Kasey Kahne celebrates his win at Phoenix International Raceway. Image via NASCAR.Enlarge Photo
As the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup season reaches its conclusion with next Sunday's Ford 400 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway, there's one racer who's heating up just as the mercury drops lower across the country.
Kasey Kahne of Emunclaw, WA has stepped up his game in major fashion in a season that's been filled with internal turmoil with his current team's status up in the air. Despite the No. 4 Red Bull Toyota Camry crew's status unknown after next weekend, what's certainly hard not to notice is how amazing Kahne and his team have performed since the start of the Chase.
Although they missed the championship cut, they've fared better than the likes of title contenders like Jeff Gordon, Kyle and Kurt Busch, and Denny Hamlin by averaging an eighth place finish in the past nine races. With numbers like that, one has to wonder just how strong Kahne will be once he straps himself behind the wheel of the No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevy Impala for Hendrick Motorsports in 2012.
For the meantime, Kahne was thrilled with their win at Phoenix International Raceway in Sunday's Kobalt Tools 500, as he mentioned on his Twitter
, "Yes yes yes yes. We got the win today. Thanks to everyone at Red Bull for building awesome cars and never giving up! I knew we could do this."
That confidence showed during the 500 kilometer race, as Kahne kept his No. 4 Toyota in the picture all afternoon with the race leaders, especially with Cup rivals Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards. While two of the sport's heavyweights dominated to lead a bulk of the event, it was Kahne who remained poised, cool, and confident, making his charge towards the final stretch of the event to take home his first win in 81 races.
Kahne has been somewhat of a poster boy when it comes to evolving through changes. After all, he drove for the fledgling No. 9 team from 2004-'10, including his two final years with them which saw ownership changes, a manufacturer switch, and eventually. his signing to Hendrick Motorsports in 2012.
In a unique twist of fate, he found a "one-year temporary assignment" with Red Bull Racing, as they signed him to drive for their team following their tenure with Scott Speed in 2008 and '09. Again, much like his situation at Richard Petty Motorsports, which was then Evernham-Gilette Motorsports, Kahne found himself with a team whose future looked dark.
Instead, he's made the most of tough times, piloting that No. 4 car to eight top-fives and 14 top-10s, which are respectable numbers in a sport dominated by Hendrick Motorsports, Roush-Fenway Racing, and Joe Gibbs Racing. Make no mistake, he's certainly "grown some wings" driving for Red Bull Racing.
Their only blemish was inconsistency, which struck during the late spring and summer stretch of the season. Wrecks, mechanical failure, and lost handling days at the track cost them a shot for, at best, an outside shot at making the Chase.
No matter, as Kahne's reminded his critics that he can wheel a NASCAR stock car.
Now let's see what he can do following next Sunday's Ford 400.