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NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Toyota/Save Mart 350

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Stock Car Racing Topics:  Toyota/Save Mart 350

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Toyota/Save Mart 350

Kenny Francis
Kasey Kahne
Richard Petty
June 21, 2009


SONOMA, CALIFORNIA

THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by our race winner and crew chief, Kasey Kahne and Kenny Francis. This is Kasey's first road course win, his first victory since Pocono in June 2008. Kasey, open up, talk about winning here at Infineon Raceway.
KASEY KAHNE: It feels great. With myself, I've had issues here in the past with finishing anywhere on this course, so to qualify good the last two years here, three years here and then race really strong today was the first time that I've been able to pull that off.
Working with Kenny Francis, Keith Rodden, our engineer, and our whole Budweiser team did just a perfect job today. Our car felt great. It turned awesome, it had great forward drive, and I was able to race with some of the fastest guys throughout the race, and we were able to win. I'm excited as can be to win a race at Infineon.
THE MODERATOR: There was some interesting strategies going on out there on Pit Road. Take us through what you saw on top of the pit box.
KENNY FRANCIS: There was a lot going on there. With this new tire Goodyear brought it was a lot different complexion of racing than it's been in the past, and you kind of had to decide what to do with your tires and whether to come get tires or stay out there a couple times during the middle of the race.
The fuel strategy is always an issue here with can you pit early and make it all the way, or do you risk the cautions or do you come in when you get your window. But we played it. There was a stretch there in the middle of the race where we were in the about the middle of the pack and the fuel thing hadn't cycled out yet so we elected to come get tires, and I think that was probably the key move for us for the race. We drove up through the field on the tires and got up near the front, then when the pit stop stuff cycled out we were right there in the front.
So it all worked out. We didn't know what was going to happen. We were sitting on the box and had no idea how it was going to work out. We said, we'll try to stick to our plans, hit our window that we're wanting to hit and hopefully it works out, and it did luckily.

Q. Kasey, you won with Evernham Motorsports and Gillett Evernham Motorsports and now Richard Petty Motorsports. Does it feel like all those wins were with the same organization? Does it feel any different now, especially with Petty being there?
KASEY KAHNE: Well, really it feels like it's the same thing. Being in the same shop, racing with the same guys, I know so many people at the company, at the organization now, and over the last six years it's been crazy to stay at a place and enjoy it like we have.
To see Richard Petty in the winner's circle with us today, that was big. That was a neat deal, and excited to see him up there. I don't think coming in today he expected the 9 to win. I don't know if anybody did.
You know, I think that was really cool to see Richard in victory lane with us, and it's a big deal. Richard Petty Motorsports is a great company, and we keep building and trying to make it better and stronger, and Kenny Francis is a huge part of that. So I'm happy driving cars that Kenny works on, that's for sure.

Q. There was five restarts there in the last 20 or so laps, and you had Stewart on your side every time. Knowing he's such a great road course racer, what was your strategy trying to hold him off?
KASEY KAHNE: My biggest thing was don't spin the tires, work on getting into Turn 1 there and just being beside him at the top of the hill and hopefully hold him off there. A few of the times we were able to jump the start and beat him into 1 no problem. So that was -- it was tough.
That new restart deal is tough. For the last three weeks I've been -- I think every weekend I've had some good ones and some bad ones as far as the restarts go. Today we were able to pick where we wanted to be, and it worked out really good for us, and we were able to hold him off.
But yeah, two to go, another restart, I was like, I can't believe this.
THE MODERATOR: We're now joined by team owner Richard Petty. This is Petty's first trip to victory lane since 1999. That was John Andretti at Martinsville. If you can just open up and tell us what it's like to be back in the winner's circle.
RICHARD PETTY: It has been a long time, but when we joined with the Gillett crowd in the fall, I guess, or spring this year, wintertime, we knew they had a good team. So we just brought in three or four different people and trying to look at things different. But there's not a whole lot of changes. We've got the same cars and the same crews. You change a few people, but they've got a good organization.
It was a winning organization, and I happened to get involved in it, and hopefully we can make it a little bit better from time to time.
You know, after watching today and watching the guys run and having two other cars in the Top 10, this just really made us feel good because we've run good enough to win a couple or three races, but circumstances just haven't been on our side. Today it really looked bad to begin with because we got two of our cars, one of them had trouble and they had to come in the garage area, and the other two got a lap down, not no fault of their own, but it just happened. They was able to catch it back up and run 7th and 10th. So from Richard Petty Motorsports it was really a good day.
I think going in on Monday morning, I think all of us will be welcomed home a little bit more than what we have been for the last few weeks.

