NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Pocono 500
Topics: Pocono 500
June 8, 2008
LONG POND, PENNSYLVANIA
KERRY THARP: We have our race winner out there, Kasey Kahne, No. 9, Budweiser Dodge, for the second time in points racing this year, he wins. He also won the Sprint All-Star Race, but obviously right now he is on a tear. Kasey, talk about your victory out there today. It was a tough afternoon, a hot afternoon, and you persevered. Talk about that.
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, it seemed like the hottest race of the year. The track was hot. The lines, the grooves, my car was super, super good, our Dodge Charger, and it was just really fast. We got to work on it. We kept making small adjustments, and you could either go and get just a touch tight or a little loose or whatever. In those last probably 60 laps, we were a little on the free side, but the front was just really positive. On the front end, turns as good as that thing does, it was just fun to drive all day.
KERRY THARP: We have his crew chief right here, and this is Kenny Francis. And Kenny, what did it look like atop the pit box today?
KENNY FRANCIS: Well it was a long race. I got us in a pretty big hole there at the beginning of the race, just tried to take two tires, called off a four-tire stop and called a two-tire stop, and I thought I saw the tire changer out of the corner of my eye and didn't realize he had hit some lugnuts already in the front, and got us all the way in the back, 36 or something. And Kasey did a great job driving it back up through the field. We had a really, really good car, to be able to do that. It was pretty impressive to watch, really, for me. He didn't really adjust on it much, just a little bit here and there.
And you know, there at the end, I finally was relieved that we got back up front and were leading the race. And all kind of crazy strategy started happening, and I was like, "Man, what should we do now?" So I had to start thinking again, so fortunately it worked out.
Q. When your car is that good, when you drop down to 38th place with the mistake on pit road, is it easier for you to both keep your heads up and say, all right, this is no problem, we can make this up?
KENNY FRANCIS: Well, I was pretty down, pretty mad at myself. The biggest thing I was afraid of was if it was going to rain and we would not have time to get back up there. I figured if it went the whole distance, we would probably have time to get back up there.
Then after we made a restart and he drove it up into like the, I don't know, Top 15 pretty quick; I thought we were going to be okay at that point. I was a little bit relieved that we got back up there so I could stop kicking myself.
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, when I left the pits, I was like: "Great call, Kenny way to go, two tires," because we came out second and I was like, "man, perfect."
And then he was like, "Well, you're going to bring that back in, you've only got two lugs on the left front" or rear or whatever. I never really said anything. Kenny was pretty down and I was like, "Man, that's the way it is, we'll do what we can and get back up there and hopefully we will have no problems."
I was more worried about -- just when you're back there, you know, it's tough racing back there. It's tough racing all the way through these fields and 20 to 30, that's a tough spot to be because everybody is racing so hard.
So just getting through there, but I could pull off -- I could get into cars off of turn one, beat them into the tunnel and then I could pull under probably from 15th to 40th, somewhere in there; I could pull under somewhere into three and get on the old line and pass them.
So our Budweiser Dodge was just that good that I didn't have to run on that strip all day. Now, to run my fastest laps, I had to run on the strip but you know, it was -- I could go anywhere with it. And when you could go anywhere, you could go where the car in front of you is, and that made it a lot easier than I expected.
Q. So essentially, you're saying to Kenny, don't worry about it, and usually the crew chief is saying to the driver, don't worry about it?
KASEY KAHNE: I just knew how the car felt like and how strong it was. Once we got back to racing, that call at the end, when we Pitted, if we didn't pit when we pitted we would have been in the 20s, and we had a huge lead -- maybe not in the 20s but would have been tenth, somewhere around 10th.
So Kenny stepped right back up, made perfect calls the rest of the day. That call he made perfect was perfect. It just was he just could not see front tire changer in time. Everything was right but we had a little fumble there and had to go to the back and got it all back.
Q. Your pit on lap 175, how big was that toward the end of the race after the caution; you didn't have to pit then?
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, that was huge. That's what I was just talking about. If we didn't pit on 175, we wouldn't have been third on that restart. We would have been 10th or 11th and that would have been tough to get back to the front in that short amount of time.
So it was just a perfect call when we pitted. We didn't need to pit at that time, but Kenny did, because that was his plan. That was his strategy, and it worked out.
Q. How do you guys go in a month's time from being kind of so-so to having probably the fastest car in the circuit now?
KENNY FRANCIS: Everybody says that but we've been running good all year. Started off, ran really good at Daytona. Went to California, and we honestly had a car that could have had a run at the 99 in California. We had something messed up with the way we had the jack off and we didn't have the jack right all day, and ended up -- they could not get the tires off right, but we had a car with them that could one there, we had a Top-10.
Vegas, the guy had the walking death flew and we finished eighth. Atlanta we were so-so, ran 20th, learned some stuff.
And then you know, we had a good run at Texas going and something broke the splitter off of it, crazy.
