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NASCAR MEDIA CONFERENCE
March 13, 2007
DENISE MALOOF: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the NASCAR Nextel teleconference again this week. Our guest today is Kasey Kahne, driver of the No. 9 Dodge Dealers UAW Dodge. Kasey is 36th in the series standings and returns this week to Atlanta Motor Speedway, where he kicked off his series high total of six wins last season.
Kasey, I know you and your team didn't finish where you had hoped at Las Vegas, but given your success at 1.5 mile tracks, is this a good week to jump up the standings for you?
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, it should be. I mean, we had a pretty decent car in Vegas and just didn't turn out the way we wanted to late in the race. But Atlanta is a good track for us. We've always seemed to run pretty solid at it, and we're making some adjustments with our car this week, and I'm going to make some adjustments hopefully to finish the race. Hopefully it'll be good.
Q. Kasey, even though Las Vegas was a changed-at-the-last-minute sort of racetrack, do the Hendrick -- the strength of the two Hendrick cars and the one RCR car give you an indication, and is Vegas now more similar to Atlanta and does that give you an indication that you've now got company at strength on high bank mile and a half tracks, or is Vegas different enough that only Atlanta will tell whether you've still got the edge at that type track?
KASEY KAHNE: I think Vegas, the tire at Vegas was definitely different. The track itself is really similar to a lot of the mile and a half tracks, but the tire that Goodyear put out there was so much different than what we ran before. They just figured it out a little better than we did. But we were top five to eight, somewhere right in there, which is disappointing that I didn't finish there.
Q. I wanted to ask you, has your role changed at all on the team with Kenny not being there and you guys clearly down in the points than what anyone would have anticipated? I know at Daytona you guys talked about not getting down and everyone stepping up to the plate, but I'm just curious, now that you guys really -- are you providing any kind of that extra motivation trackside that Kenny is not there, or how has your role changed in dealing with the team?
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, I mean, it's been different without him there, you know, but everybody is -- we're all kind of doing the same things. We haven't changed a whole lot of things. We're doing a lot of the same stuff, just trying to not make mistakes and stay confident with what we do. Having the practices, trying to learn from each other and work with each other. All of that is the same, we just haven't had Kenny there. It's changed some. I think as a team we've done a pretty good job of being in the Top 10 every race. Haven't finished except at Daytona, but we've been there every race.
We're still pretty good, we've just got to pull them all together.
Q. I'm curious after you've driven it now, what's your thoughts on the Car of Tomorrow, how it looks, how it drives and how you think you'll do when you get in it next week?
KASEY KAHNE: I think we'll do fine. It drove really similar to what we have now, on the short tracks for sure with the testing we've done. I've only done short track testing and feel like it's a similar car, same tires and everything. So it feels similar. But once we get to the bigger tracks we're going to find out how much different the track is once we're around more aero with other cars and the speeds are up. Then we'll figure out how different it is. It's going to be a lot different on some of those tracks, I think. I haven't been there yet, but I think it will.
Q. How have the looks of it grown on you?
KASEY KAHNE: It seems like we're getting a little more used to it. It's just the way it is; you get used to things the more you look at it, cars and things like that. I don't know, it'll probably -- we'll all think it's the normal car here after too long.
Q. I caught myself looking at the standings yesterday, and there have been a couple mentions of the points already on this conference call. Got me to thinking about, do we, the media, the fans and whatnot, put too much emphasis on the Championship? I mean, I know it's important, but are we for getting about Kasey Kahne won six races last year because -- and you finished eighth in the Championship? Are we forgetting who won two weeks ago, that sort of thing, because we're so keyed on the Championship, especially this early in the year?
KASEY KAHNE: I don't know. I think at this point I could care less what I did last year. It's a new year. Yeah, we won six races, but it's time to start winning this year. It's time to run up front this year. The points are a huge deal. I was looking at them myself kind of trying to see where we're at and how far we're out of getting back in the Top 20.
