Kasey Kahne, driver of the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, dropped out of the top-10 of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship points standings following last weekend’s race at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) Internation. But he’s in the prime spot to grap the first wild card spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup with two wins, so far, this season. This weekend, the circuit heads to Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Mich., for Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400. Kahne is a previous winner at Michigan.
On Wednesday, Kahne participated in a NASCAR teleconference, during which he discussed such things as making the Chase and run-ins with Joe Gibbs Racing drivers. Here’s what he had to say:
Q. Kasey, what is your mindset with four races left to make the Chase with Michigan and Bristol up next, both being tracks you’ve won at?
: I feel really good about making the Chase. I feel good about getting into the top 10 and racing our way in.
I think we’ve been fast at those tracks and good at all the tracks that we have left on the schedule this season. I’m excited about it. I think we’re in a good spot.
Q. Kasey, I wanted to ask you a little bit about, I know it looked like you were having fun on Twitter after the race on Sunday. Talk about that, your thoughts and why you did that. Secondly, if you could talk about Michigan, review of your stats. Recently it’s been all good or not so good.
: Yeah, I think the Michigan deal, we were really fast the first race, had a right front tire go down, blow out, hit the wall hard. So our day was over. But we were leading at the time.
I feel good about going to Michigan. Those types of tracks seem to suit us pretty well. So, yeah, looking forward to that.
The ones that have gone bad, that was one of them. I can’t remember last year real well. I imagine we hit something there, too. I don’t know what happened. But we definitely are fast when we go to Michigan. Just circumstances haven’t always gone our way.
Then the Twitter stuff, I was just frustrated and at the same time trying to make fun of it. I just tweeted about going down there. I had a few texts and different people tweeting me back. It ended up being kind of entertaining and I enjoyed it.
I wasn’t happy about Matt crashing me at Watkins Glen at all. I feel like we had a great car and we were trying to make moves, come up through there. I don’t know if he had a problem with Ambrose. He said he didn’t. Other people around, seemed like he might have.
I don’t know what happened. I just know he missed the corner, wiped me out. I gave them guys plenty of room. It was frustrating to get crashed at that point in the race for something like that.
The whole Gibbs thing, this is the fourth time this year a Gibbs car has crashed me when I’ve been running. I mean, that was 11th. But the others were for first, second, fifth. We’ve lost tons and tons of points because of those guys. It doesn’t sit real well with me at all.
Q. Have you had a chance to speak with Matt or any of them after Watkins Glen?
: He texted me, I don’t know, five to eight times apologizing, trying to explain what happened, how he felt really bad about how it happened and all that stuff. I understand and I appreciate the texts.
At the same time, we’re trying to get in the Chase. It hurts when you get wiped out when you’re minding your own business. It’s happened enough this year that I don’t know what I can do about it, but I definitely am not pleased. It’s really annoying and upsetting.
Q. Kasey, I received an email recently from a fan who goes to the Sprint car races at Williams Grove. He said it was a treat to see you and Tony Stewart race there. He hasn’t seen you there for two years. I understand there’s nothing in your contract that prohibits you from racing Sprint cars. Have you just decided not to do it?
: I don’t know when the last time I raced at the Grove was. I enjoy racing there. As far as this year goes, I haven’t raced. I had to have raced 10 or 12 times last year. This year I’ve pretty much stuck with the Cup stuff, focused on that. I have a great team, opportunity there, so I’ve stuck with that.
I was with three World of Outlaw teams and one team that races 60 times a year that I get to enjoy the Sprint car racing with. I was at Knoxville as long as I could be, hung out with those guys, watched those guys kind of do their thing.
It’s been good, exciting to be part of that. When I feel like racing a Sprint car again, I will. Right now I’ve kind of been focused on trying to do the best I can in the Sprint Cup car.
Q. After what happened with Tony, will that make you think twice about racing the Sprint cars again?
: I think it will all make us look at how it happened to Tony and try to make the cars a little bit safer in those areas, if we can. There’s got to be some ways we can prevent what happened to Tony or try to prevent it. It just all kind of fell against him in those certain circumstances, got his leg.
I think all the teams can learn from that. I know Tony is going to be a big part of trying to make that better, as well. I think we’ll try to make our stuff better from what we can learn from Tony’s accident.
No, it doesn’t really change myself wanting to race, any of that. It’s exactly the same as it was before he got in that wreck.
Q. I wanted to hear about how running is helping with the late-season grind and whether you’re able to run more or less as the Chase heats up?
: I’d say I’ve actually run about the same amount. At times maybe a little less because of testing and things like that. Just not enough time to get it all in.
The nice thing about running is you can do it anywhere. I’m able to still get out there, get a good sweat in, get some miles each day. I feel good about that.
I really think it helps for the Chase because I feel better at the end of the season. When it’s all said and done, I still feel motivated, not completely drained and worn out.
