BUSCH: Ford Racing and Yates focus on driver development

Dearborn, Mich. (Jan. 21, 2001) - On Tuesday it was announced that Robert Yates will run a 21-race NASCAR Busch Series schedule with driver Kasey Kahne, who is part of the Ford Racing Driver Development Program. Ford Racing Technology Director Dan...

Dearborn, Mich. (Jan. 21, 2001) - On Tuesday it was announced that Robert Yates will run a 21-race NASCAR Busch Series schedule with driver Kasey Kahne, who is part of the Ford Racing Driver Development Program. Ford Racing Technology Director Dan Davis spoke about Ford's role in getting Yates and Kahne together, in addition to how this development program is progressing.

DAN DAVIS, Director of Ford Racing -- WHAT IS FORD'S INVOLVEMENT WITH THIS DEAL? "If you look at what some of our teams have done recently, you've got Ryan Newman for Penske and Kurt Busch for Roush. Those teams found young drivers that they could work with and develop for their future. Robert Yates didn't have a program like that. We wanted to put together a driver development program that was the real deal. We didn't want a shell game program where you just throw money at a bunch of drivers and, eventually, one of them does okay. Our program is really narrow in focus on those people we feel can really make it. We've got three or four and we just keep challenging them until they show they can't grow anymore. If they don't, we move them out and bring in somebody else. We spend a lot of time getting them in the right seat and with the right people. We started with Kasey and Danica Patrick, and all of the Steve Lewis drivers in the midget series. That's all we can handle. With Kasey, we thought he might want to be an open-wheel driver, so we got him some experience in open-wheel (Team Rahal test, Formula Ford and Formula Atlantic). Then we decided that stock cars were the way to go and we thought a Busch program really made sense, but we wanted the program to be really right. We didn't want this to be the wrong situation where things moved too fast or didn't allow him the opportunity to gain confidence and grow properly. There were a couple of teams in Busch that we talked to, and they were interested, but, for whatever reason, it didn't work out. So when we looked at it, we still had a driver that needed to race and we ended up talking to Robert and then a sponsor emerged and before you knew it, we had a deal. My own opinion is that Robert Yates having a Busch program makes a lot of sense."

SO YOU APPROACHED ROBERT? "In this particular case we approached Robert and told him we had an idea and a driver and the energy to get it done. I talked to Robert a number of years ago about a Busch program or a third Winston Cup team, so we've had ongoing discussions with Robert about another car for about three years now. Robert very correctly wanted to get the 28 car back on track and now since that's happened, it seems like the right time."

WHERE IS FORD AT IN THIS DRIVER DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM? "We're still way early in development because we have no success and no track record. We've got people identified and we've moved people in some different seats that have allowed them to grow. We're executing the program, but it's still in its infancy. Kasey is really the first individual who is maybe starting to graduate."

HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO HAVE A PROGRAM OF THIS NATURE? "I think it's our job to have a farm system independent of what age our current roster might be. Every major league sport has a farm system of some kind. You've got to be looking out for yourself and we just haven't had that type of program before. We might get to the point where we have some of our elder statesmen move on and there's gonna be a lot of pressure on us to have these young guns in place."

WHAT IS YOUR PHILOSOPHY AS FAR AS FINDING THIS YOUNG TALENT? "It's interesting. There are a lot of people coming to us saying, 'I've got the perfect individual for your program,' and I guess my feedback to all of those people is, 'We'll find you. You don't need to find us.' We're looking hard at youngsters. We've got a lot of energy going into the real young kids. We're watching the whole midget series. We're watching go-karts. We started this Ford Focus Midget Program where we're gonna be able to actually put youngsters -- 15, 16, 17 year olds -- in race cars affordably for the first time. We've got our network out there looking at the young drivers and I think we'll find the young talent."

