NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Coca-Cola 600
Topics: Coca-Cola 600
May 25, 2008
CONCORD, NORTH CAROLINA
KERRY THARP: We are joined by crew chief Kenny Francis and owner of this race team Ray Evernham. Congratulations, gentlemen. Should have just left these tags up from last week.
Kenny, what was your view from up top that pit box tonight?
KENNY FRANCIS: Well, we had a really good car all night I think. You know, I think we led quite a few laps and were pretty happy with the car. Tony was just a tick better at the end than we were. Kasey didn't say anything about the car the last hundred laps, so not really sure where we were at on that.
You know, we could see it was going to come down to a gas-and-go situation at the end. I knew how much gas we had to take. I knew how much Tony had to take. I knew he had us beat on gas. So I just said, I'm going to make sure I get enough gas in it to finish the race 'cause he's definitely got us beat on the pit road time there. So we did that. We had plenty of cushion to third. Put ourselves in position to take advantage when unfortunately Tony had problems.
I guess I don't even remember what lap it was on, we took rights there, I don't know, what was it, 70 to go or something like that, where the other guys had taken gas only. So they were trying to run a hundred laps on their right sides, which I thought it was a little sketchy. So we elected to take rights. Luckily we were leading when we did that. Still kept pretty good track position. It worked out.
Unfortunately, like I said, Tony and them had problems. It just kind of fell into our hands there at the end. So that was really great.
KERRY THARP: Kasey Kahne, back-to-back wins here at Lowe's Motor Speedway. Your thoughts about winning the Coca-Cola 600?
KASEY KAHNE: Really, really a special race, special weekend. We were there all night. We put our Budweiser Dodge where it needed to be. The pit stops were great. The pit calls by Kenny and Chad were awesome. Everything was great all night. We were better on four tires than we were on two or no tires. But we were still pretty good on those.
Dale Jr. was strong. Tony was strong. Kyle Busch was strong. There were some good racecars out there. We were back and forth with all of them. The right call for right sides there. If Kenny wouldn't have made that call, we may have had a problem, too. I was thinking second. I saw Tony slow up. I thought he was out of gas. At that point I couldn't believe it. From there just tried to hit my marks and make sure I brought it home.
KERRY THARP: Ray, you got to be excited about the direction this race team is headed here now as we continue this season next month.
RAY EVERNHAM: I am. As I said last week, sometimes it just takes one thing to get some momentum going. These guys, they're winners. They've won a lot of races for me in the past. They seem to be clicking again.
There are decisions made throughout a race sometimes that end up having an effect at the outcome. That decision that was made at around lap 75 or 76 to go that these guys made to put the right side tires on, give up the track position at that time, ended up being a key factor in the race because it was just a little bit too far to run on right side tires.
Like Kenny said, Tony's car was a little bit better than ours at the end, he needed a little bit less gas. If you keep putting yourself in position to win, you know, sooner or later you're going to win. That's what these guys are doing. Now they've got momentum and I'm just really proud of 'em for being in Victory Lane here.
KERRY THARP: We'll take questions now for this No. 9 Budweiser team.
Q. Kasey, you mentioned you're sitting there thinking second. You see Tony. In a race that goes up and down and sideways, when that happens -- did you notice the guy dropped the white flag? Did you see that?
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, I saw the white flag when it was dropped. I knew what was going on because of my spotter and because of Kenny talking to me.
But, yeah, when Tony -- I saw him up high. He went out of my sight into turn one, he was up high. When I came off of two, he was low and slow. I thought he had run out of gas. I knew he took a lot less than us. I got to pit road pretty darn quick, got back to speed pretty quick. I thought the only way he could have beat us was taking less gas.
He had a problem. We were in position. You know, the luck was on our side this week and last week. I feel like it's just pretty awesome to be on this side of things, for sure.
Q. Kasey, in a nutshell, what would you say is the difference between now and a year ago in terms of being in the position you're in?
KASEY KAHNE: I think, you know, confidence, working on one racecar, back to working on just one car, the team. Everybody at Gillett Evernham is really focused on this car, all three of our cars, but the COT car. I think that's been big. Just keep working on it, keep working with things, then you get some confidence, you get some momentum. That helps a lot. That really gives us a boost.
