This Week in Ford Racing March 25, 2003 NASCAR Busch Grand National Kasey Kahne , driver of the No. 38 Great Clips Ford, is one of the early-season surprises in the NASCAR Busch Series, currently sitting in eighth place in the standings, 126...
This Week in Ford Racing
March 25, 2003
NASCAR Busch Grand National
Kasey Kahne , driver of the No. 38 Great Clips Ford, is one of the early-season surprises in the NASCAR Busch Series, currently sitting in eighth place in the standings, 126 points out of the lead entering this weekend's O'Reilly 300 at Texas Motor Speedway. Entering the sixth race of the season, Kahne has only finished outside of the top 13 once this year, the result of a mechanical problem at Rockingham that cost the team a top-10 finish. Kahne spoke about his sophomore season in the Busch Series, his first full-time effort and his first season with Akins Motorsports.
KASEY KAHNE-38-Great Clips Ford Taurus:
ARE YOU SURPRISED 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."
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."
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."
DO YOU FEEL THAT THE TEAM IS STILL GOING THROUGH THE JELLING PROCESS? "We're really learning each other still. I think that's why we're about a seventh- to 12th-place car right now. 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 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. That's where we're a little bit behind right now. 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 HAVE A PLAN FOR THE FIRST HALF OF THE YEAR?
"We started the year trying to finish in the top 10. We want top-10s and we're taking a lot of notes and getting used to each other on how this deal is working. When we go back to these tracks and we have our own notes from this year, not mine from last year or Wes' last year from other drivers, if it's not better something is wrong because it should be better the second time through. Hopefully, that's when we're finishing in the top five instead of the top 10."
YOU HAD A MECHANICAL PROBLEM AT ROCKINGHAM THAT COST YOU A TOP-10 FINISH. IF IT WEREN'T FOR THAT PROBLEM, THIS TEAM WOULD BE A TOP-THREE TEAM IN POINTS.
"I think right now we're just a solid top-10 team. I've thought about that a few times. I think everybody on our team has thought about that. We've learned and got better by that deal that happened at Rockingham. I think we're just a top-10 right now. We're close to being a top-five, but right now I think we're just a top-10. We're not trying to raise our expectations to unrealistic levels at this point in the season, and we feel like we're performing where we need to be at this point in time. Do we expect to get better as the year progresses? Sure we do, but right now we're still learning each other."
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."
YOU RACED AT TEXAS MOTOR SPEEDWAY LAST YEAR. IS IT SIMILAR TO THE OTHER MILE-AND-A-HALF TRACKS ON THE CIRCUIT?
"I remember going there last year and we tested there before the race. It's real fast and it has a lot of grip on the bottom. I've heard that some of that grip is gone this year, so maybe it will be a little bit better track to race on. One thing that stands out in my mind is going into turn one, the banking comes on real quick. It's kinda abrupt when you get to the banking. It's a little different than the rest of the mile-and-a-half tracks that we race at. It may not be as tough as a Las Vegas to race at, but you definitely need to stay on top of the wheel entering the corners. It's not as smooth of a transition as some of the other tracks, but I think that's what makes it fun."
DISCUSS THE TRANSITION FROM OPEN-WHEEL RACING TO STOCK CAR RACING. HAS IT BEEN HARDER THAN YOU EXPECTED?
"It's had it ups and downs. Last year, at times it seemed like things were going pretty well and things were getting better, but then it would go back to how it was at the start of the year. I wondered for a while what the deal was and why we didn't improve as much as I thought we should have been improving. So far this year, everything has been going a lot better and I think having a lot more laps and a lot more experience in these types of cars than I did last year and just working with the entire Great Clips team has helped out a ton. The communication between me as a driver and the team has been marked with improvement as well. To be able to talk to Wes Ward (crew chief) and to get a response and an explanation of what the changes are supposed to do to the handling of the car has helped my development. You can ask him something and he can answer it. He can tell you what's going on. I can pick his mind and he can tell me what the car is doing. I've learned a lot more so far this year by doing that and not just having somebody make changes to the car based off of my feedback without getting feedback in return. To have someone that has as much knowledge as Wes has helped me close the gap between open-wheel cars and stock cars. Last year, for every step forward we took, we seemed to take a step back just as quick and we never got any consistency going. Now I think we're taking steps forward and with a veteran team like the one at Akins, we're not forgetting what works and we're building on each thing we learn."
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. DID 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."
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."