I remember the first couple years I was in the Cup Series, by the time we got to Homestead at the end of the year, I was so happy for the season to be over. Probably the last two years really, I’ve been wishing it went a couple more races. I think a lot of that has to do with running, the physical work that I put in each year.
Q. Considering what happened at the Glen, how big was the previous win at Pocono as far as keeping y’all calm and confident as far as the Chase goes?
: Yeah, I think it was really big. I don’t like not being in the top 10, but I feel a lot more secure. I feel like our chances are a lot better because of the Pocono win after falling back out of the top 10 because of getting wiped out at the Glen. It was a big win, it was really good. It helped all of us out.
These next four tracks are good tracks for us. We want to race our way back in. We want to get those bonus points to start the Chase. Hopefully we can start on that this weekend at Michigan.
Q. Is there anything you can do to avoid these things? Anything you’re going to try to do to change your luck?
: Man, I feel like all you can do to change your luck is work hard, do the right things. I try to be a good person. I try to work hard before the races and be as prepared as I can be once I get there. I race people the way I expect to get raced. I don’t crash people.
I’ve still gotten wiped out five times this year. It’s discouraging, but I think I just keep doing what I’m doing. Hopefully they all figure it out. I don’t know. Hopefully it just quits, I guess.
I think over time it runs a path and a pattern. It all kind of comes around eventually.
Q. Obviously you’re in a lot better situation than a lot of people for the Chase. When we get to Richmond, you’ve been through that before. What is that like, trying to race your way in, the stress and the pressure? Is there anything in your career previously that you can relate to what that feeling is like at Richmond, trying to get your way into the Chase?
: No other feelings that I’ve had like that. I’ve been in that position a lot over the years. We just always seem to be right on that verge there, right on the edge of making it or not making it.
I’ve went through it. I kind of enjoy it. I kind of enjoy the pressure, like to have to be perfect that weekend, things like that. It’s been good. It’s worked out for us most of the time. We’ve been able to make the Chase when we’re in those positions.
I feel pretty good about it, don’t mind it. I’d rather have that pressure late in the season. We haven’t had it late in the season yet. We just have to keep working at that. Hopefully we’ll have a little pressure when Richmond comes, and hopefully we’ll have a little more at the end of the year.
Q. What does that do for a team in trying to race to get into the Chase and then you have to gear back up to race for a championship? How do you reset or how does that affect guys? Does that hurt a team, make it harder to win a championship when you’ve had to scramble to get into the Chase?
: Yeah, I don’t think it would make it easier by no means because everybody’s putting in the time, the pressure’s on you each week, from the driver to the team to the pit guys on Sundays. It’s a tough part of the season.
But it’s kind of what we’re all here for, too, to step up when times are tough, make it happen. I know we have a really strong team.
I think with the two wins, that helps, takes some of the pressure off. If we can run strong the next few weeks, I think we’ll be in a really good spot, just try to put those final 10 together. That’s what it’s all about.
Q. You’ve talked about your frustration with the run-ins with the JGR cars this season. Has there been a time in your career where you’ve been on the other end, where you’ve gotten into somebody or one particular team? You talk about things kind of come around. Has that happened to you earlier in your career, and how did you deal with that?
: It’s never happened to me. Kind of makes me think I need to start taking cars out. But it hasn’t happened to me. I don’t know what it would be like on that side of it.
Q. Kasey, on this issue with Matt Kenseth, you make it very clear that you’re not somebody who is going to wreck somebody on the racetrack. How do you go about getting the message to Matt, that this has to stop, this isn’t the right way to race?
: Well, just looking at the incidents with him and Kyle, we’ve always had conversations after the fact. They’ve explained and felt bad about it. Truthfully, Kyle races me really good all the time. It’s not really on my mind when I’m racing with Kyle.
Matt has been pretty tough on me a lot this year. He got me there. That’s definitely on my mind. I just kind of see things the way I see it. I would expect a little difference out of him, but you never know. We’ll see how it goes.
Q. Going into Michigan, how important do you think it is for you to get as close as you can to a win or to the win itself and climb into the top 10 in points?
: I think the most important thing to me is to get into that top 10 and not have to use a wild card. In order to do that, we need to be consistent. It would be great to get another win and get some more of them bonus points when the Chase does start. Michigan is a good track, Bristol, Atlanta, all of them are tracks we won at. Hopefully we can race hard, take care of it on the track, go that way.
But I don’t know. The only reason we’re in this position isn’t because of my consistency or my team’s consistency, we’ve had that all season long, it’s been other people not being able to control their racecars at times.
I feel like mine and my team’s consistency is as good as anybody’s. If everybody else could control their car in those situations we’ve had, we’d be in the middle of battling for the lead in points. That’s very easy to see for myself.
– Photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR