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ATLANTA -- Kasey Kahne, driver of the No. 9 Budweiser Ford Fusion, is the defending race champion at the fall Atlanta race and is looking to mount a late rally to make the field for the 12-driver Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. With two races remaining, he is 16th in the standings, 136 points out of 12th place. Kahne holds the record for the biggest comeback with two races to go before the Chase, coming from 90 points down with two races to go in 2006 to make the field. Kahne talked with media members as part of the weekly NASCAR teleconference and discussed a variety of topics, including his prospects for making the Chase.
Q. WHAT DO YOU THINK YOUR ODDS ARE FOR ANOTHER COMEBACK LIKE IN 2006?
A. Hopefully we have a good shot. It is tough right now because everybody is running so well and you are kind of in your points position. It is tough to make up a lot of points. These are two good tracks for us coming up and I know we can go fast at both of them. If Bowyer has any kind of hiccup, we will be right there in the middle of it.
Q. WITH YOUR DEAL FOR NEXT YEAR BEING LONG REPORTED BUT FINALLY SETTLED, COULD YOU TALK ABOUT HOW MUCH STRESS OR HOW HARD IT WAS FOR YOU TO GO THROUGH THAT AND IF THERE WAS EVER ANY STRAIN IN YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH RICK HENDRICK OR MARK MARTIN?
A. It definitely went on a little longer than I had hoped or expected. I tried just to focus on my car and the Bud team. I think we did a pretty good job of that. At the same time, you don’t really know until it is over with and I felt like once it was over with I was very relieved because I knew what I was going to be doing and what the plan was. I would say it definitely was on my mind a lot. It weighed on my mind, but I don’t think it held us back too much. I think we would be in a similar spot whether that went on or not. My relationship with Mark has been good from the start and it has been great with Rick Hendrick. I am really happy to work with Rick.
Q. COULD YOU TALK ABOUT WHAT YOU EXPECT AND ANTICIPATE IN YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH THE RED BULL TEAM NEXT YEAR?
A. I have always known some people over at the Red Bull deal. Some of those guys used to work over at Evernham and some of the other guys I know from different types of racing over the years. Jay Frye I don’t know really well, but just in talking with him over the last couple of weeks I see that he is easy to talk to and understanding and wants to perform. It has been really good. Once I got more involved with the Red Bull deal, I got more excited than when I initially heard about it. Right now, I feel really confident about next year and being able to perform, race well and have a good time doing it.
Q. YOU HAVE BEEN IN THE CHASE AND NOT IN THE CHASE IN PREVIOUS YEARS. WHEN YOU ARE NOT IN THE CHASE GROUP, DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU HAVE BEEN SENT TO STUDY HALL OR ARE OUT OF THE PROGRAM AS IT WERE?
A. It definitely isn’t as good. You don’t feel as good about what you have done or the way you have raced. I think it is a little bit different for me this year because I know I have 12 races left with where I am at. I don’t want to be done winning in a Ford. I don’t want to be done winning for Budweiser or for Richard Petty Motorsports. Hopefully, we can find some spark to that. If we don’t make the Chase, hopefully we can show up to the race track each week and contend. If we do make the Chase, then we do the same thing. I feel like we should have a really good shot at winning a race or two, regardless if we make it or not. I have been in this position I think every year pretty much since I have been in Cup. I am never in the Chase when we get to this point of the year. It seems like we are always on the edge and we either make it or we don’t. We always have to wait and see, but I think we have a little bit of a shot if anything happens to the 33.
Q. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THIS BEING THE LAST YEAR OF TWO RACES IN ATLANTA? YOUR THOUGHTS ON LOSING A RACE HERE AND YOUR MEMORIES OF THIS TRACK.
A. I wish we could race Atlanta more than twice. To me it has been my favorite track since I came into NASCAR. It is a little disappointing, but at the same time NASCAR is doing what makes the most sense for the fans and the people and the viewers. I think it is fine. I think the Labor Day race is a perfect time for the Atlanta race. We found that out last year. I think that was a great move putting that race on Labor Day. Hopefully, when it is just one race it will be even bigger and better and last for a long time. The track, the way it is, I think it is one of the best tracks we race at. This place really fits my driving style. It is fast and a little bit rough. It is real line sensitive. You can move around and find grip as far as when you go from the white line to the wall. If you keep searching, you can find something to help your car. That is how I race on dirt tracks. You are always looking on the next lap for something different. Atlanta really suits me because of that.
Q. HOW DO YOU FELL YOUR TEAM HAS HANDLED THE LAST MONTH OR SO WITH ALL THE UNCERTAINTY AND GUYS NOT KNOWING IF KENNY FRANCIS IS STAYING OR GOING, OR IF THEY ARE STAYING OR GOING?
A. I think the guys that are building the cars have done a pretty good job. Things definitely haven’t been easy, but I feel that everyone has done the best job they could. There have been some times that I wondered, but they probably wondered about me too. I think they have done a fine job and I think it showed at Bristol. We got behind and fought our way right back. We were pretty good over there, so they are working hard and they want to perform. Whether one of the guys stays where they are at or does something different, they all have incentive and want to perform and make sure what they are doing is good.
