Yesterday NASCAR had an interview with Kasey Kahne who will be joining Hendricks Motorsports this year. It was a very good interview and made me wish the season started tomorrow.
ASHLEY JONES: Good morning, everyone, and welcome to today’s NASCAR teleconference in advance of the 54th running of the Daytona 500, which will air on FOX at 1:00 p.m. on February 26. Our guest today is Kasey Kahne. Kasey drives the No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet, and he takes over the famed No. 5 car for Hendrick Motorsports beginning in Daytona. And with two top-5 finishes in his last three points races at the World Center of Racing, Kasey may be closing in on his first Daytona 500 win and a 200th victory for Hendrick Motorsports.
Question – Kasey, as you start the 2012 season with a new team, talk about your expectations heading into Speedweeks and Daytona.
KASEY KAHNE: Just really excited to get started. We’ve had some really good tests. It’s been awesome to be part of Hendrick Motorsports, and just excited to get to Daytona. It’s a big race, and I can’t wait to get rolling again. It’s been a good off-season, but I’m ready to go.
Q. Could you talk a little bit about what your anticipation and expectation of being at Hendrick Motorsports has been versus the reality of what it’s been so far?
KASEY KAHNE: Well, I’d say the anticipation has been — it was a year of just being excited and trying not to think too much about it because I was trying to take care of where I was at the time. But I always had a — I always couldn’t wait to get in the 5, couldn’t wait to get started with working with the guys over there.
You know, this year probably the Daytona test was the first time I started to feel like kind of part of the team, and it’s been really good. It’s been everything that I expected up to this point. I still am pretty fresh with the whole deal, so I think it only gets better from here.
Q. You and Kenny Francis have worked together in several different organizations. So far, as far as the exchanges between the two of you, what’s Kenny’s reaction been to working with Hendrick’s resources and with the personnel you guys have access to there?
KASEY KAHNE: Well, I feel like Kenny has been pretty excited. I could kind of tell towards the end of last season, the last eight races or so, he was pretty happy, pretty excited and felt like he could kind of see his future and see where we were headed. We were also running well. But to me he’s fitting in great over there. It’s been a lot on his plate trying to figure it out and figure out how things are ran there and how the cars are built. There’s just a lot of people. So trying to figure all that out and work with all the guys takes time.
I mean, watching him, he’s done a really good job, and he’s definitely happy about where he’s at and what he’s working on.
Q. Were you at Homestead last week on the 2013 car?
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah.
Q. Could you talk about that and what you thought of that, your impressions of the car?
KASEY KAHNE: Oh, my impressions of — we tested there on Wednesday, and Thursday we were at Nashville with the current car, and just really for the initial test session with that car, it was — you can tell they’ve put a lot into it because the car drove great. It looks really good. I think all the cars looked really good that were there, and it drove great right off the start, first time on the track.
I think it’s going to be a really exciting change for everybody involved, and especially the fans. I think they’re going to be able to see a little more of the — a little more what they’ve looked for in the past, being able to see the manufacturer of each car and how they look different and aren’t the exact same.
Q. And I want to ask you, too, you’ve seen over the years a lot of point swapping going into the season, for owners to buy into races for drivers or car numbers. What do you think of that? Are you okay with that?
KASEY KAHNE: Well, I just think the way that it is, those points are really big with the 150s. You know, if you can rely on your points and something crazy happens and you not get through a 150 and you go home, that’s a big deal. The Daytona 500 is a big race to make, and those first five, I think, in years past at times have been five that you have to make if you want to be in that top 35 once we get away from the fifth race.
But it’s important, and I guess if — however you want to make sure you’re in the race is fine with me.
Q. So you’re not offended by that, that somebody can buy their way in versus earn their way in?
KASEY KAHNE: No. I mean, they’re the ones that — they spent all last year to be in that position with those points, and whatever they want to do with them, I think, is — that’s just kind of the way it is, and I think it’s really fine.
