NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Coca-Cola 600
Topics: Coca-Cola 600
May 27, 2012
CONCORD, NORTH CAROLINA
KERRY THARP: Let's hear from our race‑winning driver. Making his 300th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start, he wins for the fourth time at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He wins his third Coca‑Cola 600. He captures his first win as a Hendrick Motorsports driver, Kasey Kahne.
Big night tonight for you and NASCAR. Congratulations.
KASEY KAHNE: Thanks a lot. It felt really good to put the entire race together and have speed all night long. Our Quaker State Chevrolet was really fast. The pit stops were great. The adjustments that Kenny and Keith came up with throughout the race were awesome.
It feels good to get a win for Hendrick Motorsports. It's something I've been looking forward to, for a year and a half, to drive for Hendrick Motorsports, to be teammates with Jimmie, Dale and Jeff. To put it all together tonight and get the win, it feels good.
KERRY THARP: We'll take questions for Kasey Kahne.
Q. Kasey, was there any kind of motivational thing in the back of your head, the celebration on Tuesday where all the drivers were up there, you were last man standing when all the drivers were honored? You weren't a part of that because of the circumstances.
KASEY KAHNE: Well, I wasn't part of that because I hadn't won a race for Hendrick Motorsports. They brought me up because I was part of the team now.
But either way, I was excited to be at Darlington and be in the 200th win picture after the race, celebrate with Jimmie Johnson, Mr. Hendrick, all the guys.
Being there Tuesday night and listening to the stories of all the drivers who had won, thinking about the history that lies at Hendrick Motorsports, how much Rick Hendrick, Linda have done for the sport, done for so many people, was pretty awesome.
I was super happy I was there and got to listen to those guys and be part of that. Great to win a race tonight and be part of the 201st win.
Q. You get this dream ride. Season starts out, couldn't have been more disastrous if you tried. What was your approach to handling the slump, not just for yourself, but for your team to get through it?
KASEY KAHNE: Well, I think the biggest thing for myself was just to figure out the cars, figure out how they drove. It's been a little bit different for me. We've had speed. Even the last five, six races we've been in the top 10, but not near as fast as Jimmie Johnson or a couple of those guys that have been winning the races.
I just knew for myself I needed to step up. Our team is solid. Our car is solid. Mr. Hendrick gives us everything we need to win races and run up front. Tonight we were able to put it all together.
But next week will be a new show. Have to figure it out again next week in practice. It's just tough. The competition is stout. It's hard to just move through the field and pass cars because everybody is so fast, the cars are so competitive right now, it makes it difficult.
But tonight we were able to kind of put one on them, had a car that was perfect throughout the last probably 200 laps, 150 laps.
Q. (No microphone.)
KASEY KAHNE: I never really doubted myself. I was upset at some of the things that may have happened. I made a huge mistake at Phoenix, hit the wall there. But other than that, we were solid, we were fast. It was just a matter of getting past those five weeks and moving on and putting some solid races together.
Q. Kasey, from the outside looking in, coming over with Kenny to Hendrick Motorsports, everybody thinks magic is going to happen right away. It just doesn't always seem to happen that way. Did anybody talk to you about you might need to have patience?
KASEY KAHNE: I went for it. Right when the season started, we went testing. Everybody seemed happy we were there. The relationships started with the drivers and the crew chiefs. I was having a blast. We had speed in all the practices. Then things happened in the race. So I was a little bit down on some of that stuff.
The good thing was, just kind of moving into Hendrick Motorsports, everybody was awesome to work with. For me, I can sit there and look at what the other guys are doing, how it's working for them, how it's not. I'm able to learn a lot from my teammates. I look forward to that for a long time.
KERRY THARP: Let's hear from Rick. General comments about the win, third straight week you've been up here. Great three‑week stretch for you.
RICK HENDRICK: I said this in our media tour. I thought we had the best balance. I was excited about the year, the way Kenny fit in. You've seen Kasey. I've seen Kasey drive. Knowing if we give him the equipment, he ran so good everywhere he's been, and over at Red Bull.
He got in the car and he did the same thing here. But he and Jeff both have had just rotten luck. I don't think I've blown a motor at Martinsville in 20 years. He was sitting on the pole, running second, and we lost the motor. It was, like he said, at Vegas last lap, third or fourth, Matt crowds him into the fence.
It's just been Daytona run all day, we get swept up in a wreck running top 10. I've been doing this long enough to know that if you have speed, if you can run up front, you're going to win races. If you're running 20th, you stretch gas mileage, you end up with a couple of 10th‑place finishes, you're not going to win running like that.
