NASCAR Nextel Cup Series: Bank of America 500
Topics: Bank of America 500
October 14, 2006
CONCORD, NORTH CAROLINA
THE MODERATOR: We're pleased to be joined by our race champion and his team director. Our race champion is Kasey Kahne, driver of the #9 the Dodge Dealers UAW Dodge mand team director Kenny Francis. Kasey, congratulations. You have swept the two races this year at Lowe's Motor Speedway. Talk about your win tonight and the sweep.
KASEY KAHNE: Just really had a great Dodge Charger. From the green flag the car was really good. Just a matter of, you know, doing the right things, and adjusting on it and making it better. Kenny and Keith and our team did an awesome job to get through those pitstops.
It was real tough where we were pitted with cars coming in and out just because the cars that we were racing that were on the lead lap were all really close to us. So, just glad we didn't hit anybody, tear up any fenders leaving. It was close a few times.
Just really cool to finally win in the blue Mopar paint scheme. We've come so close in '04 and in '05 running up front, having problems. And this year we definitely got it done. And to pass Jimmie Johnson there with 30 to go or 25 to go was huge. I mean, he's the guy that you have to beat if you want to win at this racetrack. And we were able to get him twice. And he got us once this year. So that's pretty cool for everybody on our team.
THE MODERATOR: Kenny, your comments about the race tonight.
KENNY FRANCIS: I don't know what to say. It seems like a blur. It was a good race. Kasey drove a really good race. We had a pretty strong car. Still had to adjust on it a good bit to get it to turn. Luckily, I didn't get us crashed on pit road because I cut it close a couple times. He was paying attention in his mirror and got stopped and missed the guy.
So it was just a good night, a good night for our engine shop. Evernham engines, they built some great stuff for us. This is really extreme weather condition we've had here, a lot different than we've had all year. So they had to make some adjustments this morning to make sure the engines lived.
You know, just our fab shop, engineering department just doing a great job supporting us. Really a tribute to those guys that we're sitting here tonight.
THE MODERATOR: We'll take questions.
Q. Kasey, I asked Jimmie the same question. You win tonight, you finished second last week, and you are still 160 points out. When do you start banging your head against the wall asking, What do I got to do to get back into this thing?
KASEY KAHNE: I mean I don't know. I mean we've had some great races. It's just tough when you are racing the guys we're racing with. The reason we're all -- all ten are in the top ten in points is because we've all run up front all year long. You know, a couple guys had some hard luck tonight or things happened to them, and the leader Jeff Burton didn't. He ran another great race. If he keeps running great races, you're not going to be able to catch him.
So that's a really good team. They're doing an awesome job. And we're just happy to get our sixth win and do everything we can to make up the points that we lost in the first three races.
THE MODERATOR: Next question right here.
Q. Kasey, now that we've run a couple of races here with the new pavement, is the need for the smaller fuel cells done? Should they get rid of them and go back to the regular size fuel cells?
KASEY KAHNE: Personally I think they should. But, you know, I think the tires is really hard also. I mean, the first 50 laps-- I think if everybody could have got through the first 50 laps and didn't wreck as many cars early, there would have been a bunch more cars there later on. But the tire is so hard, it takes so long to put rubber on it. By the time we got it on the last half of the race, I thought there was definitely a lot more grip than the first half of the race.
Early on, that place was slippery. And you know, the fuel cell helps when it's like that. But pit road's a mess. And then as the race went on, as rubber got on the track, the tires weren't so slippery. And, yeah, bigger fuel cell is definitely the way to do go.
KENNY FRANCIS: I think it's double-edged sword because I still think with the softer tire here tonight, the speeds were a lot higher, probably a good second faster than last time here, and that's putting a lot more stress on the right side tires. And I think Goodyear's still pretty concerned that we're right on the limit. If you try to run a 65-lap straight run you might see a lot more tire problems. I saw a couple in the Busch Series. I don't think any of it is attributed to-- it's just this place is so fast, and this is the most load track we go to. It's tough to make it all live here.
