"It feels so good. Been a long time coming," said Kasey Kahne after finding victory lane for the first time with Red Bull Racing - and most likely the last, as the team is being wound up at the end of the season as the drinks company pulls its financial support. But as leaving presents go, a parting gift of victory at Phoenix is as good as it gets for any driver and team.
"These guys have done an unbelievable job," said Kahne, taking the opportunity to talk up the work of the Red Bull mechanics one last time. "It feels really good to get Red Bull in victory lane - I just wanted to win for them really bad."
Going into the race, drivers were concerned about the new paving and configuration at Phoenix International Raceway that suggested that moving outside of a single rubbered-in groove down low would be all-but impossible, which would appear make overtaking a distant dream. It didn't help that it had been raining overnight and into the morning, washing away what little grip the track had built up over the preceding days of practice and qualifying - not that the weather had discouraged a sell-out crowd of 85,000 for the last-race-but-one of the season.
And the start didn't bode well. After veteran race driver Adrian Fernandez waved the green flag to get proceedings under way, there was an immediate yellow when David Ragan and Regan Smith tangled and hit the wall. The second restart was little better with Geoffrey Bodine spinning on the frontstretch. It looked like it was going to be a very long afternoon indeed for all concerned.
Fortunately the initial signs were misleading, and the next green flag stint lasted all the way to the scheduled competition caution (planned because of the rain) on lap 40. Polesitter Matt Kenseth had led for almost all of that period.
But Tony Stewart made his intentions clear with aggressive moves at the restarts and was on a mission to get to the front as soon as possible. He made it on lap 35, and while Kenseth beat him off pit road after the competition caution pit stops to take the lead again, Stewart was quickly back in front again and then led for more than a hundred laps with only a brief break for pit stops under the fourth caution of the day (and the second caused by a Bodine spin) on lap 94.
Carl Edwards was less assertive in the early stages, and was fretting with the car's handling which was proving too tight for comfort in turns 3 and 4. But the #99 team has been in this position before, and their trademark strength has been the slow, steady incremental changes dialled in by crew chief Bob Osborne as the race progresses, and Phoenix was to prove no different. He settled into third place for much of Stewart's century up front and bided his time, using it to study what his rival was up to.
"That is exactly what I was doing, just hanging out back there trying to keep his blood pressure up!" he said later. "I was watching what Tony was doing and searching around and doing what I could."
It proved a wise strategy. After the next caution on lap 159 (caused by - guess who? - yes, Geoff Bodine spinning once more) Edwards took advantage of Matt Kenseth going wide and slotted into the lead in his own right for the first time in the afternoon, which he kept through the sixth caution and restart of the day caused when Cole Whitt got helped into a spin in his Cup series début by contact with Martin Truex Jr.