It seems that a change of scene really can do you the world of good. Ever since leaving his long-time home at Roush Fenway Racing at the start of 2013 for a new home at Joe Gibbs Racing, Kenseth has been on a seemingly unstoppable roll, and on Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway he notched up his fifth win of the year and locked himself into the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.

Even though he led for 149 of the 500 laps in the Irwin Tools Night Race, clinching the win turned out to be far from an easy feat under the floodlights in Tennessee. Race strategy left Kenseth running to the finish on fumes and on badly worn tyres, and the smart money would have been on the more sprightly car of Kasey Kahne to hunt down the #20 and steal the win at the last minute. But it turned out that Kahne couldn't quite seal the deal and when the chequered flag he was still inches behind Kenseth, who went to victory lane by 0.188s.

The race had been led to the green flag almost three hours earlier by Kenseth's JGR team mate Denny Hamlin, who led from pole for the first 22 laps of the race before Kurt Busch moved up from second place and who was still on point when the first caution came out on lap 41 when Ryan Truex hit the wall on his Cup Series d?but with a flat left-front tyre. Busch stayed out under the caution but many pitted, included Brad Keselowski who ran into David Reutimann on pit road and subsequently claimed that he simply didn't see the #83 emerging from its pit stall. Neither car suffered serious damage in the incident.

Related Articles

One man happy to see the caution was Kyle Busch, who had been forced to start from the back of the pack after crashing on his qualifying lap on Friday. Although he'd been making some progress through the field, the tightly packed traffic on the claustrophobic half mile Bristol Motor Speedway short track made it hard going and all the time the leaders were revelling in clear air behind and threatening to lap him. The caution not only warded off the threat, it enabled the #18 to make up several positions on pit road before the race restarted on lap 47.

Josh Wise had been enjoying a strong run in the top ten when contact with Kurt Busch brought that to an end on lap 89. Busch had already surrendered the lead to Carl Edwards on lap 77 to make an unscheduled dive for pit road for a suspected loose wheel. In fact it was more serious than that and the team discovered a damaged wheel hub that required them to take the #78 to the garage for repairs which put Busch multiple laps off the lead and out of the running. All he could do now was come out as soon as possible in damage control mode to minimise the damage than the inevitably poor result was going to to to his hopes of making the Chase cut-off next month.

"Just a right-rear hub failure," said Busch later. "When you are 20 laps down there is nothing you can do. We just rode around and we are down, but we are not out. I guess at the end of the race we gained a bunch of points back with guys having trouble. My thoughts all through the race were we just have to go to Atlanta and Richmond and win them both."

Edwards handed the lead over to Dale Earnhardt Jr. in order to pit under the Wise-instigated caution. The #88 led Clint Bowyer, Juan Pablo Montoya, Bobby Labonte, Paul Menard, Greg Biffle and David Ragan to the green flag on lap 97 with Ryan Newman in eighth the first man to have pitted having beaten Edwards in the run out of pit road.

The race was back under caution minutes later, and this time the Busch at the centre of the yellow was Kyle rather than Kurt. The #18 had got nervous running into turn 3 on lap 106 which forced Busch to check his speed, and Joey Logano had rear-ended him as a result. The #22 came out of it worst, the Penske hit crew taking to the car's nose and fender with a heavy duty sledgehammer to try and beat out the bodywork as quickly as possible; Busch was able to continue but was sent to the back of the lead lap (32nd) for having too many crew members over the wall trying to sort out the #18's damage. The Bristol sweep just wasn't happening for Kyle Busch after all this weekend despite resounding success in the Nationwide and Truck events.

Earnhardt continued to lead Bowyer, Labonte, Edwards, Montoya and Martin Truex Jr. when racing resumed on lap 112, but Bowyer was soon able to pass the #88 down the inside of turn 4 to claim the lead on lap 126 and quickly pulled out a big gap over the field. But this wasn't to be Bowyer's night either: just as the #15 was getting set to lap Kyle Busch who was running in 28th place, the #15 was suddenly spun by contact with backmarker Travis Kvapil and then hit by Bobby Labonte in the fallout.

The fracas restored Edwards to the lead with his rookie Roush Fenway Racing team mate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. joining him at the front ahead of Hamlin, Jeff Gordon, Earnhardt and Montoya for the restart on lap 184. Following a brief yellow for Tony Raines hitting the wall on lap 201 and a change of leader to Matt Kenseth on lap 235, the race marked the halfway point with a debris caution which allowed all the leaders to hit pit road, the exceptions being Paul Menard and Kyle Busch who stayed out to lead at the restart on lap 265 and who proved remarkably tenacious, Menard staying out in front until finally pass by Edwards just before a debris caution came out on lap 331. That saw everyone come onto pit lane and execute a mix of strategies, Kevin Harvick emerging ahead of Martin Truex Jr. with Edwards now third ahead of Gordon, Menard and Kenseth.

It didn't take long for Edwards to retake the lead, and he remained in charge through the next cautions on lap 358, which claimed a big scalp when championship leader Jimmie Johnson got caught up in David Reutimann's accident which also dragged in Aric Almirola. The #48 ended up going to the garage with serious front end damage, and although he would return to the track sometime later Johnson was left in 36th place, 59 laps off the lead by the finish - his second disappointment in consecutive races.

"Last week I really thought we had a shot to win and had an engine failure," he said. "This racing stuff happens. Luckily, we had a big point's lead that we can kind of deal with right now.

