Kasey Kahne’s win in the Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Sunday night was the driver’s 13th Cup win in his 300th-career start. It was also his first win since joining Hendrick Motorsports at the start of the 2012 season.
Kahne participated in the NASCAR weekly teleconference earlier this week to discuss his win, his team, the future, young drivers coming up in the sport and to look ahead to this weekend’s FedEx 400 at Dover International Speedway, among other things. Here is a transcript from the teleconference:
Q: Kasey, after celebrating Hendrick Motorsports 200 wins last week with the other drivers who have won for the organization, how does it feel to post one number 201 and get your first one for the team?
KASEY KAHNE: It felt really good. It’s been an exciting three weeks for Hendrick Motorsports. It’s exciting to be part of that, part of the 200th win party and part of the picture at Darlington with the 48 guys after they won the 200th win.
So Sunday night we were able to put together a really good race and make the right adjustments throughout the race and keep up with the racetrack as it changed. That place changes a lot throughout a start in the day and ending at night.
So a solid team effort by our whole team. It’s a lot of fun.
Q. Wondering, now that you’ve kind of been through kind of both of these things, what’s more pressure for you, going through a season where you kind of are unsure of maybe the direction of the organization, where it’s going, or kind of the situation you’ve been in this year, where you know you have all the tools and yet things weren’t going your way until the last few weeks?
KASEY KAHNE: I would say — that’s kind of tough. I’d say think about in both situations, I think about what’s going on. In the past when you’re a little unsure what’s going to happen with your team, your organization, you’re unsure about the people and the effort that they’re going to put in because it’s hard on them and they’re looking for jobs and things as well.
So that’s always been kind of difficult. The good thing is our guys always stepped up and did a really nice job for the circumstances.
And this year we just — we’ve been solid since the start of the year, as far as speed goes. And each week we’re kind of a top 10 car in practice and in the races we’re a top 10 car. And just took a while to get those finishes.
But once we start getting them, I felt really good. I haven’t been too nervous or anything. I’ve just been trying to do the best I can and figure out what I need to go fast throughout the whole race.
Q. And can you kind of give me an update as well on kind of your spotter situation these days? Obviously you had Clayton up there last weekend. Do you hope to be able to keep using them or are you going to keep trying people out going forward?
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, I think that’s been working pretty decent, just because he doesn’t — he’s spotting for Nemechek, and they don’t always race the full race.
It’s been kind of an easy transition. He’s already at the racetrack and things. So so far it’s working out well. We’ll just keep doing that for a little while and kind of look at it here probably in a couple of weeks and decide from there.
But all my spotters have done a nice job this year, just trying to find something that really works well with me and when I find it we’ll just try to get that guy for a long period of time.
Q. I read your comments after the race Sunday night about you never really got too down when early in the season things weren’t going that well. But after the first six races you were 31st in points and since then it’s like wham. You’ve got it going with good finishes. Between Martinsville and Texas, did you, after Texas, did you sense something really good was happening then? How did you guys get on this roll?
KASEY KAHNE: I sensed something good at Martinsville. If you look at where I was running each race that I either crashed out or had problems, I was in the top 5 of all of them. So this whole season has been pretty decent minus us not finishing races.
But for me to be running second and third at Martinsville, a track I struggled at over the years at times, I felt really good about that and good about where our car was and the adjustments we were making to that point in the race.
Then we had our issue. And I actually went and sat on — I didn’t get down on that at all. It’s racing. Things happen.
I went and sat on Jeff Gordon’s box for the rest of the race and cheered those three guys on as they battled for the win. And Dale Jr. was right in the mix, too, with Jimmie and Jeff.
I felt really good at Martinsville and things happen, and we went on to Texas, got our first top 10, and we’ve been able to get some more since.
Q. I want to ask you, in the years you’ve been in Cup, how have the skills — obviously there’s certain things you need to do that you had to do in 2004 that you have to do nowadays. Are there certain skills that you’ve needed to acquire or to finely hone to keep up with things in this era? And what are things like that you have to have to be a better race car driver in this time period in NASCAR?
KASEY KAHNE: I think just the feel of the car and figuring out what that setup is for the tires that we put on the car. And when we change tires with different racetracks, it’s a different feel.
So trying to kind of hone in on just getting the balance right on so many different types of tires that Goodyear brings, and the longer I’ve been in this sport the better I’ve been able to do that job and to kind of find that feeling you need.