Q. What’s your reaction to being in the same shop, as it were, with the 24 car? How do you like it, and what’s Kenny said about it?
KASEY KAHNE: Well, I think it’s really good. It’s been fun to kind of talk with Jeff and try to pick his brain a little bit on certain things. You know, I’ve looked at things differently, as well, so some of the ways that I look at stuff will be different from Jeff, and I’ll give him a different way to look at stuff every once in a while, too, because he’s been in one spot for so long. He’s so used to trying to do things certain ways.
But he’s been very successful, so I feel like working with him is a pretty great opportunity for myself, and it’s been a lot of fun so far doing that and just pretty cool to be a part of that.
Q. Have you learned the names of everybody in the shop yet?
KASEY KAHNE: No. There’s a lot of people over there. I’m getting better and better every day, but I still have a long ways to go.
Q. At that test last Wednesday, what kinds of things were you looking for out of that car? I assume you had never been in it. What tells you whether it’s a good car or not?
KASEY KAHNE: Well, the things I was looking for were just making single-lap runs by yourself, how does it drive. How does the side force feel? How does the downforce feel, the front, down to how is the car turning. And all that stuff I was really happy with. Then we decided — we ran four cars together in a pack, so I would try to enter on the inside of say Kenseth, like right on the inside, or Kyle was out there and tried to run right behind him as closely as I could and see if the car still turned as good when I was right behind him or if I entered on the bottom of Kenseth and spin out or tried to do something crazy. And all that stuff, it was solid. The car was always really solid.
I mean, you could get sliding around once in a while, but for what we did there, I felt like that car was really solid and really fun to drive.
Q. And what was it like for you to be at a test where apparently there were curtains up, the paint job on the car was done so you couldn’t really see distinct body lines? What’s it like to be part of a test that kind of has that secrecy atmosphere? Is it a little bit shocking to have that much in a test in a sport that’s fairly open about things?
KASEY KAHNE: No, I mean, it was all kind of fun. I didn’t really think of it as anything different, anything bad. It was just kind of cool to be a part of that. Chevy is looking after their car until they’re ready to unveil it.
Q. I’m just wondering, this is the first time you’re coming to Daytona with a team that has a really good record at Daytona. Does that have you excited?
KASEY KAHNE: Well, yeah, I think everywhere I go I’m going to be pretty darned excited. But definitely Daytona, as big of a race as the 500 is, and all of us want to win that race so bad. To come down there with Hendrick Motorsports, a team that’s won the race, I mean, it’s just awesome. I look forward to that. I’ve never been excited about qualifying. The 5 car had two poles last year on restrictor plate tracks, so I think I was — I’m usually somewhere probably in the 20s or 30s when it comes to qualifying on those tracks, so that’s exciting to know that, man, we might have a shot to get on the front row or something that we’ve never been able to do before, I’ve never been able to do before, because of how much effort they put into the Daytona 500.
So yeah, it’s a big week. It’s definitely something to be excited about and look forward to, and I can’t wait to get down there and practice a little bit, and then qualifying on Sunday is going to be exciting.
Q. It seems like there’s a handful of teams that always do well at the restrictor plate tracks. Can you give me an idea how much effort Hendrick Motorsports puts into those kind of cars that you race?
KASEY KAHNE: Well, you know, they have some really good guys that are just fine-tuning everything, every possible bit that they can, and remembering the things that have worked in the past and the things that haven’t, and new options and things like to try. It’s pretty impressive to see what they do and how much time they put into those cars.
Q. Can you give me a ballpark figure? Did they start working on this before the season was over last year or were they working on it when you first showed up at the shop, or do they constantly work on it?
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, they’ve put a lot of time into it. I know that they were lucky last year, and I think all their cars, the 24 and the 5, survived all the races, so we have a pretty big fleet of cars that they just are trying to make the best that they can. They didn’t get in any wrecks or anything last year. So that always helps. And they just carry that through each year.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about how much it means to you to finally have a little bit of stability in your career?
