kenseth likely would have bounced off the wall and back into him.

Then we would be talking about how third-place finisher Juan Pablo Montoya won and how stupid Kahne's move was.

"I was hoping they were going to wreck on the white flag, to be honest," said Montoya, who is looking for a job because Earnhardt Ganassi Racing isn't re-signing him after this season.

A lot of people were hoping Kahne would wreck Kenseth, if only to show some spunk that might be needed to take his team to the next level. Few, including Kenseth, would have blamed Kahne had he tried.

But that's not Kahne's style anymore than it is Kenseth's, and you can't hold it against him for being nice.

"Kasey has got a great reputation," Kenseth said. "He's a really hard racer, really talented, and he's also a really fair racer as well. I was expecting it to be about like it was, but I really thought he was going to pass me."

Had Kahne wrecked Kenseth to make the pass, nobody would have blamed him.


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