Even before these weekends, we've been more consistent and ran up front more this year than we did last year. I think just, you know, a lot of hard work and dedication from the people that work on the cars. I've been trying to do my best to bring them home one piece, regardless of how we're running.
Q. Kenny, you said it felt like a hundred laps on these tires were sketchy. Can you explain why you thought that? Ray, you talk about momentum. How does momentum matter in a mechanical sport? Can't get you extra aerodynamics or things like that.
KENNY FRANCIS: I'd say the reason I say running a hundred laps is kind of sketchy on the rights is these tires aren't built to run a hundred laps. This is probably the most load track we have as far as loads on the tires, amount of force on the tires. It's one of the highest cornering speed tracks we have. Goodyear has a great tire here. But, you know, it's hard enough to get one to go 60 laps much less a hundred.
So Goodyear did a great job with this tire. I think everyone has had nothing but praise all weekend for these tires. But, man, if you remember back I think it was '05 when we were blowing tires a lot, it wasn't really anything wrong with the tire, it was just the track was so fast.
There's only so much you can do. They've done a great job with it. At some point, you can't run 150 laps on it. It's going to give up at some point. I'd just say it's load over time. It's just the cycles of load over time might be a little too much. We didn't know that. How would you know whether it is or isn't?
We did see at the very beginning of the race, first long run we had, we came in, we looked at the tires, you could see a little bit of shade of chords under the rubber. You could tell, We better be on our toes with this thing. We kind of saw a little. Never had a problem. Never had any kind of a problem. We just said, Well, you know, we're right there, so we better not do too much more than this. That's kind of what we were thinking all night.
RAY EVERNHAM: This is still a sport. You can have the machinery, you can have the computers, you can have all the technology you want, but the human element is still the biggest part of what we do. That little bit of confidence, that little bit of bounce in your step, that little bit of motivation, it maybe makes you look a little bit harder at something, makes you be a little bit more confident in a decision. When you feel like the best, you act like the best, and you have more confidence in the things that you do.
From a mechanical standpoint, no, it can't really make it different mechanically, but it can make a difference in how you prepare mechanically and the confidence you have in your calls and things like that, the confidence in the way you drive the racecar.
I can tell you that this team has had a much different step since they won that race here last week. So, you know, that momentum is something I don't know how you measure it in professional sports.
Q. Kasey, can you address the confidence issue. When you came over the radio, you said, We won, it was almost like you were in disbelief.
KASEY KAHNE: Well, I was just making sure (laughter). I mean, it's just a tough race. I mean, this is a tough race to win. I couldn't believe it. A minute ago I was on SPEED Channel, and they said I think I'm the sixth guy to win the All-Star Race and this race, and the other ones are Dale Earnhardt, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Davie Allison, and Darrel Waltrip. I mean, to have my name with those names, I think that's probably one of the neatest things that I've ever done in racing, and it's all because of my team and all because of these guys that I work with.
You know, it really feels good to win this weekend, to win on this weekend. This is a big weekend. Confidence is huge. I feel like I gave better input this week than I did, you know, last week in the All-Star Race. I did good, but in the open I didn't do that good, in practice I didn't do that good. So I feel like I've stepped up and given Kenny more to work with as a crew chief, and I've given Kenny and Chad our engineer more to work with, just more on what the car's doing throughout the entire corner. And I wasn't doing that at the start of the year or at, say, Darlington. I think that's a big part of confidence, and it shows on the racetrack.
Q. Kasey, you've won the longest race two times in three years. You won back-to-back races here. Is there anything about this place that is particularly good for you? I don't believe it has the same surface as when you won the first time. What is it about this track that gives you an edge?
KASEY KAHNE: I don't necessarily know. I know that we've always been good here. I don't know if it's our Dodge Chargers or what it is. We've always been faster since 2004 driving for Ray and the Gilletts. I enjoy this track. It is my favorite track now. Atlanta has been my favorite. Now Charlotte is, after last week and this week.
