Kasey Kahne hounded Matt Kenseth in the closing laps of Saturday's NASCAR race at Bristol Motor Speedway. It seemed inevitable that Kahne would use his bumper to muscle his way past Kenseth to take the win because that is how the racing typically is at the half-mile, high-banked oval that resembles a giant concrete cereal bowl.
If a faster driver can't pass a slower car clean -- Kahne was clearly faster than Kenseth -- then you give them a nudge to move them out of the groove. It's Bristol 101, but Kahne doesn't subscribe to that train of thought.
This is the track where, in 1995, Dale Earnhardt Sr. tagged Terry Labonte as the two raced to the checkered flag. Labonte crossed the start/finish line sideways with the nose of his car flattened and steam emanating from the radiator -- and he was the winner.
Bristol was also the site four years later where Earnhardt would again spin Labonte on the white flag lap to snatch the win. With boos cascading down, it was in Victory Lane where Earnhardt uttered his (in)famous "I was trying to rattle his cage" mantra.
As the laps clicked by Saturday and the No. 5 Chevrolet continued its dogged pursuit of the No. 20 Toyota, however, the expected bump never materialized. Kenseth would go on to win his fifth race of the year, the third time this season where he's fended off Kahne to secure the victory.
Kahne has chosen a different tactic -- one less controversial -- and raced Kenseth clean.
"I think at the end of the day, I just don't wreck people," Kahne said afterward.
If he had chosen to lay the bumper to Kenseth, however, it wouldn't have been without justification.
Joe Gibbs Racing has been Kahne's nemesis this season. At Daytona, Talladega and Darlington he had potentially winning cars smashed up due to encounters with Kyle Busch. And at Watkins Glen three weeks ago, Kenseth was the victim when Kenseth was a little too aggressive on a late-race restart. The normally mild-mannered Kahne called JGR out on Twitter in the aftermath to those transgressions.
"Headed to Joe Gibbs Racing to talk to whoever will come out front," Kahne posted. He would later state in a teleconference a few days later that he was thinking of payback.
"Kind of makes me think I need to start taking cars out," he said.
When presented with the perfect opportunity Saturday night to settle old scores, though, he declined. Kahne stood by his belief that if you can't pass someone cleanly, you don't deserve to win as that whole 'eye-for-an-eye' thing is simply not for him.
Kenseth said during his press conference after the win that he never thought Kahne would race him anything other than clean, befitting his reputation as a "really fair racer."
"I needed a win bad, but I also needed a finish, and I just didn't do anything crazy," Kahne said. "I just basically ran as hard as I could.
"I tried to pass him two different times and ran on his bumper and hoped he'd screw up, and he really never did."
It may not have been the popular move, but what Kahne did was admirable considering the circumstances. Most others in a similar situation would have thought nothing of giving a shove to a rival who had caused so much angst. Kahne instead left Bristol with his head held high and a hard-fought runner-up finish that he will always know could have been more if he didn't go against the grain and was the type of racer that wrecked people.