KASEY KAHNE: Oh, man, stability. That’s a great word. Good word to hear. I think it’s just — I have four years here that I know it’s going to be stable and be competitive and have great people and a great team around me. To be able to be a part of all that is something that I haven’t had. It’s definitely nice to have it, makes you feel pretty good about where you’re at. It’s taken time. I’ve had some really good years in Cup and I’ve learned a lot from everything, and now I’m just in a really solid situation and need to take full advantage of it.
Q. Considering that, is this the year that the racing world and you yourself find out just how good a driver you are?
KASEY KAHNE: Well, I think that we’re going to have really good equipment and going to have a great team, and I still have Kenny Francis, so the communication is going to be there. So yeah, we’ll just see how high we can rise, how well we can step up and see what we can do throughout the whole season. That’s my biggest deal this year is to be as consistent as I’ve ever been each week and to win races. If we can do that, we’re going to have a great year.
Q. Loudon is a track that tends to generate a lot of repeat winners. It seems once guys have won there they typically go back to victory lane multiple times. Why do you think that is?
KASEY KAHNE: To me Loudon is a tough track because it’s flat and you have good speed down the straightaways and you slow down a lot for the corners, an it’s a tough track to figure out just as a driver. It took me some time. We’ve ran better there recently, and I think once you do, once you hit on some feelings and stuff, you can get that back. But until you hit on that feeling that you’re looking for as a driver, it’s hard to really go fast at that place. I think you watched the Stewart-Haas cars last year, how well they ran there, and that’s just building on what they’ve learned in the past. And we were right there with them. We weren’t far off of them.
It’s a tough track, and it takes time, but once you do figure it out, it seems like it’s just a place where you can kind of keep that around for a little while and run stronger there each time.
Q. And just for a quick follow-up, the two races there, the Cup races, are 300 and 301 laps, pretty short relatively speaking. As it relates to that track, do you think shorter is better than, say, a 400- or 500-lap race would be at that track?
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, I think 300 at that track is really good. I think for whatever reason, it never really seems like a real short race to me, driving. Maybe just how the cars drive and whatever. I don’t know, but it doesn’t really seem like a short race. So I think that’s a good amount of laps right where we’re at.
Q. I wanted to ask you as a practical matter, since you did have such a long kind of transition into working at Hendrick, what was it like for you? How familiar were you with the facility and the people and things like that before you got there? In other words, you didn’t just make your first entrance and meet everybody this off-season, did you? How has it worked? Did you spend some time at the shop there before?
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, I had spent a little bit of time with trying to look at seats and trying to make sure that that was kind of a smooth transition, smooth process changing that stuff over to where I was feeling comfortable right at the start. But other than that I didn’t spend a lot of time there. I felt like I was — I felt like that would be where I would go this year, but last year I felt like that really wasn’t my building, so I didn’t really spend a whole lot of time over there.
Now I’m starting to feel like I’m part of the team and part of Hendrick Motorsports and have spent a lot more time there since last season was over.
Q. What were your first impressions then when you saw that operation?
KASEY KAHNE: Very, very impressed. It’s an unbelievable place to drive down the hill and just have every option you want for whatever to see getting worked on. They have buildings with — it’s a neat place. It’s a pretty impressive place. I think once I got my key card, I felt like I could kind of go move around and kind of go wherever I wanted and check out the buildings and stuff. It’s been really good.
Q. What’s the biggest difference between Hendrick’s and where you’ve been other places?
KASEY KAHNE: Well, Hendrick is still pretty fresh to me, so I haven’t seen everything there for sure and haven’t been in the middle of too many things. But the biggest impression is probably just the amount of cars and the amount of work that they’ve got going on, whether it’s for Hendrick Motorsports or for Stewart-Haas or for Finch. I mean, there’s a lot going on there, and it’s just a really impressive place to see how many people are just putting their heads together and trying to figure out how to go as fast as we can.
