Hendrick Motorsports' Kasey Kahne kept a cool head and a full set of tyres on his car through to the chequered flag of the Sunday afternoon Food City 500 race at Bristol Motor Speedway despite intense pressure from Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch and his brother Kurt right through to the finish line.
The claustrophobic half-mile concrete oval once again proved to be a pressure cooker environment pushing all the competitors to their limits, resulted in tyre blow-outs affecting several of the leading championship contenders together with flaring tempers that resulted in one simmering feud between former team mates erupting into open warfare. All in all, it was certainly the most fast and furious and downright entertaining and eventful race yet run by the new NASCAR
Sprint Cup Generation-6 cars.
The early leader had been polesitter Kyle Busch who led for the first 56 laps of the 500-lap event. That included a six-lap caution caused by the first of the day's tyre blow-outs caused by melted beads, a result of the rubber overstressing and overheating on the super-tight corners at Bristol. The first victim of the day was Tony Stewart, who took out Michael McDowell in the process: despite considerable damage to the left rear of his own car, Stewart was able to resume after a lengthy visit to pit lane that left him running over 30 laps down.
"I felt the tyre going down, and I just could not get down to the inside to get to pit road," said Stewart. "I was caught up on the top, and I couldn't hold on to it any longer. It made for a long day, but we got what we could of out it," he added after slogging away well off the pace to a finish in 31st place.
Busch's run at the front continued until the field pitted under the next caution, which was sparked by Jeff Burton slamming the wall at turn 1 and subsequently also getting collected by Carl Edwards. Busch dropped out of the lead by opting for a four tyre change while many others went for two, but more seriously he was slapped with a pit lane speeding penalty that dropped him down to 35th position, giving him a lot of catch-up work to do - not that he was any stranger to dealing with that situation.
"We're trying to take too much on pit road, and it's not working for us, so we just need to back off and make some adjustments there," Busch said later of his second pit speeding penalty in two weeks.
His place at point was taken by Kasey Kahne, but Denny Hamlin got the better restart and leapt in front to reclaim the lead for the Joe Gibbs Racing squad. He kept it for 82 laps, which included six under yellow for a spin by Jamie McMurray on the frontstretch while running in third place on lap 72. His team mate Juan Pablo Montoya also hit bad luck at the same point of the race, needing to head to the garage to switch out a problematic fuel cell before returning to the race.
While Hamlin continued to lead with seeming ease, there was a fierce battle behind him for second place between Kahne, Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon. Kahne won that one and on lap 145 he also passed Hamlin for the top spot shortly before the fourth caution of the afternoon for David Gilliland hitting the wall in turn 4 on lap 153, which allowed drivers to come in for their next pit stop under yellow.
Hamlin took the lead again, but it was a close-fought race off pit road with his JGR team mate Kyle Busch, who had completed his recovery from the speeding penalty by a two-tyre pit stop while most of the others had gone for four - a reversal on the first round of stops and a case of motorsport karma. Busch couldn't get past Hamlin at the restart, however, after the #11 got a terrific launch at the green flag to scamper safely away from the pack.