So I think me personally, I'd rather see us run longer runs. But at the same time, you gotta still keep in mind the safety of everyone.
KASEY KAHNE: That's true. Because I was worried about my right front at times too because of how fast we were running, and my car was handling great. I was still a little worried just because off the pressure or the force you are putting on them. So I think Kenny answered that great.
THE MODERATOR: Go ahead. Back here.
Q. Kasey, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., got out of his car and said that Jeff Burton is the Iceman and you can't break him. I think you said something similar about him. You can't break Jeff Burton. Can you talk about why you guys have that respect for him and what kind of mental edge he seems to have as veteran?
KASEY KAHNE: I just think his team and Jeff Burton are doing a great job. They've had really good races this year, been consistent. That's why they're up front. They got that win at Dover. I mean, they're strong team every single week.
I was doing all I could to get him a lap down because I knew he would be up front if I didn't. I got him a lap down then had to race Kenseth, and it was the same situation with him, he didn't want to get a lap down either. So you get racing so hard, tires are slick, racetrack's slick, that I was worried because I was leading I didn't want to screw up.
Well, Burton got back by me and he runs third. So if I could have held him back, we may have been able to gain more points on him. But I wasn't able to do that. He was definitely good again tonight.
THE MODERATOR: Let's go upstairs for questions in the press box. Go ahead please.
Q. Kenny, Kasey had a ton of near misses coming in and out of the pits tonight. Was there any conversation between yourself and Todd Barrier? And was that space between the two pits kind of something that kept you distracted thinking there was a lot more room there than was really there than was really there?
KENNY FRANCIS: We had a couple-- I think we had two close calls with the 29 and one close call with the 96. And the first time with the 29 I saw him coming and we kind of got-- I think the first time with the-- well, I can't remember.
KASEY KAHNE: First time with the 29 was my fault. I did it. The second time you did it (laughter).
But I mean both our--
KENNY FRANCIS: Like one time I saw him coming and told Kasey to go because I thought he could beat him. And Kasey saw him coming and hit the brakes because he didn't think he could beat him. But Harvick at the same time hit the brakes because he saw us taking off and we got all out of sequence.
What ended up happening is the 29 spotter came down to Kasey's spotter, and said, Hey, what we'll do here is when we see y'all doing gas only, we'll just fall in behind you, that way y'all don't have to worry about it. That is what was messing it up. I was trying to dodge them and they were already planning on us pulling out in front of them. So fortunately it worked out.
Then with the 96, I just didn't expect him. He just-- I saw him out at the grass and I said go. And then about that time he started coming towards us and we got side-by-side. But luckily everybody was aware and we missed each other.
THE MODERATOR: We're also pleased to be joined by team owner tonight, that's Ray Evernham. Ray, congratulations on the win here tonight. Talk about it.
RAY EVERNHAM: Thank you. Just really proud of these guys - not just these two guys but the whole team in general. You know, they fought pretty hard tonight. You make a lot of pitstops with that small fuel cell and making the right decisions on when to put tires on, when not to put tires on, fuel. And they made some really good heads-up calls. I heard you talking about just getting off pit road. I will say up and down pit road tonight I think because we have had some problems in the last couple weeks, I think everybody pretty much used their head and guys were stopping for one another. That was good.
But it means an awful lot to have six wins and the Mopar paint scheme on there today, with Kasey doing his burnout there, the good Mopar parts in the motor because I heard it on the limiter pretty good. I know the motor guy was nervous. We were concerned everybody started to break motors at the end because the air was so good, the cars were making so much power that the motor started to break. But ours held up and the guys did a great job.
THE MODERATOR: Let's stay upstairs in the press box. Other questions.
Q. This is for all three of you. You can answer how you will. Do you take a chance at balancing or are you-- how tough is the balance between trying to make this car strong and go fast to try to win races and yet still try to be able to not step across that line and take a chance on putting yourself out of the Chase even though you are 160 back?