IT SEEMS THE TREND HAS GONE AWAY FROM HIRING YOUNG DRIVERS IN WINSTON CUP. IS IT A CASE OF HAVING TO DEVELOP THEM MORE BEFORE GETTING TO THIS LEVEL? "That's the way I'm sort of looking at it, plus it's no secret that we're using the Steve Lewis midget team to bring in talent. We use that team to try to coach them and see how good they are and how they compare to the Jeff Gordons and Jason Lefflers and Tony Stewarts because all of those guys went through the Steve Lewis No. 9 midget team. We have a baseline and we know how those people performed and how mature they were and how much raw ability they had versus how much ability they have to learn and listen to others. We're really looking for the individual that has a raw talent, that's coachable and has the right attitude. We're looking for that total well-rounded individual and we think that Bob East, who works with that Steve Lewis midget team, can really give us that assessment. If they can do well there, then we just keep pushing. That won't be the only way we look at some of this young talent, but that's the road we're on right now as far as doing a full assessment. It's really hard because you get a driver in a car all by themselves and when you put them in a car and take them to a track, they're really fast. That happens all the time. You get all excited and you want to get going and then once you do get going it doesn't work out for whatever reason. Why doesn't it work out? Well, it's because they're fast but they can't give the crew chief good feedback or they can't work with you. There are a myriad of reasons why it doesn't work and, hopefully, we're gonna get smart enough early so that we can understand all of these bits. Bob East understands all of that. He can put people in that seat and see how they do and come out of it with a pretty good assessment of how they're gonna do when they grow up. There are a whole bunch of people out there that are fast by themselves and very impressive, but they don't win races, they're hard on equipment, they're not coachable, and they can't tell the crew chief what's going on. They can't finish the job and we need people that can finish the job."

HOW DID YOU COME ACROSS KASEY? "Kasey was driving for Steve Lewis. He was a rookie two years ago in the midget series and Steve Lewis came to us and said we needed to pay attention to this guy. We get that all the time, but I spent some personal time watching him, along with some other people, and we talked a lot to Bob East and some of the people Kasey raced against and it was pretty obvious that he had a lot of talent. We tried him in some open-wheel cars, but he had never been on a road course before. Kasey had never turned right and never had to shift, so we sent him to Bob Bondurant's school. We called the instructors there and told them we wanted a full report after the training session and we got a very favorable assessment. From there we put him in a couple of different kinds of cars and he did a really nice job, and then we put him in a CART Champ car at Homestead with the Rahal team and he did well. Everything we tested him on came out positive. He learned everything pretty fast and that reinforced our belief that he's pretty special."

STOCK CARS WILL PRESENT A DIFFERENT CHALLENGE, WON'T IT? "He's never done a pit stop. It was very interesting because Kasey met Robert and Dale (Jarrett) briefly a couple of years ago at Fontana and they kind of new about him because he was the midget champion. So when Kasey came in and talked to Robert just before Christmas, Robert asked him if he had ever done a pit stop and Kasey said no. He's got a lot to learn, but he's shown he can do that. I think champions learn quickly. Every time we've seen former champions like Mario Andretti or Jackie Stewart, no matter what kind of equipment they're in, they learn how to go fast. I think Kasey has shown the same thing. There are others who have that ability. I'm sure Jeff Gordon was that way and Tony Stewart is clearly that way. He gets in an IRL car and he's fast and when he gets in midgets he still wins, so there's sort of a blueprint of this kind of talent and we're using that blueprint with Steve Lewis."

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT SOME OF THE OTHER DRIVERS IN THIS PROGRAM? "Danica Patrick was recommended to us by Jackie Stewart and right now we're looking at putting her in midgets. She's 18 years old and wants to run stock cars, so the best place to learn is to go and race midgets. She did a test for Bob East and did a real nice job, so now we're gonna move her into that type of racing and see how that works. If that works, then we'll have her do full-blown midgets and keep challenging her. Any driver that drives for Steve Lewis is currently under contract to Ford. Another person we're keeping an eye on is Bobby East. He's 16 years old and is going to run all of the pavement races in midgets next year. Bobby could very well be the rookie champion because he's very good. Another person is Ashley Force, John Force's daughter. She's in a development program with us for drag racing. She's going to run a Ford next year in a lowel level competition series, but it's a Ford engine and dragster. She's 18 years old and she's taking all the proper steps she needs to take in order to one day possibly get an NHRA full-time Funny Car ride."

WHAT MAKES THIS DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM DIFFERENT FROM WHAT OTHER MANUFACTURERS MIGHT BE DOING? "I think we've got the only driver development program that doesn't fall apart. We've got individuals in seats, going through programs, being evaluated and being coached. This is real stuff happening with real contracts, real racing and real evaluation of people. Hopefully, Kasey will be the first, but not the last."

