NASCAR Media Conference
May 19, 2009
HERB BRANHAM: Good afternoon again everyone. Welcome to Part 2 of today's NASCAR Cam Video Conference. I guess you could call it a doubleheader. It's in advance of the 50th running of the Coca Cola 600. That's set for Sunday at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina.
Joining us for today's second NASCAR Cam Teleconference from the NASCAR Research and Development Center in Concord we have the defending champion of the Coca Cola 600, Kasey Kahne, who drives the No. 9 Budweiser Dodge.
Kasey's currently 16th in the Sprint Cup Series points. He's only 66 out of 12th place, 12th is the cut-off position, of course, for qualifying for what we call NASCAR's Playoffs, the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Last year, May was really, I guess you could say, magic for you as you won both the All-Star Race, then came back the next week and won the Coca Cola 600.
What's the outlook for you and your team as you try to defend your title in the 600, NASCAR's longest race?
KASEY KAHNE: It's really exciting to be back to Charlotte for the 600. It's always a really good weekend for our team. And for myself, we ran well in the 600 a few different times. So looking forward to it.
Excited about having a new car and working on the engine and everything to be better. And I think this should be one of our better weekends we've had so far this year. So everything's good.
HERB BRANHAM: Questions?
Q. Jimmie Johnson was talking about a while ago during his couple of years of dominance at Lowe's that they found things that, for example, he was able to get through 3 and 4 quicker than anybody else. He found a way through there and he could pass a couple of cars a lap sometimes through there. And he also said that he thought the 9 car may have found some things in recent years. Have you guys found an edge at Lowe's? And also does the All-Star Race last week indicate to you that you may have lost some of that edge, or you just didn't get an opportunity to show it very much last Saturday night?
KASEY KAHNE: I would say on the years that we ran really well here, we definitely had an edge. And it's mainly been in 3 and 4 for myself, too. I always worked really hard on that corner to get the car through there like I want it to. Let it make it handle the way we want. We do all that in practice.
At the All-Star Race, we didn't have a bunch of time to really figure the car out like we wanted to. And we had one run in the All-Star Race where I felt we were one of the better cars. But the other two or three runs we weren't.
So it will be nice to get some more practice Thursday with qualifying and then also on Saturday, where we really worked hard to get that feeling back in the car we need.
And I know what the feeling is. So it's good when you know what you're looking for. And whether we hit on it or not, that's up to us and the communication that we have that weekend.
But I think we have a good shot at hitting on something and running pretty strong at Charlotte.
Q. Is 3 and 4 more important than 1 and 2? And if so, why?
KASEY KAHNE: I feel like 1 and 2 to me has a little bit more grip. So it's a little bit easier to get through. If you can get through 3 and 4, usually you're really fast in 1 and 2 also. If you can get through 1 and 2, doesn't always mean you'll be good in 3 and 4.
For me, I always work on 3 and 4 to make sure that's the most difficult corner. If you can make it work, hopefully you're really good in 1 and 2.
Q. This is one of the busiest race weekends of the year, obviously the Indy 500, F-1 at Monaco, World of Outlaw running a couple of races over the weekend. Fans always ask: Which race should I watch? What do you think? Why should they be watching the Coke 600 this weekend?
KASEY KAHNE: I would say you should be in Charlotte, because with the Outlaws and the Nationwide race, the 600 on Sunday, it's a weekend full of racing, and exciting racing at that. I just enjoy the weekend here. The weather's usually good.
Charlotte's a great city. And I think this is one of the weekends it's fun to be around NASCAR. And I watch Indianapolis on TV throughout the day on and off as I'm running to appearances and things. Indianapolis is also exciting.
But I really like Charlotte and the way that the race is ran down here throughout Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Q. In reference to that, you get to observe your sprint car team this weekend while you're busy also. How does the team ownership affect you and your role as a driver at the top level in NASCAR?
KASEY KAHNE: It gives me a little bit more to think about. You know, I have my cousin Willy who has raced with me since I started and he's a big part of Kasey Kahne Racing. So he helps out a ton there and hopefully everybody works well together and I don't have to worry about it as much as just making sure they have an opportunity to get the right parts and engines and things like that.
And when they're close to a Cup track, it's always nice to get out there and just hang out with the guys and relax and watch what they do each week. And it's a tough series. So for them to run really well in it, it definitely makes me feel good.
Q. Did you think that running in sprint cars is maybe one of the best ways to advance to the top level?
KASEY KAHNE: I think sprint car racing, I think dirt and pavement, is a great way. I think there's lots of options. People, kids and adults, they come through all series anymore, I think, to get that experience.
The biggest thing to me is just being able to adapt track to track, surface, type of race car, tire, engine size. I mean, all that stuff. If you can adapt through all those types of race cars, whatever type of car you're racing, when you get to the Nationwide or Truck series, hopefully you can adapt to that also.
To me that's the biggest thing, just being able to adapt and learn fast.
Q. Talk about your season overall this year and how you feel the team has progressed from where they were last year to now, the four-car outfit.
KASEY KAHNE: I feel like everybody's worked really hard and they're trying hard. I think engine-wise we're still in the same spot as we were last year. Our cars are getting better each week. They've built some really nice race cars, Dodge Chargers, over the last month. And I'm really happy about that and how hard the guys have worked and tried to build one of the best cars on the track.
So that's a huge deal there. But performance I would say is very close to where it was last year. And we need to keep working on that and picking that up. And when we get the R-6 for Dover, I think that's going to be a big help.