Q. Kasey, I think I heard you say a day or two ago that this sort of racing went against the grain of everything you sort of knew about being a race car driver and yet you held off one of the best road racers in the business. How did you do that?
KASEY KAHNE: Well, the way I learned how to race, I didn't do the go-karts, I didn't do a lot of the road racing things or any of it. To me this is a lot different. But it's also my sixth year in the Cup Series driving these cars on this type of a course. You just learn, you get better. The experience is something that you can't beat.
I think that was the key to what we did today personally, just the experience and where I've been in the past and how I remembered things, mistakes that I've made and how to not make those mistakes today. To beat Tony, we had an unbelievable car. The Budweiser Dodge was really quick. The restarts we were able to hold him off.
The key spots, there's a couple spots on the track where you can pass really, 7 and 11, and if nobody makes a mistake, those are the spots you pass if you've got a quicker car. Well, I was really good leading up to those spots, and Tony was a little better in 11 but I was good all the way to 11 so he wasn't close enough. I worked on some of those spots throughout practice, and it just paid off today.

Q. For Kasey, as you say, your track record, at least coming into this weekend, might not have indicated you as a contender for the race, but do you feel like in the past it's just been some misfortune and that you've been getting progressively better, or has there been a particular turning point in terms of the road course experience and feeling like you've mastered it?
KASEY KAHNE: I haven't mastered it, I know that. I think I've definitely improved as a road course driver every year. This year we went to Road Atlanta, and I think my second lap was faster than -- second or third lap was faster than any lap we had ran all of last year. To me I think maybe I'm a little better because I can think about that stuff, but I think our cars are also better, working with Kenny and our whole Budweiser team.
There's a lot of things that go into any win on the Sprint Cup Series, and I think you need an awesome car. We've spun the tires really bad here in the past. We didn't do that today. The tires were under the car throughout the race, and it turned really well. I had no brake issues today, and we've had brake issues in the past.
I don't know if it's driving, the car handling better, you don't use as much brakes, that kind of stuff, but everything really played in our favor today, and that's why we're sitting here.

Q. How many different types of restarts did you have in your pocket, and was the last one the slowest one?
KASEY KAHNE: Actually I don't remember the last one. There was about four or five there, and I was just trying to think of ways to get the start. My car's first gear was better than Tony's and I was able to get to the throttle quick. Do not spin the tires, how can I not spin the tires, and I had the lane choice, and that lane choice was the spot to be for us.
I didn't spin the tires. I think that was key. If I was going slow on that final one, I didn't even know it. It was just the way it happened.

Q. Can you talk a little bit about -- obviously last year's race was disappointing. How much more confidence did the qualifying effort and also yesterday's practice give you going into today?
KASEY KAHNE: Well, the qualifying was key to starting up front, having a good pit stall, which the pit stall isn't really critical here because everybody pits at different times it seems like.
But you just feel good at the end of Friday, and the team feels good. We went into yesterday, we made a lot of little adjustments throughout practice, and our final run on the racetrack was our best run, and I was really comfortable with what the car was doing for about seven straight laps, and practice got over and we didn't make a change. And today we didn't make a change throughout the race. It was just having a really good car, hitting on it right at the end of practice and running that throughout today.

Q. You've gone through a lot over the last -- even the six months that you've been with RPM or I guess regrouped with RPM. There's been a lot with Dodge, you guys fired your CEO, all kinds of little things to get to this point and the recent layoffs. When you pull everything together, do you feel like it's just a tighter, stronger organization?
RICHARD PETTY: You know, I hope it is. That's what we set out to try to accomplish. But it was one of those days. Everything fell together, okay. The car was good, the crew was good, they made really good strategy on making their pit stops, the whole deal. And it was one of those picture-perfect days. They did everything exactly what they needed to do to win the race.
You get maybe three or four of those chances a year, that's really -- you might win more races than that, but a lot of times you've got to overcome other circumstances. But they had everything lined up. You know, what can you say; when everything goes right, and that's basically what it was today. Hopefully it's the beginning of something else, but it's just another day. We've got to get ready now and go to New Hampshire and back this one up.

