Our series of weekly NASCAR driver interviews continues this week with Kasey Kahne, who currently drives for Red Bull Racing and is headed to Hendrick Motorsports next season. Kahne and his Red Bull team are still in Chase contention, sitting 15th in points heading into the Brickyard 400.
SBN: Who is the most underrated driver in NASCAR?
KK: Underrated... (At this time, a crewman from Paul Menard's team – parked next to Kahne's hauler – comes up to Kahne and asks him a question about dirt racing. After the crewman walks away, Kahne answers).
Um...Paul Menard (grins).
SBN: Paul Menard? Did your answer happen to be influenced by what just happened here?
KK: Well, I just saw the side of his trailer and it made a lot of sense. I got thinking about it, so, yeah, Paul Menard.
SBN: Alright, that works. What's a race in your career you feel you should have won that bugs you because you feel like you didn't win it?
KK: Indy in Tony Stewart's year, '05. I gave it away on a restart. He got me off of Turn 1 on a restart and I actually drove by him and was leading and then just gave it to him. Then I ran right behind him and couldn't get back by.
SBN: So is there something you could have done differently, or do you just regret not winning?
KK: Yeah, I got a little bit tight through Turn 1 on that start, so I just needed to get through that corner differently and have my car positioned differently. As long as I could have beat him to Turn 3, I could have won the race.
SBN: Well, that sucks.
KK: There were a lot of variables there, too. I was leading and driving away, and there was a caution that came out; because of the caution, I made it on fuel. But because of the caution, he passed me (on the restart). If the caution didn't come out, I would have ran out of fuel and finished last or whatever. Still, if I'd have been perfect (on the restart), I would have won.
SBN: Let's say you could form your own four-car Sprint Cup Series team – you and three other guys – but you can't pick any driver currently associated with you. And for you, that means no one at Red Bull or Hendrick Motorsports. Who would you pick?
KK: I would say Kyle Busch, Tony Stewart and some guy around here that's a lot of fun. Who's around here that's a lot of fun, just a cool guy? (Looks around at nearby haulers) Oh, Clint Bowyer! For sure. Bowyer.
SBN: So are the first two not based on the 'fun' factor but how they run?
KK: Well, I'm picking Kyle because he wins the most and I could try to figure out things he does to make me better; Tony because he's so good at every track and there's always something he can bring to the table; and Clint is good at every single track, too – he doesn't win as much as Kyle, but he's really good everywhere – and he's by far the most fun. With Clint, it would probably be a very good time, and you could probably go very fast.
That's a pretty solid crew right there.
SBN: What driver did you most want to model yourself after when you were growing up?
KK: Well, see, I followed sprint car racing, so there are a couple sprint car guys that I really wanted to be like. Dave Blaney was one of them, and because of Thursday Night Thunder and Saturday Night Thunder, I also liked Tony Stewart.
When the (World of) Outlaws would come to the West Coast, I'd just follow Dave Blaney and thought he was awesome. But I never left the West Coast, so I didn't know what racing was like in the Midwest or anywhere beyond that. So whatever I could watch on TV, that was what I knew – and Tony was always up front, and he was young. Jeff (Gordon) was prior to that. They were just on it in those series.
In NASCAR at that time, the main guys were Bill Elliott and Dale Earnhardt. It was more of an older, veteran crowd compared to where it is now. Since I came to Cup, there are maybe a lot of kids that look at Cup and they've got Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer, Carl Edwards – all these young guys. As a kid, you're probably really drawn to a young guy in NASCAR. But I don't really remember young guys when I was following NASCAR growing up.
SBN: So does Blaney know you were a huge fan of his?
KK: Oh yeah, he knows. He knows.
SBN: What's a memorable escape you've made from the track after a race to beat the traffic?
KK: Probably Kentucky. I actually usually take my time and I drive to the airport every week afterward. I don't really get too overwhelmed with all of the traffic; I'm already worn out for the day, so I just take it easy and drive.
Well, at Kentucky, I knew it was coming. So I hustled from my car and got to the helicopter – Kevin Harvick was the only guy that beat me out of there.
I was reading all the tweets and flying over all these people and cars, and I really felt bad, actually. But that was a good escape. If you're going to have one, that was the one!
SBN: Wow. So what did that look like, flying over all the Kentucky chaos from above?
