Talladega: Kahne, Mears - Dodge interview

KASEY KAHNE (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge Charger) NOTE: The 28-year-old driver from Enumclaw, Wash., ranks third in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Standings after the first eight races and will be looking for his first top-10 finish in a...

KASEY KAHNE (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge Charger)

NOTE: The 28-year-old driver from Enumclaw, Wash., ranks third in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Standings after the first eight races and will be looking for his first top-10 finish in a restrictor-plate race on Sunday.

COMMENT ON SOFT BUMPERS AT TALLADEGA "I think they'll probably have a little effect down the straightaways. You're probably not going to be able to smash as hard in the back of a car as you could before. Other than that, I don't think it'll have a big effect. The wrecks can still obviously happen. Most of them happen when people are bumping through there or through the tri-oval. Other than that, they're probably just trying to keep the cars from slamming so hard. People were getting away with bending their bumpers and spoilers down. I'll approach it the same way we approached Daytona. We had a really good race there (11th), and we've got the same car here. We'll try to be smart and respect the cars around us and not cause any wrecks. They're very easy to happen on these types of racetracks. We've just got to respect everybody and race hard."

WHO WERE THE BIGGEST SMASHERS? "I wasn't too bad. There were times I hit pretty hard trying to get up through there. That's what the guys trying to get to the front do. You have to do that when that's the only way you can pass. I think it's going to take a little of that away, so you're not going to have cars going up through the field as fast."

HOW DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH BUMPING TO DO NOW? "I don't know if you do. I guess we'll have to see how the front bumpers do and how they hook up to the rear bumpers and how that feels when you aren't touching each other."

HOW MUCH BETTER IS THE DODGE CHARGER HERE THAN AT DAYTONA? "I'd say it's probably better at Daytona. It may be better here. It's pretty similar. The Charger is really a good restrictor-plate car. I know our cars are much better than they were last year. We should have a great package. Daytona is more about handling and this place isn't quite as much, so they're probably very similar."

HOW MUCH DAMAGE COULD YOU DO TO YOUR CAR IF YOU RUN INTO SOMEONE WITH THE SOFT BUMPER? "I don't think you could do a whole lot. You could do some damage, but not a bunch of damage I don't think. I guess you could dent it in, and as much work as they do in the wind tunnels to get these cars through the air as best as they can, you want your front end to be just like that. They do everything they can to make it right, so you don't want it bent in at all. You're going to have to take care of it, but you're not going to blow the front end off your car if you run into the back end of anybody. I don't think it's anything like that."

MARK MARTIN SAYS THE SOFT BUMPERS WON'T MATTER "Mark Martin is the kind of guy that bumps his way up through the pack and bumps at the right time to give himself a boost and the other cars the boost to get up through there. He's not the guy that has a huge run and bends somebody's rear bumper in six inches because he hits him. For Mark it's not going to be a big difference. I don't think it'll be a big difference for me, either. For some of the other guys who were doing things to their cars because their teammates were hitting them so hard it was actually helping them throughout the rest of the race, that's where it's going to help."

COMMENT ON THE THREE-RACE STRETCH COMING UP AFTER TALLADEGA "I'm excited. Charlotte is one of our better racetracks and always has been. Richmond, we won there last year, so we have a lot of excitement going there. Darlington has just always been a good racetrack for me. I've always enjoyed racing up against the wall and trying to keep the tires on it as long as you can. We've had some pretty decent runs there. I'm definitely looking forward to all those tracks."

HOW SPECIAL WILL IT BE GOING BACK TO RICHMOND AFTER WINNING THERE LAST YEAR? "It'll be special. It's a new race, new year. We look forward to hopefully running well. The setup we used last year wasn't even close when we went to test. We've got to figure out how to get the car working with a new setup. It's always nice to race at Richmond the rest of my life because that's where I won my first race."

COMMENT ON RACING AT DARLINGTON "You always want to win a race that's sponsored by one of your sponsors. We've always been pretty close at the UAW 400 at Las Vegas and Darlington is a good racetrack, too. You want to win, you want a Dodge to win. You definitely don't want one of the other manufacturers to win."

COMMENT ON HOW TONY STEWART HAS HELPED YOU THROUGH THE YEARS "It's been great. One of the first times I remember meeting him was at Las Vegas at a sprint car race. I talked to him and stuff that night. He's always been a good guy. It's fun to talk and learn from somebody like that. We were talking at Indy this week at the tire test about trying to have a 1-2 finish there this year. That would be exciting. Tony has given me a lot of advice, but the best things I've learned from him are from watching him and watching the things he does with his racecar, whether it's a sprint car or midget and definitely a Nextel Cup car. He helped me in the beginning get to where I needed to be and get in the right car. He talked to Ray Evernham at one point. I think they talked about an hour. He looked out for me for a long time, but when it comes down to it I think I learned more from just watching what he does than he's actually told me about driving a car."

