NOTE: Ray Evernham, president and CEO of Evernham Motorsports, announced a multi-year contract extension with Kasey Kahne as driver of the No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge Charger. KASEY KAHNE (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge Charger) "I'm real...
NOTE: Ray Evernham, president and CEO of Evernham Motorsports, announced a multi-year contract extension with Kasey Kahne as driver of the No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge Charger.
KASEY KAHNE (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge Charger)
"I'm real excited to be able to do this, to be able to sign with Ray for a lot longer with Evernham Motorsports, all our sponsors and partners we already have with Dodge and Siemens and all the great sponsors we have we'll keep on being able to work with. Just to know I'm going to have the same race team with the same group of guys working on it. I pretty much know all the guys at the shop. I know everybody, but guys come in and out every once in awhile that you don't know. It's a big deal for myself. Ray is a great car owner. He taught me a lot. He wants to win races and the championship as bad as anybody in auto racing, and that's the kind of person I want to be with. I think it's a great opportunity, and I'm looking forward to the future with Evernham Motorsports.
"That was something I thought about (organization expanding to three teams), but it really wasn't (a determining factor). If he had stayed with two teams I would have stayed. It wasn't a big part of my decision. I know that third team is going to help Evernham Motorsports and give us more resources and things to work off of. We'll have three teams each weekend to work with at the race track and during testing during the season. All that is a big benefit, but the third team wasn't a part of my decision.
"It's been a great 10 days. We didn't have a race last weekend, and I ended up running a dirt race with Bill Elliott. I raced a Silver Crown race Thursday night, and I've just been able to have some fun. It's a huge relief to get that off my back and not have to think about it anymore. I didn't think it affected my racing at all, but I thought it was something I was always thinking about. You never know what's going to happen in those situations. To be done with that whole Ford issue and resign with Ray Evernham and everybody with Dodge, it was a very good week for us. Now we've got the Allstate 400 this weekend, one of the biggest races this season. Everything has been good the last 10 days. Hopefully we qualify well this afternoon and have a great race tomorrow.
"That first year you come in you don't know exactly what's going to happen. You know the situation you're getting into is a good one, and you hope things go well. You want to perform and you want to work hard to do that. Now with the extension it's nice. You know you've got the same thing you had last year and this year and you'll have it for four or five more years. It's something I think about, and then you don't have to think about it, either. You know you're set. I'm going to be able to work with Ray and Tommy Baldwin and all the guys and just get better working with all the same guys.
"I've talked to some of them. I don't know some of the situations, but I've talked to some of them and that's just something you have to think about instead of just racing and making your racecar run better. That's something I won't have to worry about. I've had people ask two or three months ago how much longer I was signed up with Ray or what are your plans after that? I think that takes care of all of that, too. Like Ray said, I'll be well into my 30s and be real happy.
"That (Hooters Pro Cup) is a good series to be coming out of going to IRP because it's a tight track. That's a track where you don't know what's going to happen, whether you run into somebody or they run into you, whether they're going to get mad or not get mad. It's a fun track to race, but the way races go there you never know what's going to happen.
"It changes some but either way the track is going to be different tomorrow than it was today or what it would have been yesterday. You've just got to get the best setup you can and hope it's close tomorrow and work on it during the race. It's a long race with plenty of pit stops. It's a balance that changes so much, but with the weather anymore and the track position, I think we did a good job this morning in making the right changes. Every change we went in the direction we want to go in. I feel like we can qualify well today, too."
RAY EVERNHAM (President, CEO Evernham Motorsports)
"My goal is to win the Nextel Cup and to do that you've got to have good partners and to put those things in place you've got to have good, long-term partners and committed people. As of last Wednesday, Kasey and I reached an agreement for him to be in the No. 9 car for quite some time going forward with Evernham Motorsports. I've made a commitment to him to build a championship caliber team around him, and he's made a long-term commitment to myself and to Dodge to help us achieve that goal of winning the Nextel Cup. We wanted to spring in on ya'll here first.
"Not just drivers -- Jeremy and Kasey are on long term, but also a lot of key people in our organization have signed on with us long term. Consistency with personnel and team players is a big part of getting better every year and winning the championship. We're really proud to say in large part that the braintrust of our organization is in place from drivers to crew chiefs to engineers to managers and Evernham Motorsports is intact for the future. Now we've got to worry about getting our Dodge Chargers ready to win that championship.