Q. But you had three cars in the Top 10, so it wasn't a fluke for the organization. The organization was strong.
RICHARD PETTY: The cars were good. They come off the trailer pretty good, all four of them, and they practiced good. A couple of them didn't qualify too good, but it was one of the better -- probably the best race that we've been to as far as all four cars working together. You know, I don't know what kind of setups they had. They probably had it a little bit different. But the basic cars were all the same cars.
A couple of them, they got a lap down and was able to make the lap up and then was able to drive up through the crowd. Of all year long, probably this was the best our cars have been as far as being equal to each other.

Q. Richard, do you have the same feeling of accomplishment as you did ten years ago, or is this kind of win No. 1 and new life?
RICHARD PETTY: I guess this is win No. 1. Really I'm involved, but I am not as involved as I was when we used to have the place at Level Cross, North Carolina. And then when we moved to Morrisville last year, it kind of got away from it. Moved over here to Statesville, and it's a little bit different territory because they already had everything, the system in place. They've changed a few, or we have changed a few of the systems, but the basic deal is just a continuation of what they've been doing.
After you look at today, it looks like they've been doing pretty much what they needed to do. Again, this is just one race. So now we've got to go back and say what did we do, did we do anything different, and if we did we've got to do this again next week.

Q. Do you feel as much a part of this as you did the ones ten years ago?
RICHARD PETTY: Yeah, oh, yeah. It's the kind of a deal that after I quit driving in '92 then I was not involved in the cars near as much, and over a period of years you got to be more of an owner than you was a mechanical deal or telling the drivers what to do or whatever. So you'd usually give it up to the crew chiefs and the drivers to do what they want. They can go to the engineers, figure out what it is. So all they want me to do is bring in money so they can go racing (laughter).

Q. Kenny, you were trying to get him calmed down, I guess, because I never heard Kasey on the radio, I just heard you telling him not to mirror drive, to watch his marks, to keep the tires. Was that just the big thing today because neither one of you really expected to be in this position because you didn't even know where victory lane was? I mean, was that what you were looking to do at the end?
KENNY FRANCIS: Well, there's so many factors that go into this, but one thing, I was trying to keep myself calm because I didn't want to get excited and get him excited and get him to make a mistake. We were leading the race at Darlington, I don't know, about six races ago, and I noticed myself getting kind of excited and kind of -- I thought, man, I've won a lot of these races, I shouldn't be acting this way. Today I was really making a real conscious effort to remain calm and just try to be level and keep him calm and keep him focused.
Like I say, there's so many factors that go into this from the fuel mileage and the tires and stuff like that, but we were -- we weren't very confident going into the race because of the fuel mileage situation, and we kind of worked on it all through practice and couldn't get it sorted out.
You know, the motor guys had a really great package, and like he said a minute ago, the thing really pulled good and didn't spin the tires and stuff, but they had to really put their heads together, Bill Pink and Tommy Chandler and Mark McArdle came in overnight and completely rebuilt the carburetor. We hit our number we were looking to hit on our fuel mileage, and I think if we hadn't we might have been in big trouble. Stewart and them only made it by a lap before they were in trouble on the last caution that came out.
If we hadn't have got our carburetor right, we wouldn't be sitting here today. You've got to put a big kudos to the behind-the-scenes guys that made that happen.

Q. Did you have any input or did you guys discuss at all if Kasey was leading whether you'd start from the inside or outside, and was that all Kasey's decision?
KENNY FRANCIS: I mean, it's definitely all his decision. I thought the right side would be better because I thought I had seen on an earlier restart that the left side got jammed up a little bit. You know, but boy, it was hard to figure out which side you wanted to be on because it switches -- you're turning left for two turns and then turn right basically. Man, I just kept thinking, man, I don't want him to end up out in the grass on the left side coming off of 2. I thought that was probably the best idea, and I guess it worked out.
KASEY KAHNE: Kenny actually -- they said, "Where are you going to start?" I'm like, "I'm thinking the inside." Kenny is like, "Are you sure? I'm thinking the outside." And then Kenny said -- and my spotter was thinking the outside, also. I had seen Kyle Busch get the start on the inside, but it was close. And Scott Speed, I beat him on the outside, and he actually started the race on that one.
Then I got to thinking about it more, and I thought, I'm going to go with what Kenny said here, I think that's a bet iter idea. Then Kenny told me, "Don't listen to me, you do what you want to do." I said, "I'm going with you, that's what we're doing," and it worked. I wasn't going to change. We had five or four of them there. There wasn't a chance of me swapping it up at that point.
It worked out perfect, and I'm glad that we talked about it and figured it out.

