THE MODERATOR: We’ll go ahead and get started with our winner’s press conference. We welcome Kasey Kahne, the winner of today’s race. This is his second victory of 2012. With this victory, Kasey moves into the No. 1 wild card position. He now has more victories than any other driver outside of the top 10. This is his first victory and seventh top 10 finish in 17 races here at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. His previous best finish was fourth in 2004.
Kasey, talk a little bit about the race.
KASEY KAHNE: It was a good race. Started out fast right at the start just racing with Kyle and Denny. Track position was pretty big. Denny was really tough throughout the whole race. When we got two tires there at the end, put us first, I was feeling really good about where we were at.
I slid around for the first 10 laps, then I knew I needed to get as big of a lead as I could because I knew Denny would be coming at some point. I tried to get away. We ended up winning. It was great.
I was really happy. This is a tough track. I’ve ran pretty good here at times and struggled other times. Feels good to finish one off today.
The pit calls, Kenny Francis, from the adjustments to the call at the end to be the first car off pit road, for the pit crew to step up every time we were on pit road, get us off first today was a big part of this win for sure.
THE MODERATOR: Joining Kasey up here, Kenny Francis.
Kenny, obviously at this point of the season, the Chase, the wild card a hot topic. Talk about your view from the pit box today.
KENNY FRANCIS: Yeah, from the pit box, we had a pretty good car all day. It was a little bit loose all day. We never did get it quite exactly how we wanted it.
All in all, we were in the top five all day. You know, it was kind of a non call at the end. I was shocked when the 11 took four and kind of gifted us the lead there. Fortunately we were able to finish it off and outrun him to the finish. He had a couple pretty good ways back.
THE MODERATOR: We’ll open it up for questions.
Q. Could both you guys talk about the start to this year, being everybody thought this is how it was going to be right from the start. It’s never that easy when guys go to new teams. Obviously you got it rolling now.
KASEY KAHNE: I’d say I felt really confident coming into the season, jumping into such a fast racecar. But I also knew, myself and Kenny talked last year, that it’s not going to be easy. We still have to figure out how to go fast. We just have a lot of good people to work with now.
I felt like we’ve had speed since the drop of the first green flag. I made mistakes and we’ve had some issues on some of those DNF’s. Other than that we’ve been fast all year. It’s nice we’ve been able to put 10 or 11 top 10s, 13 or 14 weeks together, something like that, since kind of that horrible start.
I feel good about where we’re at now. We just have to stay consistent, stay after it, keep putting ourself in position, hopefully win a couple more races.
KENNY FRANCIS: We started off, like Kasey said, our cars had a lot of speed. We took a lot of our ideas to Hendrick Motorsports. We finished the year off really strong last year. When we came over there, we had a lot of fresh ideas that we had incorporated into the cars. That took a little bit of doing, getting that stuff rolling, as it always does.
We had some speed. We just had a few issues. We crashed when we shouldn’t have crashed. We had some engines break. We had a few bad pit calls that got us messed up, poor position, then got in a wreck. Things like that happen.
All in all we knew the cars were really fast and we had a good thing coming together. It’s just a matter of getting all the gears meshing. We kind of started doing a lot better here lately.
Even like at Michigan, we had an accident there. We were kind of experimenting with some stuff that didn’t work. All in all I think we got some good fundamentals that we’re working from that have helped us a lot.
Q. You did have some bad luck early in the year. Denny was in here and said they had a miscommunication. I guess the luck kind of turned around. Denny said that stuff works out in the end. Did you feel like things would turn at some point, all that bad stuff would end up good?
KASEY KAHNE: I think that’s kind of racing, you have good luck at times, bad luck at times. Some of ours wasn’t bad luck. At Phoenix it was straight up driver error. We had some bad luck, some straight up mistakes, things to learn from. When you do that or have those mistakes, as long as you’re learning from them, you’ll be all right.
But, yeah, the luck changed today. We had great luck today. For those guys to miscommunicate, that helped us a ton. I’ll take ‘em any way we can.
Q. Kasey, do you kind of feel like you might have stolen one today?
KASEY KAHNE: I wouldn’t say ‘stolen’. We ran in the top four the whole race. We were in pretty good shape. I was catching Denny on long runs. He was probably four seconds down at one time. I got it down to two or a second and a half when we pitted. So we had a great car.
If he was to keep the track position, I never would have passed him. For him to be on four tires and us on two, he was catching us pretty fast. Just what they chose to do. Somebody said they said something about tires, they took four, he meant two. I don’t know how it happened.
