KASEY KAHNE (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge Charger) NOTE: Kahne ranks third in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Standings, 85 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson. Kahne has recorded two straight fourth-place finishes to go along with his 11th-place ...
KASEY KAHNE (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge Charger)
NOTE: Kahne ranks third in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Standings, 85 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson. Kahne has recorded two straight fourth-place finishes to go along with his 11th-place performance at Daytona.
COMMENT ON YOUR SEASON SO FAR "We have some momentum going right now. The team is doing good. We brought a new car here, a different car than we've run so far. I'm looking forward to it. I think we've hit on some things so far this year and if we can keep going in that direction we can make things better."
COMMENT ON THE GREEN-WHITE-CHECKERED FINISHES IN FIRST THREE RACES "I think it can hurt you or benefit you. You just never know. It's probably good for the fans. It gets them a little more excited and gives a better ending to the race for sure. If you're leading the race you don't want a green-white-checkered for sure. If you're second you do. I stayed even at Vegas on the green-white-checkered. I just about lost a spot to Jeff Gordon. It's hairy wherever you're at. It can help you or hurt you. It can also get you in a wreck. It's not something you really want, but a lot of times it will help you if you do the right thing. There are a lot of things that can happen on a green-white-checkered.
"I would rather not have them every weekend. It's nice to have them once in awhile. It definitely benefits you once in awhile. We just have to hopefully do the right thing so we get a good result. It's good for the fans. It's good for a lot of people. Sometimes it's tough if your car is not as good at the end of the run, and it can definitely cause wrecks. The fans get an exciting last couple of laps. If there's debris on the track or if there's a crash, it's got to go green-white-checkered. You can't finish under caution. If there's a green-white-checkered for no reason, then that needs to be looked at because it's not good for a lot of people."
COMMENT ON AMS "It's not too fast. It's fun racing here. It's fun qualifying at night and try to see how fast you can possibly go. It's a great track. We're carrying some momentum into this race and feel like we can have a great weekend if practice goes smooth and we make the right decisions throughout the whole weekend. I think we can keep doing what we've been doing."
DID YOU TEST AT KENTUCKY THIS WEEK? "We tested at Kentucky on Wednesday. We felt like it was a great test. A lot of times it's hard to take things from Kentucky to other racetracks and apply them and make your car better at those tracks. Hopefully Kentucky is going to help us this time. It seemed like we gained a little bit. We tried a lot of things. We had a great offseason testing, and we kept trying those things to try to make the Charger better and better. I think we're gaining on it. The people at Evernham Motorsports have given us great race cars, and I think we're going in the right direction right now."
WHY DO YOU LIKE RUNNING HIGH AT AMS? "Usually in the past I've been so loose the back wants to come around. It's tough to drive it like that on the bottom when you get trapped under a car and the speeds are so high. It's easier not to turn your hands when you're up high and not get loose. That's the main reason I'm up there. Hopefully this weekend we won't have to run high as much. I think low is the quickest way around if you can make it work."
ARE YOU SUPERSTITIOUS? "I really don't look into that too much. Jeff Gordon ran pretty good last week and his car was green. Steve Kinser is the best sprint car driver there is and his car is green every week. There must not be too much wrong with green cars."
ARE YOU RUNNING GOOD ENOUGH TO WIN? "We're close. We just have to keep doing the right things throughout the race and have better track position at the end. Last week I think we started out eighth or ninth on the final run and ended up fourth, so if we'd started fourth or fifth, maybe we could end up second or third. We've just got to keep working on getting good track position late in the race."
DID WINNING THE BUSCH RACE LAST WEEK HELP YOUR CONFIDENCE? "That's the earliest I've ever won. We've run good in Vegas before, so it felt good to get a win early in the year. I always enjoy running at Vegas. It's cool. We brought the same car to Atlanta this week, and we look forward to running up front in the Busch race and trying to win the Cup race, also."
CASEY MEARS (No. 42 Texaco/Havoline Dodge Charger)
NOTE: Mears ranks fourth in the series standings after three races, one point behind Kahne and 86 points behind the leader. He has finished in the top 10 in each race this season and has five of six top 10 finishes dating back to last year.
COMMENT ON YOUR SEASON SO FAR "Any time you have a streak going you want to keep it going. It gives us extra incentive to work harder to make something happen to come out of here with a top 10."
WHAT'S DIFFERENT WITH THE TEAM THIS SEASON? "A lot of things are the same. It's just a matter of taking what we've got and bringing it home in the right place. Donnie (crew chief Wingo) made some good calls at the end of the race last week that really helped us out. We gained some spots and got in the top 10. We really haven't had a fast car, but we've been running smart races. I think if we get a fast racecar and run a smart race on top of it there's no reason why we can't run up front.".
COMMENT ON THE GREEN-WHITE-CHECKERED FINISHES "It depends. At the end of the day if I go forward with a green-white-checkered I like it. If I go backward, I don't like it. The big thing is I know NASCAR wants the finishes to be exciting. If there's validity to a green-white-checkered, it's great. If there's not, it can be frustrating when you're running well. You earn a lot of track position and it gets closed down. Either way, that's the way our sport is. It's benefited me and it's hurt me. I don't know a lot of the reasons why they come out sometimes, so it's hard to say."
DID YOU EXPECT THIS SUCCESS LAST YEAR? "Yeah, we did. The first two years we struggled, but we saw signs of performance in the middle of the second year. Sitting on those poles at Indy and Pocono, we thought there was a bright light at the end of the tunnel. Last year we thought would be our break out year. Performance-wise it was. Finishing order-wise it wasn't. We had some really good performances last year and didn't have the finishes to show for it for whatever reason. Fortunately this year we've been able to latch on to it a little better on the performance side and you guys are paying attention because we're higher up in the points."
WERE YOU CONCERNED WITH YOUR PERFORMANCE LAST SEASON? "This is my fourth year in Cup and anything I've ever raced in the past I've never run like this or finished like this. It's always been winning races and running up front. I'm not a happy guy when I run like I have the last three years. It was frustrating. It was trying on the team. They were putting in as much effort as I did, and when you're not getting results, and you know the results are there to be taken, it's frustrating. This year to be able to come out of the box like we have and to be running as well as we have, it's gratifying for myself and the team. We're just running better, and it makes things easier."
COMMENT ON YOUR ATLANTA CAR "It's a new car. It's got a little bit different body configuration, same style we've been running but we feel like we've made some improvements. We feel like it's going to be really good. We're experimenting a little bit with qualifying because we've qualified so bad the last couple of races. We need to do something different. With the limited testing this year we're going to be testing a little bit these first couple of practices out to get a good balance on the car. I think it's going to be better in the qualifying and the race."
COMMENT ON WORKING WITH DONNIE WINGO "I think the biggest difference with Donnie, as far as being labeled my crew chief, we're not new to each other. We've been working together the last three years and actually did a couple of tests together. It's not like I was going to a brand new team with a brand new crew chief and having to start from scratch. We've got some learning to do, but right out of the gate we had the chemistry. We knew each other and it was easy to make decisions."
COMMENT ON THE CHEMISTRY WITH THE 42 TEAM "This is my fourth year in Cup. I was settling in with a team that typically runs a little bit better than we have the last three years. I think we expected a lot right out of the gate. So far we're running where we think we need to be, but now we need to start thinking about the bigger picture and get further up in the standings and try to win races. With the limited testing schedule, we've basically taken what we knew from last year and tried to run these first few races and get a baseline to see where we're at. Now we've ventured out a little more in practice, and I'm sure we're going to more as the year goes along. We're going to have to get more aggressive in practice."
ADDITIONAL COMMENT ON GREEN-WHITE-CHECKERED FINISH "It puts a lot of people in awkward situations. There's a lot of strategy involved. Don't get me wrong. The best car still usually wins, but it gives two or three other guys who would never have had a shot at winning the race a shot to win. Last year several times we had the fastest car on the track, but we weren't that fast on the first 10 laps of the run. The green-white-checkered killed us. We had a dominate car, but we weren't good on the short runs. Even though you want to have a good car on the long runs, you've got to have a plan at the end of the race to be good on short runs, too. It's definitely not all car. Your car has got to be right, but you've got to man up and go. It's exciting and fun. I enjoy it. It's everything. It's never just one thing in this sport. You've just got to go. You've got to man up and give it everything you've got. Some guys are better at it than others."
KURT BUSCH (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge Charger)
COMMENT ON THE SPEED AT ATLANTA "This place is cool. I like it because it's multiple grooves and it's starting to get that history of races run on it, which means the asphalt gets older and it feels more like Darlington in a way or Rockingham where tire conservation comes into play. If you go out and run a blistering pace the first 10 laps, guys are going to catch you from behind because they're running a more conservative pace, setting the tone for their tires throughout a 40-50 lap run. The speed here is fun. The first four laps you're just barely cracking the throttle back, and that's a great challenge to make sure the setup is right for that as well as on the long runs when you're lifting off the gas, waiting for the car to turn, sliding through the corners. This place challenges fresh tires as well as old tires, and you've got to be dialed in if you want to win here."
COMMENT ON RACING AT BRISTOL "I thought I had my car dialed in perfect, and then there went Rusty right by me. Now to drive that car and then with my success there, I can't wait to see what the team can do. We penciled that one in right away. We almost skipped the first four races because we were so excited about Bristol and bringing the Miller Lite Dodge there and seeing what I could do with that car."
WHY ARE YOU SO GOOD AT BRISTOL? "When you get comfortable at a racetrack and you win and sometimes you win two in a row or three in a row or have a good string going, it's hard to change that setup. It's hard to deviate away from it. All during the time, all the other teams that aren't winning are revamping their setups, trying to make their cars better. That's the toughest combination, knowing what is good and how can we make it better even though we are winning. I'm just excited to look at the notes we've accumulated with Rusty in the past and blending it in with my experience and seeing what we can do.
COMMENT ON TRANSITION TO PENSKE TEAM "We've done so many tests so far this year, six to be exact, and then to have three races under our belt, we've tested twice as much as we've raced. The races have taught us quite a bit. It was great to start off Daytona as fast as we did with Ryan Newman. We had a great combination of drafting together, sharing information and seeing the 2 and 12 work together on the track. That was a big feather in the team's cap. To go to California and sit on the pole, it was very unexpected. It was a setup Rusty left us with. We polished on it a little bit. We went fast in practice. We sat on the pole and in the race the car got way too tight. We made adjustments for that heading to Vegas based upon the test. The test was pretty good there, and then we were way too loose at the race in Vegas. So we've gone from one end of the spectrum to the other in just two races. Now we've narrowed our window down, and now we can see what we need to do to dial in the Miller Lite Dodge for the long run and the short run here at Atlanta. We've been through a lot in three races. The team has jelled together. Everybody is in high spirits. I can't wait until we start winning and see what the team does to react to that."
WHAT'S WRONG WITH DODGE? "I've had three races, so I can't come in and say I've got the gospel on how to change everything. I was working with Fords the past five years. I would say the Roush team was doing well and the Yates team showed strength in areas, but they weren't necessarily on the same page as the Roush cars. Even when you saw the 21 car running a Ford emblem, they still had their idea of how they wanted their cars. Each of the teams, everybody is completely different but yet it's all the same. I see that at Dodge where some guys are running the '04 car and some guys are running the '05 car. Kahne has had success with it (Dodge Charger) so far this year, yet the Penske guys are trying to get it dialed in. I think we've made a tremendous amount of gain in the last couple of races on what we need to do. Obviously the Charger is what the promotion is about for Dodge. They want to promote that car. They've got millions of dollars around the advertising campaign, so that's what they want to run. We'll eventually get it scienced out. It just seems there's a lack of rear downforce on our Dodges. Once we overcome that then we can squeak into victory lane, but on a short track we're as comparable as everybody else when we go to Bristol or Martinsville. On these mile and a half, two-mile tracks, it seems like we're running a little loose. We've got to get that dialed in."
HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO ROLL INTO BRISTOL BEING IN GOOD SHAPE IN THE POINTS? "I would say it's too early to speak about points unless the team was 35th to 40th. You've got to be in the top 35th, and right now we have no problem with that. Once we go to Talladega, that's usually where you want to see your momentum pick up, and if you're in the top 15 in points you're sitting pretty. We've got no worries after three races going through and making sure the team is doing this properly, making sure pit stops are good. We're looking at the big picture. Points aren't that important right now. We're just looking one race at a time, expect for Bristol. That one keeps coming up on the charts. We want to go there and win.
"We've had a decent start to our season with the new team, new manufacturer, new sponsors. Everything is now starting to get comfortable and to fit in with the team. Going to the racetrack it's easy to find the Miller Lite hauler in the garage area, and things are starting to feel normal. We're up and running. We've got a great weekend ahead of us here in Atlanta, a great Bruton racetrack. Next week we go to another Bruton track at Bristol and then Martinsville. So, a couple of short tracks mixed in and then we head back to Texas, another fast mile and a half. This is where teams start really getting into gear for a regular-season atmosphere."
COMMENT ON YOUR ATLANTA CAR "This is the first chassis we've used that Rusty used, so I've got my work cut out for me. We did the Goodyear tire test here with it, and we thought we'd bring it back for the race. Rusty raced it five times and got four top 10 finishes with it, so we know it can get the job done. I've driven all types of cars. You've just got to get the setup right, get the car handling well and the rest will go your way."
COMMENT ON THE ALL THE GREEN-WHITE-CHECKERED FINISHES "I'd like to be in position to be a factor in a green-white-checkered finish. That's the way most of us grew up racing, so it's really nothing new. I've been in position where it's helped, and I've been in position where it worked against me. You've just got to be ready for a wild finish with those last two laps because you know everybody is going to be going for broke."