Q. With where Pit Road is, did you choose inside or outside?
KASEY KAHNE: We chose the outside, went with them.

Q. Kenny and Kasey, you guys had been in the news for the wrong reasons lately, for the questions about Dodge and Chrysler's bankruptcy, Kasey being vocal about wanting a new motor, layoffs, salary reductions. Can you talk about what a much-needed boost this is to the organization, and do you think it shows, hey, we are stable, this is a stable race team, and we'll maybe put aside everybody wondering, hey, what's going on, are they going to make it, are they really in more trouble than we think?
KENNY FRANCIS: Well, everybody knows it's definitely tough times right now economically. I think everybody is feeling the pinch on that, and you've got to look at -- I don't really get involved on the business side at all, but you've got to look at all the expenses and what income you've got coming in and what you've got going out, and you've got to make that work.
So all that -- what we've tried to do is not let that distract us. It's been difficult, really, to be honest with you, to not let that distract us. There's a guy that sends it to Loomis actually every Monday, a statistical report of each race. He does an excellent job on it. Dodge has him do it. And throughout all that, since Darlington, you look at his report every week, and we're a top-five car, top-five car, top-five car, and we just haven't had the result, but we've been there every week.
So I think it just shows that we're fighting hard and we're really trying hard, and we think we're making some headway. I felt really good about how consistent our cars have seemed to run relative to the field the past month and a half. So we're -- I'll tell you, somewhere in March there we weren't running like we wanted to run, and we certainly changed some stuff around and made some stuff different, and it's picked us up.
We've been working hard. Sometimes you don't see it, but today it finally paid off.
THE MODERATOR: We're going to let Kenny go. Congratulations, Kenny.
KASEY KAHNE: I would say that the times are tough, and there's a lot that goes on to make these cars show up at the racetrack. To see the fans out there today and to be able to win a race is pretty awesome for myself and for our whole company.
I think what it shows is early in the year, to me, it seems like we started behind a little bit, and they let -- they gave these guys that work at Richard Petty Motorsports a chance to go out and build some better race cars, some better engines and work on the setups and work on a lot of things, and it's paid off since the last month and a half.
Today was just kind of a bonus of winning a race and showing how much it has paid off and that we do have a lot of really smart, really good people that work super hard. It feels good to be able to win a race and show them our thanks, and show them that we definitely appreciate what they do.
RICHARD PETTY: From a financial end we'll be there next week. We've got enough money to get to the next race (laughter).

Q. Kasey, I was reading earlier today that when you first started racing on the circuit that you looked up to Tony Stewart as kind of a role model. So assuming that's true, what did you see in him and what qualities did you admire?
KASEY KAHNE: Well, as a kid and then getting to where I'm at right now, just watching Tony adapt to every type of racetrack, to every kind of car that he drives, from dirt to pavement, road course, it doesn't matter what he's in; if he's driving it and has control of that car, he's going to be fast. That's what I've always liked the most about Tony Stewart.
You know, so I've paid a lot of attention to what he does as a driver and how he does certain things under caution and what he does on the racetrack. You know, you can learn from those types of guys.
You know, to race with him like we did today and be able to win our first road course race feels great. I won my first oval race battling Tony the same way at Richmond in 2005. You know, it's kind of crazy how things happen. One of your favorite drivers, you get two of your probably biggest wins against. It's exciting for myself. It's good to race with a guy like that. He came in victory lane and congratulated our whole team. That's the kind of guy he is.

