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Kasey Kahne going out with a bang to end Sprint Cup season

His Red Bull team, which might not be around next season, wins for only the second time this year when he captures the Kobalt Tools 500 on Sunday in Phoenix.

November 14, 2011|By Jim Peltz
  • driver Kasey Kahne (left) and crew chief Kenny Francis pose with trophy after winning the Kobalt Tools 500 on Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway.
driver Kasey Kahne (left) and crew chief Kenny Francis pose with trophy… (Jennifer Stewart / US Presswire )

Reporting from Avondale, Ariz. -- Few could have blamed Kasey Kahne and his Red Bull NASCAR Sprint Cup team for ending this season with a whimper.

They finished with a bang instead.

Kahne won the Kobalt Tools 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday to snap an 81-race winless streak, and Red Bull won for only the second time since the team joined the Sprint Cup series in 2007.

And it wasn't a fluke. Kahne has had perhaps the strongest showing of any Cup driver in recent weeks except for Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart, who will decide the championship next weekend after finishing second and third, respectively, behind Kahne on Sunday.

Kahne's success is even more notable because he has already announced plans to move next year to the Hendrick Motorsports team, and because Red Bull has announced plans to sell all or part of its team. So far there hasn't been any word on whether the team, whose other driver is Brian Vickers, will return under new ownership.

Given the pending changes, it wouldn't have been surprising if Kahne, 31, and Red Bull finished the year quietly.

But Kahne has been surging, finishing in the top five in five of the last seven races in his No. 4 Toyota, and in the same span he has jumped from 20th to 14th in the Cup standings.

"It's just the people, they haven't given up," Kahne said of his team after celebrating his 12th career win.

His crew chief, Kenny Francis, said that to "finally cap it off with a win, I'm excited for the guys that built these cars and put all the effort into making this happen."

Stewart said Kahne's recent success "couldn't happen to a better guy. Kasey is a guy that has fought through a lot of adversity this year to be able to rifle off these finishes."

The soft-spoken Kahne, a native of Enumclaw, Wash., is wrapping up his eighth season in the Sprint Cup Series. His best points finish was eighth in 2006.

Now he's preparing to join one of NASCAR's most successful teams, Hendrick.

"I feel like we can step in there and be pretty competitive off the bat," Kahne said.

The Red Bull team's outlook is much bleaker, with the team perhaps closing its doors.

"Over the last three months, you have one of the top five cars in NASCAR shutting down, and that's crazy," Kahne said.

james.peltz@latimes.com

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