Transcript: Rick Hendrick and Kasey Kahne Teleconference
April 14, 2010
An interview with:
RICK HENDRICK -- OWNER, HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS
KASEY KAHNE -- DRIVER OF THE NO. 5 CHEVROLET IN 2012
JESSE ESSEX -- EVENT MODERATOR
JESSE ESSEX: We appreciate everybody joining us today. I'd like to take a quick moment to welcome all the listeners on SIRIUS NASCAR radio, who are tuning in. On the call this afternoon is Rick Hendrick, Owner of Hendrick Motorsports, along with NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Driver, Kasey Kahne. Mr. Hendrick is calling in from his office at Hendrick Motorsports in Concord, N.C., and Kasey's joining us from Scottsdale, Ariz. Thank you, both for your time.
And for those members of the media covering the Texas race, we want to note that Kasey will be available at the racetrack Friday, as will Mark Martin. Those details will be posted.
It was officially announced this morning that Kasey will drive the Hendrick Motorsport's No. 5 Chevrolet, beginning with the 2012 Sprint Cup season. Mr. Hendrick, obviously a big announcement. In the news release, you described this as an unbelievable opportunity for Hendrick Motorsports. Could you expand on that and talk a little about what Kasey brings to the organization?
RICK HENDRICK: Well, you know, when we, when you look at Kasey's record and 11 wins and 16 poles and just turned 30 years old, he's one of the all ready stars of our sport, but got a lot of years left ahead of him. And knowing that Mark was wanting to retire after the 2011 season, we just looked at this as a golden opportunity for our organization to pick up such a great talent, but also a guy that just all of our drivers had, independently, solicited me to, that I should try to go after. And, you know, the way he fits with our organization and our drivers, I think it's going to be a, it's a golden opportunity for us. And it's an investment in our future because of Kasey's age. So we're just real excited about having him become part of a deal.
JESSE ESSEX: Thank you, Mr. Hendrick. Kasey, this has been an extremely important process for you personally and professionally. Can you tell us a little bit about that process and what ultimately brought you to this decision?
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, I mean, I just, you know, I've had a, I've never been in this position before. I've never been in a situation where I'm talking to other teams, and looking at my future and thinking about that until this year. And it's been really eye opening, and I've had a really good time meeting with a lot of the people in the sport, and I've learned a lot. And just to get the relationship with Mr. Hendrick and have the opportunity to go and drive the 5 car in the future is just an awesome opportunity for myself. And I'm really excited. I'm really excited to have it done with now, announced and can really just focus on the rest of my year and my commitment with Budweiser and Richard Petty Motorsports and my team there, and just try to win some races there. But, you know, the future's, I'm excited. I think it's the best opportunity I could ever have, and I'm just going to make the most out of it. And I feel like the drivers there, the crew chiefs, the people that work for Hendrick Motorsports, I think it will just be a great fit. You know, I really like those guys. I enjoy them and think that, you know, I can learn a lot from them, and look forward to all that.
Q: Hi, I think you meant Tom Jensen. Mr. H., congratulations on the signing. Is there any chance that in 2011 you might to help Dale Earnhardt, Jr. get the JR Motorsports Team moved up to the Cup level and put Kasey over there?
RICK HENDRICK: You know, we have not gotten into any particulars yet. Everything is brand new. You know, we're focused, Kasey had enough faith in our organization to sign a multi-year deal, and we're just, it's kind of a unique animal that we know what we're going to do come '12, but right now we haven't locked in on what we're going to do in '11 yet. And there are just a ton of options, and we're going to, no decision's been made yet, Don.
Q: Just a quick follow up to that. Is it, when do you need to have a time table to make a decision about 2011? Can it go several months, or is it something that you need to wrap up quickly?
RICK HENDRICK: No, I don't, you know, again, I don't think it's something that we've got any deadline on. And, but surely, we should have something done in the next 90 days for sure.
Q: Thank you.
Q: Yes, Rick, Jim Utter, Charlotte Observer. Going on the lines of Tom Jensen's question, should we automatically assume that whatever arrangement is made with Kasey will in some way be connected in some fashion with Hendrick Motorsports? And is it your responsibility to work out the 2011 situation or his or both of yours?
