KASEY KAHNE (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge Charger) Winner
NOTE: Kahne scored his second career victory in his 76th start. His most recent victory came at Richmond last May, 29 races ago. Kahne moved to second in the series standings, 50 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson. Kahne, a 25-year-old driver from Enumclaw, Wash., has four top-five finishes in five starts at AMS, and he’s finished fourth, fourth and first in the past three races after opening the season with an 11th-place run in the Daytona 500. He scored a 1.928-second victory Monday over runner-up Mark Martin. Kahne led four times for 85 laps.
"Everything’s that’s gone on has been a plus for us. The Chargers they’ve built for us at Evernham Motorsports and the engines, everything is running really well. It took us a little time today. We fell back a little bit early. We were working on getting the car driving a little better, but the tires fell off real quick. It was very easy to spin your tires. With Mark Martin catching me toward the end, I was doing all I could to drive that car as hard as I could without spinning the rear tires and putting too much heat into them where he could get by me. I was worried about him. I felt Mark was going to be very tough to beat, and he was. We just ended up doing it, so it was just a great day for everybody.
"This weekend we ran second in the Busch race, qualified first in the Cup race and ended up winning it today. It was just a great group effort by the guys, and I’m proud to be driving for Ray right now, that’s for sure. He’s worked really hard to make his cars get into victory lane and up front in the points. So far we’ve been consistent enough and have enough momentum going for us that we’re there. It’s very early in the season, but if we keep doing some of the same things we’re doing we’re going to keep riding along and have a good time doing it."
DID YOU HAVE SOME IN RESERVE FOR MARK MARTIN? "I had the lead and I was trying to save my tires as much as I could. As Mark was reeling me in, I was doing all I could to go fast. When I cleared "˜em, I think Mark was doing all he could to get up to me and clear me at the same time. As far as me getting a little more, I was giving about all I had those last 30 laps there. I definitely was trying as hard as I could when Mark got there. I wasn’t about to let him pass me easily, that’s for sure. It was quite a battle. I’m very happy how it all turned out."
WERE YOU WORRIED ABOUT THE TIRES? "I knew what our tires had been doing, and they looked good through the whole race. It was just real easy to get them hot. I was working real hard not to spin the tires. It was all about throttle control and how much you gave it and where you were in the corners. I felt pretty good about my tires. I knew it was the longest run that we were on, and I was just doing all I could to take care of them and go fast. Yeah, it was in the back of my mind that we could or anybody out there could have a little problem and have a green-white-checkered. I didn’t want that. I wanted it to keep going how it did."
TALK ABOUT THE OFFSEASON "Once the season was over, I remember leaving Homestead, leaving the trailer and telling Ray don’t call me for at least two weeks because I’m going on vacation and I’m not going to be thinking much about racing. I wasn’t happy. I was disappointed in the way I’d raced throughout the season. I was disappointed in the way myself and the team had worked together at times, and I wanted a break. During that break I thought a lot about racing and what I needed to do better. During the whole off season I got together with Kenny Francis and Mike Shiplette and just started working with the new team and setting our goals and looking at what I did wrong and some of the things that went on last year that were good maybe and some of the things that were bad and just think about that stuff. I thought a lot about the drivers that run well each weekend, too, and kind of watched what they do each weekend and learn from the best people out here. That’s people like Tony Stewart and Mark Martin. I feel like we were able to learn some things from them and put together a great race team. They’re doing a great job right now for sure."
COMMENT ON SOME OF THE GAINS MADE WITH THE CHARGER "Just getting the car more balanced, just getting it more stable. It’s not moving around as much on the racetrack getting into the corners. Today we were off early on. It was moving around too much. That’s where Kenny Francis and my team did an awesome job to figure out what we needed to do to make the car more balanced and not move around as much. It was terrible in traffic and hard to drive by myself there for a bit, and they just kept working on it and getting it better. They kept making the right changes. By 100 to go we were headed back to the front. The cars are better than they were last year, and just figuring out how to make them not move around as much has been the biggest thing."
