Cool-Down Lap: Should Kahne have used his bumper?
August 25, 2013, Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service, NASCAR.com
Editor's note: The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.
Nice guys don't always finish last.
Oftentimes they finish second -- but they don't win championships.
And Kasey Kahne won't win a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title -- despite his consummate skill and the unquestioned quality of his equipment -- until his level of aggression begins to approach the level of his talent.
In Saturday's Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway, Kahne had the best car at the end of the race, hands-down, and failed to win. For the third time this season, Kahne chased Matt Kenseth to the start/finish line with fresher tires and/or a faster car.
Kenseth refused to lose, driving perilously deep into the corners to prevent Kahne from clearing his car.
Kahne, on the other hand, refused to win, refraining from using his bumper to move Kenseth in the closing laps.
Had Kahne cleared Kenseth, he would have run away with the race. Kenseth knew it, and so did the fans in the stands who stood and cheered as they watched some of the most breathtaking racing we've seen this year.
We watched and waited for Kahne to seize the moment, but it didn't happen. Kahne settled for second. That sort of mindset doesn't work in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, where victories are paramount.
Just ask Carl Edwards, who took an eight-point lead into the final three races of the 2011 Chase, finished second three times and lost the championship in a tiebreaker to Tony Stewart, who won two of the last three events.
No one would have blamed Kahne for moving Kenseth out of the way on Saturday night. It was Bristol, after all, the high-speed home of the bump-and-run.
Though he doesn't look a day older than 25, Kahne turned 33 in April. My belated birthday present to the driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet is a wristband inscribed “WWDD,” as in “What would Dale (Earnhardt) do?”
Perhaps that could serve as food for thought when the Chase starts.
Wrecking ball tour
At the opposite end of the spectrum, Brian Vickers was hardly the model of restraint in his approach to Saturday night's race -- and understandably so.
Vickers had something to prove, having started the weekend with the news that his crew chief and long-time friend, Rodney Childers, was leaving Michael Waltrip Racing to work with Kevin Harvick next year at Stewart-Haas Racing.
Childers' comments to the effect that he couldn't pass up an opportunity to work with a driver of Harvick's caliber had to sting Vickers, who drove on and beyond the edge at Bristol to prove a point.
Vickers was involved in the Lap 358 wreck that KO'd Jimmie Johnson. On Lap 447, he turned left into Denny Hamlin's Toyota, cut Hamlin's right front tire and triggered a collision that wiped out Chase contenders Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Newman and Brad Keselowski, among others.
When the dust settled, however, Vickers finished fourth. Harvick, another victim of the Lap 447 accident, rolled home 34th, 51 laps down.
Where have you been, Juan Pablo?
It was beautiful to watch.
With a near-perfect blend of elegance and aggression, Juan Pablo Montoya was a major player at Bristol, contending for the win until the handling of his car tightened up in the closing laps.
Montoya was one of few drivers who found a racing line around the .533-mile short track that allowed him to cut through the field. Arcing his No. 42 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Chevrolet high into the corners, Montoya would steer to the bottom of the track on exit, carrying momentum that allowed him to streak past cars in the outside lane.
Montoya started 16th and finished third, his fourth top-five result of the season.
One can only think that, had Montoya driven consistently with that sort of focus and intensity since making the Chase in 2009, the former Indy 500 winner might not be looking for a new job next year.