Q. As far as your fans go, they seem to follow you around and you may pick up a few more now that you’re at Hendrick. Where do you think you’re most comfortable with your fans, and what do you like sharing with your fans the most?
KASEY KAHNE: I feel like I’m probably most comfortable with talking about racing, whether I’m at the track and in a fire suit or walking around and seeing fans. When it’s about racing, it’s all about racing. I feel like that’s where I’m most comfortable. That’s all I want to do is race cars. That’s really all I care about.
To be in that situation with fans and being able to talk about what I love to do, that’s when I’m definitely most comfortable.
Q. And this goes back a ways: You missed the media tour, or we missed you at the media tour because of your jury duty. Could you comment on that? It was kind of interesting that you did your duty.
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, it was really interesting. It was a little different than I expected. Actually it was kind of drawn out, so at times it was like, man, could we maybe hurry this process up a little bit. But at the same time I learned a lot, and I felt like I was part of something, a really big deal, and I actually started to really enjoy it. I enjoyed doing that. I wanted to be at media day. Maybe in the past I haven’t wanted to be at media day, every one of them, but this year I really wanted to be there and be a part of it and talk about the exciting 2012 season. But I wasn’t able to, and I felt like I definitely learned some things doing jury duty and being part of that.
Q. Talk a little bit about splitting a Nationwide season with Brad Sweet, and what do you think we can expect from Brad running that many races this season?
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, I have a great relationship with Great Clips. I like racing with them and racing for them. Mr. Turner, Turner Motorsports, they put together a Nationwide team, and it keeps getting stronger. I think we’re going to have some good stuff go on this year over there. Really looking forward to it.
I’m just trying to help Brad. He’s a good driver. He’s won a lot of races over the years, and you know, we’ll kind of see how he takes to the Nationwide cars. They’re not easy cars to drive, so we’ll see what he does. But I feel like he’ll do a really nice job, and as he gets enough laps and kind of gets comfortable with his surroundings and the way that those races happen and restarts and pit stops and things, I think he’ll do a really nice job.
Q. And what’s the program for KKR for 2012?
KASEY KAHNE: KKR we have Cody Darrah and Joey Saldana will be running the World of Outlaws, so we’ll have two full-time cars there, and then Brad Sweet and myself will split his car whenever it fits our schedule. Obviously Brad will do a lot more races than me, with full Cup and 15 Nationwide races that I already have on my plate. But it’ll be a pretty solid year between three different teams, but two of them are Outlaw teams.
Q. I wanted to follow up on what you were talking about, about your jury duty. A lot of times in real life you kind of get excused from those things because of your job, but you went ahead and participated. Can you elaborate on what you learned, and did you actually get called as a juror?
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah. Initially it was planned for my brother’s wedding week, and I was really nervous if I did get called as a juror that I’d have to miss his wedding, and that’s the last thing I wanted to do. So we called in to see if there was any way that could get changed, and they gave me three options: Daytona 500 week, his wedding week, and one was the media week. And to me the only one that I could take a chance on was media week, and yeah, as soon as — there was about 50-some of us in there, and they called out 12 jurors, and I think I was the second or third one called. At that point you just get interviewed, and they figure out all 12 jurors, and they wanted me in there, I guess, so I did it.
It was three full days. It was interesting. It was actually a pretty neat deal once I got in the middle of it and got focused on what was going on.
Q. What was the case and what was the verdict?
KASEY KAHNE: It was burglary. There was a burglary case, and it ended up guilty.
Q. Were you surprised at how the whole process worked?
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, I mean, I think the TV, they make it a little more into TV. They make you want to watch it or something. This was definitely not a lot of fun and games. I mean, it was intense. You know, it was some pretty serious stuff. I think they really puff those TV ones up a little bit, those shows, but this was the real deal.
ASHLEY JONES: Thank you, everybody, for your participation today.