I think a track that you win a lot at, you have to take as your favorite. This is by far the track we've won the most at. So, man, I don't really know. I know what I want a car to feel like at a track. I know when we test, when we run practice, the things I tell Kenny so we can get the car to feel the way I want it to. For some reason the way I want it to feel works out well here. Obviously, Tony is good here, Dale Jr., Jimmie Johnson. They must have a feel for this place, too.
I think you figure out what you want to feel. If that's fast at that racetrack when you get it, then you'll be fast. Maybe what I want to feel at other tracks isn't quite as fast and maybe that's why we don't win at them.
Q. Kasey, as you mentioned a few minutes ago, talking about how you felt coming into this weekend and maybe at Darlington, after everything that's transpired here in the last two weeks, what do you come away feeling? Is it disbelief? Is it a better appreciation for the team that you already have in place to go forward to the end of the year? What have the two weeks here left you with?
KASEY KAHNE: I really just think the people that work on these cars, the engineers, the people that build them, we just have a better racecar, a better package, a better shock package, horsepower, I mean everything, than what I thought three weeks ago. I mean, that's basically what it is. I feel like our cars handle -- the things that we're doing, the way they're building the chassis, everything is better than what I thought it was.
Really I think we learned a lot here at the test. We carried that to Darlington. Had one of the best cars in practice. Should have qualified up front. I hit the wall. We ran our back up there, so we didn't run that well. But we were going to run well there, too. But I think the Charlotte test helped us a lot. Then the confidence, just realizing that, hey, these cars, these shocks, everything we're doing is actually really, really good, and we can run with Kyle Busch.
Q. Kasey, the old saying is a win is a win no matter how you get it. Do you like it more when you're able to be there at the end and luck is on your side as opposed to just dominating a race? Do you get more out of it because you were there at the right time at the right place?
KASEY KAHNE: I don't know. I wouldn't say I get more out of it. A win is difficult no matter what you're racing any more. And especially in the Sprint Cup Series, a win is difficult. I mean, to get it the way we got it tonight, it wasn't like we weren't fast. It wasn't like I couldn't run with Dale Jr. early in the race or I couldn't lead laps. Tony was behind us when I pitted. He took less gas, so he got way out front.
I mean, we were a first- or second-place car at the end of the race. You know, Tony was a first- or second-place car and he had a problem. When luck's on your side, I mean, it's great. Luck is a big part of I think everyday life.
Q. Ray, last year you talked a lot about the way your team had to mesh in terms of all of the people working together. Was there a turning point? Is there one thing? Is it a series of little things? Was there a big meeting where everybody said we're all working together or is it just evolutionary?
RAY EVERNHAM: I think it's evolutionary. When you slide back a little bit like we did with the team, my partner walked in here, so we need to get him a chair. Mr. Gillett is here for our first points win, so it would be great for him to be able to come up here and answer some questions because he's a big part of what we did.
It takes time. As we said in January, we had a plan that we were going to rearrange things. We brought in Mark McArdle and let him completely restructure the competition and manufacturing way we were doing things. I think the guys opened up communication better on how they were going to share. They built a different spec of car. Just that overall true manufacturing process that Mark brought from the engine shop saying, Hey, we're going to do this, communication. With all that said, it still takes time. You're starting to see some of that communication now.
We knew that it was going to be a little bit of time. We were going to run maybe top 10, top 15, then we were hoping towards the middle of the year we were going to be able to challenge to win races. I think you're seeing the schedule that Mark has laid out.
KERRY THARP: George Gillett has joined us here at the podium. George, how does it feel to have the Coca-Cola 600 winner?
GEORGE GILLETT: Officially I'd like to thank the three gentlemen to my right, Kasey, Kenny and Ray. This has been a heck of a team effort.
There really was a turning point, in my opinion. It was the fans. When the fans voted Kasey in last weekend, it changed everything. Then Kenny and Kasey had a great car. Ray's genius really showed.
So thanks to the fans because it really came out of them.