It felt like all along when the luck would turn, these guys would win races.
KERRY THARP: Rick, talk about the win at Darlington, Sprint All‑Star Race, now here in the Coca‑Cola 600. Quite a couple weeks for Hendrick Motorsports.
RICK HENDRICK: Yeah, I thought we weren't ever going to get the 200. We were in here the other day talking about it. You run well, but you just can't close the deal. A bunch of second‑place finishes. It's super competitive out here. If you make one mistake in the pits, you miss an adjustment, you can have a problem. These guys race so hard.
It's been an unbelievable week for us to get the 200th win at Darlington, then to come back and win the All‑Star Race. I thought Kasey had one of the segments, a photo finish with Brad. If he had won that race, he would have been up behind Jimmie. Dale ran a segment. Ran good tonight. I think we're showing the potential of the teams. I'm really looking forward to the second half of this year.
KERRY THARP: We'll open it back up for questions.
Q. On Tuesday, Rick, you kind of put the pressure on him, asking him if he's going to win the 600. Kasey said, I hope so. You told him that wasn't good enough. Kasey, you don't like to come out and say, Yes, I'm going to win. Rick, were you trying to turn up the heat on him?
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, I don't say too much. I'd rather just try to perform when it's time.
Yeah, Mr. H was on me that day to win tonight. It worked out. It felt good. It's been great. We were at Hendrickcars.com that afternoon, grand opening, having fun, that was nice.
RICK HENDRICK: I'm a big Churchill fan. His comments were, Sometimes your best isn't good enough, you have to do what's required. I had a coach pull that on Chad one day. Chad got up and said he was going to try to win the championship. The coach said, from Appalachian, Sometimes your best isn't good enough.
We kind of kid around with that. We were having a good time at the grand opening.
I did have a gut feeling about how I've seen him win over here, late at night in the All‑Star Race, finding that groove, and listening to Kenny tonight make the adjustments. He wasn't afraid when he's running first to make another adjustment, kept getting the car better and better and better.
Now you got to win Dover (laughter).
Q. Kasey, through the tough times, can you talk about how important it was to have somebody like Kenny by your side, considering the relationship the two of you have had over the last however many years.
KASEY KAHNE: It was really good. Towards the end of that, I got pretty down a couple times. Kenny is like, We've got more fast cars, we'll be fine. To me, he's never said anything to me like that before. He definitely wasn't fine with the way the season had went, but to that point he knew we had speed, he knew we were all working hard and trying hard. It just hadn't worked out to that point.
Myself and Kenny have got along great for, I don't know, five, six years now, five years. To work with him, to be able to kind of read each other, understand.
Tonight I started getting mad about my left front. I wanted to go one direction. He calmed me down and talked to me about going the other direction. I got thinking about it. That's the way we went.
It's things like that that he understands, understands that I get how I get once in a while. We make it through. We ended up winning tonight.
But, yeah, Kenny has always been great for me.
KERRY THARP: Speaking of Kenny Francis, he joins us now. Congratulations on the win tonight. It has to feel good to win the Coca‑Cola 600 driving the No.5 car for Hendrick Motorsports.
KENNY FRANCIS: Yeah, I can't believe it. To win here at Charlotte, this is our home track, in front of our teammates. I'm sure there was a bunch of people from the shop here watching tonight. They put a lot of effort in.
Like you say, the start of the season, we wrecked a bunch of cars. They had to work really hard to put stuff back together. But they always believed in us the whole time. It's been amazing the support we've gotten from not only our shop that bolts our cars together, puts our cars together, but the chassis shop, the engine shop, the guys that hang the bodies. Everyone had overwhelming support for us and never got down on us when we went through that stretch of a few bad weeks.
It's pretty cool to win here for our teammates, our home track.
KERRY THARP: We'll continue with questions.
Q. Kasey, after Jimmie won at Darlington, he presented Rick with a helmet with the drivers who had won the 200 races signed it. You obviously didn't sign that. Did that weigh on you? Maybe did that motivate you at all?
KASEY KAHNE: I wanted to win the 200th. I think Jeff wanted to win it, Dale wanted to win it. When Jimmie won it at Darlington, I was excited. I was happy. I was just glad to be in that picture, to be part of Hendrick Motorsports.
As much as Jimmie Johnson's done over the last five, six years, I think he was the deserving guy to win the 200th. It was good. It was great to be part of that.
But, yeah, I just know that the cars and the people that we have, that Mr. Hendrick gives us is everything capable of winning, everything we need. We just need to figure out how to do it.
