NSCS: Kahne Captures First Win at Phoenix, Two Remain In Championship Battle

Photo Credit: Getty Images for NASCAR


With just one race left before a champion is crowned, the penultimate race of the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series came down to a final pit stop.

After staying in contention in the top-5 for most of the day, Kasey Kahne found himself chasing down then-leader Carl Edwards, with 24 laps remaining in the race. That is when Kahne and crew chief, Kenny Francis, decided to pit for much needed fuel from second place.

That pit-move turned out to be the winning move of the race as Kahne would take the lead after the pit-stops cycled through. Kahne led the final 14 laps to win at Phoenix International Speedway.

“It feels so good [to win], it’s been a long time coming,” said Kahne to ESPN reporters in victory lane. “This whole Red Bull team has done an unbelievable job to keep working so hard.”

Sunday’s win was Kahne’s first victory at PIR and it also broke an 81 race winless streak, dating back to Atlanta’s fall race in 2009.

“It’s probably the biggest win ever for me personally,” said Kenny Francis on top of the Red Bull pit box while Kahne spun donuts on the front stretch. “It’s unbelievable, as hard as the guys have worked all year; it’s just superb to win.”

Kahne led only 14 laps all day, the last 14 laps in his victory.

“It feels great to get a win for Red Bull and get a win in the 4 car,” Kahne said “It’s something new for both of us to come over and have a one-year deal.”

Kahne is only at Red Bull racing for one more race, before he will travel over to Hendrick Motorsports for the 2012 season and beyond.

In June, it was announced that Red Bull racing was leaving the sport, leaving everyone involved with Red Bull racing with in question about next year. The team has not won since Brian Vickers won a fuel mileage race at Michigan in 2009.

“Well, we’re lucky that everybody kept working hard and has stayed after it, preparing great racecars,” Kahne said. “We’re bringing awesome cars to the track.”

Points leader, Edwards wasn’t able to extend his lead over second place  Stewart. Stewart also could make up any ground on the points championship despite leading the most laps and earning an extra bonus point. Three points still separate Edwards from Stewart with only one race left in the season.

“It’s neat to be able to go to Homestead and race it out,” said Edwards about next week’s season ending race. “Tony was really fast we got our car tuned in and we were able to get up there and race with him and compete. Just a good hard fought day.”

This is the third closest point’s race in NASCAR history, but Stewart isn’t focusing on that.

“I’m just thinking of the three points,” Stewart said after the race. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s a dead heat going in there [to Homestead].  We just got to do our job like we’ve been doing.  To have three top-three finishes in the last three weeks, pretty proud of that.”

For much of the day,  Stewart didn’t battle Edwards; it was another Roush-Fenway driver, Matt Kenseth who was able to run down Stewart early in the race. However, on lap 178, Matt Kenseth’s day, which had been plagued by brake problems, came to an end when he and Brian Vickers were caught up in a wreck.

Kurt Busch led late in the race after the eighth and final caution, but his lead evaporated along with his fuel supply and Edwards was able to take the lead. The final 33 laps were all strategy on when to pit for fuel.

Next week the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will race for the final time in 2011 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Only two drivers, Edwards and Stewart are eligible for the championship.

Kobalt Tools 500 results :

1. Kasey Kahne
2. Carl Edwards
3. Tony Stewart
4. Jeff Burton
5. Ryan Newman
6. A.J. Allmendinger
7. David Reutimann
8. Marcos Ambrose
9. Paul Menard
10. Clint Bowyer
11. Joey Logano
12. Denny Hamlin
13. Greg Biffle
14. Jimmie Johnson
15. Juan Pablo Montoya
16.Mark Martin
17. Jamie McMurray
18. Brad Keselowski
19. Kevin Harvick
20. Martin Truex Jr.
21. Bobby Labonte
22. Kurt Busch
23. Brian Vickers
24. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
25. Cole Whitt
26. Casey Mears
27. Dave Blaney
28. J. J. Yeley
29.Landon Cassill
30. Mike Bliss
31.David Gilliland
32. Jeff Gordon
33. David Ragan
34. Matt Kenseth
35. Robby Gordon
36. Kyle Busch
37. Geoffrey Bodine
38. Regan Smith
39. Scott Speed
40. Michael McDowell
41. Joe Nemechek
42. Mike Skinner
43. Travis Kvapil

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