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.

Make sure to follow all of Friday’s Indy 500 ‘Carb Day’ action on NBCSN from Indianapolis

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It’s known as “Carburetor Day” – or in its simplest term, just “Carb Day.”

But the final day of on-track action Friday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway before Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 is so much more.

Especially on NBCSN, which will have wall-to-wall live coverage starting Friday morning.

Here’s how Friday’s schedule breaks down:

  • 11 a.m. ET: Carb Day kicks off with the final practice for Sunday’s Indy 500. The session will last one hour in length.
  • 12 p.m. ET: We’re going racing! Strap in for coverage of the Indy Lights’ Freedom 100 on the famous Brickyard.
  • 1:30 p.m. ET: We’ll have coverage of the annual IndyCar Pit Stop Challenge. Which teams have the best – and most importantly, fastest and accurate – pit crews? Team Penske has won 10 of the last 12, including the last two years edging out Schmidt Peterson Motorsports each time. Who can potentially beat them this year?
  • 3:30 p.m. ET: We’ll have our annual NASCAR America Motorsports Special. Among segments included in the 90-minute show will be:1) 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi will discuss how it used to upset him when people suggested he “backed into” his big win and how he didn’t really feel vindicated until he qualified on the front row for last year’s race.
    2) Defending 500 winner Takuma Sato, the first Japanese driver to ever win at Indianapolis, discusses the impact of his big win personally and professionally, particularly back in his native land.
    3) An essay by Robin Miller on Stefan Wilson giving up his ride last year to allow Fernando Alonso to race for Andretti Autosport.
    4) An essay by Nate Ryan on Danica Patrick as she looks to compete in her final Indy 500 before retiring from professional racing.

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