And then we had a good run at Phoenix going and cut a right front tire and we had a good run at Talladega and led some laps and cracked the big one. We've had a really good season going.
We've stayed kind of quiet and nobody talks about us a lot, and that's fine with me. I'm sure Budweiser wants everybody to talk about it.
KASEY KAHNE: Til we start winning.
KENNY FRANCIS: Yeah, I feel like -- I felt like, anyway, and the whole company has been like, we are going to take this slow and steady and build it back up from where we are at, and we've still got a long way to go. We keep learning every week and we try to get better every week. It's tough sledding out there, for sure.
Q. How many lugnuts did the changer get off?
KENNY FRANCIS: We had three of them off. We definitely had to come off. If he only knocked one off we probably would have stayed out because the official didn't see it. (Laughter).
Q. I'm not quite understanding, because the beginning of race you were behind the 48 and had a tough time passing and the same old aero thing here and the aero thing that everybody else went through today and then you drop all the way back and you're able to just zoom up through the field. I mean, as difficult as the new cars seems to be as far as aero, I just don't understand, can you explain how you were able to do that at all?
KASEY KAHNE: You know what, I was -- at the start of the race, I was surprised how hard it was behind Jimmie, but the track was green. There was a little bit of rain last night. It wasn't quite as hot as it was later.
So, you know, I think just as the tires got on the racetrack, the rubber and the longer the race went, the cars just got more separated and they weren't -- Jimmie wasn't open there and he was fast, he was fast all day. We were just there. We were right on him and finally got a good run on him.
KENNY FRANCIS: You could see -- to me, there's no need to pass him at that point. I mean, just ride. You could see that the car was better. From where I was sitting, he's going to pass him eventually, so there's no reason to push it. Just ride it out and pass him when you can is what I saw.
KASEY KAHNE: And once I got back there, I had to.
KENNY FRANCIS: Had to go.
KASEY KAHNE: There was no waiting, we had to go. I don't know, it's just kind of -- it's difficult at times but when the car -- like my car was so good today, and the longer the race went, the hotter the track got, the slicker the racetrack got, the better our car got, so that just made it easier.
Q. Can you just talk about mind-set last year, was your confidence down at all ever, and just sort of talk about where you are now compared to last year.
KASEY KAHNE: As a driver, I didn't feel like my confidence was down. I went to the track every week and I felt like I was ready to win and ready to -- I went in with a good attitude.
But until I actually won this year, the All-Star Race, I realized that I think I was leaving a little bit out there and wasn't communicating probably like I should have been with Kenny and maybe I wasn't communicating quite as well as I have in the past.
So since then, I've done a better job, and it's just kind of like everything is clicking at the same time. I don't think it started at the All-Star Race. Like Kenny said, we've had good cars all year.
But the Charlotte test, I feel like we hit on some things and we had a great car at Darlington, until I run it into the wall. To me that was where it all started, the Charlotte test and Darlington, you know, we were hitting on some things at that point.
Q. Several of your competitors looked pretty much like ghosts after the race today because of the heat, obviously. You look relatively refreshed. Did you guys fight it a different way or are you in better shape or system work better? What was your view on the heat today?
KASEY KAHNE: I think our cars are good with heat. The guys work hard at the shop to make them as cool as they can underneath the seats and try to keep some that exhaust heat away from me. It was hot. I ran some different hoses today to try to blow on my chest and things that I do when it's hot. I felt pretty good all day. My heart from about lap 120 to the end was pumping pretty hard, I could feel it pumping, but it wasn't like I was overheating. I was just -- you know, I was pretty hot though.
Q. I know you're saying that you don't think it started at the All-Star Race, but after you won the All-Star Race, you said, hey, we want to take some momentum from that.
KASEY KAHNE: Exactly.
Q. Do you credit that at all, that you got that breakthrough win, and that it just got the ball rolling?
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, I definitely credit the fans getting us into the All-Star Race and the car that we had that night was awesome. That gave us the momentum. That gave the company, the excitement and the momentum that they needed, and myself, and that's when I personally feel like I started communicating better and I've done a much better job since then. I think we've hit on some things with the car. The car has been decent all year and we hit on some things at the Charlotte test that have also helped.
Q. What's going through your mind when you have that long extended stretch without a caution and everyone it pitting, there's different people pitting on every single lap it seemed like. What goes on in the mind of a chew chief then?
KENNY FRANCIS: Well, the biggest thing is, you know, you know it's going to cycle back. If there's no yellows and everything goes right, it's going to cycle around and you'll be right back where you were.
We were still running really good lap times. We were actually pulling away from some people that had put tires on. So it's kind of hard to make yourself pit, but the main thing you worry about at this track is if you don't pit, and then a yellow comes out, then you have to pit, and you know, ten or 15 cars stay out because they just pitted. So you end up losing your track, which is kind of like a road course.
So that's what we're worried about and that's what eventually happened. We pitted at like 175 and the caution came out two or three laps later, and it ended up getting the 99 and I think the 17, two right off the top of my head that I know got, ended up having to restart back deep in the field and really didn't do as well as they could have.
