An interview with: KASEY KAHNE
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to today's NASCAR video teleconference in advance of Saturday's NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race. Our guest today is Kasey Kahne, driver of the No. 4 Red Bull Toyota.
Kasey won the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race in 2008 after winning the fan vote. He's the only driver to have won the event after having been voted in by the fans.
Kasey won at Charlotte Motor Speedway three other times there.
Talk a little bit about the racing this weekend which is a unique atmosphere and format.
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, it's a neat race. This weekend is always a lot of fun. I'm glad it's kind of a race where we don't worry about points, just worry about trying to win, putting on a good show for the fans. They're a huge supporter of the All-Star weekend, and so is Sprint.
To me it's an exciting weekend. I know all the drivers and teams look forward to being here in Charlotte, getting to put on a great show.
THE MODERATOR: This Friday is NASCAR Day. I know you have a foundation that is centered on helping children, which is the focus of the NASCAR Foundation event. Tell us what NASCAR Day means to the sport and how it helps kids you're trying to assist.
KASEY KAHNE: I think the NASCAR Foundation and NASCAR Day, it's awesome. It's great what they do, how much time and things NASCAR puts into it, and their people, the way that they do it to kind of bring our foundation and other drivers and team owners, sponsors, people that are part of the sport, work together.
It definitely helps. Puts a lot of smiles on kids' faces. It's neat to be part of that. I think NASCAR Day is a great day for everybody to support.
THE MODERATOR: We'll now go to the media for questions.
Q. Kasey, my question involves New Hampshire. That track is obviously not going to be hosting the Chase opener this year as it has in the past. I wanted to find out from you if New Hampshire's Chase race, in your opinion, is going to lose some of its significance or importance given the fact it's no longer the first race of the Chase?
KASEY KAHNE: Well, man, I always look forward to going to New Hampshire because we race on so many tracks that are similar. New Hampshire is its own racetrack, a lot different than anything we go to. To me it's a great track. We don't have a lot like it. You kind of look forward to that type of a racetrack.
As far as the Chase, it's a tough track. It's a tough race, early on in the Chase. It means a lot to get off to a good start. Where it's always been has been pretty cool. I've always liked starting off there. We've ran well there in the past and feel like we can every year.
So it will change it a little bit. But it's still going to be a crucial race for this season. It's a crucial race every time we go there. I look forward to going there and trying to win.
Q. Kasey, we've seen the last two Cup races, they've been won on tire gambles. Is Charlotte the kind of track that can lend itself to a successful tire gamble like the one Matt pulled off this weekend? Could somebody win the 600 like that?
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, I think you can win either one of the races like that. It's part of clean air, track position is really big late in the race with us. If you get a long run, you definitely need tires. But if it's a short run, it can easily be won on no tires or two tires, just like the last two weekends have been.
Clean air means a lot. Cooler tires, tires get to cool down for three, four, five laps under caution, they'll take off pretty good. They won't last as long as somebody on four tires, but they'll take off pretty good and you can run from 20 to 30 laps.
Q. From a driver's perspective, is that guessing game unnerving? How much of it is a guessing game?
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, I mean, it's definitely a guessing game. You're never very sure. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. But it is part of what we do. It's part of just being there late in the race, having that opportunity, being on the lead lap.
The thing that kind of gets upsetting at times when you run up front all day long, maybe you take four tires, think that everybody will, six or eight cars take two, there's not enough time to get back to the front at that point. There's too many good teams, too many great drivers and teams out there that you can't just pass in five or ten laps, it just doesn't happen. You kind of feel like you wasted the rest of the day.
Everybody has the choice, zero, four, two, whatever you want to put on.
Q. In that same realm, is track position more important now than it was a year ago? Has anything changed besides the front end of the cars and the tires? Have those changes impacted whether the dirty air or track position means more?
KASEY KAHNE: No, I'd say to me it's pretty similar to how it's been. I think the dirty air, it's just tough. I went one from one restart at Dover eighth, I think I got out of there in third within a couple laps. Most of the time you don't pass but one or two cars on a restart or get passed. Once you get in line, you have to ride there for a little while till the tires start wearing off and see which direction each car goes.
I feel like it's pretty similar to how it's been. I think just the way the races have played out the last two weeks have opened that up for zero tires or two tires. Mark Martin ran second with two tires or zero tires. It was interesting how big track position really was there.
