BRISTOL, Tenn. (AP) - Kasey Kahne's miserable start with Hendrick Motorsports continued with yet another accident, his third through four races this season.
Kahne wrecked just 24 laps into Sunday's race at Bristol Motor Speedway when he thought he made contact with Regan Smith. It triggered a seven-car accident, and left Kahne visibly frustrated.
``Everybody at Hendrick Motorsports is doing such an awesome job,'' he said. ``I've had awesome race cars, and I have nothing to show for it.''
Kahne started 10th in Sunday's race, and said he ``was the fastest car here.'' But after passing Regan Smith for position, he believed he was clear when he actually didn't have any room to move down the track.
``Right there, there is no reason to force the issue at all,'' Kahne said. ``I'm just taking my time, just cutting the bottom, simple. I'm under Regan Smith, as slow as he was, I knew when my spotter cleared me in the center I would be clear on exit. He said `all clear, good to go.'
``I listened too much to my spotter, I guess.''
Hendrick Motorsport's team roster lists Kole Kahne, the drivers' cousin, as Kahne's spotter.
Kahne finished 37th.
Since finally getting into his Hendrick ride - he signed in early 2010 but had to drive elsewhere in 2011 as he waited for Mark Martin's contract to expire - Kahne has struggled miserably. He was so excited to start his Hendrick tenure, but his first month has been marked by a 29th-place finish at Daytona, a 34th at Phoenix and a season-best 19th at Las Vegas.
He's 32nd in the Sprint Cup Series points standings.
``I hate it for everybody,'' he said. ``It's really disappointing and discouraging to have as fast of race cars I have and have nothing to show for it.''
The accident also collected defending race winner Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick.
Edwards theorized the accident began as Smith and Kahne struggled with give-and-take in an early portion of the race.
``I think Regan was battling with that same thing we all battle with here, which is should you let the guy go or keep racing him?'' Edwards said. ``Kasey probably thought he was clear and that ended up in a wreck. It is hard to put 43 cars in a half-mile going this fast and not wreck. It is too bad it happened this early.''
MIXED RESULTS: Jeff Gordon was having a decent day at Bristol until contact with teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. ended his race.
It marked a bad day for Hendrick Motorsports, which got a team-best ninth-place finish from Jimmie Johnson: Earnhardt seemed headed toward a top-10 until he was flagged for speeding on the final pit stop. He finished 15th, and Gordon ended up 35th after his incident with Earnhardt.
Gordon and Earnhardt were racing for position late in the race when their two cars apparently touched. The contact cut Gordon's tire, and he spun into the wall.
``I think we bumped more than we should have is the way it looks like. We definitely didn't hit in the right location, because I think the tailpipe or something just cut the left-rear (tire) immediately,'' Gordon said. ``I know that it wasn't intentional, but it certainly ruined our day.''
Earnhardt, although pleased with how his No. 88 has opened the month, was angry about the end result Sunday.
``I'm mad because I screwed myself on pit road speeding there; I'm pretty upset about that,'' he said. ``And I feel bad about running into Jeff's car. I had a good day other than that; I had a good time.''
It was the worst finish of the season for Earnhardt, who is sixth in the Sprint Cup standings with two top-10s through the first four races.
``We're running good. I think we're a good team,'' he said. ``We're capable of running up front and maybe winning a race or two this year. We're going to keep it up. I'm going to take all the positives I can out of this one. We didn't run good here last year. We struggled and kind of limped around and made something out of nothing, but today we ran good. I feel good about that.''
BRISTOL ATTENDANCE: Bristol Motor Speedway used to be the toughest ticket in NASCAR, but the Tennessee track has struggled of late to pull in fans.
Track owner Bruton Smith on Friday admitted Sunday's race wouldn't be a sellout, but insisted the crowd would be ``respectable.''
He may have back-tracked on that statement after seeing massive pockets of empty seats in the stadium-style track that seats 158,000. NASCAR's official attendance was listed at 102,000, but the grandstands appeared to be roughly half-full.
There's differing opinions on why Bristol has fallen off, most notably the economic difficulties of the Tri-City area, limited hotel options and exorbitant rates for lodging within an hour-drive on race weekend.
But fans have also complained that the track isn't the same since a 2007 re-configuration. Bristol races in the past resembled demolition derbies, but the change to the track made passing easier and limited the wrecks.
Race-winner Brad Keselowski defended the track as one of the best in NASCAR, and said the way fans now follow live sports has hurt attendance more than anything else.
``I think the attitudes and trends of the fan base has changed. There's so much access provided through social media, through the TV networks ... that I think the best racing action in the world might not matter,'' he said. ``Don't get me wrong, I think this is great racing. At some point you have to accept the fact that the world has changed a lot over the last five to ten years. Live spectator events, it's tough to sell tickets to.
``It's tough because everybody looks up at the grandstands and people say, `I remember five years ago.' Well, I remember when gas prices were different five years ago, too.''

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