I think that engine runs really well. If you look at the way Penske has ran this year. Hopefully we get that and that will really improve and show how good our cars really are.
Q. As a follow-up to that, can you talk about the change in leadership that's coming up?
KASEY KAHNE: This was a change, with Foster coming back, he's been working with Montreal Canadiens, one of the sports teams. He's back now to be more day-to-day on the Cup side. It's good. I'm glad that Foster decided to do something different. No, Tom Reddon decided to do something different, and Foster is now kind of taken that position over.
To me he'll do a better job. He'll be more in the middle of things and understand. He's good to work. You understand what Foster's talking about. And the guys respect him. And I think he definitely respects what everybody does and how they run their jobs as well. So hopefully it will make us better.
Q. Good team chemistry between a driver and crew chief. Very important for success. Is good chemistry between a driver and the crew or driver and the team owner also important?
KASEY KAHNE: I think it's important to have good chemistry between everybody. I've always worked hard to have a good relationship with all the people I work with from all sides. Whether it's the engine shop, the guys building the chassis, the guys building the race cars. I think we have that. We have a great team. We all get along really well and enjoy being around each other on the race weekend.
So I think all that is good to have. It's something that you need if you want to win races and win up front. And then the crew chief also. You have to be able to get along and understand what, in my case, Kenny Francis is saying. And he understands what I'm saying and talking about and be able to figure problems out quicker.
I think we have that. Sometimes we get behind a little bit. But Kenny's always the guy we go to, and he seems to figure it out and make us run well not too long after that.
Q. Could you talk about the engine?
KASEY KAHNE: I think there's definitely something there. The engine is supposed to be a lighter engine, the way they've built it. They put some time into it. And it should be able to run a little bit cooler which creates more take on the front of the car, which creates more down force, and it's supposed to run better. The torque should be up a good bit.
You watch, when I start around, say, David Stremme or Kurt Busch, Sam Hornish, as they come up through the gears, their engines really go hard compared to ours through that area, through that range.
And in the past I haven't felt like Penske's ever been better than Richard Petty Motorsports Engines. So I think once we get that R-6 engine it will help our torque curve. The horsepower will hopefully be a little better also, but I think it's getting to that point where that engine's going to be a lot better.
Q. Could you talk about that extra 100 miles? Do you like it? Do you dread it? Is it a help to you? Is it a hindrance? And also Jimmie was talking about some things that he does. He said, for example, he has to eat during the race. Do you? And could you just kind of talk about it overall and what you do to work on that extra hundred miles?
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, when Ray was still around, he passed me in, I forget what it was, a Power Bar, some type of bar during one of the cautions about halfway through the race. First year I got it, I put it aside, I didn't feel like eating. And the second year he said, "Just try it, just do it." And I ate it, and it was night and day how much better I felt for the next 100, for the final 100 miles of the race.
And so I think, yeah, having something there, 400 miles in or so, plus the water and the Gatorade and the things you're drinking throughout the races really helps just being in the car for five and a half hours.
Other than that, it's just a normal race to me. We have to go through a lot of things with usually starting it's sunny out and hot and track temp is way up. When it ends, it cools off, track temp is down. There's a lot more grip on the track.
To be able to keep up with the race track and your race car by making the right adjustments throughout the race is key. And I think if you feel better and are comfortable and giving the right feedback, everything will get better. So, yeah, having something on one of those pit stops isn't a bad idea.
Q. So the extra 100 miles is no big deal to you then, one way or the other?
KASEY KAHNE: To me it's really no big deal. 500 miles is a long race. You find that out at Darlington and things like that. But at the end of 500, I was ready to go another 100 at Darlington also.
So you're prepared. You're ready. We do this enough that throwing in an extra 100 miles just makes for a little bit longer night but it doesn't necessarily affect me in any other way.
Q. When you mentioned adapting being basically the most important thing to help you excel, any driver to excel to the top level, some fans are under the impression that race car drivers are fearless. Is it experience overcoming the fear, or are you guys just really like us but you work harder at it or something?
KASEY KAHNE: No, I think that everybody's different. When I got in my first sprint car, do you want to go wide open or not? It's up to you.
And it's the same with anything. If you want to go fast, you can be fearless and go as fast as you want. I think the experience is a huge part of it at this level. More times than not, if you are a little bit on the fearless side you'll be in more wrecks and make the wrong decision too many times, which doesn't help you either.
So I think you have to not be scared of speed and want to go fast but at the same time you definitely need to get the experience and be under control and be able to adapt to each car that you're in and each racetrack surface that you go to.
Q. With you currently sitting in 16th place right now, and with an eye towards the Chase for the Cup, when do you really start to feel the urgency or the pressure to qualify for the post-season, or is it pretty much just something you feel all the way through the season?
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, I think you need to feel it all the way through. It needs to be on your mind in every race, just getting as many possible points as you can. And we're 16th. Seemed like we were in the top 12 a little bit earlier in the season. We've dropped some lately.
But from where, we ran I feel really good being only 60 points out of 12. So if we keep picking it up, keep getting better, like I feel we should and that we will, I think we're still in a fine position.
I think it gets another month or two into it and you're 60, 70 points out of 12th and you have to start really figuring out how you get those points. But right now I don't really feel like there's too much more pressure. You just have to make sure that we get each point that we can each week, finish all the races and keep getting our cars better and faster.
HERB BRANHAM: Thank you.
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