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Interview With Kasey Kahne, Winner of Pocono NASCAR Cup Race

Congratulations, Kasey, certainly an outstanding race down the stretch with you and your teammate Jeff Gordon.  Maybe just talk about that final part of that race there, that last restart.  Let’s go back to the restart before that.  You had the lead, caution came out, Gordon took the lead.  Maybe just kind of go back over that for us, because that was some really good racing.

KASEY KAHNE:  Yeah, I just felt like we had our Farmers Insurance Chevy was the best car.  Kenny called a great race with strategy and kept me in the front the whole time once we got there.  We started 18th, so we had a little ways to go, but we were gaining on the leaders from the time the race went green off of everything I could see with markers and things.

But, yeah, when the caution came out, we had a pretty big lead.  I knew Jeff was going to be tough.  I felt like he was beating me on restarts a little bit.  I always struggle on them.  I need to work on that and just keep getting better with my starts, but he got a great start.

He was on my left rear off of turn one, and was able to kind of side draft me down the backstretch and just stayed under me.  He finally got by off turn three.  So at that point, I just tried to stay with him.  We had five laps, so I thought I may get another opportunity to get by, but it was tough.  It seemed like with him in clean air, it was going to take more than five laps.  It was going to take more like ten laps.

Then the caution came out, and on that caution, I just knew it was two laps to go, it’s whoever gets the lead, whoever gets clear is going to win the race.

I had some help from Kurt Busch, pushed me down the front stretch, and I just drove into one as far as I felt I could, and I got some speed and momentum down the back and beat Jeff to turn two.  That was kind of the race at that point.  Once I cleared him getting into two, from there it was just don’t make a mistake and try to run the quick lap on that last one.

Q :  Kenny Francis, congratulations on the win here today.  You and Kasey Kahne certainly have teamed up over the years to turn in a lot of wins.  But this has to be one of the more, I would think, gratifying wins that you all have put together.

KENNY FRANCIS:  Yeah, they’re definitely all important, but this one was pretty special looking at all the crazy stuff that’s happened to us over the summer and the past eight to ten weeks.  We’ve had a lot of good race cars and didn’t have much to show for it.  So to come here and dominate the race and get the win in the end, that was pretty cool.

So that was a really cool pass he made on that last restart.  We were all about to jump off the box when he did that.  So, you know, it was kind of nerve-racking.  You’re sitting there racing your teammate, and you want them to have a good finish too.  But at the end of the day, we’re out for ourselves.  I’m just thankful that we were able to get the win.

 

Q.  When you saw the extra caution come out, what was going through your mind?  First of all, you got three guys behind you who are desperate for wins.  You know, Junior just, he’s good in the point standings, but he still would like to win desperately.  Then Jeff and Kurt that really need a victory to solidify their chase aspirations.  I mean, what was going through your mind?

KASEY KAHNE:  I just knew that it would probably be three-wide going into turn one and down that front stretch everybody gets such a good run.  The draft comes into play as you come up through the gears.  So it was just crucial getting into one and getting to the backstretch.  I was able to drive in.  My braking and the way the car was set up, I could drive into one and into two really hard all day long.  So I felt like if I got there and I was close to anyone, I could drive in as far or further than them, and that’s what we were able to do.

I knew I had my hands full because those guys want to win just as bad as we do.  I needed one bad.  I felt like our team did.  We’ve been, like Kenny said, we’ve been really fast this whole season, especially through the summer months.  Just things have happened and we don’t have much to show for, but today we finished it off and put a full race together.

 

Q.  Kasey and Kenny, talking about some of those issues this race in June, you didn’t even get to finish the first lap before you had to pull into the garage, and now this one you were in victory lane.  If I remember correctly in that race, you felt once you got the situation fixed, you were running really strong. So what does it feel like to capitalize on what you may have had in June?

KASEY KAHNE:  Yeah, this was the same car.  So Friday we started practice similar to that and felt really close to how I felt in June.  The track didn’t change much and the tire didn’t change.  So it was not having practice yesterday didn’t bother me at all because I knew that we had put 40, 45 minutes in on Friday and we’re in a good spot.

Just preparation, the guys did a great job,  Kenny and the whole team, bringing back the same car.  It was fast the first time we were here, and we were able to show how fast it was today.

KENNY FRANCIS:  Yeah, that first race, we had that U-joint problem and went behind the wall, and it took us about 50 laps to figure it out and get it sorted back out.  But we went out and ran that whole rest of that race and started off kind of easing around there and realized how fast the car was.  It was after the race, it was amazing how many other crew chiefs and crew members and stuff came up to us over the next few weeks.  We were like, wow, I can’t believe how fast your car was.  So it was cool to bring that same car back and actually win the race.  It doesn’t always happen that you come back the next time to Pocono and the set-up works.  Usually you’re scrambling again.

Just fortunate that we hit on such a good set-up on the first event that transferred over.

 

Q.  Little bit more about the emotions of coming back to Pocono, as I heard in your post-race television interview, you mentioned Jason Leffler and another friend who had been in the hospital, and Eldora had happened a couple of weeks ago, and you only had one break.  Was it a little emotional coming back?  You recalled leaving and hanging out with Jason?  Just you’re a family it seems in the NASCAR community.  Your job goes on and on, so was there some kind of poignant memory coming back here since June?

