Ford Drivers Prepare For First Road Course Race of 2010
Kasey Kahne, driver of the No. 9 Budweiser Ford Fusion, who is coming off a season-best second-place last week, is the defending winner of this race and earlier today he spoke about how surprising that win still is today.
KASEY KAHNE – No. 9 Budweiser Ford Fusion – DID YOU REALLY NOT KNOW WHERE VICTORY LANE WAS LAST YEAR WHEN YOU WON? “Yeah, I had never looked. I never knew where it was at this track.”
DID YOU EVER THINK YOU’D COME BACK HERE AS A DEFENDING CHAMPION? “I always thought I’d win at a road course at some point, I just needed the laps and the experience to do it, so we won last year and are the defending champs of this race. We need to run well again. We need to try and put together a solid race.”
HOW IS IT TO BE IN LIMBO AS FAR AS NEXT YEAR? “It actually hasn’t been bad at all for me. The future is gonna be a little different than what it is right now, but I’ve had commitments and when I make a commitment, I stick to it. I’ve stuck to it and I just want to run as well as I can and hope that everybody stays behind me and do the best job I can until I’m done.”
ANY NEW POSSIBILITIES THIS WEEK? “I haven’t even paid attention this week. I’ve been doing my own thing. I actually talked with Mr. Hendrick this morning and we just chatted. We stay in touch every week and we didn’t even cross that path. I didn’t even ask anything about next year and he didn’t bring it up, either. We were just talking about other stuff, so I would say there is no new news.”
DO YOU THINK ABOUT THAT AT ALL OR JUST FOCUS WEEK TO WEEK? “I actually just focus on what I’m doing week to week. He said he’d take care of it. He’s been an awesome guy and a great guy to talk to. What he loves to do in this sport is win races and they’ve done it for a long time, so I just leave it up to him. He said he would and I stick behind that. I think it’ll be a pretty awesome opportunity whatever it is next year.”
WHEN SOME DRIVERS MAKE A CHANGE IT LEADS TO ANIMOSITY WITH THEIR EXISTING TEAM. THAT DOESN’T SEEM TO HAVE HAPPENED WITH YOU AND THE 9 TEAM. “It’s helped me a lot, but it’s just that things change. Life changes, opportunities change and I’ve said it from the start – I just want to finish strong. I want to do everything I can to be the best driver I can throughout the rest of this year and work with my team and be committed. I think everybody here wants the same, so, hopefully, it keeps going the way it is and things finish strong for us. I know Budweiser has really been behind us. Ford has really been behind us, and it’s nice to have people like that wanting to run well before the season is done.”
YOU ARE ROUGHLY 200 POINTS OUT OF A CHASE SPOT. DO YOU EVEN LOOK AT THAT RIGHT NOW OR JUST CONCENTRATE ON WINNING RACES AND THE POINTS WILL TAKE CARE OF THEMSELVES? “That’s really all we want is to win races and make the chase. It’s all you think about when it comes to NASCAR as a driver, so that’s still what we’re shooting for. We need to throw down some big races for awhile if we want to make it, but it’s definitely possible.”
HOW PROFESSIONALLY SATISFYING WAS IT FOR YOU TO BEAT TONY STEWART ON A ROAD COURSE HERE LAST YEAR? “It felt really good. I saw Tony. I saw Jimmie. I saw Ambrose. I saw Juan Pablo. I mean, they were all one or two cars behind me the last 20 laps or however long it was, and it just felt good to hold them off and not make a mistake and kind of keep my head focused and look forward and finish strong and we were able to do that.”
YOUR AVERAGE FINISH WAS AROUND 22 ND or 23 RD HERE. WAS IT A SURPRISE? “It was definitely a surprise. I don’t know how many times I’ve talked about that after that race for the next couple of weeks, but it still is, today, was a surprise winning that race. It hasn’t changed. That’s what I said then and it still is today.”
THAT JUMPSTARTED YOUR CHASE RUN LAST YEAR, DIDN’T IT? “Yeah, that was a big win for us and Atlanta was a big win for us, and just trying to get the consistency we needed to make the chase. It worked out and it was good.”