KENNY FRANCIS: I don’t know how it happened either. We sure had some we had stolen from us, so it feels good to steal one from somebody else. Hopefully in the end it evens out (laughter).
Q. Kasey, after you come off pit road, were you looking at, Where is Denny? Was he still the person you were most concerned about on the restart?
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, I mean, when I restarted the race, obviously Clint is always fast. Dale Jr. is right behind us. He ran up front the whole race. You’re worried about those guys. I knew if we didn’t make any mistakes, it was my race to get out front.
Denny was pitted right in front of me. Came in right in front of me. As they dropped his right side jack, right before we dropped ours, when mine dropped, they were jacking his right side up. I knew he was getting four at that point in time.
As I left the pits, I looked in my mirror, there were tons of cars coming out on two. I knew we would have a gap there and bide us some time.
Q. Kasey, here today we had a new tire brought in. Dale Jr. came here about two months ago and tested with this new tire. As an organization, did you talk about this, share notes, to get an idea of what this race would be like today?
KENNY FRANCIS: Not a lot. The test, when they came up here, it was a bad weather deal. They didn’t get to run very much. It was a lot colder. I think it was probably in the 50s or 60s. None of that really translates.
They managed to run like a 40 lap run just to see if the tire would hold up, and it seemed like it did, so they chose to bring it back.
From the time we unloaded, the tire wasn’t an issue. It was fine. I didn’t hear anyone confused or spun out or struggling to get a grip on the handling or the tire. Even at the tire test, I think they said everybody really liked it. It was really similar to what we had here before handling wise. They were trying to fix some durability issues, which they managed to fix. I don’t think anybody had any issues today, which is a good thing.
I think the compound and all that was similar to what we had. You saw the same type of tire wear of what we saw in the past. Really it was a non-issue.
KASEY KAHNE: I feel like the racing was very similar as far as a lot of times the tire creates the race. I thought it was pretty similar the way my car drove was pretty similar to how it drove last year. Wasn’t a big difference, I think it was just a little more durable.
Q. Coming into today, you were outside the Chase. You win. You’re suddenly in the first wild card spot, about seven races left. Is there a magic number of wins that you think you need to reach or hold? Is there just never enough as you look forward?
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, probably never enough. But I think three would put you in a real good spot. Two helps, but three would put you in a real good spot. We’re going to stay after it. We have some really good tracks coming up. I like my car a lot, so… I think we’ll be in good shape.
KENNY FRANCIS: I have the same opinion. You can never get enough. Two is a step in the right direction. Hopefully that will work out in the end if we have to fall back on that. Three would be even better.
We’re going to keep after it.
Q. Not only do you take the lead in the wild card race, but you go to 12th in points. Even if there’s a tie, you’re in good shape there. Do you feel as if you’re going to look back at this win as maybe this was the day that not only did we win the race but put ourselves in the Chase?
KASEY KAHNE: Myself, I thought when we won Charlotte, that really boosted our team a lot. We ran really well there for about eight or nine weeks. Went to Pocono, had as good a car as anybody there. Got a right front, went down at the end, made contact with another car, hit the wall, lost a lot of the points we had just gained. We lost a little bit there.
Charlotte to me was a big turning point for us. I got our team really excited and going. Today is just another bonus. This should give the team some more confidence, myself some more confidence, and carry some momentum into these final how many are left.
KENNY FRANCIS: I don’t keep count of ‘em. Seven I think.
KASEY KAHNE: Seven.
Q. Just comment on getting your first win on this racetrack, what went into finally getting this one?
KASEY KAHNE: It feels really good. This track, I’ve been really up and down at this track over the years. I felt great in practice Friday, in qualifying. We qualified second. It was a really strong weekend for us. Felt like every time we were on track we were in the top 10 and contending to be one of the better cars.
We came here. Kenny Francis had a great plan. Had a car unloaded very close. We just tweaked on it from there. We had a strong group of guys working on it so it all worked out in the end.
Q. Kasey, I didn’t write down the exact time, but in the closing laps as you got into lap traffic, the lead got reduced to 1.6 seconds, then up to 2.5 seconds. What transpired between you and Kenny on the radio? Did you change how you were driving at that point?
KASEY KAHNE: I kind of did. I was clipping the inside, the left front. I don’t know, there’s like a seam. I was clipping it on exit. It would kind of get the back of the car a little bit freer. I quit doing that. I had a little more rear grip for a while. Then I lost the rear grip about 10 to go.
