Parks Pit Report: Kobalt Tools 500 at Phoenix International Raceway

Another driver on a roll in the last 10 races has been Kasey Kahne. Finally, he delivered a win for Red Bull Racing Sunday at Phoenix.

For this week’s Pit Report, I decided to go into two different aspects of Sunday’s race.  First off, it was a vindicating experience to see Kasey Kahne in victory lane, for a few reasons.

The last couple of years for Kahne have been extremely frustrating and confusing to say the least.  Beginning in 2009, his then-team at Richard Petty Motorsports seemed to be in a time of change, and many questions were not answered within the team.  Leadership especially was questioned.  That year, Kahne only won two races, with the second coming in Atlanta on Labor Day weekend.

Last year, things began unfolding and eventually it led to his termination with the team following the fall race at Charlotte.  He then made his transition the following week to Red Bull Racing, as at the time driver Brian Vickers was sidelined because of blood clots.  Kahne was already slated to join the team in 2011 before he made another transition to Hendrick Motorsports in 2012.

All year long, Kahne saw some success during the season, and as the year progressed he got better and better.  Soon, he began trying harder and made it clear that before the season ended, he wanted to win a race for the team.

He didn’t want to just for him, but it meant more to the team as Red Bull elected to withdraw from NASCAR at season’s end.  With the team now up for sale, many employees and crew members are uncertain of their future in the sport.  With things up in the air for many individuals, Kahne was hoping to get a victory for the team since it was his only year with the organization, and possibly the last year everyone on the team has a job.

Sunday, he cashed in and got that victory, vindicating himself after spending over a year in turmoil, wondering who to go to at Richard Petty Motorsports for leadership, he became the leader on a team that could be gone come the end of November.

Quite an accomplishment for a driver who is only starting a very successful NASCAR career.

It has come down to one race between two drivers to decide the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion. Who do you got?

Now onto the second part of my Pit Report, and the photo above says it all.  At the beginning of the 2011 Chase, Tony Stewart counted himself as a non-contender for the championship, saying he was just lucky to be there.  After his win at Chicagoland, things began to change.  Then he followed that up at New Hampshire with another win, and suddenly the non-contender became the man to beat.

At the same time, Carl Edwards maintained consistency despite not winning since Las Vegas in March, and quietly kept gaining points and has been out front for a majority of the latter stages of the Chase.

But, two weeks ago at Martinsville, the fire inside Stewart got lit.  He won the race at Martinsville, and made his intentions crystal clear in what to expect from then on between he and Edwards.

“He better be worried, cause he ain’t gonna have an easy three weeks,” Stewart said in victory lane.  In the media center after the race, he claimed that he gave a lot of drivers breaks throughout the season, and now he was starting to cash in over the last three weeks.

Edwards was up to the challenge, and then Texas set the stage for the beginning of a major battle.  Stewart backed up his win by leading the most laps and taking his fourth win in the Chase, but only cut his lead over Edwards by five points.  The lead was eight points entering Texas, but was only three leaving Texas as Edwards finished right behind him in second.

Phoenix kept things the same, as Stewart led the most laps, but finished third.  Meanwhile, Edwards continued his run with another second-place finish.  The lead between Edwards and Stewart held at three points, and also eliminated every other contender in the Chase entering the final race of the year.  It not only means that for the first time in six years, Jimmie Johnson will not win the Sprint Cup title, but sets up a battle for the ages to decide a champion.

The clinch scenario for Edwards is simple, as there is only one way that he can guarantee that he will secure his first Sprint Cup title is by winning the race.  The minimum Edwards would earn is 47 points (43 for finishing first, 1 for leading a lap, and 3 for the win), and even if Stewart finishes second and leads the most laps, the most points he would earn is 44.

But, if that doesn’t happen, Edwards must simply stay ahead of Stewart in the race at Homestead.

For Stewart, the first scenario is the same, as if he wins the race and Edwards finishes second, even if Edwards leads the most laps, Stewart wins the title because of wins.  But, Stewart also has some wiggle room in how he finishes compared to Edwards.

Here’s the other other scenarios for Stewart to clinch the title:

  • Lead the most laps and finish at least one position ahead of Edwards (two should Edwards lead one lap).
  • Lead one lap and finish at least two positions ahead of Edwards (three should Edwards lead one lap).
  • Fail to lead a lap, but finish at least three positions ahead of Edwards (four should Edwards lead one lap).

It has come down to one race, two drivers, and a three-point difference.  There has never been a closer battle for the title in NASCAR, and it has shaped up to be an incredible season finale.

Be sure to watch next Sunday as ESPN will have the coverage of the Ford 400 from the Homestead-Miami Speedway.  This is a race no one should miss.

RESULTS: 1-Kahne  2-Edwards  3-Stewart  4-Burton  5-Newman  6-Allmendinger  7-Reutimann  8-Ambrose  9-Menard  10-Bowyer

NOTABLE FINISHES: 12-Hamlin  14-Johnson  18-Keselowski  19-Harvick  22-Kurt Busch  24-Earnhardt Jr.  32-Gordon  34-Kenseth  36th-Kyle Busch

CAUTIONS: 8 for 30 laps.  Lap 3-5 (#6, 78 accident-T3), 8-10 (#36 spin-T4), 42-45 (competition caution), 94-97 (#36 spin-BS), 160-163 (#36 accident-T1), 169-172 (#84 spin-BS), 178-181 (#17, 83 accident-BS), 221-224 (#7 accident-T3).

LEAD CHANGES: 14 among 7 drivers.  Kenseth 1-35, Stewart 36-42, Yeley 43, Kenseth 44-45, Stewart 46-94, Kenseth 95-97, Stewart 98-157, Kenseth 158-166, Edwards 167-181, Stewart 182-221, Kurt Busch 222-278, Edwards 279-290, Stewart 291-294, Keselowski 295-298, Kahne 299-312.

TIME OF RACE: 2 Hrs, 45 Mins, 47 Secs.

AVERAGE SPEED: 112.918 MPH

MARGIN OF VICTORY: 0.802 Seconds

2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup: 1. Edwards, 2359 points; 2. Stewart, -3; 3. Harvick, -51; 4. Keselowski, -65; 5. Johnson, -68; 6. Kurt Busch, -70; 7. Earnhardt Jr, -102; 8. Kurt Busch, -107; 9. Newman, -107; 10. Hamlin, -110; 11. Gordon, -112; 12. Kyle Busch, -135.

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