Kasey Kahne, driver of the #5 Time Warner Chevrolet, met with media and discussed Dale Earnhardt Jr. sitting out two races due to a concussion, how drivers not in the Chase race with Chase contenders, the upcoming test at Kansas, his year to date with Hendrick Motorsports and more.
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE NO. 5 CAR FOR TOMORROW NIGHT’S RACE? “I felt all right with our qualifying lap. The car felt great. I didn’t get quite enough like a few of the guys in front of us did, but it was still a pretty solid lap and it was doing everything I wanted it to do. I feel good about it. We have a fast Time Warner Cable Chevrolet and I’m looking forward to practice today and then to tomorrow night’s race.”
WHAT WAS YOUR REACTION TO DALE EARNHARDT JR.’S CONCUSSION AND MISSING THE NEXT TWO RACES? “I felt really bad for him. From a racing standpoint, nobody wants to miss a race. I couldn’t imagine having to miss a race. When I first read it, I really couldn’t believe it. It was such a surprise. And from his side, it’s about health and making sure that it doesn’t get worse. What he’s done and the direction he’s taken on it, I think it’s great. I think they’re doing a really nice job between himself, his doctors, Mr. Hendrick is really involved, and that’s really all that matters; that they take care of it the right way and give him some time to heal up and he’ll be ready to go soon, hopefully.”
THIS IS A CHASE STRATEGY QUESTION: YOU ARE IN A WEIRD SPOT WHERE EVEN IF YOU RUN GREAT, YOU’RE GOING TO NEED SOME HELP WITH THOSE TOP THREE GUYS. WHAT’S THE STRATEGY FOR THE SECOND HALF OF THE CHASE? “it’s just to run as fast as we can and run up front and get bonus points and win if we get an opportunity to win. That’s really all we can do. We’ve had a couple of races where we’ve given up some points. Even if we didn’t give up those points, we still wouldn’t be leading because of their bonus points and how well Brad (Keselowski) has done overall. He hasn’t had anything go wrong yet. But we’d be a little bit closer. There’s still a lot of racing left. A lot of things can happen to any one of us, including the three guys in front of me to where you don’t even finish in the top five if you have a stretch of bad luck. So, it’s racing. You never know.”
HOW SHOCKED WERE YOU WITH DALE JR’S NEWS? IS HE TAKING THE RIGHT STEP? OFTEN IGNORANCE IS BLISS. HOW DIFFICULT IS IT AS A COMPETITOR, TO TAKE THAT STEP TO FIND OUT THE TRUTH WHEN YOU KNOW THE TRUTH MIGHT NOT BE WHAT YOU WANT TO HEAR? “Well, I would say it would be really difficult. But I think the big thing with Dale is that he obviously wants to race. He had one (concussion) a month ago and kept racing. And then he had another one close to it. And by the sounds of it, he’s had concussions before. So he knew what it was like. He knew what he felt. From that point he wanted to see where he stood with the doctors. I think every step he’s taken has been the right way. I think he’s done a really nice job and it would be horrible to miss a race and there’s no way he’s happy about it. I hung out with him yesterday a little bit and I just felt bad for him because he’s not here and he’s had a great season. It’s disappointing. But, this way he’ll be able to finish the season and be just a strong next year.”
YOUR SEASON STARTED REALLY SLOWLY. WHAT DID THAT WIN HERE IN MAY DO FOR THE RACE TEAM AND FOR YOU, PERSONALLY FROM A CONFIDENCE PERSPECTIVE? “Some of the guys had worked with other drivers and maybe weren’t sure how we would do at times. And so I think it was great for the team to see that we can win and that we can put together a full race. For myself, it just felt really good to get that first win with Hendrick Motorsports.
“Mr. Hendrick has put a lot into me over the last year and I wasn’t even racing for him yet. And then to be able to start racing for him and to win pretty early on, felt good. I felt like I was off to a decent start. For me, it was a lot of confidence. It felt good to be a part of HMS and for the team, they were probably like man, we can win races with this guy.”
