Contenders emerge early in the NASCAR season.  Make no doubt about it, Kasey Kahne is a contender.

After finishing second last week at Las Vegas, when it seemed as though he had the fastest car on the track, Kahne was able to avenge his runner up finish with a victory in Tennessee.

While Kahne’s win is likely to be overshadowed by the post race scuffle between former Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano, it doesn’t make the win any less significant.

This is the first time in 19 attempts that Kahne has won a race at Bristol, and he had to earn it at the end.  After a long battle with Brad Keselowski, the final restart of the race came with 40 laps to go, and Kahne nailed it.  Keselowski spun the tires, got hit from behind, and the race was practically over.

Kahne was reverent following the win, speaking highly of the speedway itself.  “This is one of those tracks that, as a driver, you feel like you really need to win on,” he said.  Then, he reiterated the point on Twitter saying, “I’ve always dreamed about winning a Sprint Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway.  We did it!”

I think it’s important for a driver to run well early in the year, and Kasey Kahne is doing that.  He’s been very fast in the early going, and we should never underestimate the value of confidence.

The #48 is still the franchise for Hendrick Motorsports and Chevrolet, but Kahne and that #5 team should be pushing them all season long.

Here’s what we learned during the Food City 500:

  1. The Busch Bros. know something about Bristol.  I don’t know what the family secret is about Bristol, but both Kurt and Kyle wound up with top five finishes after having mid-race setbacks (a speeding penalty on pit road for Kyle and a flat tire for Kurt).
  2. It was a tough day to be a contender.  Both Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth had horribly bad luck during the Food City 500 Sunday.  Johnson melted a bead on his right front tire, ending his chances while he was running in the top 5.  Kenseth was running second when Jeff Gordon’s right front tire blew, sending both cars to the garage.
  3. Joey Logano doesn’t like Denny Hamlin.  Joey got the NASCAR season officially started with our first post race scuffle of the year.  The “fight” wasn’t much to talk about, but both made it very clear (albeit passive-aggressively through interviews and social media) that they won’t be burying the hatchet anytime soon.
  4. Tony Stewart is struggling.  Actually, Stewart-Haas racing is struggling.  Tony blew a tire early in the race, taking him out of contention in the first run of the race, but that’s not the issue.  He hasn’t been a factor once this year, and currently sits in 24th in the season standings, 1 spot behind Ryan Newman and only 4 spots ahead of Danica Patrick.

Tommy Joe Martins is a former NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver & a weekly racer at the historic Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway.  A graduate of the University of Mississippi, he’s been a sports columnist for The Daily Mississippian, a radio host & a life-long NASCAR fan.

More From GuySpeed