KASEY KAHNE:  I think there definitely is.  I think this summer has been tough on some racers.  A lot of things have happened with people I know and different guys involved in racing.  Jason, I thought about it on my way up here on Friday, I was like, man, the last time I was here he flew with me here and flew back with me.  Just me and him.  We spent a bunch of time together and then that happened that Wednesday.  So it was tough.

There are so many people that are good friends with Jason and knew him really well, so I just wanted to mention something about him.  Then Gary Zeronian is a guy that when I moved to Indianapolis in ’99, I met Gary, and we became really good friends and I drove his Silver Crown car on and off for a few different years, probably like three or four years.  We won some races together.

He’s just a great guy.  He was at Indy with us.  We had lunch and spent Sunday together.  He was at the car before we took off for the race, and then after the race he had a heart attack walking to his car.  So he’s been in Methodist all week, but he’s recovering.

I think it’s just been a tough summer, and I wanted to mention some of that because a lot of my friends feel the same way about those two guys.  So I just said something when I was in that interview.

 

Q.  Kasey, on the second to last restart, you chose the outside and Jeff Gordon passes you.  On the last restart he chooses the inside.  Did you have any regrets that you should have chosen the inside on the second to last restart and when he chose the inside did you think this is my second chance and it’s going to come to me?

KASEY KAHNE:  I thought Jeff would probably choose the inside because I knew he was good down there throughout the whole race.  I had the restart on the inside early in the race and stuck with Keselowski until I cleared him.

So I felt good about being down there, but to me it was more about getting momentum off turn one.  When Jeff gave me the outside, I was pretty happy about that because I thought that that may have given me a chance and an opportunity to get back by him.  It’s tough though.

You go down the front stretch, everybody’s pushing and the air is working differently, the transmissions and gear ratios are a little different, so everybody has a different run.  Then once you get to turn one, if you miss your mark a little bit, you don’t pick up the throttle, he hits it right.  That’s what he did to me on the start before.  He just got off turn one a little bit better than I did and was able to get the lead.

So it’s all so close.  The competition, and I think my car and Jeff’s on those restarts were really similar.  I don’t know.  It could have gone either way, and I’m just glad I didn’t give that one away, because I knew we had the best car. If I didn’t win the race today, I would have felt pretty bad about giving it away.

 

Q.  Is it getting tougher on restarts to know which lane to choose?

KASEY KAHNE:  Yeah, because I – I mean, I don’t know.  I think everybody’s car you kind of have the spot that you want to be and you’re looking for.  Jeff was tight so he wanted to be on the white line and try to hook his tire on it, he was telling me after the race.  But you’re thinking about going down the straightaway, some tracks you have more grip on the inside or outside on the initial start, and other tracks once you get to the corner, you have more grip on the inside or outside.  So just how do you play that?

A lot of times the leader is just in control and can make that work.  But with these long straightaways, it seems that this place is a little more difficult as a leader.  I think everybody’s just a little bit closer together on these starts, so it could go either way.

 

Q.  It doesn’t matter and we’ll never know, would you have caught Jeff without the last caution or – you were making up ground, but was it enough time that you even worry about that now?

KASEY KAHNE:  I don’t know.  I felt like that first lap I was right with him, and the second lap I was on him and got loose in the middle of three, and he pulled me down the front stretch and I was reeling him back in.  I think we had two to go or three to go.  So we would have definitely had a shot.

We had speed.  I could move around.  But to actually clear him and make the pass, I think it would have been really difficult.  So I’m glad that second caution came out there and gave us another shot.

 

Q.  Those restarts, obviously there are always a lot of hair-raising moments in the cars.  Can you get a sense of what kind of hold-your-breath moments those restarts were or any more so than what you guys go through a lot of race weekends at the end of the race?  Can you also talk about just how Kurt Busch pushing you, how that helped and how that was such a factor for you on that last restart?

KASEY KAHNE:  Yeah, I think the hair-raising spots are when somebody’s pushing you and they can hook you a little bit.  I think it happened with Newman and with Dale.  Both times it got me kind of whipping right before I got to turn one, so that will get your attention.  Then just trying to drive into turn one as far as you can and downshift to third and still make the corner and not enter too hard and push your tires, but go as hard as you possibly can.

So those are the spots that, to me, are interesting.  I think the further you get back in the pack where the air is – more guys have runs and things like that, they’ll get three and four wide, that is a tougher spot.  When you’re coming off the front row it seems you can enter the corner about two wide, which isn’t too bad.

But, yeah, Kurt pushing me was key.  I don’t know if he had a lot of places to go when he first got to me, because we weren’t to the line, so he had to push me.  At that point we got through the gears fine and we just kind of hooked together like we were at Daytona and started making ground, and we were catching those guys all the way to turn one and then drove up beside Jeff once I got there.

 

Q.  Kenny, I heard you tell Kasey near the end that he had a different second gear than what Jeff had.  Can you talk about the decision to choose the certain gear?  Also, is that something that is common in all organizations?  Is that something that each team gets to choose or would other organizations say everybody’s running the same gear?