"We've locked into the Chase [but] we certainly want to clean things up and have some great finishes rolling into the Chase," he continued, putting the day's crash into perspective. "We'll keep after it, and be back again next week. We'll go to Atlanta and do all we can there. And then Richmond ... There is still a lot of racing left. And the once the Chase starts, it is its own animal. So we'll just wait and see what happens during those ten."

Edwards led the restart but had just lost the lead to Kenseth when the yellow was next out on lap 374 for a spin by Jeff Burton in turn 4. It became a moot point anyway, as Edwards' engine was dying and the #99 failed to get up to speed when racing resumed on lap 379. It was soon clear that he was done for the day.

"I didn't have any warning," he said. "The engine ran great until it blew up, so if we run like that the rest of the year it's gonna be awesome ... I feel like we were in control of that race, we were gonna win that one."

With Edwards out of the running, Kenseth pulled clear at the front ahead of Jeff Gordon with Truex in third ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Clint Bowyer, Kyle Busch and Kasey Kahne all jostling over fifth place in a green flag stint brought to an end by more debris on lap 438. Most of the leaders were already set to run to the end on a fuel conservation strategy and stayed off pit road, but Kahne and Ryan Newman were among those to roll the dice on an alternate strategy and come in for fuel and fresh tyres.

That didn't turn out well for Newman, who ended up in the thick of a multiple car wreck at the restart on lap 446 seemingly initiated by Denny Hamlin through turns 3 and 4 and also catching out Harvick, Truex, and Brad Keselowski.

"I just saw the #11 shoot across the race track," said Harvick, who walked over and stuck his head inside Hamlin's car after the accident. "It looked like he was trying to swerve at somebody. He said the #56 got into him and so I just wanted to know what happened."

"He was under the impression that I caused it," said Hamlin, who was already a rank outsider to make the Chase after his four-race lay-off in the sprint with a back injury. "He didn't see the replay. I talked to him. Luckily, we were able to talk right away and hash it out. The #55 just cut down on us right in the middle of the straightaway and it cut my right front tyre.

"It caused a huge accident. It sucks, but I didn't cause it," he added. "We can't catch a break. We were as solid of a car as we were today, we had a car that could run in the top-five and I thought we were better than the #5. Who knows what would have happened? We cannot catch a break - you've got to laugh at it at this point, it's somewhat humorous."

The clean-up required a brief red flag period before racing could resume with 46 laps of the half-mile short track remaining to the chequered flag. Kenseth maintained the lead but he was acutely aware that his fuel was running low and his tyres were getting very old and worn; that wasn't such a problem with Bowyer, Gordon, Montoya and Kyle Busch who were in much the same boat, but sixth-placed Kasey Kahne was another matter entirely after his canny decision to pit under the previous caution. Cue the theme to "Jaws" and stick a shark's fin on the rook of the #5.

Kenseth tried to break away but Montoya was able to go with him, while Kahne was quickly into third place. Ten laps later, Kahne was battling with Montoya for second spot, and he finally slid around the #42 on lap 474 by which time Kenseth had almost a second on the pair of them with only a little over six minutes of racing remaining before the chequered flag. He only needed half that to eradicate Kenseth's lead, and on lap 487 the #5 had its nose in front down the backstretch. Surely it was just a matter of time before Kahne took the top spot and clinched his third win of the year.

Except it didn't happen. Every time they got to the line, Kenseth was back in front even after the cars bumped fenders. Kahne tried a slide job and even that didn't work. All that remained was the 'chrome horn' - barging Kenseth out of the way at the cost of causing a wreck. But Kahne couldn't bring himself to do it.

"I was trying to get there, I would have wrecked probably both of us," he said. "It would have just been a wreck. I just tried to pass him as clean as I could, and race him as hard as I could.

"I thought I had him at one point. I had a good run, I tried to slide across him, but he just kept position. We were rubbing all the way down turn 4. I just didn't clear him. I just didn't get it done and I'm upset with myself for not figuring out how to win tonight because I clearly had a better car at the end of the race."

After crossing the line less than two tenths ahead of Kahne, Kenseth knew that he owed a dept of thanks to his opponent.

"Kasey's as good as they get and he's a clean driver. He raced as hard as he could," Kenseth said in victory lane. "We were both digging as hard as we could to try to get it. I got real tight on them old rights and had just enough to hold on.

"I think Kasey was getting tired of battling me," he continued. "Kasey's just an unbelievable talent, we've finished first-second a couple times this year. He wanted it bad. We raced as hard as we could race and used every inch of race track. I had just enough to hold it just enough fuel and just enough tyres ... We had awesome [Toyota] horsepower today and that saved me again. It was a fun race."

Victory in Bristol puts Kenseth into sixth place in the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship, but it's the win itself which is the most significant aspect - with five under his belt, Kenseth will now make the Chase via wild card even if he drops out of the top ten, which on Saturday night's form is highly unlikely to happen in the remaining two races before the cut-off.

Kahne is in eighth position in the standings after finishing in second in Bristol, but he doesn't have the same cushion in terms of wins, so he still needs to keep his head down and work his way into the Chase at Atlanta and Richmond. No wonder the temptation to just barge the #20 out of the way had been so great when the stakes were so high.

"I didn't win. I had the better car. The guys did a great job in the pits and I feel bad I didn't win. We needed this. I would have been big for us. But, we ended up second."

He might not have won the race, but in the way he came second on Saturday night Kasey Kahne won a ton of respect and a lot of admiring fans who are sure that karma will pay off in due course and give the 33-year-old from Washington state the reward he undoubtedly deserves.

Full race results and Sprint Cup Championship standings are available.