Q. What was alarming to watch this past weekend was the fact that the guys who took four couldn't really make a whole lot of passes to make a run up front. Is there anything that needs to be done as far as rules changes to allow those cars that are possibly better a little bit better chance to drive up through the field?
KASEY KAHNE: Actually, I was surprised on that also. As much time as they had, they just couldn't really go anywhere. I was really surprised on that.
So to me the only thing that you can do, those guys take two tires next time or take zero tires, enough gas to go to the finish, whatever it may be.
Other than that, you can't make a rule against it, I don't think. I think it's up to the crew chief, the driver, what they decide to do. You go from there.
I think the tires are lasting longer, they're staying around longer.
Q. Kasey, the compounds that Goodyear has made the last two or three years, has it made it easier to make those decisions than it was four or five years ago?
KASEY KAHNE: I think the tires are lasting longer, they're staying around longer. You still have good grip when they cool off a little bit. It's just like you're in practice. You go out, come into the pits, work on your car, go out 10 minutes later, you can run the same speed you were running 10 laps prior to that.
It's just all about cooling down and then having a lot of tire grip. I remember when I first came into the sport, it seemed like the tires fell off more then and it would create that guys wouldn't be able to put on two tires and still win a race.
Right now the way the tires are, the cars have so much force and load on the tires, they've had to make them so strong and tough, I think it's tough to get that kind of happy medium there.
But I like it myself when you burn your tires off and you need tires. I think it makes it more exciting. It's not really how it is right now.
Q. Do you like the strategy that's involved here now? Do you think that makes racing more exciting when you get to the end of the race and you don't know what guys are going to do?
KASEY KAHNE: I don't know if it makes it more exciting. I mean, everybody wants to win. If you're running 10th, you take on four, you know you're not going to win the race if everybody does that. You got to look at ways to give yourself the best opportunity.
The guys leading need to think about the guy in 10th. He wants to win, too, and he's going to take two tires. Maybe we need to take two, we'll beat him out, we'll be the car in clean air with two tires.
It's a mind game. There's a lot of really smart people trying to figure out how to win these races. I have one of them, so I think we'll win some.
Q. When you get to those situations, how much input do you have versus crew chief?
KASEY KAHNE: Well, I think it depends kind of the situation, where you're at. A lot of times you can watch cars in front and behind. At that point the crew chief can't really call that. He has to rely on you and your decision. Other times it's all the crew chief.
I'd say probably for us, 70%, 80% of the time Kenny Francis makes that call, then 20% of the time he leaves it up to me, because of where we're running, how we've been running that day. It's pretty good. It's a relationship thing. Figure it out as you go.
Q. Speaking of Mark Martin, he mentioned at Dover that the vast majority of the cars now are so close that it's almost impossible to pass people. It's that a factor in so much of recent winning decisions being made on pit road?
KASEY KAHNE: Well, I mean, it's a lot of great racecars out there and things. But the biggest thing to me has been just where the cautions have came out at these races. It's allowed these guys, so many guys, to take two tires. If Carl was to restart fourth there, the second row behind those guys on two, I don't see how he wouldn't have won that race, as good as he was all day. But you never know. It's a tough deal.
So many guys take four, you get too far back, you don't have a chance.
Q. How do you look at your season this year compared to where you might have expected to be at this point? Are you somewhat ahead, behind? I'm sure you haven't done as well as you might have hoped.
KASEY KAHNE: We've had some good cars. We've had some good runs. But I really feel like I gave the race away at Darlington by hitting the wall there. A lot of guys hit the wall. Mine was hard enough that it affected my car and took some speed away.
To me, you know, that's a big mistake. I think we've done a good job. The guys have done a great job of preparing the cars. We keep getting better each weekend. But I feel like we should have a win right now, and we don't. I'm a little disappointed in that.
Other than that, I think we're probably fairly close to where we should be. Our points don't show, but I would say we're kind of a top 5-ish car right now each week. We've been right there.
Q. Kasey, looking ahead to the All-Star Race this weekend, for you as a driver, for the team as a whole, how different is the mindset going into this race knowing there's no points? Will Kenny Francis tell you, I don't care if the car wins, just go out and come back?