KENNY FRANCIS: I mean this-- you know, all the tracks are different. But this track here, as far as reliability, like I said earlier, it's probably the hardest track that we come to as far as load on the car and load on the parts. And then with the weather conditions we had today, this was the best air we had all year. The motors were making the most power they made all year.
So we had to make some choices particularly with the right front suspension settings, err towards the side of reliability. The engine shop made some choice on their tune-up package that was towards the reliability side. And you know it all worked out.
We were-- you know, we really wanted to get better fuel mileage than we did. But they had to make the choice they had to make to make sure the engine made it to the end. So you definitely have to -- you just gotta try to use your best judgment, and every track's a little different.
THE MODERATOR: Let's come back downstairs. Question here.
Q. Kasey, is the bigger challenge that you got in the five races to go the number of guys ahead of you that you have to pass or the points that you have to make up?
KASEY KAHNE: Uhm, I mean from where we're at to first I think would be points. I mean that's a lot of points to make up when the teams are running -- or the 31 team's running as well as they are. But I mean really we're just -- we're having fun. We're doing everything we can to run up front. We've been doing that all year long. We've had some rough weekends and some great weekends, and this was a great weekend. Next weekend at Martinsville hopefully will be another one.
I mean, we ran awesome there the first race and had a problem late in the race. So looking forward to that. Looking forward to just keep trying to gain points and get ourselves back in the top five and at some point hopefully catch the 31. We just have to see how they run throughout the rest of the year.
THE MODERATOR: Next question right here.
Q. Kenny, were you anticipating not getting the fuel mileage that other teams got and when Elliott Sadler's engine broke were you concerned or were they doing anything different than what you are doing?
KENNY FRANCIS: We really didn't know what kind of mileage we were going to get. We had a little bit of struggle in practice. We only got one fuel mileage reading. I watched the weather in the Busch race last night, then they had a good idea what it was going to happen tonight. So they made some choices this morning to, you know, where we wouldn't get quite as good a mileage. Really didn't know what to expect. We just had to get our first few stops and see what we got.
Really wasn't quite as good as what we had hoped for. But, like I said, we didn't know what it was going to be going into it. The engine shop had to do what they had to do. I didn't know what other people were going to get. I didn't go around and ask anyone this week. Usually we all talk about that. But, you know, it worked out.
Was that all the question or was there another one? Oh, yeah, when Elliott broke. I didn't know what happened to Elliott. No one came down and told us. We were obviously concerned but I still don't know what broke. We were just hoping nothing happened to us.
THE MODERATOR: Question in the back.
Q. A lot of drivers tonight are saying who had good finishes like Jimmie and Kasey are expressing frustration about the fact besides that they finished well, Jeff Burton has been so consistent so ahead of the pack, finishing well every week. It's the same story every week I guess. As someone who has won three championships, could you talk about where Jeff Burton is positioned? He said tonight that I think-- he thinks his toughest competitions is own team, he is not looking at other teams. Could you talk about what that's like to be in the points race with five races to go and where he is?
RAY EVERNHAM: I can't speak for Jeff and what he meant by that. But what I think he meant by that is that they've got-- they're running well enough if they don't make mistakes, the likelihood of people catching them, it's just not gonna happen.
The thing that you are worried about is making a mistake that puts you back in the pack. We always talk about the point system punishes you more for dropping out than it does for rewarding you for doing good. That's what they've gotta watch. He hasn't had his bad race. You know, Mark had it, and now Jeff's had it, we've had it. You know, Jeff Burton's run really well.
What you gotta do is make sure that you don't do anything that causes that by making a bad call or having a part failure or something that's self-induced.
THE MODERATOR: Question in the back. Go ahead.
Q. Ray, seeing what happened at Talladega last weekend with Vickers and Jimmie, you having to start off this race with three of your drivers in the top five in qualifying, were you a little concerned or anything there? Did you give them any advice before the race started?
