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Kahne leaving Red Bull in style ... and a winner

November 14, 2011, Mark Aumann, NASCAR.com



Kahne leaving Red Bull in style ... and a winner
AVONDALE, Ariz. -- No question about Kahne's character and drive after lame-duck year at Red Bull

As a one-year loaner who knew he already had a ride with Hendrick Motorsports in 2012, Kasey Kahne could have ridden out the string.

Crew chief Kenny Francis will join him in the No. 5 shop next season, but he chose to build a brand-new car for Phoenix.

Kasey Kahne

2011 Chase results
RaceFinishLaps Led
New Hampshire1543
Dover40
Kansas20
Charlotte40
Talladega64
Martinsville250
Texas35
Phoenix114
Avg./Total8.066

And with no idea what the future may hold for them in eight days, Kahne's crew had every right to worry more about their resumes than their pit stop times.

Yet when Sunday's Kobalt Tools 500 was over, Kahne and the boys from Red Bull were the ones throwing a party in Victory Lane, and not one of the "going away" kind. If Austrian businessman and company co-founder Dietrich Mateschitz pulls the plug on his NASCAR team at the end of the season -- as expected -- talk about going out in style.

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

Kahne tried to put a finger on why the No. 4 Toyota has been almost the equal of Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart during the Chase, and he kept coming back to one thing.

"I think it's just the people," Kahne said. "They haven't given up. They're doing a great job. We've been able to stay focused. I love racing. If I'm in a race car, I want to do the best that I can. Kenny Francis has given me some cars in the last few months that we've been able to perform with and run with Carl and Tony."

Kahne has been through this before. He signed the deal with Rick Hendrick in April of last season to drive there in 2012 -- but his 2011 plans weren't firmed up until August. His relationship with Richard Petty Motorsports eventually soured through a series of on- and off-track issues last fall, and he finished out the year with 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."

Some drivers take years to get acclimated to new surroundings. But Kahne's been the new kid in the garage so often, perhaps it's not that surprising to see him run up front. Still, he admits it's not as easy as he's making it look right now.

"It takes time to get familiar with things and the people and working together," Kahne said. "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."

Even though he knew he was a temp, he did his best to fit in with teammate Brian Vickers and Red Bull management.

"I'm not sure how Brian and those guys go at it, but he's been a great teammate," Kahne said. "Ryan Pemberton has been great to work with. Always has a ton of enthusiasm. They [were] both in Victory Lane after the race congratulating us. They're right there in all of our debriefs and things. It's been a lot of fun working with those guys."

When asked if he liked the idea of being remembered for scoring what might Red Bull's last win, Kahne was quick to point out that there's one more race left this season.

"Hopefully it's not their last win," Kahne said. "I think we're going to have a shot next week, too. I'm looking forward to Homestead. It feels great to get a win for Red Bull and get a win in the No. 4 car."

It would be easy to look at Sunday's victory as a bittersweet one for Kahne and his crew, knowing they will go their separate ways soon. But on Sunday, they celebrated the present without worrying about the future.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

Watch all the highlights from the Kobalt Tools 500: