This Week In Ford Racing May 6, 2003 NASCAR Busch Grand National Kasey Kahne, driver of the No. 38 Great Clips Ford, has spent just two weeks outside the top 10 in points this season, and 10 races into the 34-race schedule, the 23-year-old ...
This Week In Ford Racing
May 6, 2003
NASCAR Busch Grand National
Kasey Kahne, driver of the No. 38 Great Clips Ford, has spent just two weeks outside the top 10 in points this season, and 10 races into the 34-race schedule, the 23-year-old Washington State native is 188 points out of first place. Currently ninth in the Busch Series point standings, Kahne has adapted quickly to his new surroundings at Akins Motorsports with a season's-best fourth-place finish at California and four top-10 finishes.
KASEY KAHNE-38-Great Clips Ford Taurus
ARE YOU SURPRISED BY THE EARLY-SEASON SUCCESS THAT THIS TEAM HAS EXPERIENCED?
"Before we had our first test after I signed up with Akins Motorsports, I think I would have been surprised with where we're at, but after we did some testing, I think we're right about where we should be. I think people forgot this was a veteran team that finished second in the Busch Series standings just a few years back. This is an experienced team that went through a little bit of a rebuilding process, but they still know what it takes to be successful. We had some good tests early in the year, so much better than when I had been to the tracks before that I felt that we would be a lot better when it did come to race time."
DO YOU FEEL THAT THE TEAM IS STILL GOING THROUGH THE JELLING PROCESS?
"We're really learning each other still. We're right on the edge of jumping into that top-five position, but we're still not there. I think that's mainly because Wes (Ward, crew chief) and I are getting used to each other. When I tell him that the car is a little bit tight here and there, we're still trying to figure out how tight that really is and how much of a change we need to make. I'm not giving him quite enough feedback to make the total changes, so we end up only getting about halfway there at the start of the race. By the end of the race we're pretty close, but the first half of the race we're too far back to really be contending for the win at the end of the race."
DO YOU FEEL THAT YOU'RE STILL BEING OVERLOOKED EVEN THOUGH YOU ARE IN THE TOP 10 IN THE POINT STANDINGS?
"I'm not really too surprised. At the start of the year, there wasn't anybody mentioning my name at all. To get a little bit more TV time, that's getting better. As our performance continues to improve, everything associated with this program is going to get better. Going into this year when I was talking to Akins Motorsports and Wes, I knew that we were going to be the underdog because nobody expected us to do anything. I think as we keep getting better, there will be a lot of people taking notice of this team."
HOW MUCH DOES CONFIDENCE PLAY A FACTOR IN BUILDING MOMENTUM IN RACING?
"Confidence is huge. You can get on a roll in open wheel just like you can get on a roll here. When you get on a roll, it just carries everybody - the team, the driver, the sponsor. I think it just gets everybody working together and you can't be successful in racing without a total team effort. You walk around a little happier, you're more excited and you don't question yourself. People sometimes forget that this is a team sport because the focus is usually just on the driver. When you're running well, you do what you should do and you don't question yourself and it seems to work out a lot better that way."
YOU STARTED YOUR RACING CAREER IN THE OPEN-WHEEL RANKS, BUT YOU MADE THE MOVE TO NASCAR WITH THE HELP OF FORD MOTOR COMPANY AND ITS DRIVER DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM. YOU EVER QUESTION THE MOVE TO NASCAR LAST SEASON?
"I never questioned it once. I had a lot of success in the open-wheel cars and I still enjoy watching open wheel, but those were feeder systems as well. I still enjoy that racing and hope that I get another shot to drive an Indy car, but I've never questioned coming to NASCAR, not at all. That was probably the best decision that we've made, myself and Ford together. It's been awesome to work with Dan Davis and Greg Specht because these are two guys that whatever they've told me they'd do, they've done. It's pretty nice when all you have to worry about is driving the cars and learning as much as you can without worrying about where your next ride might be. It's nice having such a big organization behind you that can actually tell you something and then back it up. That's been the biggest constant in my career to date."
DID YOU FEEL ADDITIONAL PRESSURE TO PERFORM LAST YEAR BECAUSE OF THE TIES YOU HAVE TO FORD?
"I think so. I know that they've always got their eyes on what is going on here. Last year, I put a lot of pressure on myself and then to be joined to a team like Robert Yates Racing, as big as he is and his teams are, Dan Davis and Edsel Ford getting me that chance was pretty huge. I did whatever I could. I tried everything to make that deal work. I tried to learn as much as I could as quick as I could, but the results weren't where I wanted them and they weren't where Robert wanted them; they weren't where anybody wanted them. But, there was a huge learning curve and I learned a lot of good things and I learned a lot of bad things, too, that you take with you. I think getting some of the worse things done and over with in the first year opens the door for this year not to have as many problems."
YOU DIDN'T SIGN WITH AKINS MOTORSPORTS UNTIL LATE LAST YEAR. WERE YOU EVER CONCERNED THAT YOU MIGHT BE ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN WHEN THE SEASON STARTED?
"I wanted to go full-time racing this year; that was my biggest concern. I knew that being with Ford that I would do some racing, and in the back of my mind, I knew that I always had my midgets and sprint car racing to fall back on. Once we did get this deal situated at the end of the year, it was a lot better for me. I was worried about having another partial season and that wasn't what I wanted. I wanted a full Busch season with a good team, and I feel like we achieved that."
WITH YOUR OPEN-WHEEL BACKGROUND, DO YOU COMPARE YOUR DEVELOPMENT TO THE LIKES OF JEFF GORDON AND TONY STEWART?
"I can look at my results and look at what they did as the point in their careers and there are a lot of similarities in the things that we have done. It's pretty cool to be going up that same ladder that they did. By no means would I think I can do what they've done. Those are two of the best race-car drivers in the world, let alone in NASCAR. All I can expect is to keep progressing and keep following them as much as I can."
BOTH GORDON AND STEWART MOVED FROM THE BUSCH SERIES TO WINSTON CUP AFTER A SHORT PERIOD OF TIME. HOW DO YOU KNOW WHEN IT'S TIME TO MOVE TO THE NEXT LEVEL?
"I'm not real sure, but I think that's something results will dictate. I had a half year last year in the Busch Series and if we get a full year this year with some good results and some more next year, probably the year after that we could be ready. It's hard to say. I know right now that I want to do well in Busch. I want to go for a championship and it probably won't be this year but maybe next year we'll be ready to go for a championship. That's something that neither of them did. They pretty much went right through Busch and up to Winston Cup and were basically on top of Winston Cup when they got there. I'm more up for going for a Busch championship before moving on."
YOU ARE STILL INVOLVED RACING YOUR MIDGET CARS. DID YOU THINK YOU WERE GOING TO HAVE TO PUT THAT ON HOLD IF YOU WANTED TO RACE FULL TIME IN THE BUSCH SERIES?
"In two or three weeks I'm going to do some more. It's really not an issue for me. Last year we had so many weekends off, I needed to be racing rather than not doing anything. This year, we don't have as many off weekends, but I enjoy racing whenever I can so I try to do that. It doesn't affect my stock-car racing at all. It only takes one lap - it doesn't matter what kind of vehicle it is - to get your feel back. Because of that, the only downfall would be if something weird happened and a freak injury occurred. That would be the worse thing that could happen, but that can happen any time you're in a race car, so there's no reason not to race or you wouldn't race at all."