Kahne picking up the pace as Chase winds down

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For the first time since New Hampshire in September, Kasey Kahne actually has somebody behind him in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. The Hendrick Motorsports driver climbed out of the 13th-place cellar yesterday by finishing second in the Advocare 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.

Kahne emerged as one of the contenders for the win late at PIR as differing pit strategies played out in the final 100 or so laps. On Lap 224, he took the lead from Joey Logano and held it until Lap 246, when he hit pit road under green to take right-side tires.

Another round of green flag stops began with about 50 laps remaining, and when it was over, Kahne was in second place behind Carl Edwards. Off the final restart of the day with 25 laps to go, Kahne ceded the runner-up spot to eventual race winner Kevin Harvick but got it back when Edwards ran dry while leading with two laps left.

“We stayed out longer so our tires were – Harvick was on a lot fresher tires, I guess,” Kahne said. “He was able to stay out longer and came out there at the end and was pretty quick on that restart, got by us. Carl short pitted. That’s how he got so far out front.

“It was interesting, the strategy plays such a big factor here.  You have half the field doing one thing and half the field doing the other, and everybody is pitting five, six laps difference on those strategies, as well.”

Kahne improved to 12th in the championship and has put together back-to-back Top-5 finishes going into Sunday’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He’s hopeful that he can continue the trend in South Florida and that he can go into 2014 with some confidence.

“We’ve had a lot of things happen to us this year, but we’ve battled back the last two weeks,” he said. “We ran pretty good, fifth and second, so I’m happy about that.

“We’ll try to finish off strong at Homestead with another Top-5 and maybe prepare a little better for next year and try to have a little more consistent, stronger year from start to finish.”

‘Still quite early’ for Ricciardo to think about Red Bull F1 future

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Daniel Ricciardo feels it is “still quite early” to make a decision about his Red Bull Formula 1 future despite seeing teammate Max Verstappen announce on Friday he would be staying with the team until 2020.

Verstappen, 20, put pen to paper on an enhanced F1 contract with Red Bull, with his previous deal due to expire at the end of next season in parallel to Ricciardo’s own agreement.

Ricciardo was asked following practice on Friday why he is yet to strike a new deal for himself with Red Bull, and explained he is in no rush to make a final decision when he has over a year to run on his current contract.

“It’s not that I’ve said no to anything. It’s just still quite early I think,” Ricciardo explained.

“People talked a little bit about contracts and the silly season for next year, but I thought that would still happen next year. It’s still quite early.

“If I’m to try and extract some positives out of his news it’s that it gives us good confidence for next year. He and his management see a lot of positives in the team to continue like that.

“I’m 100 per cent here next year, I can at least say that, and I think it gives both of us confidence that we’ll keep progressing the way we are.”

Red Bull said upon announcing Verstappen’s new deal that it wants to “build a team around him”, with the 20-year-old standing out as a once-in-a-generation talent.

The focus surrounding Verstappen has not left Ricciardo feeling as though he is in the shade or in any way playing second-fiddle to the Dutchman, stressing he has no internal concerns at Red Bull.

“For sure, as far as media goes, he certainly gets a lot of attention. He’s broken records for his age and things like that, so rightly so,” Ricciardo said.

“Take the media out of it, as far as inside the team, new parts on the car, things like this, there’s always been parity and equality.”

Verstappen is only the third driver to commit to a deal beyond the end of next season, following Sebastian Vettel at Ferrari and Fernando Alonso at McLaren on multi-year contracts.

All 10 F1 teams have at least one free seat for 2019, making Ricciardo a possible candidate for seats with either Mercedes or Ferrari were he to consider a move away from Red Bull.

Speaking to British broadcaster Sky Sports, Red Bull F1 advisor Helmut Marko said he felt Ricciardo was “putting himself on the market” by waiting to make a decision on his future, but that talks would take place when possible.