I just think the way that NASCAR is, you want to finish up front in the points, you want to win the Nextel Cup and you want to win races. That's what it's all about. What we did last year is behind us. It's all about this year.
Q. Atlanta being the fast track that it is, and of course you having won there, first of all, where do you really pick up a lot of the speed, and at what point -- how do you approach, I guess, the back stretch, and is that where you pick up most of your speed?
KASEY KAHNE: I would say -- I would think that probably your highest speed would be getting into turn one, just off turn four, three and four is really fast. So is one and two. The whole track is really fast. It's just how fast you get off the corners, that's the key to getting around there good.
And the track is always where you can slide a lot getting into the corners. Having your car under control you can get in good and then get back to the throttle fast. The speed is off the corner and down the straightaway is where you're going to gain it.
Q. How different is the car setup there as opposed to say some other one and a half mile tracks?
KASEY KAHNE: I would say it's pretty similar the way the cars are these days. It seems like it would be pretty similar, just a little bit -- the back because the tires fall off so quickly and they get worn out, you're going to maybe have a little bit of different rear springs. But I would say the front end springs, the front setup, a lot of those shocks and things will probably be pretty similar to what we've ran at Texas and at Vegas this week, that kind of stuff.
Q. Lay off the brakes much there?
KASEY KAHNE: Not a whole lot of brakes, no, not a whole lot of brakes.
Q. Kind of a follow-up from the question about Kenny earlier, but how big of a role has Kenny had and how big of a role has he played during the week leading up to each race?
KASEY KAHNE: He plays a huge role. I mean, we changed some things just last night. I mean, he was in the shop until 5:00 this morning working on some things on the cars that he really didn't have to be here for, he just is making sure it's how he wants it and how it needs to be. And that's really the kind of dedication that he has in life. He makes the 9 car so good. I mean, he's a huge part of what we do every week, whether he's on the pit blocks or not. I can't wait to get him back at Bristol, but right now he's still doing everything he normally would do, he's just not on the pit blocks and not talking to me on the radio. Keith is doing a really good job working with me and the rest of the team.
Q. As far as on the racetrack, has it gotten harder each week as you've gone from the first race I guess back to the third?
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, it's gotten a little harder, but last week we kind of went through all the adjustments we could think of, and we were set with what we had. I mean, we were going to finish seventh or eighth, and that was it. We didn't try to make an adjustment the last round. That's kind of where we were at and that's what we're going to do our best on, so we left it.
You know, it's just nice working -- Kenny brings a lot to the table, but we're still doing all right without him, it'll just be nice when we get him back.
Q. Over these four weeks have you seen him become more anxious to get back?
KASEY KAHNE: He looked pretty happy at Bristol, he was back at the test right down there with us working on the cars and making the Car of Tomorrow go good around the track. It looked like he was having fun and excited to be back there. Other than that, the guy focuses on what he's doing. That's just how he is. He just focuses on the task.
Q. I'm wondering if you're happy to be going back to Atlanta back in this part of the country. Everybody is pretty wigged out, tired, working all night, arriving on airplanes. Did you ever get jet lagged coming back and having to go to a test? Are you happy to be back in this part of the country?
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, I'm happy. I was gone for a couple weeks so it's nice to be back here. We did a Gillette Young Guns promotion deal yesterday until about 2:00 in the morning, so that was something. But it's cool.
I'm happy to be back on the East Coast and look forward to Atlanta. It's one of my favorite tracks if not my favorite racetrack to go to every single year.
Q. Talk about why so many close finishes happen in Atlanta and a projection for your team headed into Atlanta.
KASEY KAHNE: It seems to me more things go on late in the race. You can have a good car maybe lose a few spots and you have to look because we're back up, and the caution, just where the cautions are at on the racetrack. It seems like there's more late race charges and finishes close. So yeah, I don't know. I hope it's not a close finish this week. I hope it's just -- maybe it will be. I don't care what it is actually, I just want to race.
