With fresher tires than leader Matt Kenseth and with a Chevrolet that had led a race-high 114 laps, it seemed a given that Kasey Kahne would find a way to work his way around Kenseth and speed off with the win in Sunday's NASCAR race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Kahne tried everything he could think of to pass the No. 20 car; one lap he would ease into the corner and the next he would dive in deep.
From there he would slide up the track hoping to use the high-groove and the accompanying momentum off the banking to propel himself into the lead. But the former Sprint Cup Series champion countered and moved his Toyota up a lane to force Kahne to pass him on the inside.
Although Kahne valiantly tried to work underneath Kenseth, he was never able to complete the pass and a win that just moments before seemed inevitable, instead turned into a hard-fought runner-up finish.
"Matt did everything right," Kahne said. "That's when I caught him. I was like, ‘Man, this is not the guy you want to have to race with 10 to go because he's going to do everything right. You're going to have to figure out how to squeeze by him.'
"And you know, he had a fast car, too, so it was difficult. He did a perfect job and we came back second."
While he didn't score his 15th career win, Kahne's fine result at Las Vegas did turn around a season that had gotten off to a bit of a sour start. A wreck in the early laps at Daytona and so-so run at Phoenix saw Kahne open the year with finishes of 36th and 19th, respectively. As such, he headed into Las Vegas well back in the championship order, 29th overall.
But as frequently happens at the beginning of the year, one great result will quickly shoot a driver up the standings and Kahne now finds himself 14th in points.
This in part explains why even though he may not have been victorious, the Hendrick Motorsports driver had a smile on his face as he recapped his battle with Kenseth -- one that included navigating around quite a few lapped cars.
"I was hoping maybe they'd run Matt's line and he'd have to go to the bottom and I thought maybe I could get a run that way," Kahne said. "I think we eased through six or seven lap cars there and most of them went to the bottom and you could pass them fairly easy.
"It wasn't too bad. It didn't slow Matt up at all, which I was hoping someone at some point would slow him up a touch, but it never happened."