I was kind of able to equal out with Denny for five or 10 laps when we were running a lot closer in lap times. Then the last 10 laps I was coming, trying to be on the flat, trying to be left front, do whatever I could do to get around the corner. I was just spinning my tires a little more. I could see Denny coming. I knew I had some time. Probably just overboard a little bit with my right foot.
You know, we made it.
Q. Kasey, in the race, there were 16 lead changes. I believe only two of them involved two cars going fast, the rest were on pit road. Realistically, had either of those things taken place, it’s one thing to catch somebody, something else to help them, how many laps would have been a reasonable amount of time to work on somebody and pass for the lead?
KASEY KAHNE: It’s going to be tough unless you bump ‘em a little bit. You kind of go to the outside. I saw Jimmie drove under Kyle Busch right in front of me and was clearly faster for a couple laps there. Kyle just kept him down, staying on the outside, finally got Jimmie’s tires too hot and he had to file back in behind him.
It’s tough. I wish it was a little easier to pass here. It was the same story yesterday. I don’t know why that is. Makes it a little better when you can pass a little bit more. But, yeah, it’s tough to pass. It was tough to pass.
Q. Kasey, a week ago you were kicking up your heels after beating all your teammates. Now here you are kicking up your heels after winning this race. How are you going to take the week off? Are you going to do an Ironman triathlon? Do you wish you had another race to go to next week?
KASEY KAHNE: I’m going to start by hydrating. I haven’t done enough of that lately.
I don’t know what I’m going to do next week. I was going to race my Sprint car. I raced it twice last week. I kind of decided not to go race this week now. So maybe just find something fun and low key to do, take a little bit of a break, prepare for Indy. Indy is a race that I want to win as bad as any race that we go to. We’ve came close over the years, so hopefully we can put something together there and have a really strong car.
I don’t have a plan yet. I’ll come up with something.
Q. If you want to go fishing, you already caught the biggest lobster, what was like in Victory Lane?
KASEY KAHNE: They said it was 18 pounds. Felt like 40. It was huge. I guess the team is going to get all the lobster meat, so the team gets that. They’re going to put the shell, the rest of the lobster, in a case and send it down as a trophy. I’m excited to get that. I’ve never seen a lobster anywhere close to that size.
KENNY FRANCIS: That was a pretty big lobster. I don’t know.
Q. Kenny, what do you do over the next seven weeks? Yeah, you’re 12th. Kasey could jump over that hurdle and lock himself in. Strategically how are you laying out the next seven races before we come back here?
KENNY FRANCIS: I hadn’t really thought a lot about it yet. We basically probably will try to come every week and do the best we can every week. Hopefully we come away with a few more wins, at least one more.
I think strategically you still got to keep racing to win. I think wins are important. That’s why we’re here. I don’t really have any strategy other than, Let’s go try to win the next one.
Q. Kasey, coming back here in September, if you do make the Chase, how confident would you be knowing that you won here in July heading into the second race in the Chase?
KASEY KAHNE: Be really confident. We’d feel good about where we were when we got here. We’d know what we need to work on as far as taking notes from today, kind of what the track did, how it changed, things like that. The track will be a touch different when we come back, but a lot of the characteristics will be the same.
We’ll be able to look at this track and really have a good game plan going into the Chase race here. We know some of the other cars that will run really good here when we come back. We need to be a little better. I got the right guy to work on that.
Q. Kasey, you have to be mentally tough to make it through a triathlon. Any of that used when you were buried back in the points early in the season?
KASEY KAHNE: I don’t know. I’ve been buried in the points not just this year, I’ve been back there other times. You get in the back of the pack when you’re racing, you have strong races going, something happens, you end up in the back. There’s a lot of things thrown at you when you’re driving a racecar when you’re at this level in NASCAR. When I go and run my Sprint car, there’s so many things thrown at you. I think more than anything it’s passion and heart, just going for it.
I know when I was in that final mile of that triathlon, I was like, Man, just start walking, this is hard. I told myself, You better not. I kept going and finished off pretty strong.
You can ease up, people take advantage of you if you do.
Q. Are you cramping up up there? Are you okay?
KASEY KAHNE: I keep cramping up, my hands and my chest.
Q. Big week for you beating Jimmie in the triathlon, then winning this race. How do they rank?
KASEY KAHNE: This race was way bigger (smiling). This feels a lot better.
THE MODERATOR: Congratulations on your win today, good luck the rest of the season.