Hot/Not: Kasey Kahne hitting stride at the best time

The rain didn't fall, the usual suspects won and we've eliminated a few contenders from the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Oh, and one guy without a championship hope is making strides. That and more, in this Midwest version of Hot/Not.

HOT: Kasey Kahne is proving that drivers don't need the motivation of the Chase to contend for wins, and it might just be the best way for him to make his offseason segue to Hendrick Motorsports.

Kahne finished runner-up to Jimmie Johnson Sunday for his second consecutive top-5 finish and fourth-straight quality outing. Inside the Chase, he's yet to finish outside of the top 15 — meaning if he would have qualified for the championship fight Kahne would be seventh in points, 17 points back of Edwards. That's better than his soon-to-be Hendrick teammates in Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-43 points) and Jeff Gordon (-47).

Kahne could have been even better had the fuel-mileage game at New Hamphshire worked in his favor. In Loudon, Kahne led 43 laps before pitting late.

While Kahne will be switching to Chevrolet engines and Hendrick chassis in 2012, he'll get to keep this positive finish to a season as momentum and, more importantly, his long-time crew chief Kenny Francis. The duo has already made major changes in equipment in recent seasons, going from the Gillette-Evernham Dodges to the Richard Petty Motorsports Fords to the current Red Bull Toyotas.

This weekend at Charlotte could be good for Kahne, too. He led 28 laps at CMS in May and has three of his 11 career wins there.

NEUTRAL: Amid Kahne's success, however, is a growing concern that his soon-to-be ex-team Red Bull Racing will shut its doors for good at the end of 2011. That'd leave Brian Vickers scrambling for a ride in 2012 and lot of good people in the sport without a job. It's surprising to see Red Bull's looming exit, especially as energy drink competitor 5-Hour ENERGY announced Friday entry into the Sprint Cup Series with CLint Bowyer and Michael Waltrip Racing. {ysp:more}

HOT: Remember last week when we talked about Carl Edwards needing to hold par over the next four or five races? Several tracks he faces from here to the Chase finish haven't been historically good for him, and at the midpoint of Sunday's race that foreshadow was playing true.

Edwards was lapped and losing ground, but somehow rallied to a fifth-place finish. He said it felt like a win, and it should. He's your Sprint Cup points leader.

HOT: Give a call to Kevin Harvick and that team's rally to a sixth-place finish at Kansas.

NOT: Tony Stewart's self-inflicted mistake during the final pit stop of Sunday's Hollywood Casino 400 left him with a 15th-place finish. The No. 14 was capable of a top 5, meaning Stewart likely lost 10 points in the championship fight. Keep those in mind during the march to Homestead.

HOT: Each and every week Brad Keselowski is turning into more and more of a threat for the 2012 title. Just 11 points separate him and Carl Edwards. Can he keep it up? So far, he has.

NOT: Jeff Gordon, until you're told otherwise, won't win the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. Joining him? Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin.

Making up a race-worth of points with six races left doesn't seem possible — especially without Sam Hornish Jr. on track. I will give myself one out though: Talladega.

HOT: Let's a give yet another call to Marcos Ambrose. He knocked in another top 10 Sunday with a ninth-place finish at Kansas. That's his second consecutive top 10 and 10th of the year — doubling his number from a year ago.

NOT: Michael Waltrip Racing should get better with the addition of Clint Bowyer to its 2012 lineup. Sunday, though, that didn't matter as both David Reutimann and Martin Truex Jr. broke rear axles. Truex, for his part, looked competitive before his failure. That's a heartbreaker.

HOT: Landon Cassill notched his second-best finish of the season Sunday at Kansas, bringing James Finch's effort home in 17th despite a slide through the frontstretch grass.

FINAL: The racing at Kansas Speedway has improved dramatically since the first race there in 2001, but a repaving job looms in 2012 that will throw the already-vanilla track back to its single-lane past.

There's nothing that can be done about it thanks to Kansas winters, other than shake your head in frustration at those who were compelled to build tracks during NASCAR's boom that were virtual replications of one another. Sunday's race looked and felt no different than the one that started the Chase at Chicago — proving again that there is no excitement in repeats.

Saturday night's race at Charlotte, the original 1.5-mile dogleg layout in NASCAR, will at least provide a better balance of history, character and uniqueness.

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