KENNY FRANCIS:  I think it’s pretty common that different drivers and different driving styles use different ratios.  Everywhere I’ve been, it’s been multi-car teams.  But here in particular, NASCAR changed the rule for second gear for this particular race, so I think there were a number of different people trying philosophies.  So that is the advantage of having your teammate and you know what he’s got.

He knew that already.  I just wanted to make sure he remembered.

KASEY KAHNE:  Jeff knew we had it too because he slowed down on that restart, so that would benefit him with the ratios.  I noticed that.  I knew he was going to.  But, yeah, Jeff knew what was going on.

KENNY FRANCIS:  Yeah.

 

Q.  He said that he did, yeah.

KASEY KAHNE:  Did he?  Yeah.

KENNY FRANCIS:  No one really knew what to do.  With the lack of practice, we didn’t really get a chance to do any restart simulations, which we were planning on doing.  Here, it’s not like another – here you’re allowed to change ratios through the weekend, so we had some opportunity to play with it if we’d had practice.

So I think there was just some uncertainty with the rule change and wondering what the right answer was.  I think we picked the wrong answer, but luckily we got away with it.

 

Q.  You got that all-important second win today as far as towards the Chase.  You talked about you haven’t had anything to show for it the last couple of weeks.  You probably thought you were a championship contender all along, but does this win kind of signal to maybe some of the other people that, hey, don’t forget about us, we can make some noise if we make the Chase?

KASEY KAHNE:  Yeah, I feel like it does.  It gives myself confidence and gives the whole team confidence, Kenny, and the pit crew guys and everybody that’s part of it.  It closes the gap.  If we finish in the top 10 and get into the Chase, it will be closer to Matt and Jimmie who already have four wins.  So I think wins are key for sure.

Then just for our points, I mean, the Chase is what it’s all about in NASCAR.  I mean, you need to make it for the sponsors, for the teams.  We’ve been right there on the edge with kind of the way our summer went.  So it was nice to get two wins.  It gives us much more hope going in.  We’ll just start a lot closer.

KENNY FRANCIS:  I think also it gives you a little more flexibility to be able to take more risks in the upcoming races.  You’ve already got your two wins.  There is a good chance you’re going to make the Chase either way, so now you can maybe take a little more risk.  Where if this doesn’t work out, it could hurt bad.  Now you’ve got something to fall back on now.

There was a call today we had to make that was a little risky that I thought, well, we’ll just have to do it and see.  It was one of those two-tire stops and we couldn’t quite get as much gas in it as we wanted, or if we did, it was going to take more time.  So definitely having another win gives you some more opportunity to play a little different strategy or take a chance or maybe take a chance on your set-up before the race or something like that in the upcoming races.

 

Q.  (Indiscernible)?

KENNY FRANCIS:  It was one of the yellow flag stops where we took two tires.  It was, I don’t remember, two-thirds of the way through the race or something.

 

Q.  I think we covered this when you won in 2008 here, but I think you spent some time on some of the smaller tracks around here a few years ago when you were just coming up.  Can you talk about coming back here and what it means to you to win here?  Can you also talk about the unpredictability of the races here?  We had a very different race here in June, can you explain why these races are so crazy in varying differences?

KASEY KAHNE:  Yeah, I felt like the track was really similar today to what it was in June.  Not a lot of change in the racetrack and the tire and the combination of the cars and things.  So the race may have played out a little different today, but I felt pretty similar to how I did in June.

Yeah, I raced a lot in Pennsylvania.  Raced Sprint Cars and midgets and things around here.  I lived in Tower City for like a month and a half one year, which was hard on me.  That was a long time in Tower City.  But I had a good roommate, Rick Hawk.  I lived with him and his family, so we had a lot going on.

But it was cool.  Pennsylvania racing is tough.  All the Sprint car racing is really hard, really difficult.  The guys are on top of their game all the time, so it’s a good spot for myself when I was in Sprint cars to race and learn.  I felt like I made a lot of gains when I was racing around here.

 

Q.  The Hendrick cars the last two weeks in particular have been really, really strong or cars with Hendrick engines too.  Is it more difficult or easier to close a gap or gain an advantage when you’re trying to do it against your teammate versus another organization?

KENNY FRANCIS:  I think it’s more difficult.  Those guys are hard to race.  It’s hard to beat Jimmie and Jeff and Dale and the Stewart-Haas cars are strong.  They’ve been getting stronger every week for the past couple months.  I don’t know.  What do you think?

KASEY KAHNE:  I think it’s more difficult.  You know you have very similar cars and engines and all of that, so you know you can run those lap times and things if one of the other guys is beating you.  But at the same time, when someone hits on something and it’s working for them, it’s tough.  Jimmie and Chad do the best job of that each year.

I have a great team with Kenny and Keith and all the guys behind us.  I feel like we can run with them if we do everything right.  So we’re just doing the best job we can and trying to get to that point and have some confidence here when we enter the Chase.

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Posted by on August 5, 2013. Filed under Breaking News,NASCAR. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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