Feelin’ free: Frustrations end for Chase-bound Kahne, IndyCar champ Power

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When I sit down to crank out these posts for MotorSportsTalk, I usually have my headphones plugged in to listen to music.

As I figure it goes with some of you, music is one of my favorite hobbies outside the laptop. I don’t pluck a guitar and I haven’t sang in a choral ensemble since college. But I still enjoy discovering new sounds when I can.

However, I also enjoy the classics. One of my favorites in that category is Cream’s “I Feel Free,” that delightful ’60s smash-up of pop, blues, and psychedelia.

And I can’t help but think that the song fits with the final outcomes from this weekend’s major events – last night’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Atlanta and Saturday’s Verizon IndyCar Series championship finale at Fontana.

Because Atlanta winner Kasey Kahne and first-time IndyCar champion Will Power have to be feeling free of their own respective burdens.

Often in the shadow of Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, and Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kahne is sometimes a forgotten man even though he’s always been a capable driver.

But prior to last night, Kahne’s 2014 season had been a poor one with only two Top-5 finishes to his credit and very little consistency. Most of us probably figured that him failing to hold off Gordon late for the win at Indianapolis would be his highlight (or rather, lowlight) of the campaign.

Instead, Kahne changed the script. Stuck in mid-pack during the middle stages of the race, he made a late push into the Top-5 before a caution with two laps to go sent the race to green-white-checkered.

Then, after jumping to third before another caution came out, Kahne blew past the Joe Gibbs Racing teammates of Denny Hamlin and then Matt Kenseth on the second G-W-C attempt to nail down the victory and get in the Chase at last.

Forgotten no more, Kahne has not only ensured that all four Hendrick pilots will be in the hunt for a championship. He’s also pretty much regained his relevancy.

Meanwhile, one day before and about three thousand miles to the West, Power was facing another chance to claim an IndyCar title – and another chance to blow it following near-misses in 2010, 2011, and 2012.

Up 50 points over Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves in a double-points race, Power had to start from the back of the field after a rough qualifying session.

But he played it smart for the first half of the race, gradually making his way up the leader board instead of charging like an angry bull.

With around 60 laps to go, Power finally made his presence known at the front of the field by dueling wheel-to-wheel with eventual race winner Tony Kanaan for the lead before settling in the Top 5 with Castroneves.

Then came the last pit stops of the season and the critical moment of the race: Castroneves being called for an entry violation after momentarily sliding up off the apron and onto the track before coming down again into the pits.

It was all about Power bringing it home from there. Considering his cruel championship history, nothing was a given. But the Aussie dropped back and finished ninth, enough to finally put the ghosts to rest.

And it was very telling that when Power emerged from his No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet, his face did not wear a look of unfiltered, unbridled joy – but one of sheer relief that was still erasing the last residues of doubt and worry.

No matter. It was all over. The crown was his at last.

For Power, he can savor his moment for the next six or seven months. For Kahne, there’s still more work to be done.

But right now, both of them are on top of the world.

They feel fine.

They feel fabulous.

They feel free.

Here’s what drivers said after Sunday’s INDYCAR race was postponed until Monday

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Here’s what several drenched drivers had to say after Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama was postponed until Monday morning (11:30 a.m. ET, LIVE on NBCSN):

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 1 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet, 2017 Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama winner, 2018 pole winner): “It’s tough because we have so many people that come out here to watch us. We want to put on a good race. We want to put on a show. So calling the race, running around behind the pace car not running, it’s tough, it’s tough to do that. But I think it was the right thing in the end. When we started the race, the conditions were OK. You could run at that level of rain. Then, it intensified right before that first caution. I think when the caution came out, it got to a point where it was just too much. There was too much puddling and pooling of water on every straightaway. Then the rivers started flowing, high-speed compressions in Turns 1 and 2, fast corner, 12 and 13, fast corner where the river starts to form. Just tough. I mean, look, we love racing in the rain. It’s got nothing to do with not wanting to run in the rain, not being able to do that. It’s that this type of track with this water level was too much to race today. We’ve run here in the rain before, but it intensified to the point where you’re starting to get in a situation where it’s going to take it out of the drivers’ hands. What happened with Will (Power), I don’t think is a driver error. I don’t know how anyone is going to drive hydroplaning on the front straightaway. I think you would have had that for the rest of the track, too. A tough situation. Thanks for the fans that came out and supported us. Hopefully we’ll get some people back tomorrow and we’ll get the show in and put on a great event.”

MATHEUS “MATT” LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet):
“Tough day so far. We had some problems with our radio and fuel alarm, but otherwise the car was alright. It was just too dangerous out there, we couldn’t see anything, so I think they made the right call. Hopefully we’ll have a good race tomorrow.”

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “It’s just a real shame for everyone on the Verizon Chevy team. The car was good and we were doing our best out there, but it was really hard to see anything in front of me. The conditions were just so bad. As soon as I got to the frontstraight, the car just came around, and I tried to keep it off the wall, but it was hydroplaning and there was nothing I could do. I feel bad for the team and for the fans in this weather. Just too bad. Hopefully our luck can turn around when we get to Indianapolis.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “Very difficult day for us. In the race we were 13th at the time and we had some electrical issues, so that caused us to pit and we lost a lap. Not the ideal situation, but we don’t give up. There’s still a race tomorrow and we’re going to go for the most points. Anything can happen.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 Mi-Jack Honda): “It was a tough beginning, but when we kind of got going it was OK and kind of fun to challenge for a while, but visibility was a major issue today, no doubt. I’m glad that the series postponed it. I would have like to get it in today, but that’s life. We will go racing tomorrow.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 Kerauno / MilitaryToMotorsports.com Honda, Verizon IndyCar Series points leader): “I think definitely the right decision was made to red flag the race. It’s a very difficult position for everyone to be in. It’s never the result that you want, but safety is obviously a priority. I think everyone did a good job considering the conditions of looking out for each other. Not being able to see is not doing anybody any good. It is hard for everyone, but glad that we’re all in one piece and try again later.

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda): “As you could see on TV, if you couldn’t see the car, it was probably three times worse in the cockpit on the main straight or any straight. You had to completely trust the guys that they were accelerating. Never the less, I made good progress on the short stint and I made up a few positions.  The car was working well, but also was aquaplaning a lot, too, so I have to respect INDYCAR’s decision for everyone’s safety. Now we really need to concentrate on having a good car for tomorrow. I’m sorry for the fans that sat in rain all day, but thank them for their support.”

RENE BINDER (No. 32 Binderholz tiptop timber Chevrolet): “It was a short day. In the beginning the conditions were not that good, but afterwards the conditions started to improve. The race was stopped, then restarted, and I think the conditions were not too bad at that point. Unfortunately, it was red flagged again and then cancelled for the day. It would have been nice to get halfway, but we will come back and try again tomorrow.”