NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver and 2012 Chase for the Sprint Cup championship competitor is in his first season of driving the No. 5 entry for Hendrick Motorsports. He heads into Sunday’s Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500 at Talladega Superspeedway — the fourth race in the 10-race Chase — sixth in the championship points standings.
On the season, Kahne has two wins, nine top-fives and 15 top-10 finishes through 29 points-paying events.
Kahne participated in NASCAR’s weekly teleconference on Tuesday. During the conference, he discussed his first year, so far, with Hendrick Motorsports, his relationship with long-time crew chief Kenny Frances, and the Chase, among other things.
Below, is the transcript from Tuesday’s teleconference:
Q. You and Kenny Francis have stuck together with each other through thick and thin, through various race teams and all kinds of changes. What is it about y’all’s relationship that has kept you guys together, and are there any other crew members that maybe we don’t hear about that have also been with you guys throughout all the changes y’all have had to go through?
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, it’s been really neat to be able to stick with Kenny as long as I have, and Keith Rodden, our engineer, he’s been with us, with Evernham and when I started with the Great Clips team, Todd Devnich, Marv; I think there’s three or four of us, five of us that have all stuck together for a while now, and it’s worked out really well. I love working with those guys, and they just — I have a ton of respect for Kenny and how much effort that he puts into the cars and into being prepared when we get to the racetrack.
So we’ve just always worked really well together. We both work hard at trying to win and trying to run strong, and it’s been nice through all the ups and downs that we’ve been through, the different organizations and trying to learn new situations and things each year, to have some of that same group to be able to work with.
Q. And you talked about basically kind of the close-knit family that you have there at Hendrick Motorsports and you’re able to bounce things off of Jimmie and Dale and all the other teams. Is that different for you guys? Did you guys have that same type of situation with any other programs that you were with?
KASEY KAHNE: Well, I mean, you always have the teammates, and you want to work with them and things like that. But I just feel like this year it’s a must. There’s a big emphasis on all of us working together and sharing information and just trying to get better together. So it’s different. It’s at a different level than I’ve ever had before. And working with the guys that I’m working with, I mean, Dale and Jeff and Jimmie, just everything they’ve done over the years, it’s a group that I’ve never had an opportunity like that before.
Q. I know Talladega is a place it’s hard to go in with a defined strategy, but considering where you are in the Chase now and 32 points out, does that impact how you approach the race on Sunday? Do you try to race more up front or more at the back to maybe stay out of the big ones? Does that change your approach at all?
KASEY KAHNE: Well, I think you definitely need to think about it and try to figure out what you feel is best for yourself, for the team, and just trying to get all the points that we can on Sunday. What I’ve done the past two, three years is just tried to race and stay out front, as close to the front as possible, and that’s worked pretty good for us.
So I don’t exactly know what we’re going to do yet. I need to run that by Kenny and kind of see what his plan is. But usually he likes to just race, too, and stay up front. It’s hard to sit in the back and just kind of sit back there, relax and wait until 10 laps to go and then — I’ve done that before, you wait until 10 to go and you get up there and crash as soon as you get in the middle of it. It is tough. You never really know what to do, but I think whatever you do, you just need to stick to it the whole race, and when it’s times to go at the end, hopefully you can stay out of trouble and have a shot at winning.
Q. How do you see your Chase chances now? You’re not in the best position obviously but there are guys behind you who are in a much worse position. Do you feel like you still have a pretty good shot?
KASEY KAHNE: Well, I think we’ve done really well so far. We were third the first race, fifth the second race, and last week we were running in the top 5 and were even maybe going to win the race. So we’ve brought great race cars to the track, the team has prepared and done an awesome job, our pit stops have been great. There’s just a lot of really good things going on. Last week we had heartbreak with 50 laps to go, and that stuff happens. We’ll fix it, and it won’t happen again. But that’s part of it.
So we gave away some points, but I feel like we’ve been really consistent, maybe not the best car in the Chase but one of the top three or four cars for sure.
Q. I’m curious about what your opinion might be on a new racing championship called Formula E, which is like Formula 1 but with all electric vehicles. These electric vehicles will be able to go really fast, but in these races the cars’ charge won’t last for more than like 25 minutes or so, so the drivers will need to switch cars during the races. And they’re going to have them kind of in the heart of major cities around the world starting in 2014. I’m curious to hear your opinion on racing electric cars, if you think it’s something that can be cool, even if there’s not the roar of the engine and the exhaust and the switching of the cars and all that.
