KASEY KAHNE (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge Charger) NOTE: Kahne has scored two victories in the past four races and ranks third in the series standings, 31 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson. The 26-year-old driver from Enumclaw, Wash., will...
KASEY KAHNE (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge Charger)
NOTE: Kahne has scored two victories in the past four races and ranks third in the series standings, 31 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson. The 26-year-old driver from Enumclaw, Wash., will make his 80th career Cup start at PIR Saturday night.
"This is a track we can race good at, but we just need to work on it. We finished fifth here in my first race (2004) and haven't been back in the top 10 since. We have some work to do. This team has done a great job of giving me good cars this season. I think we'll be all right. The poles have been good to us this year. We've been able to capitalize on them. It would be great to have a good pit stall up front here."
WHAT'S THE BIG DIFFERENCE FOR YOU THIS SEASON? "I don't think there's been a lot, but Kenny Francis (team director) has put together a great team. They've been together for awhile. They like each other. They work well together. The cars have been flawless, and that's what we need."
HOW MUCH HAVE YOU CHANGED AS A DRIVER? "Last year when things weren't going right, like in the Texas race we dropped 12 positions because the car was so loose, sideways trying to get it around the racetrack. Last year I might have tried to drop eight spots instead of 12 and get myself in trouble that way. This year we take what we get and when it comes down to late in the race and we've got a shot we've got to charge and that's what we do."
COMMENT ON OTHER TEAMS MAKING CHANGES "Some of the drivers may have been happy with what they got and some of the other drivers may not have been. I think it's just people trying to find the right chemistry so they can work well together. Changes can be good. I took about four days off. I didn't hear about any of the Roush changes or Ganassi changes until this week. I was definitely surprised about a few of those, but I'm definitely happy with my career. I feel like I can learn a lot from the people I'm working with."
WHAT HAVE THE CONVERSATIONS BEEN LIKE WITH JEREMY MAYFIELD THIS SEASON? "I've talked to him a few times and he just wants to figure out how to get his stuff better. They've struggled. I know they'll be fine at some point, but when will they get it turned around? Hopefully it'll be this weekend at Phoenix. I think Jeremy is great, and he's got a lot of great guys over there. It's just a matter of figuring stuff out and listening to each other. I think it's a big deal to listen to each other and know what each other is talking about. We're getting along just like always. He's always been behind everything I've done, and I've been behind him. I just hope they can get it figured out. I know Scott Riggs and I and our teams are working well together. We're running similar setups and hopefully they'll start doing some of that, too."
ARE YOU HAVING MORE FUN WITH MEDIA INTERVIEWS THIS SEASON? "It's nice to talk to people and try to figure out why we're doing so well and why things are going like they're going. Really I think everybody is doing a great job, and I'm having a blast driving these racecars this year. We know why we're running well. We have a lot of people working hard and a lot of smart people working on my car. Kenny Francis is definitely one of the best guys at Evernham Motorsports, and I'm just fortunate to have him on my side. All the guys on the team are doing a great job. That's what happens when you have Ray Evernham as an owner"
DO YOU FEEL EXTRA PRESSURE NOW THAT YOU'RE WINNING? "I don't feel extra pressure. When you know your cars are good, it's just fun to be part of that. The pressure is making The Chase, and right now we're well on our way to that. We just need to keep doing the same stuff."
COMMENT ON RACING AT PHOENIX "It's definitely different than anything we've been on this year. We've got some ideas. I feel like we should have a good setup. It'll definitely be a change. We ran good at Martinsville and Bristol. We've been good at the two and a half mile tracks."
HOW HAVE YOU MATURED? "I think I've matured as a driver and communicator. I think communication is huge, and that's what we've been able to do this year. As a driver I think I have a lot more confidence. I know what's coming and what's going. I feel better each day we're at the racetrack. It's a lot better to know we're running good and have people asking 'what's the key? What's going on? Why are you guys running so well?' I'd lots rather talk about that instead of why we're not running good. It's more enjoyable running good and know you don't have to worry about wrecking racecars and things like that. I feel good about what everybody is doing this year. You can relax and not have to worry all the time like I did last year."