RICK HENDRICK: No. It's on my, Jim, it's my responsibility. Again, I'm not speaking for Kasey, but we wanted, I wanted this deal so bad because I thought that he was just a perfect fit for our company with the talent he has, and it was just like the perfect guy for us. And I made a statement a minute ago that probably isn't correct. I don't think Mark will ever retire, he just don't want to run all the races any more. But, you know, but it's, my goal is to put him in the best situation to win races and win a championship. And we realize that we've got to do something in '11, but we're going to adhere to the NASCAR policy and do it according to their rules and regulations are. But this was just too good an opportunity for me to pass up. And so it's clearly all on my shoulders, and I'm committed to giving him the best opportunity, put him in the best place for '11 that we can come up with.
Q: As a quick follow up for Kasey, is that basically, Kasey, was that basically your philosophy the opportunity was too good to pass up? And that's why you're willing to leave next year kind of up in the air for the time being?
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, I just, you know, when you're in a situation like this, I just feel like I need to make a situation that's, or a decision that's with the future. You know, and the future for myself. And I thought that this was, something that I really, really wanted to do. And it makes a lot of sense to do it. So we're going to figure out '11 shortly. But, you know, right now we don't know, but we'll definitely figure that out. It'll be something really good. And then, we know what's after that.
Q: Thank you. Rick, I want to ask you a question with looking at your organization and the Stewart-Haas Racing organization with the alliance and the close, and the relationship that it has. All ready this season you guys have won four of the first seven races, scored 40% of all of the top fives and nearly a quarter of all the top tens. I think there's a lot of expectation that, you know, obviously one opportunity is Kasey possibly going over to Stewart-Haas Racing for a year. Some people look at this just as the rich getting richer. I wanted ask your perspective, at what point for the sport can such a dominance by, you know, one umbrella organization be a concern or possibly an impact on fan interest or even those who might want to enter the sport via ownership or sponsorship?
RICK HENDRICK: You know, I Dustin, I'm not, I don't know how to answer that other than, you know, we have a, our organization has won races. Tony and Gene Haas have done a good job over there, and basically they, Tony put together a good group of people and they've been successful. They won one race, we won three this year. And a lot of races we won, you know, we were just there, you know, we didn't lead all the laps. We were probably the second or third best car, but we came out on top. And you know, I don't see with the fans that pull for the drivers, not the organizations, and you know, I don't see that that's, I'd like to think that we're going to be, win 40% of the races from here on. But you know, we won four championships back in the '90s, and then we went on a dry spell, and a big dry spell. And then we put it back together and we've had good success here lately. But you know, it's, there are guys, there are organizations out there with ten, eight to ten guys that share information, same motor programs, everybody's kind of getting into that. Toyota has a huge alliance with sharing information. It's, you know, it's, that's what we're supposed to do. We're supposed to win and compete. And you know, I think that we're doing our job, but it doesn't mean that it's going to be automatic. But, you know, we've got to, you got to keep working as hard as you can doing all the things you know how to do. But if you look at the races this year, we haven't dominated. We've been, you know, in the right place at the right time. And you know, I think the, you can't take away from the fact that Tony Stewart has put together a good organization over there. And they've, he and Ryan are great drivers.
Q: Also, Rick, as a partial stake holder in JR Motorsports, I know you haven't looked at, like I said if Kasey might fit in there. But as a partial stake holder, do you foresee or when could it be viable for that organization to move to Cup? And would it make sense sooner than later in light of some of the challenges recently in finding sponsorship for a nationwide program?
RICK HENDRICK: You know, Junior's made it pretty clear that he wants to see that a nationwide organization. And I think with the commitments that Danica and you know, what's going there, you know, that is totally Junior and Kelly's call. But he's been pretty vocal about wanting to, you know, make that a nationwide operation. But, you know, that could change subject to Danica's decisions, and really that decision is going to be made by Dale and Kelly.
Q: Thank you.
RICK HENDRICK: Yes, sir.
Q: Hi, Rick and Kasey. My question's kind of for both of you. And I may be putting the cart ahead of the horse, because it's a little related to how much room here is at the inn. Kasey, based on your affinity for your crew chief, I assume you'd like to continue working with Kenny in some form or fashion. And if that is indeed the case, Mr. H., how does that fit in, since you all ready have four crew chiefs?
RICK HENDRICK: Well, go ahead, Kasey.