Q. Richard, two-part question. One, what do you think of the double wide restart? And two, would you have liked to have done that in your career?
RICHARD PETTY: You know, from the spectator standpoint, it probably causes a little bit more excitement on the deal. The overall deal that I see is that a lot of times on other kind of tracks, maybe not here, you get the first couple of cars, they've got lap cars on the inside, and a lot of times those lap cars are just about as fast or as fast as the outside. So you get the first two get gone and then the third, fourth, fifth place men get hung up by lap cars.
This makes for better racing really when you get right down to it. You don't mind seeing a caution flag now because you know that when you start you're going to start up front. A lot of times before you'd be sixth or seventh, which is 10th or 12th in the lineup, and that really puts you behind.
I think from the drivers' standpoint and from the racing standpoint, I think it's going to keep a lot of our cars that are running somewhere close a lot closer, and I think it'll make for a lot better racing. This was a little bit different here, and we hadn't run any of the real short tracks yet, either. So we were fortunate starting at, I guess, Pocono, and it's wide open, and we went to Michigan and it's wide open.
It didn't really make that much difference here. Here it probably made a lot of difference because I seen the 48 car just knock the floor out of the 2 car in one of the restart deals. Luckily that was some of the biggest stuff.
Overall I think everybody sort of knew what was going to happen and probably watched it as much as they could.

Q. Richard, you had a lot of lean years when it was still Petty Enterprises. Did you ever think, I may never get to victory lane again?
RICHARD PETTY: No, I'm a hard head. That's the reason I keep coming back. The same deal that I run into when I drove the car, okay. I drove, and I won in '84, I guess, and then didn't win anymore. When it finally dawned on me you're not good enough doing your job to win any more races, so you'd better get out.
But this is a little bit different because you've got to figure that here it's a team. Of course it was a team when I was driving, and I wasn't carrying my end of the deal. But when you've got drivers like we've got now that's carrying their part of the load, then it's up to me to push the mechanics or push everybody to give these guys the very best that we can give them. And when we give them the good stuff, then they're going to run good.
Again, I'm a very optimist (sic) person. Just because we didn't do it yesterday, that doesn't mean we can't do it today. Just like one of those deals that if we hadn't have won the race today, we would have went to New Hampshire and in my mind we would have won New Hampshire. But this makes it a little better going up there now.

Q. Richard, one of my photographers told me, and I have a hard time believing it, but you actually took a swig of wine in victory lane, and if you did --
RICHARD PETTY: Oh, yeah. That's the reason I like to come to Napa Valley. I got in a cave the other night, they had wine down one side in big barrels and then they had wine down the other side. As we walked in I think we drunk something out of every barrel. That was a long deal.
It was straight, and when we got to the other end, and when I turned around, that dadgum cave was like that and like that (indicating zigzagging). It changed after I went up through it. It was straight going in, it wasn't too straight coming out (laughter).

Q. Kasey, you worked with Ray, now you're getting an opportunity to work with The King. What's it been like for you and what have you learned from him?
KASEY KAHNE: Well, it's been a lot different because when I came in and was working with Ray, initially I had no experience. I came in and Ray was a huge part of what I was doing off the bat. He was there, Bill Elliott, I talked to him on the phone, he would go to test sessions with me, and he was a big part of our 2004 season, those two guys.
Now it's completely different. I have a lot of experience, I've done a lot of things. But to sit down, myself and Richard, we sat down at Darlington for an hour and a half in his bus and just went over racing situations, people, just so many different things that I can sit there and somebody else I can learn from. I've always tried to, whether it was racing Sprint cars, moving up to the Nationwide Series, the Cup Series, I've tried to listen to the people that know what they're talking about for different -- I know how to drive a sprint car, but I don't know how to drive a Cup car, so let me talk to somebody who does and try to learn from them. It's nice to have those types of people, and that's what Richard is, just an awesome guy to have around and to be able to talk to and learn things from.

Q. Just talk about the big picture, three points out of 12th place now. How important is that?
KASEY KAHNE: It's really important. You know, the Chase is what we work for each year. The drivers, the teams, the sponsors, we have Best Buy and Stanley and Dodge, Allstate, McDonald's, Siemens, Valvoline, so many people that are part of our whole race team, and we need to have a car in that Chase.
Our Budweiser Dodge has been quick. We've been -- we're right on the verge. It's been like that a couple years now, and we need to make it. We need to figure out how to make the Chase and just be consistent. We've ran strong for the last six races, like Kenny was saying, top five, top ten material. Haven't finished there, but we've been there, and today we did. We're still that close to the top 12.
I think we have a great opportunity if we keep showing up and working as hard as we have been to make the Chase.
THE MODERATOR: Great race today. Congratulations on the win.



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