CASEY MEARS (No. 42 Texaco/Havoline Dodge Charger) NOTE: Mears ranks 10th in the series standings after seven races. The 28-year-old driver from Bakersfield, Calif., will make his 116th career Cup start at PIR.
GANASSI HAS MADE SOME CHANGES THIS WEEK. IS YOUR TEAM STILL INTACT? "I've been here in Phoenix all week when most of the stuff went down. The 42 team is intact. There have been some changes in the organization, but I don't think it's going to affect us this weekend at all. Change is inevitable in this sport. It happens. For the right or wrong reasons, sometimes it makes guys step up to the table. We'll find out what kind of leaders we've got. We've got a great organization. Whatever Chip decides to do I'm behind him. We'll just have to see how it plays out here the next couple of weeks. I don't think it's going to be a negative thing."
WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN DOING IN PHOENIX? "Just relaxing. Some guys take off and go somewhere on the off weekend. I just ended up staying at the house and spent a little time at home. I decided to come to Phoenix a little early and call it a vacation."
COMMENT ON THE LAST FOUR RACES "They just haven't been that good. We haven't had fast racecars. Not only that, at Texas, we were capable of having a top 10 run and for some reason the team just had an off weekend. We ran good in the Busch race with the same guys and had excellent pit stops. We were just off a little bit on Sunday. We'd come in 12th and go out 18th. It was hard to pass at Texas and we didn't have a car that was blazing fast. I could only pass so many people on a fuel run. It was tough to get inside that top 10. I think if we could have gotten there we could have stayed there."
IS PHOENIX A GOOD TRACK FOR YOU? "We've struggled here for the most part, but a couple of years ago we had a really good car here. We challenged for the win before we blew a left rear tire. I think this can be a good track for us. We've just got to make sure we've got the car right."
DO YOU HAVE THE CHARGER RIGHT? "I think there's always work to be done. I think 99.9 percent, the Charger is a good car. That's why we've stuck with it. We know it has some small weaknesses, but we've just got to keep working with that. We're working on making some changes for next year, but for this year, I think we've found ways to make the Charger work. There's a small window to make it work, but when we get it right it's fast. We're really not looking at it that way. I forget there's an issue with the Charger. We just do what we can do to make it fast and run up front."
ARE YOU LOOKING AT THE POINTS YET? "You realize you're in the top 10 and you see where you're at, but that's not going to help our cause, really. We know what we need to do. We need to click off more of those top 10s and top fives and have competitive racecars. I think the points will take care of themselves. I know a lot of people say that, but that's the way it is."
ONLY 19 MORE RACES TO QUALIFY FOR THE CHASE. "It's really a 26-race season. It really is. You've got to think about the last 10 as a 10-race season. We've just got to focus on staying inside that top 10. We're in good position right now. We don't have a cushion either way. If we maintain and do better we can hang inside that top 10. As long as we don't have any major issues I think we'll be fine."
YOU FINISHED SECOND AT DAYTONA. ARE YOU EXCITED ABOUT GOING TO TALLADEGE NEXT WEEK? "We're taking a different car to Talladega. It's actually the car Jamie (McMurray) ran so well with at Talladega last year. Daytona and Talladega are actually a little bit different. Daytona is more of a handling track. You try to bring a car that's a little slicker, a little bit less drag to Talladega. You can bring something that's a little bit faster there because handling isn't that important. I'm optimistic about going to Talladega, but I'm optimistic about wherever we go now. I feel like we're capable of winning races. We've just got to stay focused, and I think we'll be fine."
YOU THREW OUT THE FIRST PITCH AT DIAMONDBACKS GAME WEDNESDAY NIGHT. DID YOU DO BETTER THAN KURT BUSCH? "Absolutely. I heard how bad his pitch was, so when I got there I had a little practice on trying to throw it straight. They said I did a pretty good job. At the end of the day, that's not our job. Our job is driving racecars. If I can throw a better pitch than him that's great, but I'd rather beat him on Sundays and Saturdays. I threw it over the plate. It might have had a little loft to it, but it was straight. I knew I could throw a good pitch, but then I thought about it not making the highlights like Kurt's did. I thought about throwing it in the crowd so I could get some air time, but I decided to save face. I just went out there and had some fun. It was an honor to go out there and throw it. We had fun at the game. A bunch of my guys came out and it was a fun day."
