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.

NHRA: Brittany Force cleared to race this weekend in Phoenix after bad wreck 2 weeks ago

Photo: John Force Racing
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Drag racing is a Force family tradition. So, too, is not keeping a Force family member down.

Just 12 days after the most serious wreck of her six-year drag racing career, Brittany Force and John Force Racing announced late Thursday afternoon that the defending 2017 NHRA Top Fuel champion has been medically cleared and will indeed race in this weekend’s NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix, Arizona.

“I flew into Phoenix early this (Thursday) morning and headed straight out to the race track to meet up with my team,” Force said. “I suited up and got belted back into my car that I ran all last season.

“It honestly felt good to be strapped back in and I was surprised how comfortable I was. I’m looking forward to getting back in my car tomorrow (Friday’s first two rounds of qualifying) and getting back in the swing of things with my guys.”

The 31-year-old Force, one of four daughters of 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force, suffered a concussion and bruising after the hard crash she was involved in on February 11 in the first round of eliminations of the season-opening NHRA Lucas Oil Winternationals in Pomona, California.

Shortly after leaving the starting line in a race vs. Terry Haddock, Force’s dragster crossed from the right to left lanes, impacted the retaining wall with a very hard lateral crash, bounced off, spun, went on its side and briefly caught fire after crossing the finish line wheels-up.

While she is still recovering from the bruising, Force feels strong enough to get back behind the wheel. Getting back in the race car could be the best medicine of all, since she has three runner-up finishes in Phoenix, including back-to-back second-place showings in both the 2016 and 2017 national events.

The three-day event kicks off Friday with qualifying rounds at 4 and 6:30 p.m. ET, the same times as Saturday’s qualifying. Final eliminations begin at 1 p.m. ET Sunday.