Kahne was in no-win situation either way during final laps at Bristol

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After he was caught in a crash triggered by Matt Kenseth two weeks ago at Watkins Glen, Kasey Kahne had a seemingly perfect opportunity to extract payback last night at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Kahne has had multiple run-ins with Kenseth and his Joe Gibbs Racing stablemates this season, but as he rose up to challenge the former Sprint Cup champion in the closing laps of the Irwin Tools Night Race, the anticipation for him taking revenge was palpable.

Did every single soul inside Thunder Valley expect him to do that? Maybe not every one, but likely, the vast majority did. It’s Bristol, where justice is often meted out with the proverbial “chrome horn.”

And considering what happened at the Glen, Kahne probably would’ve been met with wild cheers if he put Kenseth in the fence. But instead, Kahne looked for the clean way around.

As the laps wound down, he tried desperately to make the low groove work for him against Kenseth and couldn’t. He then went right behind Kenseth on the top groove, but didn’t pull off a “bump and run” maneuver and was defeated despite having the faster car of the pair.

“I think at the end of the day, I just don’t wreck people,” said Kahne, who won at Bristol this past spring but couldn’t claim a third 2013 win that likely would’ve cemented a spot for him in the Chase.

“I don’t know how all that was going to work out. I needed a win bad, but I also needed a finish, and I just didn’t do anything crazy. I just basically ran as hard as I could, tried to pass [Kenseth] two different times and ran on his bumper and hoped he’d screw up, and he really never did.”

As tempting as it may be for some to say that Kahne simply didn’t have the fortitude to retaliate against Kenseth, it bears noting that Bristol is a different beast than it once was.

The high groove – which is where Kenseth was throughout his battle for the win with Kahne – has become the fastest way around. Even if Kahne had managed to really tag Kenseth’s back bumper and wreck him, it’s likely he would’ve also been collected as well.

In hindsight, Kahne was damned no matter if he raced clean or raced for revenge. By choosing the former, he’s opened himself to criticism over whether he has any “edge” at all. But if he had gone with the latter, both he and Kenseth may have wound up on the hook.

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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