SO ARE YOU A BETTER ROAD COURSE DRIVER THAN PEOPLE GIVE YOU CREDIT FOR? “I’ve always been kind of decent at road racing, I thought – just alright, but like nothing special – kind of decent. Last year, the car was really good. We kind of figured some things out that I was looking for, that I needed to race better, but we’ve always qualified decent, and I think we should have a good shot to run up front again this weekend, if we can get that balance that we had last year.”
The first road course race of the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season is set for Sunday at Infineon Raceway, and Ford drivers Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth spoke about their expectations.
CARL EDWARDS – No. 99 Aflac Ford Fusion – “I really enjoy driving at this race track. It’s a lot of fun. It’s really slippery, and that makes it a real challenge for the drivers. It’s a cool weekend for myself and Paul and Brad because we get to go back and forth and run two legendary road race tracks in a weekend. That’s pretty cool. Practice went pretty well here. This is all the practice we get, so we’ve got to gather all of our notes and go lay down a qualifying lap, and then we’re gonna head to Wisconsin. It’s a pretty fun day.”
YOU HAVE GUYS RACING HERE THAT YOU WON’T SEE NEXT WEEK. IS THERE ANY ANNOYANCE THAT THEY MIGHT BE TAKING AWAY POINTS FROM GUYS TRYING TO MAKE THE CHASE, AND IS THERE A CONCERN WITH HOW THEY MIGHT RACE YOU? “There’s no annoyance for me at all. I think it’s neat to be able to race with different guys -- guys that are road race specialist. I’ve had days hurt buy guys that race full-time with us and guys that don’t, so it doesn’t seem to be any different. It gives guys an opportunity in front of a different audience and possibly perform really well. I think it’s good, and I think it’s also good when a guy like Ekstrom comes over here and has had such huge success in other forms of motorsports and he gets to see how he stacks up with us and we get to see how we stack up with those guys. I would say the positives far outweigh the negatives.”
WHAT ABOUT CELEBRATING FATHER’S DAY AS A NEW DAD FOR THE FIRST TIME? “Father’s Day has never applied to me before, and I’ve also been thinking about my father a little more. Now that I’m a dad, I know I have a different respect for him – more respect for what he’s done – so I’ll make sure to call my dad on Father’s Day this weekend, that’s for sure.”
AT WHAT POINT DOES CHASE PREPARATION START TO BECOME SOMETHING YOU DO MORE? “For us, it’s already started. We’re trying to just lock ourselves into the chase. If we were farther up in points, we wouldn’t be thinking about that, but the farther back you are, the more you think about it – the earlier you think about it. So, for our Aflac team, that’s the first hurdle we have to get over to have what we would determine or consider a successful year, so we’re on it. We’re thinking points.”
YOU WON’T BE HERE TOMORROW. ANY IDEA WHAT YOUR TEAM WILL DO AND IS THERE A NEGATIVE TO IT? “I think that it is a negative that I won’t be here. I don’t think it’s a huge negative because I feel very comfortable at this race track, and I feel the race is long enough. As long as I can get a good qualifying spot I think we’ll be really good. We’ve got a large enough group of teammates that are gonna be here that we can lean on a little bit, and Bill Elliott is gonna hopefully have a little bit of time to hop in the car and try some different stuff we want to work on. That’s just pretty cool for me that Bill Elliott is gonna drive my race car, but he’ll be able to help us a little bit. That’s our plan.”
DO YOU THINK FANS CAN EXPECT MORE BUMPING AND BANGING AT THIS RACE? “Maybe they can expect more, but the problem is even if a guy want to bump somebody out of the way and rough them up a little bit, it’s hard to move them out of the way hard enough to end his day, so he’ll be right back to you quickly. I don’t think you’ll see more rough driving, and I don’t know if this is good or not, but I do believe you’ll see a little different fuel strategy with the potential for all the green-white-checkereds. It could be a very different finish to the race. We talked about that a little bit the other day at Road America because it’s so big, but this place is pretty big, too. If you get guys start running out of fuel on one green-white-checkered, and then there’s another one, it could be a really strange finish to the race. I don’t know. All the fans I talk to like the racing here. There are some diehard oval racing fans that don’t understand it, but the people who understand this type of racing, I think, really appreciate it. I know as a fan I’ve always thought this was really neat.”
