DARLINGTON, S.C. -- Kasey Kahne pulled his race car up to the rear of his transporter, where team owner Rick Hendrick was waiting to offer a few words of encouragement. At the same time, Kyle Busch walked briskly by on his way to the motorhome lot. They were two competitors connected by the fact that neither got what they wanted at Darlington Raceway.
Kahne's chances of contending Saturday night ended when he and Busch battled for the lead off a restart with 33 laps remaining, and his No. 5 Chevrolet fishtailed into the outside wall. Busch would find his heartbreak later on, when his dominant No. 18 Toyota cut down a tire in the waning laps and wound up sixth after leading 265 circuits around the old track.
The aftermath found both drivers agitated for different reasons, but bound by a tussle that involved two of the best cars in the race. Did Busch make contact with Kahne when he slid up the track in Turn 1, either nipping or barely missing the left rear of the No. 5 car? Following the race, nobody was really sure. But in Kahne's eyes, it didn't really matter -- the result would have been the same either way.
"It was very close," Kahne admitted. "I could see him, I was like, 'Oh shoot, oh shoot.' And then the car moved and just spun out. I don't know if he actually touched me or not. If he would have just entered the corner like normal, like he had done the whole race, there would have been no issues and I would have been leading off 2. He just didn't want that to happen, so he blew Turn 1. Whether he hit me or not, he still caused that whole deal with screwing up. It's mind fade, you know? He's had a few of them this year when I'm around him."
Saturday marked the third time this season -- and second in as many weeks -- that Kahne and Busch have had a run-in on the race track. In the Daytona 500, Busch appeared to turn Kahne sideways in the draft, sparking an accident that collected several other cars. Last weekend at Talladega, the Big One began with Busch turning Kahne in traffic, contact that prompted Busch to call Kahne earlier this week and offer an apology.
In the wake of all that, no wonder Kahne was frustrated Saturday night.
"He just made another mistake," Kahne said. "That's his third one when he's been around me this year. I don't really understand it. We're battling for the lead or the top two or three spots, and where he entered and hit his brakes, he just crushed the splitter. We do it all race long. The way he did it, he hit the brakes, and you have no front end. He went straight on entry. His car's going straight; it's not even turning left. It's just a mistake on his part. I imagine he'll call me again tomorrow and say sorry."
It was the culmination of a dramatic moment, one involving clearly the event's best car and the only driver who seemed capable of challenging him on restarts. The two were side-by-side, and Kahne nosed ahead. After they came back around, Busch slid up the track very close to Kahne's car. Either contact or disturbed air caused the No. 5 to wiggle, and it slapped the wall right-rear first before sliding along it and falling back in the field. Kahne finished 17th.
Watch Daytona 500 wreck involving Kahne and Busch.
Busch didn't speak to reporters after the race. But his crew chief, Dave Rogers, said his driver was upset that the incident took place. "He's pretty tore up that they're racing hard and Kahne tore up another car. This is the third time we've been involved in an incident with Kasey, and all of us over here have a ton of respect for that program," Rogers said.
"Kyle thinks the world of Kasey Kahne, and I think (crew chief) Kenny Francis is a great guy. Kyle still has a ton of friends over there in the 5 car -- he used to drive that car. Has a ton of good buddies, they all hang out. He certainly doesn't want to create more work for those guys. He was just really somber and disappointed that it happened. But unfortunately, it's part of this sport. They were putting on a heck of a race. Kasey made a great move to pass us, and then Kyle was just trying to pass him back. I can't tell if we touched or not, but it was obviously really close racing."
Busch weathered the incident without any damage, but saw his hopes of winning disappear in the final laps when his car ran over something and cut its right-rear tire. Busch wasn't sure what had happened, only that the car suddenly wasn't handling as well as it had been. When his crew looked at the car after the race, they found "a big chunk in the dead center of the tread," Rogers said, and a right-rear with only 12 pounds of air left in it.
Watch Talladega wreck involving Kahne and Busch.
"We've dominated a lot of races and ended up not wining, but it's really demoralizing being the Southern 500 on Mother's Day weekend," Rogers said. "When you start the season you have that bucket list, and it really consists of every track, but there are some you really want to win. ? This is one you really wanted to win, and really discouraged it got away."
Kahne could relate. "I don't know if I would have won, but I definitely had a car to," he said. "? We kept getting better throughout the whole race. I cleared (Busch) down here and then he does that in 1 and 2. We absolutely had a shot at winning. It's discouraging. I could catch him and Jimmie (Johnson) all night long the longer the run went. And if we could get clean air early, we were going to be just fine. Unless I screwed up, we had a great shot at winning."
Now that will have to wait until next week, and the Sprint All-Star Race in Charlotte. In the meantime, Kahne is left to wonder why he's had so many run-ins with Busch in such a short period of time.
"He's got to just race me. I've never touched the guy in my life as far as on the race track. This is three times this year, and there's been other times in other years, so I don't really know what his deal is with me," Kahne said.
"I think he just struggles racing me, and he made an error as far as his entry. He entered so early, he had no steering. You figure that out throughout the whole race. He passed so many lapped cars, he knew what was going to happen, and he tried to stop, but he couldn't slow down at that point. He screwed up again. It was his third time this year he's screwed up."
Comments are currently unavailable. We're working on the development of a NASCAR fan forum ? please stay tuned.
FULL SERIES COVERAGE
- Motor Racing
- Sports & Recreation