YOU’VE BEATEN TONY STEWART AND MARK MARTIN FOR YOUR TWO CUP WINS. HOW SIGNIFICANT IS THAT FOR YOU? "Our tires looked good in the Busch race. We were wearing out the right rears, just wearing the Goodyear rubber off of them, which you do at this track because it’s so fast. The Cup car was similar. Tire wear looked good for us. I think we were running the right air pressure, the right camber. Some other teams were having trouble, but it worked for us. Beating Tony Stewart was huge. That was my first win, and it was awesome. Tony was excited for us. He would have much rather won, but he was excited for us winning and he got to run with us throughout the entire race. Today to beat Mark Martin, probably the one guy who is the cleanest, classiest race car driver out there every week… He’s also one of the fastest and hardest chargers, one of the hardest guys to beat every week. To beat those type of racecar in my two Nextel Cup wins is huge."
WHAT WERE SOME OF THE THINGS YOU HAD TO CHANGE FROM LAST SEASON? "Today for example, we started on the pole and by lap 150 or so we were maybe ninth or 10th and struggling. The car was sliding around a lot and doing a lot of weird things down the straightaway. I didn’t get upset. I told the guys we were going to keep working hard and get a top 10. They kept doing great pit stops and we ended up passing cars again and going back to the front. I think maybe last year I would have been so upset starting on the pole and getting passed by eight or nine or 10 cars and knowing guys other guys behind me were faster, too, I would have worn my tires out quicker or spun out or maybe hit the wall in turn four. Little things like that, getting over aggressive. You can’t get over aggressive in a 500-mile race if you want to finish strong in the end."
ARE YOU AT THE POINT NOW WHERE YOU FEEL COMFORTABLE AND CONFIDENT WHEN YOU GET TO THE TRACK? "I think I’m getting closer to that. I’m definitely getting to the stage where I feel like we can run in the top 10. It’s so early in the season, yet we’ve had an 11th and three top fives. I feel like we’ve got a great race team, great people building the engines, great people building these race cars and it’s just up to us at the race track. I work as hard as I can giving information in practice and figure out how I want my car to handle on what part of the racetrack and where. That’s all we can do now. I feel like it’s definitely helping."
DO YOU LOOK BACK ON LAST SEASON AND THINK WHAT IF? "I think you can look back at last year and think if I had done that maybe we would have done this for sure. You can look at that. There were also some other things going on last year. I had my struggles and I had my things I needed to learn. There was some preparation that’s not nearly as good at this year. There were just some little things going on that weren’t nearly as good, and then there were some races that were perfect. We had the results. I can look back at that and I think the best thing is to look back at that and try to learn from what I did right and wrong and keep improving from that."
WHAT MADE YOU MAKE THE CALL TO TAKE OUT THE SPRING RUBBER? "At first I made the suggestion. They weren’t sure because it would take time. We would lose four or five spots on pit road. About 20 laps later I told them we needed to do it because I thought that was one of the things we needed to do to get better. It was the change we did Friday, and I knew exactly what it did Friday, how it changed the balance on the car. I think by focusing on practice days and trying to learn from that stuff I was able to make that call today. Last year I might not have been able to make that call. Today I felt strong enough about it that I said we needed to do it. A lot of times when a driver can be wrong at that point, too, but I got lucky today. I think I was right and for the team to take the time and trust me was also a great call by Kenny Francis."
WERE YOU IMPRESSED THE TEAM WENT WITH YOU ON THAT CALL? "They went with me, and they were behind me. Sometimes you ask to get a spring rubber out and they can’t get it out. It’s shoved in that spring so tight they can’t get it out. I said, "˜just make sure you get it. I don’t care how many spots we lose. We’ve got to get that thing out.’ They did it. Our rear tire changer (Kyle Turner) did a good job. We only lost three or four (actually two spots). That was cool they did it. That’s not what won the race. That’s what got the car closer to comfortable, and then the three changes that Kenny and Mike Shiplett made after that were what won the race."