Myself and Kenny, we've been off a little bit at times this year. I've been off trying to get the balance in practice, but we keep working at it, keep talking about it. Tonight we finally put it together. It all started yesterday in practice. We felt like we had a good car and were able to kind of do it right tonight.
Q. Kasey, I know your team owner is joking about winning every week. You're 15th in points with a win, and there are two people ahead of you outside the 10 with wins who are occupying the wildcard spots at the moment for the Chase. Do you feel to make the Chase it's still going to take another win? Do you still have any thoughts of trying to crack the top 10 or is it pretty much a wild card?
KASEY KAHNE: I think it's tough to say. But we're just going to stay after consistency. For the last six weeks, we've moved up in the points each week. We've been going in the right direction, doing things right.
I feel like if we keep doing what we're doing, hitting on things like we have been, to me Hendrick Motorsports has been as strong as anyone since the start of this year. Just the last three weeks, we've all been able to put some wins together.
We're going to try to get more wins. If that's the way we get in, great. If we race into the top 10, then that's awesome, too.
Q. Kasey, the flipside is the fact is that 15th place with 12 races to go in the regular season, 42 points out of 10th place is not overwhelming given the number of races left, and the fact that you have a win which is a key to unlock the Chase. So in two important areas you may not be in great shape, but you're in considerably greater shape than you were when the race began.
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, absolutely. The win's really big for us to make the Chase and to keep moving up in the points. I guess we're 15th now. So that's good.
But, yeah, you got to win. You have to win to make the Chase. If other guys do in the top 20, win more than one, we'll need to win more.
We just need to stay after it, keep doing the things we've been doing. As a team, our pit stops have been getting better each week, our cars have been getting better for race day, and that just goes to communication, working together. We're going to keep doing that same stuff.
Q. Kasey, with what happened tonight, you had a pretty bad pit stop with Carl Edwards that pinned you in. Could you explain exactly what happened and if that put fear into you?
KASEY KAHNE: We were running good. The car was fast at the time. We came in for two tires. Carl was pitted in front of me. He was further back. As the jack dropped for me, I went to take off, he came in. We both hit the brakes so we didn't run into each other. Just slowed us down. We fell back to sixth place. There was no contact.
At that point we were kind of the last car on two tires. Kenny was a little bit nervous that the cars behind us on four would get by.
It went green. I was able to drive to the front. We just had a really good car and were able to work our way out of it.
That's all it was. It ended up not being a big deal, but it could have been a disaster if we would have hit.
Q. Rick, there was a time when you had all four of your cars in the top 10. Did you feel that was any sort of sign that you guys are back where you want to be?
RICK HENDRICK: Yeah, you know, we've had several races that all the guys were up there. Until you finish that way, and I think we finished wasn't it 11th, Jimmie was 11th, that miscue, I think without that I believe he could have been second. I think looking at the lap times, no one was running with Kasey there at the end.
But, you know, this sport, like I said, is so competitive, you got so many good cars up there, you look at guys that have a bad night, if you can get four cars in the top 11 in this sport today, you're doing pretty good. All of them ran good at Darlington. We were good at Martinsville. We've had good races.
I think the proof's in the pudding. We've got to finish. We can't just run in the top 10; we've got to get them all in finish in the top 10.
Q. Kasey, last time you were in here, you swept both races. A lot has gone in your professional career since then. You were with Evernham, now you're driving a Hendrick Chevy. It has to feel good because it was tough with Evernham, not knowing what was going to happen with the team. You've now won with the top team. There has to be a part of you, when you walk into the complex the next time, you go in there now as a winner. You have to do a little fist pumping and be happy about that.
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, I'm definitely happy about that. Next time I go to the shop, coming off a win, it will be pretty special, it will be pretty awesome to do that.
The thing about the past is, you know, myself and Kenny, there's about four or five, six other guys, we went through all that stuff together. Whether we were changing teams, winning races, losing races, whatever we were doing, we all stuck together. We knew because we stuck together we'd be able to perform pretty well everywhere we went. We've always wanted more. We've always worked hard to get more.
Now driving for Hendrick Motorsports, hopefully we can do better than what we've done in the past. We stuck together. Maybe things didn't work out perfect at times. We still were able to win some races and enjoy what we did.
Q. Jimmie's miscue at the end, was that shocking, given the team they are? Does it speak to the nature of this race, the last stop, can't make any mistakes?
KENNY FRANCIS: It's definitely something you talk to the guys about. Everyone needs to try to stay in their routine, stay in their rhythm.
I didn't see exactly what happened on that stop, but I saw they had a miscue with a fuel can or something like that.