KASEY KAHNE: I think everybody probably has a little bit different attitude and different expectation for this race. But myself, all I want to do is win. You just have to figure out how to win this race, how to be up there late in the race so that you have the opportunity to take the tires or not. However that plays out, just be there.
It's a neat race. I'm glad that we're part of it. As good as our Red Bull cars have been lately, I think we have a great chance to win this weekend. We'll just have to wait and see how it all plays out.
Q. Other than the 10-lap Shootout at the end, is there any one of the segments that might be more crazy than one of the others?
KASEY KAHNE: I'd say they'll all be pretty good, pretty exciting. There will be some things going on. The final 10 laps, it's good.
At the same time, it's basically what happened the last couple weeks, you know, the guys that get out front there and have the clean air are going to be pretty tough to beat late in the race. It's trying to make that decision to be up front, that first row or second row, with 10 laps to go, give yourself that chance to win.
Q. In the Bay Area we're looking for the road course race at Infineon, I don't know, in late June. You won there in 2009. What are your memories of winning that race? Is this year's race in the wine country something you look forward to or do you generally not like running on the road course?
KASEY KAHNE: I definitely look forward to coming out there and racing. It's actually one of my favorite racetracks. Really a couple years before I won there, started figuring out in qualifying, having some race runs that were pretty good.
Man, how am I leading this race, how did I win at Sonoma?
Since we won there, it seems like I've figured that track out a lot more than I had in the past. It's a blast. It's one of those tracks where you win and you don't ever expect it. Even till the last lap, it's like, Man, how am I leading this race, how did I win at Sonoma?
Those are pretty neat races to win your first time. You don't expect it at all.
Q. When you started the year with the new Red Bull team, was there a sort of a transition period with the crew to get used to you and Kenny or did you jump in and things started clicking? Is the transition, adjustment over, are you comfortable, or still things to work out?
KASEY KAHNE: I mean, I think it takes time. Anytime you switch, there's so many things that are different. I'm still learning some things.
But at the same time we've adapted very quick, have a great team, and everybody at Red Bull has been awesome to work with. It's been kind of a nice change. It's been a lot of fun for myself to try to figure it out and be fast each week.
I think a big part was Kenny, Keith our engineer, figuring out the cars, what they're doing, how to make 'em fast, how to make 'em work the way we want 'em to work. That's taken a little time. But we're getting really close. We've been really fast for the last few weeks now. I don't see it changing anytime soon.
Q. Another Red Bull driver, Kimi Raikkonen, what kind of advice would you give him going into his first truck race?
KASEY KAHNE: I think for him driving with Kyle over there, he's going to be driving a great truck. It's going to be a learning experience for sure. It has to be a lot different than anything he's ever done.
But he's a racecar driver. He's done really well over the years. I'd say he'll figure it out if he wants to. If he has enough time to spend figuring it out, I'd say he probably could figure it out.
Q. Going into Dover with the uncertainty of the weather, starting position was determined by the practice speeds, how much more pressure does that put you on during practices going into a weekend like that when you don't know if you're going to be able to qualify?
KASEY KAHNE: I don't think it puts a whole lot more on you because the practice to me is one of the most crucial parts of the weekend. This year, last year, the year before, that's where you get the balance of your car. If you miss it in practice, you're going to have a bad Sunday.
So I'd say the difference now is you go off your fastest speed. You need to post a really quick lap in practice in case you have to revert to that after a rain-out or something like that for qualifying.
I think practice is a huge part of the weekend and something you really need to be prepared and focused for when it starts, be ready to go for those two hours. It's really not a lot of time. It goes by really quick when you're trying to perfect your car and get it as good as you can.
Q. Does that create additional pressure?
KASEY KAHNE: I think it's a matter of trying to put your fastest lap at the right time of the day, when it's cool, when the track is green. Some of that stuff plays a part. It's just being prepared.
As far as the driver goes, every time I'm on the track I'm trying to go as fast as that car will let me go. It doesn't change the way I think of practice at all.
Q. Going into the All-Star Race, what is your approach? Is this fun? Is this just a tune-up for the 600?
KASEY KAHNE: I think it's fun. I think it's exciting. It's a neat weekend where you can learn some things for the 600, for our next points race, and at the same time you have a big weekend. It's an enjoyable way to qualify, get your team involved. You make a couple laps, have a pit stop, that whole process that we do on Friday is always a blast.