KK: A mess. It actually looked pretty awesome. A mess, but awesome to see that many cars and fans and lights and so much going on. There just wasn't a whole lot of room for it all.
SBN: What famous person would you like to meet who you haven't met yet?
KK: Maybe that (golfer) Rory McIlroy. You know, he's young and he's solid. He's really good. I've met some football players and different guys over the years, but right now he's a star and he's going to be good. He's ready to break some records and things, I think. He's tough.
He's right on the verge – his career could go either way, but he seems like a pretty cool guy. I follow him on Twitter and he's pretty mellow, you know? He's a cool guy who is good at what he does.
SBN: So you picked an athlete over a celebrity. How come?
KK: Well, that's more of what I follow. That's more what I'm into. I just follow racing and football and sports in general. Otherwise, I'd have to go with Justin Timberlake. He's just kind of a badass in whatever he does.
SBN: Last year, Jamie McMurray won some huge races but missed the Chase; Jeff Gordon didn't win any races but made the Chase and contended for the title. Which type of season would you rather have?
KK: I'd say McMurray's. He won Indy and Daytona – if I could ever win those, I'd be a happy race car driver. So he had a solid year. And if you wouldn't have said McMurray didn't make the Chase last year, I would have thought he did – even though he didn't.
I remember what McMurray did more than what Jeff did last year.
SBN: Where does your motivation to win come from? Do you want to win for personal pride or for your team or what?
KK: I think as I go on, you get more into the team aspect. But as a kid growing up and just wanting to be a race car driver, you do it just to straight-up beat the other guy. You just want to win – and it feels so good to win, no matter what it is.
But now it's like, 'Damn, these guys work their asses off. I want to win for the team.' You want to win for yourself, too, of course. But it's not all for yourself like when you were little.
SBN: How much does your personality change from sitting here to when you're inside the car during a race?
KK: It changes a good bit because in the car, I'm a lot more on edge and not nearly as laid-back. I get wound up and my heart rate gets going. I become a much more intense person.
It's the same as when I'm working out. If I'm just working out easy and never get my heart rate up or start sweating, I don't get that good of a workout. As soon as I start sweating, my workout turns way more intense.
If I don't ever sweat, I stay way calmer; as soon as I start to sweat, I get intense.
SBN: If you could switch lives with an athlete from a different sport, who would you want to be?
KK: Probably Drew Brees.
SBN: That wouldn't be too bad.
KK: He's a great quarterback, he's so money and he loves to throw the ball. He's not a quarterback who throws half the time and hands off half the time. He wants to throw every single play. And he hits so many guys, just on the money. That'd be unreal to do that.
SBN: Let's say you could take a year away from NASCAR and go do whatever you wanted, then come back knowing you had a ride guaranteed. Would you ever want to do that?
KK: Well, if I ever was going to do that, look at this year for example.
SBN: Oh yeah. Good point.
KK: Like if they would have said, 'Hey, we don't have a ride for you yet; take a flyover to next year,' I could have maybe run a few Nationwide races, but I'd probably be running my sprint car a lot. And I bet I'd race 80 times. I'd be racing like crazy on the dirt.
SBN: So you could never take a year away from racing completely?
KK: No, I don't think I could. Unless I had to, like what Brian Vickers went through. But I wouldn't go on vacation and go all over the country or the world; I'd just find racetracks to go to and race.
SBN: Let's say you do step away from the sport someday. What do you want your retirement story to say about you?
KK: Probably just, 'He was a good guy and he treated people the right way – and he won some big races.' I mean, Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson – those guys are tough right now and dominating. I'd love to do that, but I could see more just being a good person, a good guy and someone who had his days where he was pretty tough on the track, too.
SBN: You might be selling yourself a bit short there, considering the future.
KK: Maybe. Let's hope!
SBN: OK, you're going to win a championship but you have two options – you can wrap it up before the last race of the year or win it off Turn 4 of the last lap at Homestead. Which would you rather have?
KK: Well, I think the way the Chase is today, you're going to win it there at the end. It'll go down to the wire and all the pressure will be on you and the other guys battling with you. Ten years ago, under the old points system, I'd like to wrap it up with three or four races before the end and just cruise from there on out.
These days, the pressure is going to be with you all the way until the last lap. I'd actually really like that. I'd love to be in that position. Win or lose, I'd love to be in that spot. Denny Hamlin was in that position last year; he lost, but he was still in that position. That'd be awesome to be part of that.