RAY EVERNHAM (Car Owner, CEO Evernham Motorsports)
"I’m proud of all the guys in our new team structure and how Kasey and this team came together. He did make a good call on what he needed for the rest of the race. I think the track started out away from us a good bit. It came to us as the race went on. The pit crew had a great day. It’s great to see this team finally get what it deserves. They had a great day today, they did everything right and it was good to see them finally get to victory lane.
"Kenny and our engineering group worked really hard during the off weeks doing a lot of testing to find what the Charger wanted. It still has a fine line of adjustment. I think you saw that today. Some guys were really good, and they were a round of wedge away from not being so good. The way we’re running these cars now, 15 of 20 cars in a row, it’s just a matter of a little bit of air pressure or a round of wedge. Our guys have been working hard to make sure they make the right adjustments."
"Kasey is different this year. We talked about things I needed to fix in my organization for him to give him better equipment and give him what he needed. We also talked about things that he needed to do like finishing races if his car wasn’t so good rather than crashing. I think he worked on that. I think he worked hard on some of the things he needed to do on his own, and he has come out really, really focused this year. He’s worked on his communication, and he’s been a tremendous player to work with. Kenny can tell you he’s working hard to give the team the effort that they need. He comes to the meetings, he’s at the shop. He’s thinking about the car, so not only has he done the things we asked him to do, but he’s gone over and above and done some things we couldn’t imagine."
COMMENT ON THE CHARGER WINNING ON A MILE AND A HALF TRACK "It’s been kind of hard to get all the Charger teams on the same page, period. It’s important to us. Mike Accavitti, the new Dodge VP was here today, and I think it’s been 29 years since Dodge won here at Atlanta. It’s very encouraging. We had a decent run at California and Vegas. Kenny and his guys have worked extremely hard on getting these things right, and I’m hoping that it’ll keep our balance. We’ll see. We ran pretty decent here last year, and we just keep hoping and praying it’ll stay that way the rest of the year."
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO HELP THE 10 CAR? "He finished 11th today didn’t he? That’s a brand new team. We’ve got a ways to go there, but for a team that’s only three weeks old"¦. They didn’t make Daytona. They had a car that was fast enough to make Daytona, but they had some human error. At California they ran decent. At Vegas they had a really good car and had some trouble in the pits and got caught speeding on pit road, but they started behind today and finished 11th. I’m proud of the way the teams are working together. We’ve got to work on getting the 19 and 10 a little bit stronger, but we know we’ve got good equipment and all we’ve got to do is continue to work together and share that information. I’ll breathe easier if they’re all in the top 35. Right now the 10 and 19 could still be in a little bit of trouble, so we’ve got to continue to run good. I think we bring top 15 equipment every week and that’s where we’ve got to get those two guys finishing."
COMMENT ON MAKING THE CHASE "We’ve got 3 teams, and we’ve got to work together to win as many races and gather as many points as we can. Our team is big enough and we have enough resources to keep everybody on an equal basis. We do the same thing week in and week out. We run as hard as we can. If we’ve got a 15th-place car we run 15th. If we’ve got a winning car, we need to win. What we don’t need to do is wreck a 15th place car trying to finish fifth with it. It’s all about performance. It’s pure performance. We really can’t worry about who’s in the Chase and who’s not in The Chase. We’ve just got to take it week by week and make sure we’ve got those Chargers as strong as we can get "˜em."
WHY AREN’T ALL THE DODGE TEAMS WORKING TOGETHER? "I don’t know why we can’t seem to agree. I really don’t. I can’t answer that, but in the end you’ve got your own responsibility in things that you believe in. We believe in going one way and some other teams believe in going another way. Right now, I don’t think we’re going to go to NASCAR. We’ve had to try to get the cars better ourselves and that’s what we’re doing. Right now it’s on us. We’ve got equipment. We’ve got resources and we’ve just got to keep making the cars and motors better on our own. The new VP of Dodge, Mike Accavitti was here. Maybe you guys can track him down and let him answer that question."