Then just being out there and trying to win, you know, a 75-, 80-lap race, trying to win that race, not being there for four- or five-hour race, you see who can take it. To me it's a great weekend.
Q. Is it tough on your crew, kind of like Daytona, Speedweeks, you have a Shootout car, 500 car, all that, is that what your guys have to do for Charlotte?
KASEY KAHNE: No. Actually for Charlotte we'll just have our same cars. If things go good with the All-Star car, sometimes we'll turn it around for the next week for the 600. Other times you'll run two different cars going into the weekend and kind of know where you're at.
Our cars will be the same both weekends. It's just a matter of which one we'll want to use for each race. It's a little different than the 500, kind of the way you prepare for that whole Speedweeks.
Q. You won this thing in 2008. Is this one of those ones where you just would like to see that on your record sheet, you're an All-Star winner?
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, it feels the exact same when you win an All-Star Race as it does when you win a Cup race, a points-paying race. To me it feels the same. The team's just as excited. It's just a different race. It's a different format.
You probably just don't have to worry about quite as many things throughout the weekend. You just worry about trying to go fast and win. That's what makes it the All-Star Race. That's what makes it the exciting weekend that it always is.
Q. Some fans might think NASCAR drivers only work four hours a week, new fans especially. Can you explain the reality, routine, of being a NASCAR star, how often you do things like sign autographs?
KASEY KAHNE: Well, each week it depends like how things are going. You try to plan a lot of things at once and get over with some stuff.
For me, I go by Red Bull Tuesday. We have our competition meetings, go over kind of the previous race, the upcoming race, try to look ahead and know what we're getting into. You want to spend time communicating with your crew chief, trying to figure out things.
It's a much different car, engine, than the Truck or Nationwide car.
Then you have some sponsor commitments that you have during the week at times. You may go testing. I have my own Sprint car teams that I spend a lot of time with as far as making sure they go fast, have the opportunity to win their races. I try to actually race some of that stuff, too, at times.
I think being a NASCAR driver, a racecar driver, you want to race, be part of it. Doesn't matter what day of the week it is, you're usually thinking about racing, trying to figure out how I can be racing today or how I can be racing better tomorrow.
Q. You came into NASCAR at a ripe young age. Can you compare the young drivers now trying to break into Cup because there's so few rides and opportunities to when you broke into Cup?
KASEY KAHNE: I think you never know until someone gets to Cup if they're going to take to it or not. It's a much different car, engine, than the Truck or Nationwide car. Sometimes it takes a little bit of time.
When I came into it in '04, it was perfect timing. There was Vickers, four or five of us, that came in that year. It worked out. We had a great season. We've had some decent ones since.
There's definitely some good talent in a lot of series, not just in the Nationwide and Truck Series, but other ones that those guys may have opportunities down the road.
It is a tough time to figure out, to make that jump. When you do make it, you have to take full advantage. You have to be prepared and be ready because you don't always get a lot of time. And you need to make the best out of it when you get that chance.
Q. This week the focus is going to be somewhat on your pit crews, with their own event and qualifying for the All-Star event. Qualifying in particular, does that mess up your rhythm because it's a new factor of qualifying in for that race?
KASEY KAHNE: No, I don't think it does at all. I think to me that's one of the best parts of the weekend to me, is qualifying, how you do the laps, the pit stop, you got to get off pit road, you have to get to pit road, you can't speed. There's a lot that goes into it.
Friday is pretty cool. It's a great day to be in that race. I know when I wasn't in the All-Star Race, you don't get to qualify, I felt like I was missing out a lot because of the format and how they make that work.
Q. What about the Pit Crew Challenge? Are you going to be involved or a fan?
KASEY KAHNE: I'm going to be involved. I'm actually going to be more of a fan, kind of cheering the guys on. Just go down and watch. They work and prepare so much, so hard, for the Pit Crew Challenge. A little bit different than the actual pit stop on a Sunday afternoon. There's more that goes into it Pit Crew Challenge.
They have to do the stop plus push the car, jump over walls, do all that stuff that goes along with it. It's pretty neat. It's an exciting night. The whole week for the All-Star Race, there's a lot of excitement, fun built into it thanks to Sprint and all the fans that come out and support it.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you to all the media who participated in today's call. Kasey, best of luck this weekend and thank you for your time today.
KASEY KAHNE: Thanks.