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August 31, 2010

Kasey Kahne

DENISE MALOOF: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to today's NASCAR teleconference in advance of this weekend's NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. It's the Emory Healthcare 500 on Sunday night under the lights.
Our guest today is Kasey Kahne. He's the race's defending champion and drives the No. 9 Budweiser Valvoline Ford. Kasey is working to make a late rally to make the field for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. With two races remaining, he's 16th in the standings, 136 points out of 12th place. If you go back to 2004 when the Chase format began, Kasey holds the record for the biggest comeback with two races to go before the Chase. In 2006, he was 90 points outside the Chase field with two to go, but made it into the field.
Kasey, what do you think your odds are of another comeback ala 2006?
KASEY KAHNE: Hopefully we have a good shot. I mean, it's tough right now because everybody is running so well. You kind of earn your points position with many races in. You're in that position and it's tough to make up a lot of points.
Two good tracks for us. I know we can go fast at both of them. If Clint has any type of a hiccup, we'll be right in the middle of it.
DENISE MALOOF: Let's go straight to media questions for Kasey Kahne.

Q. Kasey, with your deal for next year, your long-reported situation, with that finally settled, could you talk about how much stress or how hard was it for you to go through that and was there ever any strain in your relationship with Rick and was there ever any strain in your relationship with Mark while you were going through this?
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, I mean, definitely it went on a little bit longer than I would have hoped or expected. But I try just to focus on my car, focus on the Bud team. I think we did a pretty good job of that.
At the same time you don't really know until it's over with. I felt like once it was over with, I was relieved and I knew kind of what I was going to be doing, the whole idea of the plan was.
I would say it definitely was on my mind a lot. Five years that I was looking at. So, yeah, it was on my mind. But I don't think it held us back too much. I think we'd probably be in a pretty similar spot whether that went on or not.
My relationship with Mark has been good from the start and it's been great with Rick Hendrick. I'm really happy to work with Rick.

Q. Could you talk about, as you get to know Jay Frye, the Red Bull team, what you expect and anticipate in your relationship with that team for the coming year?
KASEY KAHNE: Well, I've always known some people over at the Red Bull deal, some of the guys used to work at Evernham, other guys that I know from different types of racing, things over the years. Jay Frye, I didn't know him real well. I kind of see him, say hi. Just talking with him over the last couple weeks, he's real easy to talk to, understanding, and wants to perform.
It's actually been pretty good. Once I got more involved with the Red Bull deal, I got more excited than when I initially heard about it. Right now I feel really confident with next year and being able to perform, race well and have a good time doing it.

Q. Kasey, you've been in the Chase and not in the Chase in previous years. When you're not in the Chase group, do you sort of feel like you've been sent to study hall or out of the program, as it were?
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, I mean, it definitely isn't as good. You don't feel as good about what you've done, the way you race, that type of thing. I think it's a little bit different for me this year because I know I got 12 races left, that's where I'm at. I don't want to be done winning in a Ford, I don't want to be done winning for Budweiser or Richard Petty Motorsports. Hopefully we can find some spark to that.
If we don't make the Chase, hopefully we can show up to the racetrack each week and contend. If we do make the Chase, we can do the same thing, contend. I feel we should have a really good shot at winning a race or two regardless if we make it or not.
I've been in this position I think every year pretty much since I've been in Cup. I'm never in the Chase when we get to this point of the year. We're right on the edge. We either miss it or don't. We have to wait and see. Have a little bit of a shot if anything happens to the 33, Clint.

Q. Kasey, I want to get your thoughts on this is the last year of having two races in Atlanta. You won last year. What are your thoughts on losing the race in Atlanta and memories of this track in your career?
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, I wish we could race at Atlanta more than twice. For me it's been my favorite track since I came into NASCAR. So it's a little disappointing not going there.
At the same time NASCAR is doing what makes the most sense for the fans and the people, the viewers and things like that. So I think it's fine, you know. I think the Labor Day race is a perfect time for the Atlanta race. We found that out last year. I think it was a great move putting that race on Labor Day. Hopefully when it's just one race, it will be even bigger and better and it will last for a long time.
The track, the way it is, I think it's one of the best tracks we race at.

Q. Why is that?
KASEY KAHNE: Well, for me it suits my driving style. It's fast, it's a little bit rough, real line sensitive, and you can move around and find grip at the same time as far as you can go from the white line to the wall. If you keep searching, you can always find something that helps your car. That's kind of how I've always raced on dirt tracks. You're always looking on the next lap for something different. Atlanta really suits me because of that.

Q. I was wondering how you felt your team handled the last month, month and a half with all the uncertainty of guys not knowing if Kenny Francis is staying or going and probably wondering if they're staying or going.
KASEY KAHNE: Right. I think the guys building the cars and the road guys have done a pretty good job. Definitely hasn't been easy. I feel like everybody's done, you know, the best job they could. There's been some times where I wondered. But I wondered about me, too.
I think they've done a fine job and I think, you know, it showed at Bristol. We got behind and we fought our way right back. We were pretty good over there.
They're working hard. They want to perform. Whether one of the guys stays where they're at or does something different, they all have incentive, they want to perform and make sure what they do the following year is good.