KENNY FRANCIS (Team Director No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge Charger)
"We started out a little too loose. About halfway, Kasey wanted to take a spring rubber out of the right rear, and we had to give up track position to do that. He drove back up there pretty good after that. I think we were concerned the whole race. We really didn’t get any long runs in practice. Everyone was nervous about these tires. Our tires were looking really good, but after 10 laps you never know. It turned out we had a pretty balanced car. I think you’re always nervous if your setup is going to last on a long run, no matter what the race is. Today was no exception, but it seemed like after we worked on the car it got better on the long runs. It actually was better on the short runs than I expected, but it seemed to be pretty good on the long runs, too.
"I don’t talk to a whole lot of them (other Dodge crew chiefs). I talk to a couple of them a little bit. The ones I talk to are on the level we’re on. We’ve got a year under our belts with the Charger. We’re finally starting to get somewhat comfortable with it. We’re not totally comfortable with it. To try to validate aerodynamics, it’s not easy to say something is better than something else. That’s a very difficult task to figure out what’s better. We tried the ’04 car at Homestead and we felt it was about the same or worse than the 2005 car. Like Ray said, we’ve just got to do what’s right for us. In the end, we’ve just got to work on our equipment and make it better.
"We were still trying to make sure he wasn’t running the tires off of it (when Mark Martin challenged late for the lead). This place is so abrasive on tires. I was telling him the lap times and lap times of the guys behind him. I think he was using that to run just fast enough to stay ahead of them. I assume that’s what he was doing. That looked like what he was doing because he’d drop off a little bit and then pick it back up. I was keeping him informed about what everybody else was doing."
KYLE PETTY (No. 45 National Tire & Battery Dodge Charger) "" Finished 8th, 24th in points.
"That was a really good run. Our guys did some good pit stops today. We’ve been struggling with pit stops, but our guys stepped it up today. They’ve been working really, really hard and it paid off today. We’ve had four good race cars at four races and didn’t have anything to show for it. We had a good run today. Paul (crew chief Andrews) made some good calls early in the pits. We adjusted wrong one time. I told him to go wrong. It was my fault. He should have known better than listening to the driver. Once we got it fixed we got good again. We were off in the middle of the race, but we got good again at the end.
"I hate it for Bobby today. He was going to be real good. I followed him in practice yesterday and he came in and asked me how he looked. I said, "˜virtually perfect.’ Bobby gets around this place good. That’s the first time I’ve seen the top 10 in about 20 years, so that’s a good run for me.
"I wasn’t really concerned after Bobby had the engine problems. We have very, very few engine issues. That’s a rarity with Evernham engines. The guys that do our stuff are good. Any time something happens with the 9, 19, 43, 45 or 10, it’s a freak deal. We never even think about engine problems. I will say after I saw the 19 I was concerned, but they told me what was going on there, so it was OK.
COMMENT ON KASEY KAHNE’S VICTORY IN A CHARGER "That’s good. For all the Dodge Dealers out there, maybe this will put that dreaded Intrepid thing to rest. I tell you what, this used to be a Ford track. It matched the Ford engine and Ford horsepower and what the Ford was. If you look at qualifying and some of the other stuff, this might be a Dodge engine track now. It matches our torque curve, and it matches what we’re doing. The bodies compliments it. It doesn’t hinder us right there. All the Dodge teams have worked hard to get better, so maybe the Charger is the way we need to go.
"Maybe this needs to be the DaimlerChrysler 400 instead of the one at Vegas. Maybe they should swap Vegas and Atlanta."