DAVID STREMME (No. 40 Coors Light Dodge Charger)
NOTE: Stremme, a Raybestos Rookie of the Year contender from South Bend, Ind., will be working with new crew chief Steve Lane this weekend
COMMENT ON TEAM CHANGES "We haven't been running that good. We showed a little better at Texas, but I'm not happy with how the season has been. We just needed a change. We mixed some people up in the organization. I think it's going to bring the cars closer. This will be our first weekend with Steve, but I know him from being in the shop. This whole team is new. I think the truck driver is the only guy who's the same from last year. We made some changes, and I support what Chip and Felix have done."
COMMENT ON RACING AT PHOENIX "This is one of my favorite tracks. I finished third here in the spring in the Busch race. I made my first ever mile experience here. I came out here in a Tour car in 1999 and finished second that day. I got beat on the last lap. I've always run well here. We brought a Dodge here that we haven't raced at all this year, and it's probably closer to our teammates' cars than it's ever been. I love night racing, too. I don't care where it's at. It's fun. It'll be a little different here, but not much."
COMMENT ON RACING AT TALLADEGA "I want to get in the top 35 this weekend if we can. It's all tight, but I can do more here qualifying. When you go to Talladega and unload it's going to be tough to get in if you're off. It's not like you can change a bunch of stuff. I think once we get in the race, I love plate racing. We got up to 12th in the Daytona 500 and ended up breaking a transmission. I enjoy that part of it. Who doesn't like going to Talladega? Everybody loves it. We've got different bumpers going there this year, and I don't think you'll see the hard bump drafting. Daytona probably ranks up there with Phoenix for me, but it'll be good next week at Talladega."
COMMENT ON VISIT TO AMERICAN IDOL IN LOS ANGELES WEDNESDAY NIGHT "We had a crazy flight from Charlotte. We had to make an emergency landing in Albuquerque, N.M. Two people on the plane were having medical issues. We barely got there in time for the show, but it was pretty cool. We got to meet Randy Jackson and Taylor Hicks and Chris Daughtry. I think both of those guys are going to come to a race. We're going to get 'em out. The show was a lot smaller than I thought it was. I follow it about every week. I think Chris Daughtry will win. It'll come down to him and Katharine McPhee. I'm a pretty big fan. My spotter actually belongs to the Taylor Hicks fan club. He's all about it. All of those guys are really good, but there's only one winner."
STEVE LANE (Crew Chief No. 40 Coors Light Dodge Charger)
WHAT KIND OF CHANGES DO YOU SEE FOR THE 40 TEAM? "We're going to try to make our cars in line with the 41. Being in the hole like we are, we need to get closer to those cars so we can use more of their information. Some of the stuff we've got right now with where we are in the points, we're going to have to get in line with one of our teams, and I think it'll be the 41. I really appreciate the opportunity Chip and Felix gave me. This is the perfect opportunity for me, so I hope I can make the most of it."
WHEN WERE YOU CREW CHIEF FOR KYLE PETTY? "I went there in 2001 and Phoenix was my first race with them at the end of 2001. Things are definitely a lot different now. Things are so much more technical now. Back then we made some major adjustments. Now with the way the cars are and the way we do springs, smaller adjustments get the job done, and I'm going to have to be careful not to go over that edge. The cars have gotten better, everything has gotten better. The bodies are better, and we've got better drivers."
COMMENT ON YOUR DRIVER -- DAVID STREMME "We've definitely got a good driver. There's no doubt. He is our guy at the 40 car, no matter what. The main thing is we give him everything he needs to win races. He's proved he can get it done. He's finished third here in a Busch car. I definitely believe in David."