RAY EVERNHAM: We've talked about things, about what each's priority is and being teammates. But I'm really fortunate to have three guys, right now I think I've got the best group of drivers that I've ever had. They get along great, they're smart, they talk. I'm sure that Kasey and Scott talked before the start of the race. I really try not to get involved with it. I kid around and tell them, Look, whatever you do, don't run into one another, but you can race as hard as you want.
Unfortunately for Brian Vickers last week, I don't think that was intentional either, and I know that Rick's been through that before. Hopefully my cars are running good enough together, you know, we'll probably go through that. But I believe that, you know, that's just racing. And I try not to get in the middle of what the guys have got going on. I'm just thankful enough they're all professional enough and smart enough to work it out on their own.
Q. Kasey, with as good as your car was, was there any concern about making that final pass when you came out of the pit second to Jimmie? Were you pretty confident that was going to happen for you?
KASEY KAHNE: I wasn't real confident. I definitely knew we had a great car. But when Jimmie was out front early on, he was able to pull away from me. We were fighting a little bit tight at that point and Kenny made the car better after that. So I hoped everything went good. When the tires cool off, you have about three or four laps where they really grip well. And that was the best laps for me to go to the outside I felt. So I told myself I need to get him right now if I'm going to, and just went after him as soon as the green came out and were able to clear him.
I think we were pretty equal after about six, seven, eight laps. And I'm glad I went for it when I did.
Q. Kenny, how many pitstops did you guys make tonight?
KENNY FRANCIS: I have no idea. I just look at what's the next one (laughter). I really don't know. I don't know what was it?
KASEY KAHNE: A lot.
KENNY FRANCIS: Ten probably. I don't know.
Q. Kasey, three weeks ago you counted yourself out of the Chase. Two weeks ago, I did. Now I've got enough experience to know better, but this is your first time in it. Have you learned a hard lesson in never say never?
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah. I mean things happen. You're mad. You say, Yeah, we're out. But, I mean we're in it as much as anybody. I listened to Jeff Gordon last week. He did the same thing. And this weekend he said he still had a shot, which he definitely does.
You know, it's just tough to-- when you get out of a car, you have a problem early on or something goes on and, you know, you're frustrated and maybe you say the wrong thing. But I haven't felt like I'm out at all. When my head's been clear and I haven't just jumped out of my torn-up race car, I've thought we had a good enough team all season long that we can make up as many points as possible.
We just have to have good luck and other people have to have tough breaks. I mean, that's part of racing. It's up and down. We've definitely had an up-and-down season.
THE MODERATOR: Another question. Go ahead.
Q. Ray, was talking with Rusty Wallace after the race and he was wondering if this might be probably your biggest tire bill that you can ever remember with as many stops and as many tires as you went through.
RAY EVERNHAM: The one good thing about the tires here is every time we stopped we didn't have to put them on. So I kind of like racing at Charlotte on this tire. You don't really need as many of them.
Normally when you go to Darlington and places like that, you can run up the tire bill a lot. But actually the tire bill here is probably not gonna be as bad. I hope it isn't going to be as bad. Is it, Kenny?
KENNY FRANCIS: We probably actually bought more than we needed.
RAY EVERNHAM: All right.
Well, but they weren't changing tires on every stop. You know, the biggest thing was probably tire temperature. If you could keep the tires cool, you could still go pretty fast. Goodyear brought a real good tire here for this race.
Q. Since I asked Jimmie this, I'll ask you. Do you want to tell everybody else to stay home next year at the 600, just let you and him race each other for 600 miles and see who's best? Nobody's won here in four years but you two. What is about you two that makes you seem to have such a hold on this track?
KASEY KAHNE: I really don't know. I know Jimmie's always been great here. Before I was in Cup he was dominating this place and I was watching at home and thought that was pretty cool.
'04 we had a shot to win in the Mopar car. '05 I don't remember what happened. This year we've won two. So just feels good when you can race up front with Jimmie Johnson at this racetrack. You know you're doing something right if you are up front here.