"The amount of races is a big part of it, but as close as the equipment is that's available to everybody out there, the real differences come in the talent and people. When you believe in somebody and you can go ahead and make a long term agreement and know that you don't have to worry about them being distracted or them worry about you being distracted. You can just focus on the job at hand when you know when you know they're set with the program for X number of years and sponsors are locked in and the people that are going to be surrounding them on the team. The comfort level is there and you can just concentrate on getting the job done. You really can't go race by race. You've got to be looking at it. When you're building a company you've got to have a three to five-year plan and people have to be as big a part of that plan as the equipment.
"We've got a car. We just don't have anyone to drive it. We would have liked to have a driver already. We've got a couple we're talking to. We've got great partners on that car with Valvoline and some of the other partners. I don't want to put a date in the sand and say we've got to have a driver. You notice I didn't say guy because with Erin now I've got to make sure I say driver or she gets mad. It's got to be about building the team. As NASCAR grows more you'll see it being as much about the organization as drivers in certain areas. We've got to worry about getting the team built first. I still believe if you build it in time they will come. If you have fast cars you're going to get the best drivers, and hopefully we'll get the right people to come and fill the seat.
"We don't want to get in specifics of the contract, but when we say long term, it is honestly a fairly long term deal. All I can say is Kasey will be into his 30s and I'll be way older than I want to be telling you about. I don't know how important it (third team) is going to be because I don't know what the testing rules are going to be yet. They're talking about doing some different things with manufacturers' testing. I think right now some of the biggest advantages of having that third team is what I always refer to as a group IQ. You've got more people working on the same project, so you get the answer faster or you can send the guys in different directions at the race track and maybe come up with some more information. So you're building a bigger information base. You're building a bigger information base faster whether you're testing or not.
"No matter how you average it, I've talked to Jack and Rick about it, if you're doing what we are, building our own engines and our own cars you've got pilots and marketing and sponsor reps, you throw all that in, it averages about 100 people per team. We'll be about 300 by the team we go next year.
"Right now most of our key people their contracts are in line, including some of our major sponsor contracts. Tommy and Kasey are both in line.
"I think the pool is big. It's out there. I look a lot to the open wheel world. There are certain drivers out there that have something extra. They have that talent. They do need to come up through a truck or Busch and get some NASCAR experience. These cars drive very different, but there are people out there that can make that jump from sprint or midgets or modifieds on up. You've just got to have a bath. Jack and Rick have big multi-car teams, but where they have an advantage over the rest of us is they've got driver development early. Jack's drivers now all came up through his program. He got those guys through his gong show or whatever they call it. Rick has done a lot of the same thing. We're looking at a lot of different drivers and now the equipment is a lot better and there are a lot of good cars out there. Everybody has got the same equipment. You've got a lot of engineers and a lot of experienced people working on it. A driver doesn't have to have millions years of experience to be a Nextel Cup winner like it used to be. Kasey has a tremendous amount of talent. Certainly I believe he could be a Nextel Cup champion, and it's not from years of experience running a Nextel Cup car. It's because of his ability to adapt to the racetrack in certain situations. They do have to spend a couple of years if they're in truck or Busch, and learn how to NASCAR race, which is different, but the process doesn't take as long as it used to.
"We don't have a complete plan yet because our Busch plans aren't 100 percent set. You'll see Kasey in the No. 6 car, which will be the No. 9 car because I think Jack and I made a deal to turn the numbers around. Right now we're working on who the other driver would be and where we're going to be with Erin. We're talking to some people right now that would take her full time and that would be a separate program. The best case scenario, Kasey is in our Busch car most of the time and Erin has her own full time program. Second case scenario would be that Kasey and Erin split the Busch car. I don't plan on doing a second full-time deal, so it would have to be in partnership with somebody else.
"Being careful there, I guess I would have to look behind my back the way they deal sometimes, but that's a whole other story. Everything we do is straight up. I think they tried as hard as they could to distract us this year. In the end, everybody knew that we were right. Kasey honored his commitments. I feel like a lot of that was about someone's personal ego cost a lot of people a lot of money and a lot of time. Now we're past it and in the end the best thing we can do is go on and be together a long time, win a lot of races and win the championship. Right now, that's what we're going to concentrate on.
"Anthony (Foyt) is a guy that tested for us at Kentucky. I've known his grandfather for some time. I'd love to run him some more. We're going to try to run him in a couple of Busch races this year. Every time we get something going it seems like we have a scheduling conflict. Anthony is certainly a candidate for the Evernham driver development program in the future based on that little bit of time we've been around him. I don't have any set concrete plans for him yet, but we're working with our partners on coming up with a true set driver development program that we can continue to run places and get people experience. I think Anthony's a prime candidate being 21 years old and having as much experience as he has. Hopefully we can find something to let him drive."