Power Rankings: With win in Phoenix secured, Kahne takes flight

by | CBSSports.com NASCAR Blogger
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Updated Nov. 14

AVONDALE, Ariz. -- All eyes are on the Sprint Cup title race, as they should be, heading into the final race of the season Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

But while Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart duke it out for this year's championship, there are others vying for attention and with plenty to race for before the final checkered flag of the season flies this weekend.

Kasey Kahne is one of them.

Kahne has his sights squarely set on the next chapter of his career when he moves to Hendrick Motorsports in 2012. But he's not phoning in his final days behind the wheel of the Team Red Bull Toyota by any means and proved that point with his win at Phoenix.

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Outside of Edwards and Stewart and their crews, it's hard to find a driver and team more impressive than Kahne and the TRB No. 4.

"There's been a lot of ups and downs," Kahne said after getting to Victory Lane for the first time since his Atlanta win in September 2009.

"Everything that falls into winning a race, we had it today. That's what you need to win at this level. I look forward to next year and look forward to Homestead."

Many doubted the logic of putting Kahne and crew chief Kenny Francis at Red Bull in what was considered a holding pattern until their move to Hendrick in 2012. While the team had experienced periodic successes over the course of its existence, there were more questions than answers around the organization including its very existence past this year with Red Bull announced intentions to pull out at season's end.

But Kahne looked at the opportunity as one to learn from and better his career, refusing to look at the many challenges that could have derailed any chance to compete this year.

"I think like coming to Red Bull, it was exciting for me," Kahne said. "It was something new, a change. I was really looking forward to coming over here and having one strong year here. I've been able to work with Kenny ... We just keep trying to get a little bit better each week. They keep trying to give me things to make me be able to go around the track as fast as I can."

While Kahne has his future secure with Hendrick, it's anyone's guess what happens next for Red Bull. Team GM Jay Frye continues to try to find investors to keep the two-car operation afloat but said over the Phoenix weekend while he was optimistic, nothing concrete has materialized.

But the win Sunday could go a long way toward determining the organization's fortunes.

"It feels great to get a win for Red Bull and get a win in the [No.] 4 car," Kahne said. "It's something new for both of us to come over and have a one-year deal. It takes time to get familiar with things and the people, and working together. To win a race at this level, as competitive as everything is right now, for myself, to see how happy all the pit crew guys were, the guys preparing the race cars at Red Bull, it was pretty cool. Makes you feel pretty good to be part of that."

POWER RANKINGS
CurrentDriverPrevious
1Brad Keselowski2
Took over the Chase lead by 20 points thanks to a sixth place finish and Jimmie Johnson?s misfortune. This is now the Penske Racing driver?s championship to lose.
2Jimmie Johnson1
Saw his seven point lead evaporate thanks to a cut tire and trip into the wall on Sunday. Johnson now must hope a similar such fate happens to Keselowski next week at Homestead to have any shot at a sixth title.
3Kyle Busch4
Nearly ran the table in Phoenix by leading all practices and taking the pole had he been able to win the race. But a poor decision on lane choice for a late restart cost Busch a shot at Victory Lane.
4Kasey Kahne5
Ending the year on a positive note but wasn?t able to match his Phoenix victory of last November. Still a solid day with a fourth place performance.
5Clint Bowyer3
Was the victim of Jeff Gordon?s revenge that completely eliminated Bowyer from championship contention. He wasn?t an angel in the turn of events but Bowyer definitely got the worst of the situation.
6Denny Hamlin8
Hamlin?s second place finish in Phoenix a welcome rebound from two weeks of disappointment for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver. He?ll be a factor for a win next Sunday in Homestead.
7Kevin Harvick12
Snapped a 44-race winless drought with Sunday?s win ironically coming on the weekend when reports of his evacuation from Richard Childress Racing to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014 broke out.
8Greg Biffle6
A decent day for ?The Biff? in Phoenix, who was able to dodge all the last lap craziness to bring home his Roush Fenway Racing Ford seventh.
9Joey Logano13
Minding his own business until getting swept up in the Gordon-Bowyer fight. Logano was on his way to a nice effort to follow up his ninth Nationwide Series win on Saturday.
10Ryan Newman14
Rough way to earn a fifth place finish as Newman was one of the unfortunate souls to get caught in the last lap crash on the main straightaway.
11Tony Stewart9
Not a god day at all for Smoke who spun late after making contact racing for position. A 19th place finish for Stewart.
12Matt Kenseth11
Will make the final Sprint Cup start of his career for Roush Fenway Racing next week at Homestead on the heels of a 14th place effort in Phoenix.
13Martin Truex Jr.10
His race was over nearly before it started with a blown engine. After a stellar regular season Truex Jr. has suffered mightily throughout the Chase.
14Carl Edwards15
An 11th place finish for Edwards as he brings to a close one of the most disappointing seasons in his career.
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