KASEY KAHNE: I don’t know, that’s interesting. I’ve never heard about that before. But it sounds pretty neat, really, and how that switch happens and how fast the cars can actually go, how much work is done to the cars as far as suspension and things. I don’t know anything about it, but I’d imagine they could build a pretty neat series around that. I’d like to learn more about it.
Q. I guess they have pretty amazing torque, but the limitation is that the battery doesn’t last that long.
KASEY KAHNE: Right, so they need to be recharged pretty quick.
Q. So you hadn’t heard of it before?
KASEY KAHNE: No, I hadn’t heard of it. One thing I do like about our cars is that they’re loud, and racing is loud. So that’s different. That’s a huge difference. But at the same time, that could be very cool. I’d like to — I’m going to look into it.
Q. When you think about the positions Brad and Jimmie have already put themselves in, how realistic do you think it is someone can go 10 races in a Chase without a single bad finish, and do you feel that maybe you used up your bad finish last year at Dover with a 15th?
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, I kind of feel like we used up ours, so we need to try not to have another one at this point if we want to have an opportunity. I think realistically someone could go 10 races. I think that’s very tough to do. But I think it could happen because you can definitely put together 10 solid races and not have any bad luck or no mistakes, no errors, mental errors, whatever it may be. So that could happen.
But I think where we’re at and having one, we probably can’t have another one if we feel like we have a shot to contend for a championship when it gets down to the line.
Talladega is a race that’s really going to show us all kind of where everybody is at after Talladega and then Martinsville and some of these other tracks. So I think we’ll learn a lot at Talladega.
Q. Do you think for Johnson and Keselowski in particular that Talladega might be their best chance at a worst finish? I know you don’t want to root against your teammates, but I guess you kind of are in that position.
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, I don’t root for anyone to wreck or any of that stuff, but it’s definitely a track that has the most possibilities of getting in the wrong spot at the wrong time and having no control of the situation. So yeah, it could take out all 12 of us in the Chase or maybe just two of them or however it works. But Talladega is that one wild card that nobody really knows, and we won’t have a clue until after it’s all over.
Q. This morning I read on Jeff Gordon’s Facebook account that he was having coffee in his favorite coffee shop, and in walks a guy wearing a 24 hat, and the guy didn’t realize even sitting down next to him who he was until Jeff said, “hey, nice hat,” and of course that must have elated the fan. Is that something that still excites you guys, to surprise fans like that and meet up with fans like that?
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, I think it definitely excites me. I read that this morning. It was on his Twitter, also. And it’s pretty funny how that all works. But that would be neat, I think, for the — for Jeff and then also that fan that was sitting next to him and had no clue. But yeah, I like it when you can surprise a fan, someone that supports you and enjoys watching you race, things like that, and then kind of run into them and they’re clueless at the time what’s going on until you make them aware of it. That’s a good feeling.
Q. Looking to the Chase, what do you think it is about this season in particular that really tightened things up rather quickly early on here in the Chase?
KASEY KAHNE: Well, I think the competition, and there’s a few of those drivers that have just been running really, really good for a while now, so it’s going to keep it close. Talladega is one of those races that could kind of wipe some of it out or open up the points or make them even closer. So it’s tough to say, but I would say the competition in the Sprint Cup Series right now is as competitive as it’s been since I’ve been in the sport. So it’s hard to gain points, it’s hard to get away. Those same guys are running good each week, so it’s hard to make points on them or gain points back if you need them.
Q. Looking ahead to this weekend, do you guys predetermine your drafting partner or is anybody with a Hendrick engine fair game to be your dancing partner?
KASEY KAHNE: Well, I think going into it, myself and Jeff Gordon, we’ll work together if we can. That’s kind of how it works. We’re in the same shop. The 88 and the 48 will do the same thing. But there’s restarts, there’s positions you get yourself in where you can’t get to your teammate, and then it’s who’s in front of me or who’s behind me, and those are your new drafting partners. So you just really want to help each other, but at times you can’t, and you have to just look out for yourself.
Q. Looking at this weekend at Talladega and of course the rest of the season, now, if my knowledge is correct, it looks like you’ve had some very good success at the tracks that are left on the Chase. You finished second at Talladega in 2009; in 2010 you won the pole at Kansas; and I think in 2011 you won the race at Phoenix. Does that give you a greater amount of confidence? And it seems like you enjoy racing at those tracks.