Q. Has it been any stranger for you in the last month that you know what you're doing next year and your guys don't?
KASEY KAHNE: I think a lot of my guys do know what they're doing. I've heard a lot of them going different places or staying where they're at. Kind of up in the air with what everybody is doing. I think everybody is getting along good, they're working good together. You know, they want the right opportunities.
I think it's all right.

Q. I want to lean on your Chase experience. Last season you had the misfortune of blowing the engine in New Hampshire. Seems like every year we have a guy that has something that happens at one of those opening races and they never catch up. When something like that happens, is it difficult to convince yourself you're still in it?
KASEY KAHNE: Well, it can be. 10 races is a long time. That's a good thing about it, is 10 races is a while. If you can keep that on your mind, you'll be all right.
There's a lot of people to convince. It's not just the driver, the crew chief, the tire changer. It's a big group. If one guy gets off a little bit, it hurts. It can be any one of us. I think that could be what happened is maybe one or two guys get off a little and then it just drags you down, and that's it.

Q. Something like that can affect the morale throughout the entire shop?
KASEY KAHNE: Absolutely. That's probably where it comes from more than anything, you know, is just a little bit of that confidence, momentum, that type of thing, 'cause racing has so much to do with confidence and momentum.

Q. You said all the right things after that incident in New Hampshire last year. Deep down, did you allow yourself to think, We're done?
KASEY KAHNE: No. I mean, I really didn't. No, I really didn't.

Q. I wanted to ask you about your experience doing commercials. My guess is, as you came up, it was about racing, not standing in front of a camera. What was it like the first time you did a commercial, how different that was, how you got through that?
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, I think my first one was with Great Clips in 2003. When I was growing up, I didn't talk a whole lot. I did if I knew the people. But if there was people I didn't know and people were looking at me, I would kind of keep to myself.
I thought the hardest part with the first commercial was just when it's your part, everybody there is looking at you. Everybody there is expecting you to do it right and do it right the first time. To me, that took time and that took some confidence to get going.
But after that, I actually really started with the Allstate commercials, the Budweiser stuff. I really started actually liking it and having fun doing those commercials. The Gillette Young Guns have been pretty cool. You get to the point where you actually start liking it.
I think it has more to do with the sponsors and the whole spot and the way maybe Allstate came up with the spots, you know, back then to have fun with it and make the viewer, the NASCAR fan, laugh. I thought that was a big help.

Q. How much of a speaking line did you have in the Great Clips commercial? How many takes did it go through? Were you getting frustrated or did you laugh about things?
KASEY KAHNE: Out of those three, a lots happened since then. It would really be a complete guess to throw any type of number out there. It definitely wasn't in the first couple takes, that's for sure.

Q. Do you feel with this experience now that you're more of an actor than what you were back then or do you see yourself as more of a camera guy?
KASEY KAHNE: Well, I just say I'm a little more confident talking in front of a camera, just kind of being myself rather than getting nervous. Yeah, I think I just kind of got over some of that stuff with age I would say would be the biggest thing.

Q. Were you comfortable with being kind of NASCAR's heartthrob, so to speak? Do you think the sport needs one to attract the young fans that you probably attracted through the Allstate commercials?
KASEY KAHNE: Man, you know, I don't really necessarily think of myself as anything like that. I think if some of those young fans, just different NASCAR fans think that or feel that way, then I think that's a good thing. But personally I don't really feel or think of myself like that at all.

Q. Do you think you're responsible with attracting those young fans through your merchandise sales and people marketing you? Do you know that your fan base was kind of the teenage age?
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, I do. And I think, you know, just probably because I was young, racing pretty decent, and they were watching. I think it just kind of all worked at the right time. Then you got the Allstate commercials, some of those things going on at the same time. I think it just worked. I think it was good timing. It seemed like racing has a lot to do with timing, and that was another part that worked out well with that group.

Q. Are you able to have unlimited contact with Hendrick Motorsports? What will you be doing to stay in touch? Do you know if there are specific rules that prevent you from doing anything?
KASEY KAHNE: Actually, I was kind of wondering some of that same stuff. To this point, I haven't really asked a whole lot about it because I've been more worried about what I was going to be doing next year, what I was going to be doing the following year, who's going to be my crew chief, who is going to be the sponsors, that type of stuff. We haven't really got into that stuff yet because everybody is still focusing on this year.
I think once we get past who makes the Chase and who doesn't, you know, at that point in time maybe we'll look into those questions that I have and obviously you have and hopefully we'll figure it out.
Whenever I get to start with those guys, I'll be excited.