ELABORATE ON BUMP DRAFTING TO GET A COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE "I think there was some of that going on. It's like anything else. People are always trying to figure out how to make their cars better. I think you could hit them hard enough you could give them an advantage and you wouldn't even know it until after the race or until you watched them drive away from you after you blasted them. I think that's what NASCAR's trying to take away from us."

DID YOU KNOW ABOUT RAY EVERNHAM'S PASSION FOR BOXING? "I didn't picture that about him at first, but I do now. He's been doing it for a few years, and he's definitely into it. He works hard to be in good shape and take care of himself and box here and there."

HOW WILL YOU KNOW HOW FAR TO PUSH THE BUMPERS? "During practice you hit plenty hard and you'll know if it's bending your bumpers in. You'll find out what you can and can't do. You'll find out a lot in practice. I'm excited to see what it does, and I think everybody is. They're not going to go out there and smash their nose in, but they're going to go out there and figure out how far they can go. You know you can't hit as hard as before, so you won't start at that."

HOW MUCH WILL THIS TAKE AWAY FROM SOME TEAMS? "Everybody was trying to help their cars and do things to help them. A couple of teams were probably getting away with more than others, but that's just the way things go. We weren't one of them. I wish we would have been because we would have been much quicker. It'll take away a lot. It'll put them closer to where everybody else is. They won't have that extra speed they may have had at times. It's really one or two cars. It's not that big of a deal."

WHAT DID YOU LEARN AT INDY TEST? "I learned we're going to go back there with a good Goodyear tire. We tried a lot of different tires and really found the best tire there. I'm looking forward going back for our test and then for the race. The Brickyard is definitely one of the biggest races of the season. Now that Allstate is part of that, I really want to take it home."

***

CASEY MEARS (No. 42 Texaco/Havoline Dodge Charger)

NOTE: The 28-year-old driver from Bakersfield, Calif.., ranks 10th in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Standings after the first eight races and scored his career-best finish earlier this season in the Daytona 500. His runner-up finish at Daytona paid almost $1.1 million, and Mears ranks second behind Jimmie Johnson in 2006 winnings of $1,966,232. Mears was sixth fastest in Friday's first practice session.

COMMENT ON SOFT BUMPERS "You're still going to be able to hit a little bit. You're just not going to be able to hit hard, and that's pretty much what they wanted to accomplish. They didn't put a totally soft bumper on these things that's going to cave in after you touch somebody. It's not as big of an issue as people think. They didn't take as many bars out of these things as people are thinking. You're still going to be able to bump draft, which I think is good. We'll have to test the waters and see how soft they are. I'm sure a couple of guys will probably cave their stuff in testing it out in practice."

YOU'RE IN THE RUMOR MILL. WHAT'S YOUR REACTION TO THAT? "I'm just focusing on the races. I really don't have much reaction to it. I've been in the rumor mill every year. I've had a contract for the last four years, so I really don't think about rumors. It's crazy so many people start talking so early about so many things. Chip and I are working on some stuff right now and trying to get it put together. Beyond that, I really don't know what's out there. I heard some things this morning, but I really don't keep up with it."

DO YOU THINK YOUR STOCK IS UP? "I don't know why to be honest. First of all, this is the first time my contract has been up. Maybe that's why it is. We've run better this year. We're inside the top 10, and I guess more people want to talk about you when you're running better, but I'm not paying attention to it. I'm focusing on running good week in and week out and all that stuff will take care of itself."

IS IT AGGRAVATING? "It's really not aggravating. I really don't spend much time talking about it. The only time I spend talking about it is with you guys. Otherwise I don't spend much talking about it at all. It's not aggravating. It's just something I get asked. We're actively working on stuff right now."

WILL THE SOFT BUMPERS BE A CURE ALL FOR "THE BIG ONE"? "No, because I don't think the big one is caused by bump drafting. I think 9 times out of 10 if

you review the tapes the big one is caused by blocking. You could almost take the bumpers off these cars. If someone pulls down to block your run they cause the incidents. There have been a couple of times where guys are running closer than they should in the corners or tri-oval and get bumped and that causes a big crash, but 9 times out of 10 if you really watch it, the crashes are caused by blocking. That causes a big pileup."

ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO RICHMOND NEXT WEEK? "I don't know about Richmond. We didn't run very well at all at Phoenix. Even though we were fast at Richmond (during the test), we put a fast lap time on the board, but I didn't feel very good about how the car was on the long runs at Richmond. We've got some work to do to try to make the car better over the course of a long run. I'm looking forward to get back there and see how we stack up, but I'm not as optimistic as I would be at a place like Talladega or Charlotte or a place like that."

COMMENT ON DARLINGTON "Darlington is an awesome racetrack. Outside of Charlotte and Texas and places like that, it's one of the most fun places we go to just because it's so different. The way you drive that place is so much fun, right up against the wall. It's definitely tough. I haven't survived it yet without hitting the fence a little bit too hard and not finishing where we should have. Even though it's aggravating from that aspect, I'm really looking forward to going there just because it's so unique. The tires wear out so fast and you run so close to the wall there's a real small margin for error. It's so easy to make a small mistake and end your day."

WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU'LL FACE AT CHARLOTTE? "I don't know. I've talked to Jimmie Johnson a little bit and I know he did the tire test there. They say it's real fast. I guess the tire they came out with is close or the same as the Talladega tire. They came out with a hard tire for there. From what I hear you can run just as fast on your fifth place as you can your 25th lap. That's going to be interesting to see how that stacks up. A lot of times to have good racing you have fall off in your tires and the better handling cars prevail over time. What I expect in the race, from the information I have, it's going to stay tight and close for a long time and it's probably going to be hard to pass. I guess we're running the small fuel cells, so we're going to have some worn out crews. You might even see some guys having two sets of pit crews or some backup guys ready to go in case someone gets hurt. It's probably going to be at least 16-18 pit stops without cautions. You're probably going to see 20 pit stops, and that's a lot of tires and a lot of

worn out pit crews. It's probably going to be difficult to pass. Getting off and on pit road is probably going to be key."

DO YOU THINK YOU CAN HANG IN THE TOP 10? "We know we can get the job done. I think that question has gone. It's just a matter of making all the right changes and right adjustments on the car and coming to the car prepared with the right stuff. We've got to do a little more homework and come to the track with a better car. The guys are on top of it right now. They're trying to make that happen. We've just got to work a little harder on getting better racecars on a consistent basis. Right now we're scrambling to finish in the top 10 on some weekends, so we've got to work harder and get faster cars."

ARE YOU AS CONFIDENT GOING INTO THIS RACE AS YOU WERE GOING INTO DAYTONA 500? "Yes, absolutely. I'm very confident. In my mind, I always enter a race knowing I can win it. I always prepare myself to win the race. Right now, that's what we're focused on. We're going to put 100 percent effort on it. Once you start practice is when you know where you stack up. If we've got a top-10 car we're going to try to come home with a top 10 and pick up a couple more spots. If we have a car we think we can win the race with, we're going to go try to win the race."

DO YOU THINK YOUR PERFORMANCE AT DAYTONA SHOULD MAKE YOU A PRE-RACE FAVORITE AT TALLADEGA? "I hope so. We've proven it. We drove to the front and finished second. It was solid. Nothing lucky happened. We drove to the front and got second. We're capable of doing it. I hope people are looking at us to run up front."

HOW DO YOU BEAT THE PERENNIALLY STRONG CHEVYS AT TALLADEGA? "I don't know. I guess you just make sure they stay behind you. This race is a lot about hype. I think Junior and those guys are awesome drafters and do a very good job at what they do. At the same time, because they've done so well in the past, even though they don't have that good of a car, everybody is thinking they're the best and everybody works with them. Even if they've got a bad car, if the 8 gets in front of them, they work with him. I'm not taking away from his talents at all because his talents are unbelievable and his talents are awesome, but he has a lot of help out there, too. These races have proven you're got to have friends. You've got to have help. Hopefully our run at Daytona has proved we know what to do to get to the front. I've noticed my group of friends out there has gotten a lot bigger that last couple of years. I can work with my teammates. Kevin Harvick and I have always worked well together. For me to work with a guy, I've got to know he's going to make decisions that will get us both to the front."

COULD YOU WORK WITH KYLE BUSCH IN THE DRAFT? "I don't care enough about him to make a comment. I really don't care. I really don't. Should he get penalized when other guys have gotten penalized for things like that (bumping the 42 under red flag at Phoenix). Should they be consistent? Yeah. Do I care if he gets penalized? No. I guess I don't care enough about him to care what they do to him. The guy is really fast and he's got a lot of talent, but he really does a lot of stupid stuff. It's across the board, the feeling throughout the garage. When he grows up, he's going to be a real good racecar driver. Right now, he's got a lot of talent on the track but makes a lot of stupid mistakes. When he realizes that, and someday he will, he'll be really good. Right now, he's the guy who makes a lot of bad mistakes. Stuff like that happens, but at the end of the day whatever NASCAR does I don't care enough to comment, but I guess I already did. I haven't talked to him, and even if he did call, I know that he'd call and apologize because a lot of people told him he should call and apologize, not because he really wants to. I'm glad he didn't because I wouldn't have taken it as a true apology anyway."

CAN YOU BE A NICE GUY IN A PLATE RACE? "I don't know. I think you've got to be really patient. Midway or three-quarters of the way through this race it doesn't pay to be aggressive. It really doesn't. It's not going to get you anywhere until the end. At the same time, I think you need to drive hard enough to come through the field a couple of times to know what your car is capable of and to know who you can work well with. We all make mistakes at these tracks. There are times when a guy makes a mistake in front of you and there's a chain reaction and it makes you look like a bad guy. Then there are times you just make mistakes because the air is moving your car around so much. It'll do something unexpected. I can say all this stuff right now, but at the end of the day I could be the guy who makes the mistake out there just as easy as 42 other cars. It's a tough track to get home clean and not make mistakes. It's difficult to do."

-dodge motorsports

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About this article
Series NASCAR SPRINT CUP
Drivers Kevin Harvick , Jimmie Johnson , Ray Evernham , Mark Martin