Q. HAS IT BEEN ANY STRANGER FOR YOU IN THE LAST MONTH IN THE SENSE THAT YOU KNOW WHAT YOU ARE DOING NEXT YEAR AND YOUR GUYS DON’T?
A. I think a lot of my guys do know what they are doing. I have heard of a lot of them going different places or staying where they are at. It is just kind of up in the air, but I think that everybody is getting along good and working well together. They want the right opportunities. I think it is alright.
Q. LAST SEASON YOU BLEW THE ENGINE IN NEW HAMPSHIRE AND IT SEEMS LIKE EVERY YEAR WE HAVE A GUY OR TWO THAT HAS SOMETHING HAPPEN IN ONE OF THOSE FIRST CHASE RACES AND NEVER CATCH UP. WHEN SOMETHING LIKE THAT HAPPENS, IS IT DIFFICULT TO CONVINCE YOURSELF THAT YOU ARE STILL IN IT?
A. It can be, but 10 races is a long time so that is a good thing about it. If you can keep that on your mind you will be alright. There are a lot of people to convince. It is not just the driver or crew chief or tire changer. It is a big group and if one guy gets off a little bit, it hurts. It can be any one of us and I think that could be what happens. If one or two guys get off a little, it can just drag you down and that is it.
Q. DOES SOMETHING LIKE THAT AFFECT THE MORALE THROUGHOUT THE ENTIRE SHOP?
A. Absolutely, and that is probably where it comes from, more than anything. A little confidence, momentum can go a long way. Racing has so much to do with confidence and momentum.
Q. DEEP DOWN DID YOU ALLOW YOURSELF TO THINK THAT YOU WERE DONE AFTER THAT INCIDENT IN NEW HAMPSHIRE LAST YEAR?
A. No, I really didn’t.
Q. WHAT WAS IT LIKE THE FIRST TIME YOU DID A COMMERCIAL? HOW DIFFERENT WAS THAT AND HOW DID YOU GET THROUGH THAT EXPERIENCE?
A. I think my first one was with Great Clips in 2003. When I was growing up, I didn’t talk a whole lot. I did if I knew the people, but if there were people I didn’t know and people were looking at me I would just keep to myself. I thought the hardest part with the first commercial was that when it was your part, everybody there was looking at you and expecting you to do it right the first time. To me, that took time and confidence to get going. After that it really started with the Allstate commercials and Budweiser stuff. I really started actually liking it and having fun doing those commercials. We have done the Gillette Young Guns stuff, which has been really cool too. You get to the point where you actually start liking it and I think it has more to do with the sponsors and the whole spot. The way Allstate came up with the spots back then to kind of have fun with it and make the viewer laugh. I thought that was a big help.
Q. HOW MUCH OF A SPEAKING LINE DID YOU HAVE IN THAT FIRST GREAT CLIPS COMMERCIAL AND HOW MANY TAKES DID YOU GO THROUGH?
A. That was 2003, a lot has happened since then, so it would be a complete guess to throw any type of number out there, but it definitely wasn’t in the first couple takes, that is for sure.
Q. DO YOU FEEL THROUGH THE EXPERIENCE THAT YOU ARE MORE OF AN ACTOR OR MORE COMFORTABLE IN FRONT OF THE CAMERA NOW?
A. I would say I am a little more confident talking in front of a camera and being myself rather than getting nervous. I think I just kind of got over some of that stuff with age. That is probably the biggest thing.
Q. WERE YOU COMFORTABLE WITH BEING NASCAR’S HEARTHROB AND DO YOU THINK THE SPORT NEEDS ONE TO ATTRACT THE YOUNG FANS THAT YOU ATTRACTED THROUGH THOSE ALLSTATE COMMERCIALS?
A. I never really thought of myself as anything like that. I think that if some of those young fans or just different NASCAR fans think that or feel that way, then that is a good thing. Personally, I don’t feel or think of myself like that at all.
Q. DO YOU THINK YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR ATTRACTING SOME OF THOSE YOUNG FANS THOUGH THROUGH YOUR MERCHANDISE SALES AND PEOPLE MARKETING YOU? DO YOU KNOW YOUR FAN BASE IS TEENAGE AGE?
A. Yeah, I do and I think that is mostly because I was young and racing pretty decent and they were watching and it all worked at the right time. Then you got the Allstate commercials and things going on at the same time. It just worked. It was good timing it seemed. It seems like racing has a lot to do with timing and that was part of it.
Q. ARE YOU ABLE TO HAVE UNLIMITED CONTACT WITH HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS AND TEST WITH THEM OR WHAT CAN YOU DO WITH THEM AND WHAT ARE THE RULES?
