Kahne Wins Phoenix; Edwards Keeps Points Lead
Kasey Kahne stole the spotlight – for one day, at least – from Chase contenders Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart Sunday when he won the Kobalt Tools 500 Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway.
Kahne’s victory was his first of the season and first for the lame-duck Red Bull Racing team in 2011.
The victory broke Stewart’s two-race winning streak.
“It feels so good,” Kahne said. “It’s been a long time coming. This whole Red Bull team has done an unbelievable job to keep working hard. Kenny Francis (crew chief) keeps on it – everybody at Red Bull, the car, the Toyota engine. It was a great run today. The guys did an awesome job. We fell back a little bit early and then came back and just kept getting it better. These guys haven’t given up in the last three months. It’s been really cool. It was really, really cool. It was slippery early, but as the tires built heat and got rubber on the track, the Goodyear tires came in pretty good. It ended up being a great race. I’m really excited.”
But it was Edwards’ who benefitted big picture-wise as he was able to maintain his points lead by finishing second to Stewart’s third-place finish.
Edwards will head to Homestead-Miami Speedway next weekend for the season-ending race with a three-point lead over Stewart. All other drivers were eliminated from contention on Sunday.
“That’s what we needed to do,” Roush Fenway Racing’s Edwards said. “I’m excited. It’s going to be a battle” with Stewart for the championship.
“Still where we need to be,” Stewart, who led a race-high 160 laps. “We’re keeping him honest. We’re going to make him sweat it out.”
Jeff Burton finished fourth Sunday and Ryan Newman, Stewart’s teammate/employee at Stewart-Haas Racing, was fifth.
Rounding out the top 10 were A.J. Allmendinger, David Reutimann, Marcos Ambrose, Paul Menard and Clint Bowyer.
Stewart led and Edwards trailed the middle third of the race. But with when the field pitted during a caution which came out on lap 220 of the 312-lap race, the running order was shaken up by tire decisions.
Kurt Busch took the lead and Paul Meanrd moved to second when they opted for two tires. Stewart and Edwards both took four tires and restarted third and fourth respectively.
Edwards quickly passed Stewart to take third place. Edwards then began tracking down Busch for the lead. Edwards slowly closed on Busch and with 40 laps left made it to Busch’s rear bumper.
Edwards spent several laps trying to get past Busch both on the inside and outside. But with 35 laps to go, Busch made it easy for Edwards to take the lead when he ran out of fuel and glided to the pits.
Stewart moved up to third – behind Kahne – when Busch pitted, but was over 6 seconds behind Edwards.
Edwards pitted under green with 22 laps to go for his final stop. He took fuel and right-side tires.
When the pitting cycled through with 18 laps to go, Edwards found himself behind Kahne and could not catch up. The margin of victory was .8 seconds.
And the stage was set for a head-to-head finale in South Florida.
“We have never gone into Homestead with the points lead,” Edwards said. “You know they give a boat away if you win that thing. I saw that boat and I would like to go down there and win it. That would be fun to put a cap on this season. That is what our mission is. We feel we have the cars and pit crew and have shown that we can gut it out on these really tough days when maybe we don’t have the fastest car. This is going to be good.”
Edwards won last year’s race at Homestead.
“We will go there and try to repeat what we did last year,” Edwards’ crew chief, Bob Osborne, said. “I feel like we have a good opportunity to do that this year. The car had the speed to do it today. The way the race played out here and my decision to wait a little bit longer cost us the win today. I think we will go into Homestead trying to sit on the pole and win the race and put a dot on this championship hopefully.”
Stewart has two victories at Homestead, but they came in 1999 and 2000 when he was driving for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Still, Stewart likes his chances of winning a third championship.
“We just got to keep doing what we’re doing,” he said. “We got to keep the pressure on. Two weeks in a row we’ve led the most laps. Really proud of that. Proud of the pressure we’re putting on him. A lot can happen in 400 miles next week.
“As far as I’m concerned, it’s a dead heat going in there. 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.
“I’m still pumped up. I want to go to Homestead tomorrow and start. I want tomorrow to be Friday. I’m pumped up, I’m excited about it and ready to go.”
The victory was the 12th of Kahne’s Cup career and it comes two races before he moves to Hendrick Motorsports for the 2012 season.
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