WHAT DO THE CARS GO THROUGH IN THIS RACE AND IF YOU TAKE CARE OF THE CAR THROUGH THE RACE WILL IT RUN BETTER? “My car goes through a lot usually here and that’s not always good. You hit the curbs, and every once in a while we all find ways to hit the curbs extremely hard, and that’s not good. Probably the dumbest move I’ve made here that surprised me was I was driving down the front straightaway and I was trying to really apex the first left-hander and I kept getting closer and closer to the wall and I finally hit the wall with the left side of the car on the inside of the track. The wall is right here by your head and it was like, ‘Bam! Bob will never know how I scraped the wall with the left side of my race car like that.’ But the car goes through a lot. The brakes have to be worked very hard. The transmission gets used more than any other track we go to. I’d say these road courses are very taxing on the vehicle, plus you get down here and get spun around and hit and banged, and the car can still be competitive, but it can be really bent up after the race.”
YOU SAID BILL ELLIOTT WILL BE IN YOUR CAR AND PAUL MENARD’S CAR? “Yeah, and I think Paul is priority number one for them, and then if he has time, he’s gonna run 10 laps or something in our car.”
AT WHAT POINT DO YOU GUYS HAVE TO START LOOKING AT GETTING FIVE BONUS POINTS FOR LEADING AND THINGS LIKE THAT THROUGHOUT A RACE? “We just have to get all the points we can. Last weekend, for example, we were running well enough that I thought we had a chance at a top-five finish, so we didn’t want to stay out and lead a lap that way and lose track position, so it’s a balance. If we were running towards the back of the lead lap, then we should be thinking about that, but we’re not quite there yet. If we’re having a bad day, though, we’ll think about that.”
MATT KENSETH – No. 17 Crown Royal Black Ford Fusion – HOW IS YOUR CAR? “My car today, most of the day, has not been very good. We had it a little bit better at the end of practice, but, most of the day, it hasn’t been very good. We kind of tried some different things in race trim and none of them really worked, so we’ll try something different tomorrow.”
HOW DO YOU LIKE ROAD RACING? “I enjoy it, really. I don’t feel like I’m probably the best at it. I’ve never really done it a lot. It started in the Nationwide Series. I think Watkins Glen was the only road course. That was the first road course I’d ever seen or been on, so I don’t do it a lot. When you don’t do something a lot, for some of us it’s harder to be good at it than maybe others, so I don’t feel like I’m the best at it, but I enjoy it. It’s fun. I don’t mind it. It’s hard to categorize road courses even though there are two of them together because it’s like comparing Martinsville and Michigan. I enjoy Watkins Glen a little bit more than this layout because this layout is very tight and slow and technical. We’re doing two-wide restarts and there’s not enough room for one car much less two, so this one is a little bit more frustrating and tougher in a way than Watkins Glen, but road course racing is alright.”
DOES HAVING A SMALL CHILD CHANGE THE WAY YOU LOOK AT FATHER’S DAY? “I’ve always looked at Father’s Day as looking at my dad, and I guess your kids look at you. I don’t really necessarily back to my kids at Father’s Day. It’s just one day, but if you’re a dad it’s a reminder that you’re a dad and you need to do the best you can everyday and try to be the best parent that you can everyday, not just on Father’s Day, but it’s nice that they have a day honoring dads.”
THERE IS A BABY BOOM GOING ON IN THE GARAGE? “Yeah, it’s been like a little baby boom, so Kalin will have some friends around the track. I think the sport and what it goes through with some of the older guys retired and then you’ve got younger guys in there that will eventually end up meeting someone and getting married, and naturally most of them end up having kids. It’s just that kind of time right now where everyone seems to be having kids, so it’s pretty fun.”
THEY’LL ALL GO TO DAYCARE TOGETHER? “I don’t know about that, but I guess they can all hang out in the trailer park together when they all travel to the track.”
HOW OFTEN DOES YOUR FAMILY COME TO THE RACES? Most of the time. Traveling is obviously more challenging when you have kids with you, especially young kids, but that’s just part of it.”
IN RACING, HOW MUCH DO YOU HAVE TO KEEP UP WITH THE JONESES? “It depends. You want to be the Joneses. You want everybody trying to keep up with you. Obviously, the way the sport is structured and the way the garage area is laid out, and the way they take shocks apart in tech in front of everybody, and they have so many rules, they obviously want to keep everybody as even as they can. With the huge teams we have today and how much information they share, it’s probably harder to get an advantage than what you used to – at least a big advantage that other people don’t know about – but it’s been part of the sport ever since I’ve been around. Everybody is trying to see what those guys beating you are doing and why they’re beating you so you can try to catch onto that.”
