NASCAR Media Conference
September 27, 2006
THE MODERATOR: Thanks to everyone for joining us on today's NASCAR Nextel teleconference. In advance of Sunday's banquet 400 presented by ConAgra Foods at Kansas Speedway. This is the third race in the 2006 Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup and one of the last ten races of the year determines series champion. For media attending, the race this weekend in Kansas, the weekly Nextel Wake Up Call, it's going to be Friday at 10:00 AM, the Speedway's infield media centre. The wake-up call guest is Jeff Gordon, four-time series champion, and also a two-time winner at Kansas. He won the first two races at Kansas Speedway.
Today our teleconference guest is Kasey Kahne, driver of the No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge. A couple of tough outings the first two weeks of the Chase, Kasey who has a series-leading five victories this season, down to ninth place in the standings, 182 points behind the leader, Jeff Burton.
Kasey you had to rally to get into the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup, and you were able to do that in great fashion. How do you feel about your chances of pulling off another rally and getting back into title contention?
KASEY KAHNE: I think if there's any team that can do it right now, it's ours. We've been good. Our team has done an awesome job all year. We've had a great season, but we've had some tough breaks, too. That's racing. Things happen and we've had a bit of both this year.
So I feel like we can definitely win some more races, lead laps, get right back in the middle of the thing. I don't think we're out. I think we're a long ways from winning the championship. I think that, you know, WITH the right breaks and the performance that we're capable of doing, we can get right back in it.
THE MODERATOR: And you feel good about some of the tracks you're going too, I'm sure.
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, I feel good about every track that we go to. The own within that draws a little concern would be Talladega, and it probably draws a little concern for everybody. You don't know when something is going to happen or you're going to be in the middle of it or not. That's a track that draws a little concern, but other than that, every track we go to, we can run the Top-5 for sure.
Q. I was wonder watching the cars go around, you looked pretty down and out. How do you get back into this thing, how do you sort of mentally re-shift your focus to try to win a championship?
KASEY KAHNE: I think, you know, mainly I just need to get back in my car. I got back in the car even on Sunday and we had 300 laps to go or 250, and I did everything I could to go fast and, you know, run as fast as I could for those laps. It's pretty easy to do. I feel like every time I'm in a car, all I want to do is go as fast as possible. It's my job to get in a race car and come back for the weekend, we could definitely go for the pole on Friday. So far this year we've been starting 30th in these races for the Chase and we need to start in the top four this week to help our chances.
Q. What exactly was the problem that drove you from the race for good?
KASEY KAHNE: It was an engine problem. I'm not exactly sure what. I know yesterday they had their own thoughts on what it was but I haven't heard today what it was. But it was definitely engine failure.
Q. What's the difference over the last two years when you were not in the Chase, as far as going into the race and how you drive, did you notice a difference between not being in the Chase and being in the Chase?
KASEY KAHNE: Personally, I remember the last two years, you see the guys you're racing with, and you don't race them any differently. I mean, I didn't, just because the guy was in the Chase, I didn't pass him, but you think about it. I was thinking about that the last few years and this year I haven't thought about it at all. I thought about going fast and doing all we could to pass whoever is in front of us. This would be the only thing that I can recall over the last three years of racing in the Chase and not in the Chase.
Q. I talked before about how most of the tracks except for Talladega look pretty good for you. Can you talk specifically about Kansas Speedway, and is this a pretty good place to start your comeback to get it back into this thing?
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, I think so. Dover was a great track for us. New Hampshire, I usually always run in the Top-10 at New Hampshire and Dover, we're always fast and have fun for some reason. And Kansas, last year I had one of the best cars there and I crashed qualifying, coming to the green, actually which was just crazy what's was thinking, trying to run flat all the way to the green wasn't very smart.
But, you know, the tracks are similar to some of the other tracks we've won at this year, and I don't see why we can't run up front and make the right adjustments and do the right thing in the race and put ourselves in the right spot at the end to win.
Q. You come here mentally in pretty good shape knowing you're coming to Kansas.
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, I think any track we go to, except Daytona and Talladega, I know I can win at those racetracks, Kansas is one of those tracks that we can go fast.
Q. One of the people last week who said you still have a shot last week is Ray Evernham. What did he say to you after the race in terms of the last part of the Chase?