HOW WOULD THIS PROGRAM WORK AS FAR AS TARGETING A POTENTIAL WINSTON CUP TEAM? "I think the way it's going to work is that we're going to develop the talent without knowing where it's going to end up. We want to just develop the raw, capable talent and get them coached and fully developed so they're ready to go when that time comes. What we would do then is just look and see which Ford team down the road is going to need somebody and then aim them in that direction as the opportunity starts to present itself."

ROBERT YATES, Car Owner --98-- ChannelLock Taurus -- HOW DID THIS BUSCH TEAM COME ABOUT? "The Ford guys recognized a talent that they certainly liked the looks of in Kasey Kahne and I knew about him because for the last year they have been telling me how good he's going to be. They came to me a few months ago when we decided to get back into the Busch engine program. The Winston Cup and Busch engines were getting closer together and we felt we needed to stay on top of those rules and compete in that series from an engine standpoint. With that, here comes Kasey's name again. There were a couple of Busch teams that had looked at Kasey but, for whatever reason, things didn't work out, so now you have this talent that still doesn't have a ride. Well, we were at the banquet in New York and that's a place where a lot of deals like this get made. In fact, I think my Ford Quality Care deal was made there with Edsel Ford several years ago and it was renewed several times there as well. Edsel knew the Ford Racing guys wanted Kasey Kahne to be running a Ford brand and he asked me, 'Why don't you run a team?' And that's pretty much all it took. When Edsel speaks, I listen. Everybody at Ford has been good to us at Yates Racing, so we decided to try and jump through some hoops and cancel my vacation and work on getting this deal up and running. I talked to Doug and both of my crew chiefs and I talked to Dale as well. I wanted to talk to Ricky, but he was out with his back, and everybody I talked to was in favor of it. We're doing this parallel to our teams, not right into our mainstream because the 28 and 88 are our bread and butter teams. We can't do anything that takes away from that effort, so I'm in the Busch business. I said a few months ago I'd never do that, so there might be a few people who aren't happy with me because I went back on my word, but I used to say I wouldn't run two Winston Cup teams and when the right situation was there and I needed to do it, it worked out great for us. I'm looking forward to this Busch deal. I've put a lot of effort into it over Christmas and it's a time when there are good people on the street. People need jobs, so this is going to give some people an opportunity to make a living that ordinarily may not have been there."

WHAT ABOUT KASEY? "Everybody I've talked to that knows or watches racing say, 'This cat is good.'"

BUT HE'S NEVER DONE A PIT STOP? "He never did a pit stop until last Wednesday at the 28 shop. It's always a good feeling when you can give people opportunities. So many people have given me opportunities through my lifetime and I don't mind sharing that, I just want it to be a good opportunity. I was recently educated at how tough it is with rookies and the things that I failed at I want to do better. I think I learned from that, so we'll see."

YOU'VE LET SOME OF THE YOUNGER GUYS HANDLE MORE RESPONSIBILITY WITH THE WINSTON CUP TEAMS. HAS THIS BUSCH SITUATION RE-INVIGORATED YOU IN A WAY? "I've laid awake many a night thinking about things where I could plug my resources in without bothering anybody on the other team. I still like to get my hands and fingers on something without disturbing what other people are doing. We've really have a fairly smooth operation the last two years and we've got great people running things. Some days I feel like if I would step back a little more things would run even better. That's not really a good feeling because I've always been a hands-on guy. I'm not much of a spectator for any sport, so maybe this is something I can get involved in a little bit more. I'm excited about it. This is a good opportunity for Robert Yates Racing and it's a great way of giving back to the sport and NASCAR by supporting them on Saturday."

HOW WILL YOU STAFF THAT CAR? "Tommy Morgan is going to be the crew chief, but my number one deal is that I can't let it take anything away from the 28 and 88. I've got to prove to the sponsors of those two teams that this is a plus by doing this and even though we're not worn-out-tired, we've put a lot of effort into it. We've put something together in two or three weeks that some people would usually like the luxury of having about a year to get things cranked up. We've put a lot of time and effort into it. Kasey is excited and we've got a lot of energy going forward with this deal."