A. Actually, I was kind of wondering some of that same stuff. To this point I haven’t really asked a whole lot about it because I have been more worried about what I was going to be doing next year and what I was going to be doing the following year. I have been more worried about who would be my crew chief and who would be the sponsors and we haven’t gotten into that other stuff. I think once we get past who makes the Chase and who doesn’t, then at that point in time maybe we will look into those questions that I have and obviously you have. Hopefully, we will figure it out. Whenever I get to start with those guys I will be excited.
Q. WHAT DOES CONFIDENCE DO FOR A DRIVER? WE HAVE DEBATED ABOUT DALE EARNHARDT JR. MAYBE LOSING SOME CONFIDENCE. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE ROLE CONFIDENCE PLAYS FOR A DRIVER?
A. There is no way that a driver that is struggling has a whole lot of confidence. Even if they say they do. I have been in that position where I am struggling and then you win a race and you wouldn’t believe how much that changes your attitude and your team’s attitude. Whether you thought your attitude was great the weekend before or not, winning is a completely different thing. I came into NASCAR in 2002 and I could barely drive the car around the track that first year. I had to go back and race a midget car and win and that made me feel like I was a pretty good race car driver again. Then you come back and get beat down. I did that over and over that first year. I feel like I learned a lot. I was not the fastest driver by any means my first year, but by my second year we were pretty good and kept getting better from there. Confidence is huge. If Dale Jr. could win a race, he would definitely have more confidence, which is just the way it is.
Q. IS IT THE TEAM’S CONFIDENCE IN YOU, OR DOES IT ALLOW YOU TO DO MORE ON THE TRACK IF YOU ARE MORE CONFIDENT?
A. It is really both. How you work with them and how they work with you. What they think of you and how they feel you are as part of the team. It may be a little more trust and communication line that is there. If you win a race, you kind of get that feeling back on how your car felt and how it is supposed to feel and you can look for that the following week. If you aren’t winning, sometimes you can get confused on what exactly you are looking for that will last and run for 500 miles straight. Personally, I feel like when Kyle Busch gets on a roll or Jimmie Johnson gets on a roll, they get that feeling and know exactly what they need and they keep looking for it in practice and once they get it they are super-hard to beat on Sunday.
Q. ANY UPDATE ON WHAT YOU WILL BE DOING AS FAR AS TEAM RED BULL NEXT SEASON? WHAT CAR YOU WILL BE DRIVING AND HOW MANY CARS THEY WILL HAVE?
A. No. I still don’t have an update there. I left after Bristol and talked to Jay Frye once and Kenny Francis a few times last week to see where we are at for Atlanta and how things are going at the shop, but other than that I don’t know anything new for next year. I haven’t really looked into it. I haven’t really cared until we get through Richmond. At that point in time we can look at things and see where we are at and hopefully put some things together.
Q. DOES IT REALLY MATTER FOR YOU FOR NEXT YEAR OR ARE YOU APPROACHING NEXT YEAR AS JUST A PLACE TO RACE AND STAY SHARP?
A. It definitely matters to me. I am going to be a big part of all that. I want to see how we are prepared for next season. I want to start out at Daytona as good as anybody and you need a great team to do that. I think Red Bull has a lot of good people, so I am going to be a big part of getting that all set up and seeing where it is at. You have to have that if you want to run well. If I go into next season thinking I can’t run well, I might as well take the year off. I want to race, perform and win races.
Q. YOU COULD HAVE GONE TO A LOT OF TEAMS THAT WOULD GIVE YOU THE OPPORTUNITY THAT YOU NEED FOR NEXT YEAR. YOU WEREN’T LIKELY TO LOSE FANS OR SKILLS IN 2011, SO WHAT IS YOUR TAKE ON THAT PART OF IT?
A. We have left things up to Mr. Hendrick and what made the most sense for me for a year and that is what we ended up with, going to Red Bull. Like I said, once I started talking to some of those guys and learning more about their operation and seeing where they are at and what they have done, I actually feel like it is going to be better than what I expected and better than what most people think.
Q. DID ANY FAN SUPPORT HELP YOU THROUGH THE UNCERTAINTY?
A. It has been good. Fan support is always best when you are winning races and we haven’t been doing that. It is what it is. For the die-hards, it has been good. They are always right there and it has been fun listening to their opinion and reading their opinion on Twitter and different things. It has been kind of cool.
Q. WAS THERE ANY ISSUES IN THE NEGOTIATIONS DRIVING WITH RED BULL NEXT YEAR WITH THE FACT THEY ARE TOYOTA AND THEY KNOW YOU ARE ULTIMATELY GOING TO BE A CHEVY DRIVER?
A. No, not that I know of. I think it has all been pretty good. I know some of the people from Toyota and Dodge has always been great to me. Ford has been really good to me this year and has been in the past. Each manufacturer I have been with has been good. You see how each one runs and wants to perform for their people. Ford is really aggressive and they really want to win. I have actually really enjoyed working with Ford this year. I think it will be the same way each spot you go, you just have to meet a new group of people and make sure they are excited and happy that you are there.