Q. What is your state of mind right now? Are you really frustrated or do you look at it like, hey, we've won a pole, we did all right at Daytona, it's way too early in the season to be down? What is your state of mind right now?
KASEY KAHNE: Really, I feel like we're fast. I feel like we could have three top 10s. I made a mistake, I had an engine problem. That's just racing; that's the way it goes once in a while. It's still early in the year, so I don't feel like we're in -- we're in a little hole, but we can dig ourselves out of that pretty quickly.
We just have to get everything together and make the right decisions. We've got the speed; we've shown that. We've been up front every single race so far. I'm not worried.
Q. I wanted to ask you, too, is this the year where if you have to make up a few points, this Car of Tomorrow might really help because a lot of people are feeling like, you know, the points could change pretty dramatically based on who guesses right with that whole thing and who doesn't, so maybe this is going to be more of an opportunity for you to gain? Is there any of that at all?
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, I mean, we're going to find out. I mean, it's going to be interesting to see how the race goes at Bristol and Martinsville and Darlington and Richmond, how things turn out, how it goes. It's going to be interesting. I really have no clue. I think that we're going to be good because we've done some testing and I have Kenny Francis and Keith and the whole nine yards; they're one of the best teams that there is. So I think we're going to be just fine. Whether the other teams are or not, I have no idea. We'll find out when we get to them.
Q. Did you get back home at all while you were out on the West Coast?
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, I made it home for about three days, three or four days, and had a pretty good time, had a wedding one night and laid around and watched the Busch race on Sunday. My buddy has an excavating business, so I went and ran one of those machines all day Monday, dug some holes and backfilled some water lines and things that were laid down. It was a pretty cool week. We had a good time. It was nice to get to Vegas, and I thought we would go there and have a great run, and we were on our way to having a really good run.
Q. I have a quick question about all the latest rumors on the Montreal Canadian Zone or possibly teaming up with Evernham Racing and obviously with Roush Fenway starting up here, what are your thoughts on some of these conglomerates, if you will, teaming up with the race owners today?
KASEY KAHNE: I think that to get into that stage where it's good to have people like that, it's good to be able to put yourself with the right company or the right organization. That family seems like a great family. It seems like it would be pretty neat to have them as part of Evernham Motorsports and part of the No. 9 team. It would just be a big deal. I'm hoping some of that stuff goes through and works out for us for sure.
Q. In light of the success you had last year on intermediate tracks, mile and a half tracks, how much do you credit how you ran in Atlanta to mastering that, if at all?
KASEY KAHNE: Early in the year I think that was a huge race for us. I went into that race starting on the pole and wasn't expecting to win. I mean, we just went in thinking, hey, let's have a good race. After that, after we knew how fast we could be on that type of racetrack, the rest of the season it was like every time I hit those tracks, we knew we could win and thought we were going to win. We just wanted it that bad.
So I think Atlanta was huge for us last year, kind of figuring out how to win early in the year and what our Dodge Charger needed to feel like and things. I think it helped us throughout the whole season. We should have probably had seven or eight wins if things would have went right when we went back to Atlanta and also Texas. We were right there in those races again.
Q. Is that the kind of track that typifies what these mile and a half tracks are about, or just because it's fast do you figure if you succeed there you can pretty much do well elsewhere?
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, I mean, it's similar to a lot of those tracks with the way the tires are and the way the cars slide around and you can move around on the racetrack. You know, you have to be there late in the race and you have to get to that set of tires and you have to have everything perfect to win, and it's not easy. I mean, you can -- you see throughout a race I'll be passed by Dale Junior, I'll be passed by Elliott Sadler, I'll be passed by Jimmie Johnson, and then later on you'll pass them and then later on they'll pass you. I mean, why does it keep changing throughout the race? I think it has to do with
Tires and getting sets that some are better than others throughout a race. I think that's what it's all about. You need a lot of luck. As inconsistent as the new tire is right now, I think you need a lot of luck late in the race to have the right set of tires to win. That's too bad when you have to count on that.