KASEY KAHNE: You know, my relationship with Kenny has been awesome. I get to work with him every week. We have a great communication between ourselves and kind of what the car's doing and what changes we need to make. And I feel like we can win a lot of races this year or some races this year and before the season's done. So you know, I look forward to working with Kenny the rest of this year, and hopefully we work together in the future. But I, personally I don't know. That's one of the things that I'm not sure of yet, you know, what's going to happen there.
Q: Mr. H. do you already have an idea in your head? Alan's currently the crew chief of the 5, but is that, you know, are we still two years out and you don't know yet how it'll play out?
RICK HENDRICK: Yeah. You never know, you know, again, what's going to happen in this sport. But, you know, we've got four great crew chiefs here. They do a great job, and today we're locked and set. And you know, who knows what the future's going to bring.
Q: Okay. Thank you.
Q: Yeah, Rick, you said earlier that you wanted to make sure that you adhere to NASCAR policy and do it according to the rules and regulations. Are you concerned at all, knowing how vigilant they've been in enforcing the four car rule, are you, and knowing this is somewhat uncharted territory here, signing a driver a full season and a half ahead. Are you worried that they might be concerned if you put Kasey with a team that uses your chassis and engines?
RICK HENDRICK: Not at all. I mean, there's a, you know, we've done chassis and engines for lots of people and it never comes up. And this isn't the first time an organization signed a driver. You know, it happens in IRL. It happens in Formula 1 all the time. And you know, there again, I have to look at the future of our company, and we're going to do what we're supposed to do by the NASCAR rules. And you know, we're-- there's lots of options. You know, we've got a year to, hurdle to get over and, but at the, Kasey and I decided that it was worth it. I mean, I am-- the success that we've had here with the four teams has been good. And you know, with Mark saying that '11 is definitely the last year he can run the full schedule, sometimes you have a hard time matching up the opportunity, the date the seat's open with the date that the driver's available. So after, you know, there wasn't any doubt in my mind that this was a commitment that I would make to Kasey. Put the burden on my shoulders, because I see him as a future star and a guy that will be racing here a long time, winning championships and races. And you know, we'll just figure out, we're going to figure out '11. And you know, if it was under the old regime, I'd have him billing over here and have five teams. But I can't do that. So you know, we, I understood that, he understands that. And we're just going to, we'll figure it out.
Q: So if he were to drive in a stop-gap type measure one season with Stewart-Haas, that you don't have, you think that will meet NASCAR approval, no problem?
RICK HENDRICK: Sure it will. I mean, you know, I have no ownership whatsoever in that team. And you know I sell them engines, and I sell them chassis. And you know, no different than James Finch or the 78 car or you know, now, or any of the other alliances like the Earnhardt Ganassi. That's an ownership deal, when you look at some of those teams. Our deal has been clearly, their ownership, our ownership. They're a retail customer.
Q: Is it fair, last follow up, is it far to say then, Rick, that it's pretty much 100% guarantee that Kasey will drive a Chevrolet for somebody next year?
RICK HENDRICK: Yeah, it'll be a Chevrolet.
Q: Okay. Thank you, sir.
Q: Yeah, Rick, I'm curious with Kasey coming on, what kind of sponsorship opportunities you see, you know, obviously going from an older drive to a younger driver? And then, if Kasey could talk a little bit about what he thinks might happen with Bud, and whether they would come by the time he gets tendered?
RICK HENDRICK: Well, when you couple Kasey's talent with his, you know, his looks and his popularity, clearly, he is-- would be a sponsor's dream for anybody. He fits in any and every category. So from that standpoint, he's got all positives. I mean, he's, again, he's a-- he could work with any sponsor.
Q: And do you have a clean slate on that car? In other words, does the primary end at the same time that Mark will stop driving full time?
RICK HENDRICK: We've got options. I mean, again, those kind of things, I'd have to go back and look at all the contracts because some of them have options to renew, and we haven't even gotten that far yet.
Q: And Kasey, from your perspective, Budweiser in the future What do you think?
KASEY KAHNE: Man, I've, you know it's my third year with Budweiser and it's been a great, you know, partnership with those guys. They're really good people. I've really enjoyed the brand. But I don't know what the future is for myself and Budweiser. I definitely enjoy what I've had so far and hope to stick with them, you know, for a long time, if that's what works out, but I really have no idea.
Q: Thank you. Well, first for Rick and then for Kasey. Rick, this opportunity just came up, but you're the king of strategic thinking when it comes to getting and securing top drivers in the garage area. Knowing that he was looking and trying to decide, how long have you had your eye on Kasey?