WAS THERE A CERTAIN AMOUNT OF VALIDATION IN SIGNING YOU 18 MONTHS EARLIER, OR WHATEVER THAT NUMBER WAS? “Yeah, that’s what I was kind of thinking. I felt good for him because we were able to win and he was probably wondering there; I hit a wall a couple of times earlier in the season and then to come back and win pretty early on, I think he was probably pretty happy about it.
A WIN AT HENDRICK WOULD BUILD ENTHUSIASM IN THE WHOLE ORGANIZATION. DOES SOMETHING LIKE JUNIOR’S ANNOUNCEMENT MAKE EVERYBODY FEEL DOWN? “The big thing to me is feeling bad for him. He’s the one this hurts. What he’s put into this season and what he’s put into his racing career and then he has to miss two races; I feel bad for him. I don’t feel bad for anyone else. Everybody that works on his cars will prepare for this weekend and next weekend just like Dale was in it and keeps driving forward. But I think all of us are like man, that’s tough on Dale. That’s who it’s tough on. But at the end of the day we’re all happy to get it fixed up and be back soon.”
TALK ABOUT NEXT WEEK. IT’S KIND OF LIKE A POCONO-REVISITED IN KANSAS FOR TESTING PRIOR TO THE RACE. “It was a long trip at Pocono (laughs).”
IS IT GOING TO BE A LONG TRIP AT KANSAS TOO? OR IS IT NEEDED BECAUSE OF THE REPAVE? “It’s needed, but it’s going to be a pretty long trip. But there’s some things you can do in Kansas. You can go out and get some good meals and things like that and have a good time while we’re there. I think it’s needed to get out there and get some laps on the track and then the track just needs rubber. It needs race cars on the track and the more laps on the race track, the longer it sits, the better it’s going to be. I think overall, it just creates a better race on Sunday by us being there two days early.”
HOW MUCH DIFFERENT IS KANSAS IN THE SENSE THAT POCONO, YOU COULD WORK ON STUFF THROUGHOUT THE REST OF THE YEAR DURING THOSE TWO DAYS. I ASSUME THESE TWO DAYS AT KANSAS ARE STRICTLY KANSAS AND THAT’S IT. “Well, it’s Kansas, but we don’t get a lot of testing these days. So it’s nice to go to a race track that you race on and have the tire that you are using. You can learn some things for Texas and Homestead and maybe even a little bit of stuff for Phoenix. So, I think it’s a nice test for all the teams to just be a little bit better prepared throughout the rest of the season.”
WHEN YOU RUN YOUR 5K, DO YOU GO ALL-OUT THE WHOLE TIME OR DO YOU HAVE TO PACE YOURSELF? “I pace myself. If I went all-out, I would never make it.”
WHAT ARE YOU EXPECTED TO RUN IT IN? WHAT DO YOU THINK YOUR TIME WILL BE? “I’ve been training at like 19 minutes.”
THAT’S NOT ALL OUT? “No, there’s a big difference between as fast as you can run and a nice jog; a pretty fast job. So no, that’s not all-out, but it’s going pretty hard. But I cramped the first couple of years coming off races and would do it the next morning; I cramped. But I did do that Sprint Tri earlier in the year and felt pretty good doing that whole thing after Daytona. Hopefully I’ll be in a little better shape if I don’t stay up quite as late after the race Saturday night, which every year so far, I’ve been on about three hours of sleep going into the 5K and can make it without cramping up and have a pretty good time. But I think it would be really tough to get much under 20 minutes for me.”
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE SOMEBODY RUNNING THEIR FIRST 5K? “Enjoy it. It’ll wear on you no matter how hard you go. When you finish 3.1 miles, you’re worn out if you’re going what your body will let you go. So, have fun; enjoy it. Everybody that comes, I appreciate it. It’s been growing a little bit each year and it’s great to start at the Hall of Fame this year and finish at the Hall of Fame and have NASCAR part of it as well. I like it. It’s been fun to have.”