Q. Were you kind of surprised with some of the backlash that came from the politicos up in your neck of the woods regarding the new Seattle track or the possibility of getting a track built up there?
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, I was a little bit surprised how some of the things that were said, for sure. I just don't see why they wouldn't want a track, like the revenue it could bring in, the people, the fans, and whether it's two weekends a year or just two weeks or a week, I mean, it could be such a big deal. I mean, it's not nearly the tax deal as what a lot of those people think up there. I think they've kind of made it sound differently than what it really would be to the taxpayer. So I am surprised that that's what it's turned into. Hopefully at some point we'll get a track there, but the way that some of it will happen right now and treating the situation, I don't know if it'll be anytime soon.
Q. You grew up in that part of the country. What advice would you have for them if you were the guy having to sell that track to the constituents? What would you say to them? How would you sell them on the idea?
KASEY KAHNE: Come to Vegas and look at what it does down there, or go to Atlanta or go to Texas, go to Kansas. There's so many tracks that you can go to and you say, man, these fans don't have to be here, they come here because they enjoy it, because it's a great show, whether it's the race itself or the things that go along with the race on the outside. I mean, there's so much stuff going on. Look at all the hotels and the malls and everything packed full of people. I just think, go look somewhere else and see what it's like. If you do, there's no way you wouldn't want one where you're living.
Q. I've been toying with this question for about a year now. It seems like to me that the Dodge cars are not quick out of the hole. We get a caution or get a restart, and I'm not saying any driver, I'm saying it seems like the Dodge seems to take more time to build up speed once you get that first slap in. Is there any truth to what I'm saying, or do you feel that way, also?
KASEY KAHNE: I think it's tough to say. There's definitely times last year, a lot of the races I won last year, we took off really slow, and it's really weird to say. I know this week on a green flag pit stop when we'd come out of the pits, we were usually the fastest car on the track. It's kind of up and down. You never really know why. I think the Chevrolets are definitely really strong in race trim right now. Late in the race or during the middle of the race, the Chevys definitely have it figured out. We're pretty close. We're making some adjustments to our cars this weekend, and hopefully it'll pay off in Atlanta.
Q. Talking about the reaction to the track up in your area, do you think maybe legislators, politicians, whatnot, haven't done their homework on NASCAR demographics, the age, the earning power, the education? Do you think they're still stuck on stereotypes from 20, 30 years ago?
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, I just read some of the comments, I don't know who the guy was or whatever, up there made, and yeah, it sounded like he was kind of on a stereotype from 20 years ago, which I think NASCAR has changed so much over the last 20 years, it's crazy.
You have such a variety of fans that follow NASCAR, from the actors and actresses to the people that were watching NASCAR 30 years ago, they're still there. So it's cool. I think to have a variety of people that are interested in one thing, a huge variety of people that are interested in one sport, is really neat.
Q. You would think that an area that has embraced the NFL and some of the other pro sports would have a better grip on what's going on out there, I would think.
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, you would think so. You go to a Seahawks game and you see who the Seattle fans are, and the whole city, I mean, they love the Seattle Seahawks. It would be the same, I think, for NASCAR. You'd have that same type of crowd, that same type of fan. There would be a NASCAR Nextel Cup race every year. It would be really cool.
Q. Do you think NASCAR has to do a better job of selling itself up there then?
KASEY KAHNE: I don't know, I think they sell themselves every single weekend we're at the track. They show that it's a big deal, a neat deal. Whether we have to do it in Washington better or not, I don't know what they've done or haven't done, so it's hard to say.
DENISE MALOOF: Kasey, thanks for giving us some time this afternoon. We all appreciate it, and we'll see you in Atlanta. Good luck.
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