SO IT’S NOT DETRIMENTAL AS FAR AS KEEPING YOUR EYES ON THAT? “Everybody has their own opinions about it. I think that, at times, it would be more interesting if we had 21 two-car teams and 21 owners, instead of really four or five that control this sport. In a way, sometimes, it seems like it would be more fun or maybe more competitive at times, but if it was like that, maybe you’d be wishing it was the other way, too. I don’t know. But with the bigger organizations, you’re watching other organizations and trying to see what they’re doing to beat you.”
DO YOU THINK THE SPORT WILL GET MORE CONSOLIDATED OR WILL WE SEE MORE INDEPENDENTS COMING BACK? “I have no idea. I can’t predict or even guess the future, really. The big team thing, they tried to make the cap, but I don’t think that really makes a difference because you can still share information and build people chassis and do all that. I don’t know. If we can get through the next year or two and the economy gets back to normal, you might have a clearer picture on where the thing is going.”
ANY CONCERN THAT ROAD COURSE SPECIALISTS COULD TAKE POINTS AWAY FROM YOU ON SUNDAY AND RACE MORE AGGRESSIVE BECAUSE THEY WON’T SEE YOU NEXT WEEK? “No, not at all. I think that’s what racing is all about, having the best cars, teams and drivers show up and try to beat them. That’s what racing is. The more competition the better and they should race hard. Everybody should race hard no matter where you are in points. If you’re first in points or last in points, everybody has an equal right to be out there and race for that win.”
WHEN DO YOU KNOW IT’S TIME TO GO AND RUN HARDER THAN EARLIER IN THE RACE? “I’ve always been racing really hard. Maybe it’s a little different for the top three or four guys. If they’ve got a chance to win and there’s a time where they feel like they got themselves in a spot where they could get a fender knocked in or get wrecked, then they might back out of that spot, but I’ve been more toward the middle of the pack the last four or five weeks and I’ve raced as hard as I can race from lap one to the last lap of the race every week all year. I haven’t had the luxury to have a car that’s been so good where you didn’t have to race that hard all of the time.’
GREG BIFFLE – No. 16 3M Ford Fusion – HOW WAS PRACTICE? “I thought it was pretty good. We came with a little bit different package than we’ve been road racing the last couple of years. It’s something the RPM cars have had. It seems like it turns pretty good. It’s real fast on all the high-speed stuff, and not so fast on the low-speed stuff, so we’re working on that. It’s a little bit tight and it spins the tires, but we were pretty decent in qualifying trim. I’m looking forward to maybe a top-15 or top-10 if we don’t make any mistakes in qualifying, so I’m pretty happy with the car so far.”
WHERE DO YOU FALL AS FAR AS ROAD RACERS GO? “I know I’m not brilliant. We’ve got that part figured out (laughing). I’m inherently an aggressive type of driver and tend to overdrive the race car a lot of times, so I’m a little more ‘go get ‘em’ on the race track, but you can only do what your car will do as well. I try and stay calm enough to not break the gear box and keep on the race track and not run the brakes off of it, so, other than that, I go as hard as I can. Track position is important. Two years ago I got track position here leading the race and I drove off the end of the race track when the green came out going up the hill, so that was probably a little overaggressive and I didn’t have the tires cleaned off is really what happened. I’m probably that nature. I don’t know what our fuel mileage is gonna turn out like. That really kind of sets the tone. I know about three years ago we had really, really good fuel mileage – a little bit better than the rest of the field, and we’ll have to wait and see this time. And the other thing that is a big question mark is, ‘Are you gonna put enough fuel in the tank to run three green-white-checkers at a road course like this? Are you gonna bank on maybe running one?’ That’s probably gonna be the biggest factor is who stops first and who can make it how far, and then who is gonna gamble on how many green-white-checkers we’re gonna have.”
