BRISTOL, Tenn. — official release — Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images photo — Matt Kenseth and Kasey Kahne waged one of the memorable battles from the 2013 season.
For nearly 20 laps, two of NASCAR’s marquee talents ran side-by-side, inches apart, navigating Bristol’s high banks in a thrilling show of expertise and competitive desire.
Kenseth won that race, like so many others during the 2013 season. In all he won seven, more than any other NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver.
Kahne finished second, just short of a Bristol sweep. He won the spring race in convincing fashion, leading 109 laps.
Considering the state both are in this season, that seems way longer than 12 months ago. Both drivers are winless, neither have clinched a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, and time is running out.
Heading into the IRWIN Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway tonight (7:30 p.m. ET on ABC), let’s take a deeper dive into both drivers’ predicaments.
Matt Kenseth: All things considered, it’s good to be Matt Kenseth. Jeff Gordon’s win at Michigan – his third of the season – guaranteed that there will be at least one winless driver in this year’s Chase. That spot belongs to the winless driver highest in points – which, currently, is Kenseth. Fifth in points, Kenseth holds a 30-point lead over Ryan Newman, the next highest ranked winless driver.
In other words, he’s pretty safe.
Still, momentum would be nice. Kenseth has finished 38th in two of the last three races, but heads to Bristol, one of his best race tracks. He has three wins at Bristol, which ties Las Vegas and Auto Club Speedway as his most prolific tracks. He has a Bristol driver rating of 102.7, one of nine tracks where he eclipses the 100 driver rating mark.
Kasey Kahne: Kahne’s seat is not nearly as comfortable as Kenseth’s. But it could be worse.
Kahne currently sits outside the Chase Grid in 17th – but only nine points behind 16th-place Greg Biffle. A win would immediately lock Kahne into the Chase. And it’s a scenario that entirely possible.
He has finished in the top 10 in each of the last four Bristol races and has led laps in three of the last four. Kahne has scored more points at Bristol in the last four races than any other driver.
Chase Clinch Update: All 12 drivers with wins have now clinched a spot in the Chase, assuming they at least attempt to qualify for the remaining three races in the regular season. If a winless driver wins this weekend, and is 97 or more points ahead of 31st place, he or she will also clinch a spot.