Q. Kasey, can you address the commitment the Gilletts have made since joining the organization.
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, I mean, they've made a huge commitment. They've stepped up. I mean, with our team, with the 19, with the 10, obviously the Nationwide car, we're running two cars there now. I mean, they're working very hard to give us the opportunity to have really good racecars. They've stepped up. It's been a lot of fun to work with George and Alex and Foster. I mean, all the Gilletts have been good to us.
It's nice when you start winning, run up front, see a plan come together, put Mark McArdle up in charge, Ray and George deciding to do that with Mark. That's a big deal. They're behind basically everything else we do. It's nice to know we have the Gillett family behind what we're doing.
Q. Kasey, could you talk about the fan vote. What did that do to your confidence? We heard how this momentum carried you to this week. How do you continue that on next week at Dover and run up front again?
KASEY KAHNE: Well, the fans, we were headed home. We were out of the All-Star Race and the fans put us in it. So it felt good to get voted in. There were some other great teams and drivers we were going against. It felt good to get voted in by the fans.
From there, we just as a team had a good racecar that night. We worked on it. We made it better. Kenny made a great call at the end to take no tires. Put us out front and we won the race.
Any time you win, I always say, when I first came into the Nationwide Series in 2002, I struggled at times. It was difficult to learn how to drive these cars. I would go back and race a midget or race a Sprint car. I'd win or run up front every single time. We were so competitive in those cars still because I had raced them so much.
I mean, winning one of those races, I'd come back to the Nationwide race, I'd feel like I had a shot to run better in that car. It's just confidence. It feels good to win, no matter what it is. We can carry this win with us throughout the rest of the season, throughout Dover and just keep working together as a team and trying to build and make our Dodges go fast.
Q. George, I know you and your family are race fans and are also Indy 500 fans. When is it like for you to be in Victory Lane in any kind of racing for your family and you today, Memorial Day?
GEORGE GILLETT: It's a great feeling. But it's a real testimony. Your point about Memorial Day is something we all can't forget. I thought the ceremony before the race, Humpy's last race that he planned, I thought it was outstanding. It really reminded us of why we're all here and the sacrifice others have made for all of us.
It kind of carries over because the sacrifices that Kenny and his family have made. I've gotten to know his wife a little bit. Friday night we were out at the World of Outlaws with Kasey and his family. There was Kenny. He was working on the car on his night off. They changed the engine that night. They had a problem with one of the pistons.
KENNY FRANCIS: I was just watching.
KASEY KAHNE: He was right in the middle of it, I saw him (laughter).
GEORGE GILLETT: He was right in the middle. They changed the engine in about six minutes.
It's fun to be part of. The family that Ray put together, we can't forget that. Our family is here not to interfere with that process but to supplement particularly on the business side. That's where we've spent most of our time. It's been a good fit. It's working well. So we thank the fans.
Q. Kasey, do you kind of feel that karma has kind of changed for you? Are you starting to look around and see what you are doing differently the last couple of weeks?
KASEY KAHNE: I don't know. I definitely have smiled a lot more the last couple weeks. As far as karma or whatever, I don't know. I feel like we try hard to run up front. If I can't win races, I'm pretty upset. It's been a little while.
Yeah, since last Saturday night, I haven't been such a bear, I guess. I've been a little bit nicer to my girlfriend, to my family. I try to be anyways. It's difficult at times. But, you know, I think I've changed there a little bit and been a little bit better there, just more excited to come to the track. I'm always excited to get in a racecar, that's for sure, try to win, try to run as hard as I can.
Coming this weekend, I knew, regardless if we got to practice or not, I knew our car would be good tonight. I just felt that. I felt like Kenny knew where we needed to be. We didn't make too many changes in practice. We pretty much started with the setup Kenny started with, and it was that close. It's nice to work with Kenny Francis.
Q. Ray, when you were crew chief with Jeff Gordon, this was one of the tracks he had an awful lot of success at. Did any of that knowledge pass along from you when you got Kasey into this car or was it a completely different setup when you got Kasey behind the wheel?
RAY EVERNHAM: You know, I'll tell you, setups change so much. I'd love to sit here and tell you this setup. But I don't think I ever used the same setup twice in the 24 car. I don't really get involved in the setups that Kenny and Kasey use.