WHEN DO YOU START PREPPING FOR THE CHASE? “I don’t think we can start our prep for the chase until it looks like after Richmond now. We’re on the bubble of making it. We’re certainly thinking about it. We’re always prepared for it and we’re gonna be the best prepared we can be for the last 10, whether we’re in it or not. We’re working hard to keep ourselves in it. We had a few bad weeks there, and we’re not over the hump yet. We still have a little ways to go to secure our position in that chase, but, realistically, unless you’re really locked in there, you can’t really get out of the box, so to speak, to try and get a jump start on everybody in that chase.”
DO YOU WORRY ABOUT THE RINGERS BEING MORE AGGRESSIVE BECAUSE THERE’S NO PAYBACK. DO YOU WORRY ABOUT THAT? “Yeah, we definitely see that. Probably what we see more than anything out of the road race guys is they don’t race the same as we race. Road racing, you have to be beside the guy or they’re closing the door right to the bottom of the race track. That’s just the way they race. That’s a different culture over there. They’re not probably as used to the spotters, and it’s not every corner they’ve got a guy inside. A lot of times they’re not even racing each other. They’re running a lot slower with a lot slower cars – three different divisions on the race track at the same time – so a true road course ringer that that’s all he does is road race and never oval track races in this series, you can totally tell when you come up on him that when you get a nose inside of him down in the corner that he doesn’t know you’re there or doesn’t care that you’re there. So you may not know what he’s planning or thinking about doing. You definitely have to be aware of who you’re racing around.”
YOU HAVE A $1 MILLION STICKER ON YOUR CAR. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE SMALL BUSINESS PROMOTION? “Yeah, it’s pretty exciting. Office Depot and 3M are teaming up for the Official Small Business of NASCAR. I think they picked a terrible race to do the contest at, but you enter at Officedepotracing.com and they’re gonna pick two small businesses out of everybody that enters and the name of the business will be on our car and Tony Stewart’s car at Dover. I don’t know if you’ve looked at either one of our records at Dover, but they’re pretty good. If either one of us wins the race with the small business on our car, the business wins $1 million. The two finalists win $10,000 no matter what, so it’s a pretty exciting contest that 3M and Office Depot are running. I went and entered my business, but I’m not sure if I’ll be eligible or not, and I don’t know how I’d feel if I got on Tony’s car versus mine. That might be a conflict (laughing).”
WHAT’S THE MOST VALUABLE LESSON YOU’VE LEARNED HERE AND DOES IT STILL APPLY? “I’m pretty decent at this race track, but I still haven’t mastered this place. There are some things about it. I tell you what, I do know one thing I learned when I first came here is I spent most of practice over on the side of the hill when I brought a Northwest Tour car here, and we spent probably three-quarters of practice raising the seat up so I could see where I was going because we inherently sit low in the race cars and eyeballs just above the dash. You can barely see over the hood because we oval track race constantly, but here there were three or four spots on the race track, where you come over the hill and all the way down until I hit the brakes I couldn’t see where I was going. I couldn’t see anything because the track was going away, so I raised the car up and bolted two-by-fours under the seat so I could see where I was going. That’s one thing I learned that still applies today is everytime I come here road racing I raise the seat up so I can see with the elevation changes where I’m going.”
Paul Menard, driver of the No. 98 Menards Ford Fusion, will be competing in both the NASCAR Sprint Cup and NASCAR Nationwide Series road course races this weekend. He spoke about his plans after practice today at Infineon Raceway.
PAUL MENARD – No. 98 Menards Ford Fusion – “We have a really good car. Our MasterCraft Ford was really quick in practice on our test day Thursday. The last I heard Michel Jourdain had it P1 in the practice this morning, so we’ve got a really fast car. Matt Pucia is doing a really good job preparing it and, hopefully, I don’t let them down and we get to Victory Lane on Saturday.”
BILL ELLIOTT WILL PRACTICE YOUR CAR. HOW DOES THAT FEEL? “We were tossing around names to practice the car and Slugger said, ‘We can probably talk to Bill Elliott.’ I was like, ‘Man, I didn’t even think that was possible.’ We did our test at Road Atlanta a couple of weeks ago and Bill Elliott came down and sat in the car and drove a few laps and he was like a little kid. He’s cool to hang out with and you couldn’t ask for a more experienced guy to help set up the car and help the guys out. I really appreciate Bill doing that. It sucks that we’re gonna have to miss a full day on Saturday, but I think our car here is pretty good too.” ....
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