FOUR OF THE FINAL SIX RACES ARE ON 1.5-MILE TRACKS, WHAT DOES IT MEAN IF YOU RUN WELL ON SATURDAY NIGHT? DOES THAT MEAN ANYTHING FOR THE OTHER 1.5-MILE RACES? “I think it does. It just shows that you’re going to be strong at all those 1.5-miles. I think the guys who were strong in Chicago will be strong today in practice and then again tomorrow night. Overall, there are kind of a group of cars that have been running towards the front each week and you’ll see that again Saturday night here and it’ll probably continue all the way until the end of the season. We’re so late in the season that the guys that have it figured out and the teams that are working together in the right way and communicating; the cars are fast, they’re going to be there all year.”
I GUESS THAT’S THE WAY IT IS FOR YOU OTHER THAN ATLANTA “Yeah, we missed Atlanta pretty bad. But other than that, I feel like we’ve been one of those cars, you know? So we just keep working hard and trying to make things as good as we can and it would be great to win another race before the season is over.”
AT THIS POINT, BECAUSE OF YOUR POSITION IN THE CHASE, WHAT’S A REASONABLE EXPECTATION HOW YOU WANT TO BE RACED BY THE NON-CHASE GUYS? WHEN YOU WEREN’T IN THE CHASE, HOW DID YOU RACE THE CHASE CONTENDERS? “I always raced those guys (in the way that) I totally understood what they were doing and where they were at and their position they were in. But I still wanted to win and I wanted to run up front. We finished third overall in the Chase last year; we didn’t make it, but that’s where we were in points. We came close to winning. We ran up front a lot. We were consistent and I didn’t make anyone made. So, it was a good way to race and I feel like that’s how to finish off this season is to go as hard as we can. When I came into Hendrick Motorsports, one of my biggest goals was to make the Chase and win a race. And we’ve been able to win two races and make the Chase and if we can finish top five in points, I think that would be a pretty decent first year with HMS.”
ON THE RESPECT ISSUE, YOU TALKED ABOUT LAST YEAR, OBVIOUSLY YOU RAN UP TOWARD THE FRONT A GOOD PART OF THE TIME LAST YEAR, SO THOSE GUYS WERE FAMILIAR WITH YOU. I’M GUESSING THAT’S NOT AS MUCH OF A PROBLEM UP FRONT. IT’S MORE IF YOU’RE IN THE 12TH TO 25TH SPOT WHERE ALL-HECK BREAKS LOOSE AND NOBODY TREATS ANYBODY WITH RESPECT? “Yeah, it’s tough back there in the 20’s. It always is on any week. But one thing about when you’re not in the Chase, you can run up front. Kyle (Busch) has showed it this year and we did it last year. You take points from guys that are racing for the championship. That’s good for one guy and bad for another, but I think that’s the only way that you can get a little separation there if some of these guys don’t have a lot of problems. I feel like I was a big part of Tony Stewart winning that championship last year by winning Phoenix. If Carl (Edwards) would have won that, Carl would have won the championship. So, it just changes it for everyone. And it shows that there are some cars that aren’t in the top 12 in points that still have a lot of drive and still want to run up front and shoot at winning.”
WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO AND ARE CURIOUS ABOUT WHAT THINGS ARE LIKE THE LATER IT GETS IN THE SEASON AND THE CLOSER IT GETS TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP? “Last year, when I was kind of in the middle of those guys in battle and I had zero pressure. And I know Tony and Carl and everybody in that area had some pressure because they wanted to finish as well as they could in the points. I knew where I was going to finish in points. So, it was just a completely different pressure on myself and until you’re in that situation, I don’t really know how you’ll handle it. But I’d love to be in that situation and see what I’d do with it.”