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, I enjoy racing at all the tracks in the Chase, the first three that we’ve been to and then the next four — the next seven. They’re all great tracks. I enjoy them, we run well at them, and just a — you never know what’s going to happen at all of them, but you definitely enjoy going to them, and we’ve had some pretty good performances at all of them. We’ve won at a few of the tracks and came close at others. So it’s a good Chase. It’s a good bunch of races for myself, and hopefully we can take advantage of that and have a little bit of momentum and confidence going into them and capitalize and gain points.
Q. You mentioned math, and I’m just looking at some stats here about the Chase. Going back to the top 10 guys who have been in the Chase, Jimmie Johnson, nine times; Tony Stewart, eight times; Jeff Gordon, eight; Matt Kenseth, eight; Denny Hamlin, seven; Kurt Busch, six; Carl Edwards, six; Kevin Harvick, six; Greg Biffle, five; and then Dale Jr., five. Of those 10 top 10 in the Chase years, only Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch have won the championship. So does experience — with being in it three times, and obviously I think you guys would say experience counts, Clint Bowyer has been in it four times and Brad Keselowski twice and Martin Truex twice, but do you think that experience is really as big a factor, or what does really make that champion?
KASEY KAHNE: I think experience helps. I think you kind of went through the pressure of going down to the wire and just probably on your mind constantly, hard to break away from anything more than just racing and think about that, and you’ve pulled it off, you’ve accomplished it, something that’s really difficult to do.
So those guys I think are in a really good spot because they’ve been there, they’ve done it, they feel comfortable about where they’re at, but they’re not the only ones who have won championships, so there’s other guys that will step up eventually and beat them. Will it be this year? I have no idea. But it’s definitely a tough deal to win is to win the Sprint Cup Championship. It’s exciting. That’s why we’re all doing it. We all would love to win it and work really hard to put the best effort in that we can.
Q. Do you spend as much time with stats like this, or maybe your crew chief spends a little bit more time with it?
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, probably other guys. I haven’t — I don’t look too much at that stuff. I just kind of go week to week and look at what I can do and what I’ve done and kind of notes that I’ve had from the past at those racetracks. That’s how I do it.
But definitely stats are good and stats are fun to look at once in a while.
Q. Coming into the Chase, Denny Hamlin said last week that the track he wanted to make sure he didn’t lose too many points at was going to be Dover. I was wondering if coming into the Chase if you had any track marked down that you really wanted to focus on as far as not losing too many points, outside of Talladega where we know anything can happen.
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, I feel like they’re all — each one of the tracks are pretty similar for myself, so it’s just trying to get the most points at each track and do that the best that you can. It’s tough to say. Denny ran great at Dover and he’s struggled there in the past, so they obviously stepped up and made some gains.
But I like all the tracks we go to. I feel like we run pretty well at them and have a chance to win at each one of them. Just kind of go to them and try to do the best that we can.
Q. Obviously the season started out kind of rough for you guys, but you were able to come back really strong and won a couple races and made one of the wild card spots. Being down in the Chase here early on, I was wondering if maybe the fact that you guys have already fought back once this season gives you any extra motivation or any extra hope for being able to compete for the championship when you guys get to Homestead.
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, I mean, I feel like our team has done a really nice job of that all season long, of coming back and getting behind and charging back as well as we could. So we still have a lot left in the Chase. It’s a bad race, but if I can win at one of those races, we’re back in it and we’re all tied up. We definitely have a shot, we’re definitely not out of it, but we can’t give up any more points at this stage of it. We just need to run well and run up front from here on out.
Q. My first question is with racing in Nationwide Series races, do you feel like it’s a little bit of an advantage for you in the Chase?
KASEY KAHNE: Well, I’m just doing two races in the Chase; one was Dover, which we ran great in; our Great Clips Chevy was fast and had a shot to win at the end and had a problem late so that was taken away. And then we’re doing Phoenix also in that car. I think you can learn a little bit about tires and the racetrack and how it rubbers in. Other than that, I think the cars are — they’re different enough that more than anything you’re doing it just to race and for the competition and trying to win.
Q. At Talladega this weekend, how do you think your performance will be at Talladega compared to previous years in the past running there?
KASEY KAHNE: Well, hopefully it’ll be really good. I like that place. I’ve always liked racing at Talladega, and we’ve ran pretty well there for the last couple years. Hopefully it’ll be pretty good. We’ll have a fast Hendrickcars.com Chevy and just do the best we can and try to stay out of trouble. If we can stay out of trouble, I think we’ll be in the mix to be up in that top 5 and hopefully have a shot to win.
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