It was unfortunate. Without really knowing what happened, the fuel cans that we use now are touchy, difficult to get unplugged. They fit real precisely. I'm sure it was something they were trying to make sure the car was full, jack dropped, he took off, the fuel guy was trying to get that last half gallon of fuel in it, it didn't work out.
I hate to see that happen. Like I said, we had a shot at having all the cars in the top 10, and it didn't work out. The 48 ran pretty good all night. It just was unfortunate at the end that that happened.
Q. Kenny, can you speak to the kind of challenge this race is for a crew chief, given the changing conditions? Was the plan to make the car better at the end?
KENNY FRANCIS: You always hope you can make it better at the end. You never really know. You're kind of taking an educated guess at things and hoping they work out. If anybody knows it better than that, I don't know. That's all I know.
You just kind of look at each situation as it's presented to you and try to do the best you can and hope you're making the right call. Tonight everything worked out well.
We felt like we had a good car coming in. You have to get your car fairly close in practice, hope you have a good base to work from. If you've got that, there's probably five or six cars that have that, then it's all about hopefully you hit it right at the right time. It worked out for us tonight, for sure.
Q. Rick, talking to Kasey before the All‑Star Race weekend about the early part of the year, he said that he would get text messages from Jimmie Johnson constantly, talked to you a lot, that you were reassuring. What did you think how Kasey was dealing with the early part of the year?
RICK HENDRICK: Well, I could see that it was bothering him. A racer doesn't like to wreck a car or have bad luck. You could see it with Kenny, too. They hated to have those problems. When you can see, again, they had speed, I tried to reassure them, Look, we're in this for the long haul. You guys are running good. You just have to have some breaks. You can't help a guy cutting you off, putting you in the fence.
Kenny comes in, he's got a new group of people he has to work with, a pit crew he's got to get used to. They were making adjustments to the cars. That takes a little bit longer sometimes.
But I think my job is to try to reassure them that we knew that they were capable of winning races ‑ again, because of the speed. Kenny's helped our other guys, too. He brought some new ideas to our company that guys were trying.
So Kasey in debriefs tells the guys what he feels. He's got a real strong relationship with Jimmie and Dale and Jeff. I mean, that's one of the reasons we wanted these two guys there, was because we knew they would have an impact not on just the 5 car, but on all the cars, and they have.
Q. Over the 600 miles tonight we saw five cautions. Kyle Busch said it was because you have the 43 best drivers out there. Denny seemed to say it was points racing has changed it. I want your opinion on that. Is it one of those two things? Is it a lack of innovation that the crew chiefs have to play with? What do you think has led to so many green‑flag laps?
KASEY KAHNE: Myself personally, I remember when I came into the sport, just trying to figure out the cars, trying to keep up with the Hendrick cars, keep up with whoever was fast at the time. I would overdrive my car, go past where you can have that stability, make it through the corner.
These days, with experience, I don't do that near as often. I still can. If I do, I'd hit the wall, and I've done that. But I think it's just experience and really good drivers and teams. The cars drive awesome. The competition's so strong right now. Just everybody's working really hard. The drivers keep the cars under 'em.
Tonight I could have spun out several times and got loose because I just went a little too far with the throttle. I think you just get that feel. The longer you're in the sport, the better handle on the car you get.
Q. Rick, your leadership has been the hallmark of your organization for quite some time. Speaking with people in your organization, they really value your eye for talent. If you look back from win 199 to 200, the ensuing weeks, tonight you almost had all four in the top 10, if you look at your organization from a thousand‑foot view, do you think everybody was pushing a little too hard to get that 200th win and that may have been why it took so long to get to it?
RICK HENDRICK: Definitely the 200th win, we started talking about it way too early. We started talking about it right after 199. I've never seen so many situations get away from us. I think everybody wanted to win it. Everybody was thinking about what it's going to feel like when we get there. I know I did. All the guys individually wanted to win it.
I think that was a little added pressure. I felt a big relief after Darlington. I think everybody did. Now we kind of move on towards the goal now, really has been all year, is to be prepared for the Chase and try to get them all in the Chase.
When you got drivers that want to work together, crew chiefs that want to work together, respect each other, these guys here fit in like a glove. Everybody over there was excited about having them. When you see all the drivers came to Victory Lane tonight, it just shows that everybody's proud. The crew chiefs came in and congratulated these guys.
It's a big team with four cars. You have to work really hard. I can ask them to do it, tell them they have to do it. But they got to want to do it and have to see the benefit if it. But, again, I'm just super excited and really thank these guys for the contribution they've made to the whole organization.