But it’s tough. And the other thing that I felt I always kind of had a problem was overdriving the race car and just getting frustrated when I couldn’t, when the car couldn’t do what I wanted it to do. And I would get frustrated and make mistakes. There’s things over the years early on.
And I haven’t been doing that near as much anymore. So just trying to be — just trying to understand the car and the tires more these days than what I did in the past I think is kind of the best thing that I’ve done.
Q. That being said, obviously you’ve got your own team where potentially guys could come through your organization. Obviously what Brad is doing into the Nationwide. What can you do or what can young drivers do in these other classes, other racing divisions, to kind of fine tune their skills in these types of things with overdriving or learning the tires or learning how the car handles, are there certain things now that are good teaching tools in other racing divisions or are there things you’re doing to kind of help Brad along?
KASEY KAHNE: I try to help Brad with whatever I can. But at the end of the day a lot of it is just a feeling. And it’s something you have to gain and get by racing. Experience is everything in racing, I feel like.
And so in other series, other guys coming up, I think just being able to adapt and adapt to each racetrack, each surface, to different types of tires, to myself I raced Silver Crown cars on pavement and dirt. I raced midgets on pavement and dirt. I raced sprint cars on pavement and dirt.
I raced wing sprint cars, non-wing sprint cars, all that, and at times I did two or three in one day or back to back, a couple of days in a row. Just being able to adapt is key, because the quicker you can do that, the process will be better.
Q. But do you feel like that’s still a path? Obviously that was a few years ago with you and some other guys. But that doesn’t seem to be quite the path that as many guys are taking now, and you would think with what you said, that experience of pavement and dirt would help, but it doesn’t seem like it’s making as big an impact nowadays?
KASEY KAHNE: Well, I think experience is pretty big right now, with our Cup cars the way they drive and the way they need to drive to run well. The group of guys out there right now, it’s tough to beat them.
They get it figured out and it’s hard for a new guy to come in and figure it out really quick. So to me it’s just experience.
Q. A lot of times in life it’s hard to really quantify the amount of pressure or the impact of failure until you’re successful. So now that you have won, I’m wondering how much more pressure you may have been putting on yourself than you realized you were now that it’s off?
KASEY KAHNE: Kind of tough. Because I always put a lot of pressure on myself. And I feel like I need to perform with the opportunities I’ve had in racing. They’ve been really solid opportunities. And so I put a lot of pressure on myself. But I think earlier in the year I definitely felt like you’re going somewhere, coming into a spot where you know you have the best of everything and everybody out there knows that 5 car is as good as any car on the racetrack every single weekend and now I’m driving it. And I need to make it look like it should look.
So, yeah, I think there’s probably been some extra bit of pressure there. But it’s just what I do. I like pressure. I like putting it on myself and just being able to perform. That’s really all I want to do is perform and work at winning races.
Q. Can you assess Dover Downs and the problems it poses? I know it’s quite different coming from, say, a Charlotte to Dover with, A, the shorter track, and, B, the concrete.
KASEY KAHNE: That concrete’s different in the way the tires, the way you build up rubber on the racetrack is a big part of figuring that place out.
It builds a lot of rubber on the track, which pavement track usually doesn’t do that. Pavement tracks you can put rubber on but it doesn’t really build up to where Dover has been doing that a lot in the past couple of years.
So, yeah, just getting through that and one mile high banked racetrack, it’s probably one of the most difficult tracks we go to each year. Probably it’s. Need to be prepared physically and ready to go when you get there.
It’s a great track. It’s a place I’ve never been able to win, but we’ve come close. We’ve had some cars that were capable, and just haven’t got the job done yet. But it’s a neat place. Always look forward to racing at Dover.
Q. Speaking of the weather, it’s supposed to be cooler, and I was going to ask you: What about — they’re talking about mid70s here and of course it was quite hot in Charlotte. What setup changes do you have to do to adjust for the heat?
KASEY KAHNE: The heat’s — I like racing in the heat because the tracks are slippery, and I’d say when it’s real hot out you get — you have a better chance of — the field’s a little more spread out. I think when it’s cool temperatures, everybody’s a little bit faster, it seems like.
But if it’s mid-70s, it will be an interesting race. I think it will be a good race. That’s a good temperature to race in.