IT WOULD BE GOOD TO HAVE A YOUNG DRIVER IN YOUR STABLE AS WELL, RIGHT? "We've seen what can happen. It certainly is nice when you can grow your own or bring your own guys along. Hopefully, Dale Jarrett or Ricky Rudd aren't thinking that this guy is going to replace them. Those are two veteran guys who know it takes more than a year. I think our goal right now is to win a Busch championship and that may take three years. Hopefully, our 28 and 88 will run good to where nobody will be talking about their age -- including themselves. The most wonderful thing would probably be if the right sponsor came along and we had the third Winston Cup team, but that would be the only way I would consider it. If I had quality drivers and quality sponsors and it all made sense because this is a business. This is not a hobby for Robert Yates. This is how I make my living and I can't be a non-profit guy. I have to be smart and I have to be able to make this make business sense, so it's probably healthy for myself, my team and even the sport to utilize the Busch Series to bring guys along. Roush has got programs and Childress has programs, so I just want to do a good job."

DO YOU FEEL IT WILL BE DIFFERENT TRYING TO BRING ALONG A YOUNG DRIVER IN THE BUSCH SERIES AS OPPOSED TO THE LAST TIME YOU TRIED IT IN WINSTON CUP? "You're supposed to learn from past experiences and the first thing I would expect to get hit by from the fans is, 'You didn't do too good of a job with the last rookie you hired,' and I'd have to agree with them. I didn't do the job I wanted to do. The first thing I did when I sat down with Kasey was I laid down the things I felt I had done wrong the last time I brought in a young guy. I won't say I failed miserably, but I failed and I think I've learned a lot of things from that. It certainly wasn't the guy I hired. I didn't get him the ride I had hoped for and I now I understand that there were things I should have done different. I know I've got one strike against me, so with this one I want to hit a home run."

IS THERE ANYTHING IN PARTICULAR YOU LEARNED? "I learned that if I could take Kenny Irwin and focus on a particular race track, we did well. When you start getting something thrown at you that's different every week, it's a lot to learn. He had never made a pit stop and that was one of our tough things. We probably missed winning the first race we ever ran (at Richmond) because of a pit stop, but we worked on pit stops. The first thing I've got Kasey doing is driving the pit stop car for the 28 team. He's got to learn how to handle these heavy cars with little clutches in them. It's not just going down in the corner and turning left, there are a lot of things about the sport you need to know. I want Kasey to make friends in the sport and get in the clique. I want to bring him in and focus on a lighter schedule. The Busch Series has a lot of talent and taking this kid to the Busch Series is probably like taking somebody to Concord (NC) on a Saturday night. They have their own cliques and they're gonna make it tough on him, just as tough as it is in Winston Cup, but I think you've got to run good in Busch. If he can get some confidence built in the Busch Series before jumping to Winston Cup that will be a big plus. I think that's one mistake I made with Kenny. I had the opportunity to bring him into Busch for a year, but it didn't really time with contracts and some other things. It was too early. There were too many things thrown at us, but if we could have cherry-picked some races, I think we could have done real well. Kenny was extremely talented, but when you started throwing something different at him -- and we didn't have the equipment up to par -- we got behind. As we got further behind it just snowballed on us and it didn't attract any talent and we actually lost some guys. Unfortunately, that snowball melted and it didn't work. There are things I probably wouldn't want to talk about that I think I did wrong. I felt there were some things where I felt our hands were tied and I felt there were some things I maybe gave up too easily on, but I think the timing might be different now. We probably didn't have the best equipment, even though we won a championship simultaneously, Winston Cup is extremely tough and Busch is extremely tough. That's why I wanted to bring Kasey in with a shorter schedule, so we can concentrate. We can test at a place and then race at that same place, so I think this will show what we're all made of. I think this will be better than committing to a full schedule because if you don't do it right, you sink. I can't talk about doing this without remembering what I very recently failed at with Kenny."

-ford-

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About this article
Series NASCAR XFINITY
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Tony Stewart , Jason Leffler , John Force , Ryan Newman , Jackie Stewart , Bob Bondurant , Mario Andretti , Kasey Kahne , Bobby East , Ashley Force , Robert Yates , Danica Patrick
Teams Yates Racing