COMMENT ON BRISTOL "Bristol is Bristol You’ve got what you’ve got when you unload and that’s what it is. You’ve just got to stay out of trouble and hope you bring it home in one piece. Schrader always says if you can get to the last 100 laps and you’ve still got the fenders on it you’re going to finish in the top 10, and that’s the way it is man. If you’ve got fenders on you’re going to finish in the top 10."
WHAT KIND OF RACE WAS IT FOR YOU TODAY? "Today was basically tire management. We never had a tire issue all day long. I know some other teams had issues, but the Goodyear Eagles for us were absolutely perfect. We never had any problems."
CASEY MEARS (No. 42 Texaco/Havoline Dodge Charger) "" Finished 21st, dropped to fifth in series standings.
"We just never got the car right today. We lost a lap early and then got the Lucky Dodge and struggled to stay on the lead lap the rest of the way. We ended up a lap down in 21st, and that’s about as good as we’d been all day. This was a new car, and we just never got it moving in the right direction today. We started strong this season, and we’re going to Bristol and try to survive and get a good finish there."
SCOTT RIGGS (No. 10 Valvoline/Stanley Tools Dodge Charger) "" Finished 11th, moved up six spots to 32nd in points
"We kept making changes, and I think the first couple of changes we made may have hurt the car. We went the other way on pressures and got the car pretty good. About the time we started moving to the front we came in and put a set of tires on. We didn’t make a change and all of a sudden it was way free. We put another set of tires on and drove up through there. We didn’t make any changes on the car, but the tires made a big change on the way it drove. I’m proud of Kasey and those guys. They were on the pole and then to win it was great for them. We’re slowly but surely getting there, and it’s great to have good teammates running good because you can learn from each other and be better next week."
REED SORENSON (No. 41 Target/Fujifilms Dodge Charger) Finished 10th, top rookie of race. 25th in points. Best career finish in 6 Cup starts.
"We weren’t as good here as we were at California and Vegas. We still finished 10th, so that made me feel pretty good. We had to go to the back a couple of times. We passed a lot of cars and felt pretty good about it. We had a couple of long runs and the caution came out and helped us because we felt like the tires were wearing out. They tell me we were running short on fuel at the end, but there was no way I was coming in. I don’t know if I really have a hometown track, but this is a tough place. It’s lost a lot of grip over the years. It rained and washed all the rubber off, so it was really tough today. Right now it’s not my favorite track. Bristol is my favorite track, but ask me again about midway through the year and I might change my mind."
BOBBY LABONTE (No. 43 Cheerios/Betty Crocker Dodge) "" Qualified 4th, led once for 13 laps, finished 43rd. 38th in points.
"We had a good run started there and then we fell back a little bit. I’m not sure if the motor was seizing up a little bit then or not. We ended our day pretty soon, but for the time we ran it was pretty decent and I want to thank everybody for that. It was one of them deals. That’s part of it, that’s racin’ so we’ll just go on to next weekend. It’s exciting for all the guys who work in the shop that have been there for so many years.
"We came out here today and ran really good, and that’s a good indication of things. We also have to make sure we do it week in and week out. We’re not going to get there overnight. It didn’t get the other way overnight, and it’s not going to get fixed overnight. It takes a lot of hard work by a lot of the guys. Fortunately we didn’t tear up this car when the motor blew, and that’s one good thing and we can take it to Texas.
"A lot of guys probably just took it a little easy at the beginning. I say that and almost nobody takes it easy any more. The car felt good and we were going all right. We got caught back there a little bit. It was pretty good from the beginning, and we just need to keep working on it. The guys are doing a great job and we’re having a tough go on the finishing part but we’re gaining on the running part. That’s a good thing.
"It’s frustrating, but it’s part of the process we’re going through right now. We’re trying to get consistent week in and week out. We’re going to have weeks that aren’t consistent. It hasn’t been a fun start to the season, but it’s been a promising start in some forms and fashions. We’ve just got to keep ourselves above water and know we’re gaining. That’s just the way it is."
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