KASEY KAHNE: He just said: Nothing you could do about that. That was just racing, things happen, and disappointing, but, you know, we're going to still give it a shot and do everything we can to get back in the middle of this thing. He was actually pretty good about it. He said that we've got a shot, so we can do whatever we can do, get faster, have our heads town and try not to have any more mistakes. We pretty much have to have a flawless year this year from here on out.
Q. The last trip to a mile-and-a-half track, you were 23rd, and you dominated early year this year on all the tracks, but you felt like some of the other teams sort of caught up in Chicago when you finished 23rd. Do you feel like you got ahead of the curve on the aerodynamics on the mile-and-a-half tracks?
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, we definitely made some adjustments, made some gains. We went and did some tests in Kentucky and some things and as an organization made some gains. That's been really big for us.
You know, Kansas, we're looking forward to it. We know, we feel like we know what went wrong at Chicago, why we didn't have a car that could run up in the Top-5. We're pretty sure we're going to Kansas the right way, setup-wise. I think we should be pretty good.
Q. How much of it is that car, if you had a chassis that good, is it just a matter of if you get near the setups, you know you're going to be in good shape because the car is good?
KASEY KAHNE: We really put the right setup in when we started and just fine tuned on it all weekend long including the race. I remember at Texas, we were so far back at one point and couldn't go anywhere, and that was that car -- Chicago, we were 23rd and couldn't do a darned thing all race long. So you definitely can miss it.
I feel like the car we had at the All-Star Race was equally as good as that car, if not better, and we've been in two wrecks with that car. So things just happen. You have to have the right breaks, and with the car we've had, we've had all the right breaks.
Q. You mentioned Talladega a couple of times. Have you heard anything about the new surface there, and second, what a new surface has done in your experience with tracks? And if I can throw one more question in there, speaking of Talladega, usually it's crazy and so is Bristol and that wasn't crazy. Do you think guys will be calling Talladega?
KASEY KAHNE: I really haven't heard anything about the track. Some tracks we go to when they put new surfaces on, they are really slippery. Other times when they start getting fast, they turn into pretty good racetracks.
Charlotte this year when we first went there was really slippery, and by the end of the race, it was actually a pretty neat track.
So you just don't know. I think Talladega is a lot different being a two-and-a-half-mile track, and the setups there are nowhere near the same as what we would run in a mile-and-a-half. So that will definitely change things.
I have no idea. We'll see when we get there, but I have no idea what to expect other than I imagine it's going to be a pretty normal race, is what I would think.
Q. One of the first things Tony Stewart said after the New Hampshire race is how worried he was about doing exactly what happened and affecting the race by taking somebody out. Have you had any communications with Tony since the race, and secondly, with a 182-point deficit to make up, are you guys as a team going to have to be more aggressive with either setups or engine packages than you otherwise would be?
KASEY KAHNE: I think it will be the same stuff we have. It's really good, car-wise, setup-wise. I feel like we have as good as anybody out there, any organization out there, I don't care who it is.
But Tony actually called me yesterday, we talked about things, and it's not -- he just feels bad that, you know, that I was there when he spun out. I mean, that's just a racing thing and things happen, and we lost a bunch of points, but that's racing. We had an appearance together, and so I've been up in Detroit and was with Tony for probably three or for hours today, and there's not a problem between us. You know, it's just a difficult, you know, kind of time. Tony feels bad that he did that, it's spun, and I wish we had those points. That's the way racing goes.
Q. The setup that you said you're going to stand pat on, are you going to be more aggressive as far as gambling with strategy and that kind of thing?
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, I mean, that's the kind of stuff I would think that we can maybe be more aggressive on. But at the same time, you're kind of -- there's certain ways that you go about it and certain crews have their own ideas. And I don't really think that if Kenny Francis, I don't think he'll change anything, because that's going to change our whole game plan. I think the game plan, he has more wins than anybody else this year, so I imagine he'll stick to it. We'll just do everything we can to make the car ready and put ourselves in position late in the race to go for it.
Q. You're going to be at the Busch race here in Memphis at the end of October. You're looking at the remainder of your Busch Series schedule as sort of an opportunity to get away from the pressure of being part of the Chase and these are the races where you can go out and have a little more fun and be a little more loose on the racetrack?