RICK HENDRICK: Golly, a long time. You know, he-- you know, I have the utmost respect for Ray Evernham, and you know Ray had talked about Kasey's talent way back when he first started his team and put him in his car. And I've watched him and our guys have watched him, and you know, we've been in a position where, you know, all of our seats were full. And when, you know, Mark, and I think Mark actually talked to Kasey a year ago about this is what he ought to do. And Mark was working and came to me a year ago saying "That's a guy you ought to put in a car." And you know, so it's been on the radar for a good while.
Q: Thank you. And Kasey, you know, thinking about your career, the different organizations and manufacturers and what not, can you talk a little bit about being in a Hendrick car. What you expect that to do to you? How good their cares are and are you just itching to get into one of their cars?
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, I mean, I'm really looking forward to it, looking forward to the future, and being able to work with those guys and just drive, just drive for Mr. Hendrick. I mean, the cars, the engines, the people that work there, I mean, they have such a team organization and I feel like I can fit really well with the team and fit really well, you know, with team mates and working together and that kind of stuff. So I think it's going to be a-- I really look forward to it. I get to race against Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Mark Martin. I race against them every week and it'll be nice to part of that, part of that team and race with them each week, but be part of the organization.
Q: I guess with a quick follow up, obviously the team, and how they get along and they all love working over there. But do you think the equipment is so stellar that this will have your career soaring?
KASEY KAHNE: Well, I think their equipment's, you know, definitely very good. You know, but I think it takes people, and they have great people and it takes a lot of dedication and hard work, and that's where you get Jimmie Johnson. That's why that guy and that team are so strong. And you know, Jimmie's always-- every time I talk to him or watch what he's doing, whether it's on the track or on the track, you always see that he's trying to find ways to make himself better. And you know, so that's why Jimmie Johnson wins, is because how hard that team works, and that team works. And I feel like going to a team like this and having an opportunity like this, it's up to me how bad I want it. If I put in, you know, the effort, the commitment, hopefully, I can definitely win some races there.
Q: Thank you. Good luck, guys.
RICK HENDRICK: Thank you, Claire.
Q: This is for Mr. Hendrick. Mr. Hendrick, you've kind of answered this all ready, but do you foresee any circumstances where Mark might not want to return next year, either because he wins it all next year, or this year or any other circumstances?
RICK HENDRICK: Yeah, you know, all I can tell you is what Mark's told me. He wanted to run another year, wanted to run through '11. And I asked him did he want to run, could he do it beyond "11? And he said, no, he just didn't think he could do that. And so, you know, that's all I know right now.
Q: And also, and do you have a time table for when you'd like to get Kasey hooked up with a deal for next year?
RICK HENDRICK: You know, no, not really. I try not to set those kind of deadlines or time tables because sure as you do, you force yourself into something that's not right. And you know, this is all so new, we just haven't had a chance to sit back and analyze everything. And literally, our people here and within 24 hours or 36 hours of us getting it done we, the whole world knows it. So we, we haven't had any kind of quiet time to think about the best approaches here, other than my total commitment to him. And I want to say this, too, about our guys here, and Kasey touched on it. Nobody-- there weren't a lot of people trying to hire Jimmie Johnson when he came here. And we didn't have a sponsor. And we were right at getting the year kicked off before we got Lowe's and we had to talk them into taking a chance with a young guy. The same thing with Jeff Gordon. I signed a long-term deal to get, paint, put paint in my dealerships to get a sponsor for Jeff Gordon. And Dale Earnhardt's a different story. But Mark Martin's a guy that had been part time, I talked into coming back, and you know, so the bottom line is, like Kasey said, it's not the, so much the equipment, it's the people and their attitude and their willingness to work hard and work together that has made this deal what it is. And the fit with Kasey is like a glove with Jeff and Jimmie and Dale. They all three had come to me, telling me that he would be the guy, if we could get him.
Q: Thank you.
Q: For Kasey, I was curious, did you turn down any offers from any teams that all ready had sponsorship and everything lined up for next year in order to be in this, instead to go, be in this limbo next year and be with Rick in 2012?
KASEY KAHNE: Well, I had a-- I talked to a lot of teams, all the teams, you know, over the last couple months. And I just felt like Hendrick Motorsports was the best opportunity, the best place for myself and my future, and that's what we went with.
Continued in part 2