But I think what doesn't change is this track's got a personality. I love this place. It's the place I won my first race ever as a NASCAR crew chief on the Cup side and have had a lot of success here. We've taken a lot of money out of here. It's been a great place.
But it's got a personality. Sometimes you just got to pay attention to it. I just try and talk to Kenny and Kasey about those things and hopefully some of that comes away. But you find out through your years of experience, it's not the springs and shocks, things like that. It's the tendency of the way a race runs off or how to plan your strategy, what exactly is going to happen when the sun's out, when the lights come on, being patient.
These guys did an excellent job with that. They didn't have the fastest car all night long; they had the fastest car at times. But they kept their car in position because in this race, more often than not, the guy that has the fastest car all night long doesn't win and you have to stay in position.
There's a way, a method to racing here at Charlotte for all the races. Hopefully some of that passed down to these guys.
Q. George, it's been a great eight days for you. Take us back a couple weeks. What were you thinking with your investment, your team? What were your feelings two weeks ago?
GEORGE GILLETT: Holy smokes, that's a great question. You know, I don't think we ever -- I almost said I don't think we ever thought of it as an investment. It was a serious investment. It's a lot of money. I don't think we became Ray's partner because of that. I think we became Ray's partner because Ray is a great person and because Ray has a great reputation and Ray has tremendous success. So we joined with a man and wanted to build a new winning tradition together.
What we discovered was the tremendous depth of bench strength that he built, the Kenny Francises of the world. As a result, you saw that we finished, what, first and seventh tonight. I mean, the Best Buy Dodge was fabulous, the Budweiser Dodge was fabulous. We had some brake problems on Elliott's cars, or I think he would have finished a heck of a lot higher because he had tremendous straightaway speed. Even overcoming challenges.
Two weeks ago it wasn't about investment, it was, Is there anything he can do to supplement it? Ultimately, thank God, we didn't. We've been working on the business side all along. We stayed out of the racing side. That's not something our family should ever get involved in, but we should be there to support the racing folk.
Mark McArdle has done an outstanding job. Kenny, Mike, the crews have done an outstanding job. We stayed out. Were we frustrated? You bet. Coming off of the six wins in 2006, nine poles, we were certainly hoping. Ray was hoping. Kasey was hoping. Kenny was hoping for better results in '07 and early '08. The cars were fast. It was just a matter of time.
Ray instituted with Mark a whole new testing program. There are certain teams in this business who test more than others. There's just no substitute for putting track time in and going to the track and learning about the cars and the drivers and so forth. We've taken some of the money and put it back into the sport in both R&D and in terms of testing. It's proving itself out. We're getting much better results, as you can see.
Q. Kasey, you just moved into the 12th in points. Do you see yourself as a Chase contender? What do you have to do to be a Chase contender and be there in the end?
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, I definitely see myself and our whole Budweiser team. We have the team to do it, that's for sure. These guys, they work as hard as any team. They're as good and as smart as any team out there. We just need to keep working together and communicating, focusing on each track that we come to.
So, yeah, I mean, tonight was great for points. I'm glad to hear I'm back in the top 12. That's the goal at the start of the year. I mean, obviously we want to win races, but the main goal is to be in the top 12 with 10 races to go. That's what every team out here wants to do. We definitely do, too.
We just have to keep working hard on finishing and making sure we get points every single week.
Q. Kasey, how much do you think this weekend and last weekend has changed other teams' and drivers' perception of your team?
KASEY KAHNE: It has to change it a lot. I mean, you race with them each week and you race each other a certain way, and you race each other for the speed of your car, the way that each guy drives.
When your speed gets up, I think that makes other people race you a little bit different. It makes them think a little bit different. How that is, I don't know. I know that when I'm racing with Tony or certain people, you just think different on each guy and how fast they are, what you need to do to pass them.
I think it changes the mindset on a lot of people and says, Hey, this Gillett Evernham team is stepping up and they're getting to be where we want to be, that's for sure. I think it's a really good thing.
KERRY THARP: Gentlemen, congratulations on the win tonight. Continued best wishes the rest of this season. Have a good Memorial Day.
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