THE MODERATOR: Question back here.
Q. Ray, what kind of lecture did you give Kasey after he said he thought he couldn't win the championship after not doing well, then after talking with you he kind of changed and said maybe he could? The other deal is, six wins, what is the magic of this team? What do you see between the two of them that's the big click?
RAY EVERNHAM: I don't think I lectured him. I think we had a couple tough weeks and just told him keep his chin up, control the part you can control, and try and win everything that you can.
You know, sometimes we get too focused on the things that we can't control and that brings us down, then we lose focus on the things that we can. And these guys have done a great job all year long and come a long way.
So just don't want to see him focus on a bad race or two or the 'would've should've could've's'. Anything can happen. In the beginning of the year, our goal in the beginning of the year was to win races, sit on poles and finish in the top five in points. That was our goal.
We've always-- I am not saying we can't or don't want to or aren't ready to win the championship. I'm just saying we set realistic goals, and we're on target to do that. To win six races in a season as a car owner, that's great. I mean I think I only had six or seven going into the year total. So I couldn't be more proud of where we're at.
Every year Evernham Motorsports grows. Every year it seems like we get a little bit closer to being one of the top teams in the sport. This year these guys-- I took kind of a lot of heat for what I doing changing and swapping things around. And, you know, we've stuck by the process that we put in place with the team director, the car director, the engineer. We've shifted some people around, teams, drivers, things like that. And in the end we're getting the results. So I feel good about that.
THE MODERATOR: Question right here. Go ahead.
Q. Kasey, talk about the six wins. I mean that's gotta be a huge deal for you. And the next two mile-and-a-halves coming up, Atlanta and Texas are two more tracks that you have already won at this year. Can you back those up as well?
KASEY KAHNE: I mean, the six wins is huge. You know, to come into this season with one win, one Nextel Cup win, and to get six more is unbelievable. I mean we've had a great season, had some really really good Dodge Chargers. And I thought when I won Texas that was my biggest win of the year. Then I came here to the 600, we won the 600, thought that was my biggest win ever. California was huge. It kind of gave us that little extra bit to get into the Chase, which was big for Evernham Motorsports.
And now to win another race here is awesome. I've just feel like having great race cars and working with Kenny Francis every weekend has been, you know, something that you don't always get as a driver. And that's what I have this year, is one of the best teams out there for sure.
THE MODERATOR: Right here.
Q. Kasey, even with your success on the mile-and-a-half tracks this season, Jeff Burton's been nearly as good with a bunch of top fives. With that in mind, how does the importance of Martinsville grow next week? Or does it change at all?
KASEY KAHNE: That's a really important, important track. When I first went to Martinsville, that was a tough, tough racetrack for me. I talked a lot to Ray, talked to Tony, Jeff Gordon, I mean there was a lot of guys that I tried to get information from and learn that track better.
We tested there a couple times the first year that I raced there. In '05 we had a second-place finish and this year we were running top three the entire race when we had our problems. So I feel like I've came a long way as a driver there.
You have to drive that place different than most of the racetracks we go to. And working with Kenny and Keith and the team that we have that runs the #9 car is really good because they always had Jeremy up front at that track too.
THE MODERATOR: Upstairs another question.
Q. Kasey, the six wins are great. You have said that. If you could, would you trade the six wins for one win or no wins and Jeff Burton's point lead?
KASEY KAHNE: Probably not. No way. I think the wins are awesome. I think we've had-- there's no way he could have had as fun of a year as we've had. We've celebrated six times. If he celebrates at the end of the year, that's great for them. But we've already celebrated six times and hope to do it some more.
So I wouldn't give up any of these wins. I hope we can keep winning. And if we don't win a Cup this year, then there's always the next few years. I got a contract with Ray for a long time. So we're going to have lots of opportunities hopefully.
THE MODERATOR: Congratulations, guys. Enjoy the victory.
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