Q. Can you talk more in a specific sense what confidence does for a driver. We talked about Dale Earnhardt, Jr. losing confidence. Maybe if you can get that back, that turns things around. Can you talk about the role that confidence plays.
KASEY KAHNE: I mean, there's no way that drivers that are struggling have a whole lot of confidence. Like even if they say they do, because I've been in that same position where I'm struggling, and I win a race, and you don't believe how much it changes your attitude and your team's attitude. Whether you thought your attitude was great the weekend before or not, once you win, it's a completely different thing.
When I first came into NASCAR in 2002, I could barely even drive the car around the track that year. It was difficult learning. I'd go back and win a Sprint car race and win a midget race, first time I got back to the track, I felt like I was a good racecar driver again. Then you get beat down. I did that that whole year. I learned a lot. I wasn't the fastest by no means my first year. I was a bit off. But I think my second year we were pretty good and kept getting better from there.
Confidence is huge. If Dale Jr. could win a race, he definitely would have more confidence. We all do. That's just the way it is.

Q. Is it more the team's confidence in you or does it allow you to do more on the track if you're confident?
KASEY KAHNE: I think it's really both. So it's how you work with them, how they work with you, what they think of you, kind of how they feel you are as part of the team, maybe a little more trust than what you're saying, communication line there.
Then at the same time if you win a race, you kind of get that feeling back on how your car felt and how it's supposed to feel, and you can look to that the following week. Sometimes when you're not winning, you get confused on what you're looking for that will last for 500 miles straight.
Personally I feel when Kyle Busch or Jimmie Johnson gets on a roll, they get that feeling, they know exactly what they need, they keep looking for it throughout all of practice. They're working with their teams. Once they get it, they're super hard to beat on Sunday. That's a big part of it.

Q. Any update on what you'll be doing as far as Team Red Bull, what car you'll be driving, how many cars they'll have, your crew chief, that sort of thing?
KASEY KAHNE: No. Don't have an update there. Man, I really don't have an update. I left after Bristol. I've talked to Jay Frye once. I talk to Kenny Francis a few times a week just seeing where we're at for Atlanta, how things are going at the shop.
But I don't know anything new for next year yet. I haven't really looked into it. I haven't really cared until we get through Richmond. I think at that point in time I'll be able to look at things and see where we're at, see where everybody is at, hopefully put some stuff together.

Q. Does it really matter to you right now about your team for next year since you're probably looking at the big picture? 2011 is a place for you to learn and race and it doesn't matter exactly how the setup is done team-wise and crew chief-wise?
KASEY KAHNE: No, it definitely matters to me. I mean, I'm going to be a big part of all that, kind of seeing how we're prepared for next season. I want to start out at Daytona as good as anybody. You need a great team to do that. I think Red Bull has a lot of good people.
I'm going to be a big part of getting that all set up and kind of see where it's at and start working with some of the guys because, I mean, you have to have that if you want to run well. If I go in the next season thinking I can't run well, I might as well take the year off. I want to race, I want to perform and win races.

Q. Your long range plans, other than the uncertainty, you mentioned it does make a difference, but there could have been a lot of teams you could have gone to that would give you the opportunity that you need. You weren't likely to lose any fans in 2011 and you're not going to lose any skills in 2011. What's your take on that part of it?
KASEY KAHNE: Just that, you know, we kind of left it up to Mr. Hendrick, what made the most sense for me for a year. That's what it ended up with, you know, going to Red Bull. Like I said, at the start of this deal, once I started talking to some of those guys, learning more about the operation, kind of seeing where they're at, what they've done with Toyota and things, I just feel like it's going to be better than I expected and better than I think most people expect. I'm really looking forward to it.

Q. Did any of the fan support help you through the uncertainty?
KASEY KAHNE: It's been pretty good. You know, I mean, fan support's always best when you're winning races and we haven't been doing that. It's what it is. But for the diehards, it's been good. They're always right there. It's been a lot of fun kind of listening to their opinions, reading their opinions on Twitter or different things, seeing what everybody thinks, where we're at. It's been kind of cool.

Q. A question about manufacturers. You're going through the whole gamut, Dodge, Ford, Toyota, Chevy. Were there any issues in the negotiations driving for Red Bull, the fact that they're Toyota, and they ultimately know you're going to be a Chevy driver?
KASEY KAHNE: No, not that I've known of anyway. I think it's all been pretty good. I've known some of the people from Toyota. Dodge was always great to me. Ford has been good to me this year, in the past at times as well. It's been a really good group, each manufacturer I've been with. You see how each one runs and how each one wants to perform for their people.
Ford is really aggressive and they really want to win. I'm actually really enjoying working with Ford this year and stuff. So I think it will be the same way each spot you go. You just have to meet a new group of people, make sure they're excited and happy that you're there.
DENISE MALOOF: Kasey, we appreciate your time today. Thanks for visiting with us. Best of luck down the stretch these next few races.
KASEY KAHNE: Thank you.
DENISE MALOOF: And thanks to all the media who joined us today. We appreciate it and we'll see you again next week.

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