Commentary

Kahne masters wild day at Bristol

Updated: March 18, 2013, 12:57 PM ET
By David Newton | ESPN.com

BRISTOL, Tenn. -- This didn't rival the 1979 Daytona 500, when within seconds of Richard Petty taking the checkered flag, a fight broke out in the infield between Cale Yarborough and the Allison brothers.

But it had a little of that feel.

As Kasey Kahne celebrated his first victory at Bristol Motor Speedway with a burnout on the front stretch, a shoving match broke out in the Sprint Cup garage between the crews of Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano.

Kahne wasn't aware that Logano went to Hamlin's car to confront his former Joe Gibbs Racing teammate for spinning him out with about 150 laps remaining, inciting the postrace fireworks.

[+] EnlargeKasey Kahne
John Harrelson/NASCAR/Getty ImagesKasey Kahne celebrates his first Sprint Cup win at Bristol Motor Speedway by spraying around some bubbly.

But the Hendrick Motorsports driver heard the loud chorus of cheers from the grandstands as fans watched the replay on the big screen, and that let him know something was awry.

"I did hear the crowd, so I knew something was going on," Kahne said with his typical boyish smile. "I haven't seen anything else. I'll watch tonight for sure. I'll go back and check the highlights."

He might also check out the ensuing Twitter exchange between Logano and Hamlin. Entertaining, to say the least.

But what shouldn't be lost in Round 2 of Hamlin vs. Logano -- they also had an exchange on Twitter after the Daytona 500 -- is that Kahne is letting it be known he's a driver to be reckoned with for the 2013 championship.

He easily could have won three of the first four races were it not for misfortune in the Daytona 500 and last week's race at Las Vegas, where he finished second after leading a race-high 114 laps.

It also shouldn't be lost that the racing, while it lacked the wrecks and banging fans seem to yearn at this half-mile track, was some of the best of the season.

The back and forth between Kahne and Brad Keselowski, who finished third, during one late stretch was edge-of-your-seat exciting.

Unfortunately, arguably because of the Hamlin-Logano feud, the finish lacked drama as Kahne pulled away to an almost two-second victory.

That and Kahne's low-key personality will have most talking about the skirmish more than the win.

Even second-place finisher Kyle Busch and Keselowski, teammates of Hamlin and Logano, respectively, were amused by it.

"I love Joey," said Busch, who was teammates with Logano from 2008 until this year, when Logano joined Keselowski at Penske Racing. "I think he's a good little racer. He works really hard, too.

"I didn't see any of the first incident and I didn't see anything afterwards. I just heard the crowd. It's a little disheartening that we all can't get along."

His smile was priceless.

Keselowski didn't see the shoving match, either -- at least the one in the garage. He was a part of the one on the track that contributed to Kahne pulling away.

It happened on the restart with 40 laps to go. Keselowski and Kahne were on the front row. Hamlin was on Keselowski's rear bumper and Logano, who had rallied to sixth after the spinout, was on Hamlin's.

There was some shoving to say the least.

"I haven't seen the replay," Keselowski said. "I just know my rear tires were off the ground before I got to the restart zone."

In other words, Logano pushed Hamlin into Keselowski.

"Eventually, I got hit so hard it pushed my foot in the gas pedal," Keselowski said. "Made myself look like an ass. That was the deal. Never had another chance."

It wasn't Dale Earnhardt spinning out Terry Labonte to win here in 1999, but it should have whetted the appetite of fans that have been yearning for good short-track racing.

And this was good short-track racing, a step above the August race because the bottom groove allowed slightly more side-by-side racing.

It probably won't stop the debate of old Bristol vs. new Bristol, but it should. There really isn't anything to debate. Let Keselowski, the new points leader, explain.

"The old Bristol can never come back," the reigning Sprint Cup champion said. "It will never be 1995 through 1999. It's a whole different era with a different car. You can't recreate that. You can try like hell, but you'll probably be disappointed in the result.

Kahne When you're racing in the Sprint Cup series, Bristol's one of those tracks that as a driver you really feel you need to win at … you want to win at. There's so many things that are thrown at you when you come to this place.

-- Kasey Kahne

"But I think you have something better than that right now. I know there's a lot of people that don't see it that way. But if you look at it objectively, it was a great race."

And it was a great win for Kahne, who has gone from 29th in points to seventh in two weeks.

"When you're racing in the Sprint Cup series, Bristol's one of those tracks that as a driver you really feel you need to win at … you want to win at," Kahne said. "There's so many things that are thrown at you when you come to this place."

Just ask Jeff Gordon, who had a tire go down while leading with just over 100 laps remaining. He finished 34th.

Just ask Matt Kenseth, who was collected by Gordon when his car slid directly into his path. He finished 35.

Just ask Logano. He had a car capable of winning until Hamlin turned him on Lap 349 while battling Gordon for the lead. He finished 17th.

And then, as then-CBS announcer Ken Squier said at the conclusion of the '79 Daytona 500, there was a fight.

Kind of.

Then it became a war of words, with Logano calling Hamlin an "idiot" and "probably the worst freaking teammate I've ever had."

And the crowd loved it.

Kahne probably will love it when he watches the highlights. But what he will love the most is that he wasn't involved in it and he won the race. That shouldn't be lost in all this.

"It's a big confidence builder," said Kahne, who had as many finishes of 20th or worse at Bristol as he had top-10s before Sunday. "It feels really good to win at Bristol Motor Speedway."

What happened between Hamlin and Logano can't take that away.

David Newton | email

ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter

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