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.

Azerbaijan GP red flagged after 22 laps following chaotic sequence

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The Azerbaijan Grand Prix has been red flagged for debris following a chaotic sequence of laps that saw three safety cars be deployed following multiple incidents, leaving the track covered in debris.

The first safety car was called after Daniil Kvyat stopped out on-track, with the marshals able to recover it with relative ease, but the bunched field on the restart soon descended into chaos.

Debris from Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari caused a second safety car period to be called within a lap, but the marshals were again able to clear this easily, allowing Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton to lead the field away for the second restart.

Hamilton and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel made contact twice behind the safety car, leaving debris on-track at Turn 15, with both drivers blaming each other for the incident.

The greater clashes came on the first lap of green flag running as Force India teammates Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon clashes at Turn 3, the latter bumping Perez into the wall. Both were required to pit for repairs, and while Ocon could get back out, Perez was less fortunate, retiring from the race.

A third safety car was called, with the stewards then deciding to throw a red flag to allow the debris on the track to be cleared.

More to follow…

Hunter-Reay leads warmup at Road America

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A weekend that has been dominated by Chevrolet and Team Penske so far saw Honda jump to the top during morning warmup. Ryan Hunter-Reay was fastest for Andretti Autosport, followed by Max Chilton for Chip Ganassi Racing. Hunter-Reay’s teammate Alexander Rossi ended the session third, making it a Honda 1-2-3 in the morning warmup.

Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud was the quickest of the Chevrolet camp in fourth, followed by A.J. Foyt Racing’s Carlos Munoz in fifth.

Only 19 of the 21 drivers turned laps during the session, with Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon and Andretti Autosport’s Takuma Sato failing to put laps in. Dixon’s No. 9 NTT Data Honda was suffering from fuel pressure problems that kept it in the garage, while Sato was feeling under the weather during the morning, and the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda team elected not to go out.

Coverage of the Kohler Grand Prix begins at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

 

Follow Kyle Lavigne.

Nato takes F2 sprint win in Baku after Leclerc penalty

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Norman Nato picked up his first win of the 2017 FIA Formula 2 season on Sunday after a post-race penalty denied Charles Leclerc a weekend double in Baku.

Ferrari junior Leclerc took an emotional victory on Saturday just days after the death of his father, and charged from P8 on the reverse grid to take the lead from Nato late on.

However, the Monegasque driver was denied the first perfect weekend in the category (including GP2) in eight years when he was hit with a 10-second time penalty for failing to slow under yellow flags.

Despite the penalty, Leclerc was still classified second behind Nato, with Nicholas Latifi completing the podium for DAMS.

Jordan King took fourth place for MP Motorsport, while Sergey Sirotkin was fifth on his stand-in weekend at ART Grand Prix ahead of fellow Russian Artem Markelov.

Nobuharu Matsushita took seventh ahead of Luca Ghiotto, while Ralph Boschung and Sergio Sette Camara rounded out the top 10.

With second place, Leclerc extended his F2 championship lead to 42 points after chief title rival Oliver Rowland retired after leading the early part of the race.

The F2 season resumes in two weeks’ time in support of the Austrian Grand Prix in Spielberg.

Lauda on Hamilton’s Baku pole lap: ‘I’ve never seen anything like it’

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Formula 1 legend and Mercedes non-executive director Niki Lauda was quick to heap praise on Lewis Hamilton after qualifying in Azerbaijan on Saturday, saying he had “never seen anything like” the Briton’s Q3 pole lap.

Hamilton charged to the 66th pole of his F1 career at the Baku City Circuit on Saturday after a last-ditch effort took his four-tenths of a second clear of Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas.

Hamilton was overjoyed by the lap, having struggled to tame the Baku circuit during its inaugural race in 2016, and three-time world champion Lauda was equally as impressed.

“We had some problems on Friday, but the team really did a fantastic job to set the car up in the right way. And Lewis with his lap today… I’ve never seen anything like it,” Lauda said, as quoted by the official F1 website.

“It was not plain sailing at all, but a lot of thinking, digging, back to the factory, and in the end the improvement the engineers and mechanics did to the car is outstanding.

“And then Lewis, what he did today, no one else I think can do that.

“He’s fantastic, especially thinking about his lap time here, because the difference he makes to everybody – it’s only Lewis.”

Hamilton will go in search of his fifth win of the season in Baku on Sunday, with coverage of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 8am ET.