Q. Kasey, about the green‑flag racing, when Denny and Kyle were in here, they were talking about how last year people learned you lose so many points because of a crash. They said people were driving in a style that wouldn't push it too much to get in a wreck. You've been in that position this year. I wondered if that changed your style a little bit after being put in this position, and if you weren't put in that position, would you have raced the first couple races a little differently?
KASEY KAHNE: I mean, you want to drive. Like, I just want to drive as hard as I possibly can. You want to go as fast as you can. I mean, that's just kind of the mindset that I have.
Your car controls how fast you can go, how far you can push it. If I was to keep crashing it, keep having issues, there's no way you're going to finish, make the Chase or anything.
I guess, you know, you have to be consistent in this sport. It's how the points are. You have to be consistent. You have to finish races. If you're crashing, you're not finishing, you're losing points.
So I don't know. The Chase is what it's all about.
Q. Kenny, in relation to the question about the points, obviously you've had to study the points through the years. Is there anything that much different from the last couple years with the old points system? I know there was talk when this new points system came out a couple years ago, it might hurt somebody greater if you had those poor performances. Do you see that? This climb up to 15th, is it what it would have been like in any other points system or has it been more challenging or difficult?
KENNY FRANCIS: I don't really study the points that close. I think it's similar to how it used to be. Some of the details are different. It rewards a little bit more when you get in the Chase. If you can win some races, don't have enough points, you cn still get in the Chase. It might change your approach to some races a little bit later in the summer maybe depending on your position.
But the overall feel of the points system I think still is very similar to how it has been in the past. It kind of rewards consistency. It's bad when you don't finish well. When you have a bad finish, it hurts you pretty bad.
I don't know if it's right, wrong, indifferent. It is what it is, and that's what we work with. I think it's fair. I think everyone's happy with it. We just feel like, number one, we want to win races, because this is what this is all about. We're out here racing.
Then talking about the lack of a lot of wrecks and stuff this year, I think people realize if you wreck your car, you're not going to win the race. Discretion is the better part of valor. If you don't have the car at that time, get it to the pit stop, make it better. So I think you're seeing some of that.
Q. (No microphone.)
KENNY FRANCIS: Like I've said before, I work on the car more on green‑flag stops than yellow‑flag stops. On a green‑flag stop, the field is spread out. If you take a couple extra seconds working on your car, you don't lose as many positions. If you do that under yellow, you lose a bunch of track position. Under green, you might only lose one or two positions. If you make your car better, you'll make that up. So that's the way I approach it.
Q. Rick, you pretty much put Kasey under pressure saying he was going to win. I'm curious about Dale Jr. When are you going to put him in that position? Is he a lost cause? He's doing really well this season, but he's going into his summer months where it's not always his best tracks. What needs to change?
RICK HENDRICK: You know, I'll go back to what I said earlier. When I was kidding with Kasey at the grand opening, I mean, I've never demanded anybody to win a race because it doesn't work that way.
And Dale is doing a great job. He's running in the top 10 every week. He might have a couple times he slips out. But he's in position to take advantage of an adjustment here or there, a break here or there, he's going to win a race. He's up in the top of the points. Been a huge improvement, he and Stevie, just getting better. I think the win will come.
But it's hard. You got a lot of great guys out there that haven't won races this year that are champions. Dale is just under more of a microscope. But I'd say, look at the way he's finishing, the way he's running, and compare it to what we've been doing. You have to get to the place we are now before you win races. So I think he's right there.
Q. Did you think about sticking a leg in the car and taking a victory ride?
RICK HENDRICK: Didn't cross my mind (laughter). No, I'm still sore from the other one. I still got bruises. That was one‑and‑done (smiling).
I did say I'd get on top of the car at Talladega if Junior won, but I'll take that back, too. I've retired.
Q. Kasey, hindsight is always 20/20. When you're a young driver, given an opportunity, you have to take it. When you went to Evernham in 2004, you replaced Bill Elliott. You were with Jack Roush before that. Have you ever thought about what might have been if you stayed with Roush?
KASEY KAHNE: Well, I was with Yates. Yates really didn't want anything to do with me. The whole thing to go to Evernham, I mean, that was the best opportunity I could have ever imagined. Ray took care of me. He taught me a lot. Bill Elliott helped me a ton that first season.
Even with some of the turmoil and things that happened to me four or five years later, I wouldn't change any of that stuff. You grow and you learn. I think all that stuff was good for me.
Now to be at Hendrick Motorsports is just a dream come true.
KERRY THARP: Certainly tonight is a dream come true. Congratulations, gentlemen.
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