Q. You talked a little about it out there; would you talk about the significance of what it means to win here in Pennsylvania?
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, I lived in Pennsylvania for three months in 1999. That was the first year I moved to the Midwest and lived in Tower City for three months and just kind of up in the mountains and hung out and raised, I was running for Jones and Midas (ph) in the Sprint car, raced a lot and raced hard all over Pennsylvania.
So I just know a lot of the people around here and a lot of the racetracks, I raced at pretty much all the dirt tracks so it feels good when I come up here. It seems like there's always a lot of 9 fans and a lot of people interested in how our car does. When I was taking the pit out (ph), I saw a lot of people holding Budweisers up, which is pretty cool to have a sponsor like that that they can do that.
So to me, it's one of them places, I would say this is probably -- if we had a track in Seattle and Washington, that would be by far my home track, but as far as anywhere else, I would say that Pennsylvania may be the track that I've raced at more than anywhere else growing up that we go to. So it seems like there's more fans my myself and the 9 car here than some other places.
Q. What means the most to you about this win that you could point to? I remember when you signed the deal with Budweiser and everybody said there's going to be a lot of pressure on you, and I wonder, who called from you Budweiser -- I wonder if they have big corporate meetings where they are celebrating calling you, because you have had a string of wins for your sponsor.
KASEY KAHNE: About winning, this track, I think to me, we've ran good at Charlotte -- or ran really strong at Charlotte, and it was dark out. So to win here on the hottest race of the year, as far as I know, and three completely different corner on a big engine racetrack, I mean, to me, that's just a tough place. That's a tough track to win at.
You know, so this is one of them places that's really difficult to win at, 500 miles, hot, and then the corners. So to win here feels really good.
And with Budweiser, I was really surprised when I first saw it on ESPN that they wanted to come to the 9 car and that we would maybe have a partnership there. And then I started talking to them from there out, and now I get people sending me e-mails from Dave Peacock, who is way up at Budweiser to Shana and Brad and Tim. And there's so many people that when I get back to my bus, there will be ten Budweiser people that will have sent me e-mails, texts or called. It feels good. I don't think I've ever had a sponsor that's quite that into it and with so many people and it's a full team.
And when we do hospitalities every week, and we do a convention in Chicago where I bartended with Brandon Bernstein; that's stuff I never, ever would have done. And then we're doing that, and just the wholesalers and everybody out there, it's just a completely different team sponsor for me to work with and I enjoy it. It's as fun as any sponsor I've ever had.
Q. There's so much talk about reducing the length of this race before today, and of course with the tremendous heat, there was talk from Denny, in particular, about how hot the car is and stuff. Do you agree, and even as the winner, do you agree that maybe this thing should be reduced to 400 miles?
KASEY KAHNE: You know, it's so much different when you run and when you have a great car. And for us, we had to go to the back, so those 60 laps coming back to the front flew by. It just happened so quick.
So to me, it wasn't, I didn't think it was had a long of a race today but every 500-miler here in the past, I thought was way too long. So, I don't know; I just think however you run, how good your car, where you finish --
Q. And just looking forward, this thing is tightening up, this race, and you were on the bubble and now do you feel like, hey, from this point on, you're going to be right in there every week, and obviously you're going to have some bad weeks, but do you feel like it's yours for the taking now?
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, being 12th, 12th, 13, 14, the last month or two, or kind of all year, we've been in that area. So that's a spot that you as a driver -- I mean, you have to be on it. You know there's cars coming from behind. There's cars in front of you that you can pass or that are going to pull away.
So, it's tough. And the Chase is the main goal of the season. We need to be in the Chase and we need to be in there or Gillette Evernham Motorsports and everybody that's part of it. It doesn't matter if we're 20th or 30th, we have to finish the race and get all the points we can, and at the end of the day, hopefully we make that Chase. That's our goal. We're going to do everything we can to be in the Chase.
KERRY THARP: This is the 200th career victory in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for Dodge as a manufacturer, also a milestone for Dodge today.
Q. If you could think back a little bit to 2006 and how you felt the team was operating then and kind of compare to how you feel things have been going over the last month or so, just the similarities, or is it different?
KASEY KAHNE: Man, I think it's a little bit different. The team was really strong then. You know, everything, the communication, everything was there. But this car is so much different. What you look for in this race car and how you get it to go around the corner and things, I just think it's a little bit different now than it was then.
But I mean, the excitement, the momentum, the confidence, everything that you go to Gillett Evernham right now and everybody is walking around there with a smile on their face, and that's not how it was a month and a half ago are.
But that's probably how it was in '06. It's just good. Everybody is excited. I'm just glad I can be part of it and I'm glad that I'm with Kenny Francis and he can give me cars as fast as he did today.
KERRY THARP: Congratulations, Kasey, continued success and we'll see you next week. Great win today.
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