KASEY KAHNE: Not really. I mean, I felt great at Dover. I felt great at New Hampshire. I felt loose and ready to go and just ready to race, I mean, do everything we could to get to the front for 400 or 500 miles, whatever the races were. It will be great to win, we have five Busch races left this year, and I think we can run up front at most of them, have had some great runs and try to get some more wins for Unileaver, Ragu, whoever our sponsor is that weekend. I think the Cup is going to be the exact same as the Busch the rest of the year.
Q. Your team, you face a situation that happens a lot in other sports where you've worked so hard to get into the playoff that once you get there, there's this kind of little letdown, and it's nothing that your team did, it's just kind of like let go a little bit. But in this format you have enough time with eight races to go where you can get that momentum going again. Does your team feel like, okay, we've had our bad luck out of the way, it's time to really move forward, is that kind of the attitude you're taking?
KASEY KAHNE: I would hope so. I feel like we've had as many great races that we've had this season, we've had some tough ones, too. Before the Chase, a month before the Chase, we were struggling, and now we get into the Chase and we're the best car in the last five races coming into the Chase, and next thing you know, we're struggling again.
That has nothing to do with the driver as far as I can see or the team, the chew chief, crew chief, it's just racing, it's tough times. There's nowhere to go Sunday and maybe if I -- if we started further forward, or maybe it wouldn't have mattered if we started further back, but you don't know that going in. I think we'll keep doing the same things we're doing and just hope we get the right breaks. If we get the right breaks, we're going to be fast.
Q. Your wins earlier this season were on intermediate tracks and they have a whole bunch of those coming up. Does that, you know, bit of scheduling give your team some confidence that now we've got the car that can win back on track and you can make our move now?
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, I mean, definitely, we've won it at of the last eight tracks. We've run up front at mile-and-a-half, two miles, Martinsville. Most of the tracks we're going to, we run up front. It's good. We're definitely excited to get a bunch of good runs in and just kind of see where the points go. If everybody else does well, too, we're going to end up wherever in points. If people have bad luck and we run well, we're going to get in position. It's just up in the air, you have no idea, we just do our best and hope it all works out.
Q. This is not specifically about the Chase, but what is your opinion about what is sometimes called the start-and-part routine, where a driver will maybe qualify 42rd or 43rd, start the race, run a few laps and come in to collect the big paycheck.
KASEY KAHNE: I don't see it going off because I'm not back there and I don't -- it doesn't mean anything to me. So I think they are just trying to get by. That's the way they make their living. That's what they think is working. If it's working, keep it up. I think somebody made like $60,000 not too long ago doing that, so that's a pretty nice weekend to run five or ten laps.
Q. That's true. I just wonder what your opinion of it was and, you know, how you could combat it.
KASEY KAHNE: I think it's fine. They qualified for the race and they were good enough to get in, and just do what you want when you get in there. Personally think if I'm fast enough to make the race, I'm going to try to run the whole thing and get up front. Everybody has different strategies and plans and things that they can afford and things that they can do with the race teams. You know, if that's what they are doing, if they are fast enough to get in on Friday, then they will be there Sunday.
Q. I don't think anybody has won at Kansas Speedway after qualifying out of the top 20, how important is a good qualifying for you?
KASEY KAHNE: I think usually when you qualify, a lot of the times it's kind of off your setups and you realize if your car is going to be pretty good in the race, you usually qualify pretty good. So that happens. But you never know. I mean, we qualified 21st last week and we felt like, and there was a lot of people there that knew that my car was one of the best cars Saturday during practice, and it was going to be Sunday, too.
So it's just, you know, it all depends on your setups, how you work together, the communication on Saturday during the two hours of practice.
Q. Kansas Speedway, the fans are pretty rabid, how does that affect you?
KASEY KAHNE: It's great. I think the more excited the fans are, the more people at a venue, it's more exciting it makes the week and the more exciting it makes the win. Whether it's driving a Busch car or Cup car or truck, there's just so many things that make things exciting and I think fans are a huge part of what makes NASCAR so exciting.
THE MODERATOR: Kasey, thank you again, best of luck on this comeback attempt. As you stated, I think everybody pretty much agrees if anybody can make this sort of comeback, it looks like it would be your team. So good luck to you down the stretch.
KASEY KAHNE: Thanks a lot.
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