Q. Does this win give you more confidence for the rest of the season?
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, absolutely. To get that first win out of the way, and now I’ve won a race for Hendrick Motorsports, and we need to figure out how to win more. So it gives myself confidence and some momentum. I think it really gives our team, our whole team a lot of confidence and momentum, and we feel good about the direction that we’re all headed in right now. I think HMS is really strong.
Q. I want to ask about your crew chief Kenny Francis. He’s been with you forever. He’s been with you through multiple teams. First of all, did that help you in the transition coming over to Hendrick, and also did that help you when you were having trouble early on in the season, and basically catch fire right now?
KASEY KAHNE: Kenny’s helped me through everything we went through the past years, we’ve done it together. He’s been a big part of that. A big part of figuring out how to make our cars go fast, as we’ve had a lot of change. And this year it’s really — the best part about it was how everybody at Hendrick Motorsports kind of welcomed myself and Kenny and wanted to work with us and things. And how badly we wanted to work with them.
So it’s worked out really well to have him. And we went and crashed some cars there, but he stayed positive. He was always actually really positive about everything, as positive as he’s probably ever been when we went through that stuff.
So it was good. It was nice to have him on my side. And it’s really good to have him on my side right now, because he’s got our cars driving really good.
Q. We heard about the 200th celebration for Hendrick Motorsports and how all the drivers were introduced and that kind of thing. Did that give you an incentive heading into last weekend at the Coke 600 to be one of those guys?
KASEY KAHNE: It really did. Just to listen to their stories and just think about how much history is involved in Hendrick Motorsports already and what Mr. Hendrick’s done for racing and how much he’s been a part of racing, yeah, it definitely got me excited and kept me wanting it pretty bad. I wanted to be one of those drivers who would want to race for him.
Q. Just wanted to ask you about a little bit more about young drivers and you talked about experience, and I understand that, I guess the question always is, well, to get the job you’ve got to get experience: Well, how am I supposed to get experience if I can’t get the job? How challenging is it do you see it from a young driver’s perspective and when you look at what some guys are going through, I’m trying to remember — you had some challenges, but I think you were kind of help, I think if I remember right, working with Bob Veith and that really kind of propelled your career, kind of moved you up the ladder, didn’t it, if I’m remembering correctly?
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, drove for Steve Lewis and Bobby, worked on those cars, and made them go fast. When I was with those guys, we won a lot of races and we were fast every single time we went to the track. So that was a big help to kind of propelling into getting the opportunity with a NASCAR team.
Q. What about today’s young kids, the guys that want to be the future Kasey Kahnes, what are the challenges that you see from their perspective and how can they possibly overcome those type of things?
KASEY KAHNE: I think there’s tons of challenges out there. But there’s tons of kids and guys out there that can get the job done. Just a matter of doing it the right time in front of the right people.
I felt like that was a big part of kind of my whole deal was I graduated high school a year early in order to be racing in the Midwest through 1999. And if I didn’t do that, if I would have just done school like everyone else and went to the Midwest in 2000 and went racing, who knows how my career would have been different, because I definitely wouldn’t have been driving for Steve Lewis in 2000.
So I think it’s just how bad do you want it and how much can you put into it. And performing at the right time.
Q. When they made the change in the side skirts, I think it was supposed to try to help promote a little more passing and everything. And you’ve had two pretty close battles in the last couple of weeks. You had the one with Keselowski, I want to say at the All-Star Race, and you had a pretty tight one with Bissell the other day. I was curious if you noticed any difference with the different side skirts in these two situations, did you feel like you had any more of an opportunity to pass than before?
KASEY KAHNE: I think I felt fairly similar, but I definitely passed a lot of cars in the past couple of weeks. We’ve been able to go from the All-Star Race, we basically went from the back to the front racing. And at the 600, I passed a ton of cars throughout that race.
So to me it doesn’t feel a ton different, but we’ve been able to pass cars and I’ve really enjoyed it. It seems like it’s worked out pretty well for us so far.
Q. Any idea passing those cars, did the new rules change — obviously you had a pretty fast car to begin with.
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, we had a really fast car to begin with. So that was the, that was the whole thing to me is our cars have been really fast. But I have been able to pass a lot in the last two weeks. So it was — I doubt the side skirts really have had much to do with that. But they may not have hurt that either.
Photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR