NASCAR News

Allstate 400 press conference

Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne

September 14, 2006

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DALE EARNHARDT JR.

Q: What's your level of optimism heading into the Chase?

EARNHARDT: It's 100 (percent), I guess. I'm pretty excited about our chances. We've been really strong the last several races going into the Chase, so we should be just fine.

Q: When you were here in Indy in early August, I sensed some frustration in the sense that you had a good finish, but you never really got a handle on the race car. You mentioned it's going well now. What has turned the tide for you and your team?

EARNHARDT: Nothing's really changed. We could go to Indy tomorrow and run the same. That's just the way we ran there, and that's the way to car handles at that racetrack. We've run good at Michigan and California, and those tracks we needed to get better at, and we have.

Q: Is there enough diversity at the final 10 tracks, would you like to see more of something other than the 1.5-mile tracks, or is that what everyone likes?

EARNHARDT: I think that there should be more short tracks, period, on the circuit. But as far as tracks we have, everybody's going to have a different opinion, and I think where it is, is just fine.

Q: As far as the competition in the Chase, are you worried at all about different guys that aren't in the Chase, since they have different goals than the guys in the top 10?

EARNHARDT: No, because I was in that position last year, and I sort of know what their thinking's going to be. The races really end up feeling, acting and being the same as any other race throughout the year.

Q: There are some open-wheel guys coming into Cup - Montoya we know of and others are talking about it. How difficult is it going to be somebody, first year, to compete at the Cup level?

EARNHARDT: It's going to be really, really hard. The last 15 years, the road course guys that have come to race ovals have had quite a challenge with it, a lot of difficulty with it. I think it would be very difficult for Montoya and a couple of those guys. But it is achievable. They're talented drivers, and if anybody can do it, this group can do it.

Q: It would be hard to argue that anybody has more fans, across the country from track to track, than you. Could you describe what it would mean to you and your fan base to win a championship, to follow what your father did?

EARNHARDT: Well, that's what I'm out for the rest of my career. That's really the one thing that means to most to me right now, is winning the championship. If that's all I did, then it would be enough. To win races is great, to be successful is great, (but) when it comes down to it at the end of my career, I'm going to have to have that championship to consider myself as one of the better drivers. In the end, I want people to consider me one of the great drivers, and I'm going to need that championship to be able to do that.

Q: In other sports we hear about "playoff intensity." Do you sense that in these final 10 races, that somehow it's more intense than the first 26?

EARNHARDT: Absolutely, it definitely is. It has that playoff feel. Especially when you're coming out here and doing this all day long (media interviews), you get an idea how big a deal it is to the sport. They really are trying hard to promote it, (and the) drivers see that, especially the guys that haven't been in it before, or haven't been in the sport long. They're sort of "oohing" and "aahing" all day long. We'll get down to basics and start racing again this weekend, start practicing and driving the cars, and it will all come back down to earth. Hopefully we'll have a good idea of what we'll need to accomplish each week, keep our head on straight, not mess up and cause us to lose a lot of points.

Q: In other sports scouting is a huge part of it, "What is the other team going to do?" How much in this playoff system do you keep track - not only during the race, but maybe going into a track - of the other nine guys? That one guy runs well here or struggles there?

EARNHARDT: I think a lot, you obviously know who won at each track the last time you were there, who was strong. You'll watch them in practice, (and) try to see if you can find something they're doing to see if you can use it on your car.

Q: I'm curious about whether you guys would ever consider driving an Indy car. Is it possible in this day and age?

EARNHARDT: I wouldn't consider it, but I think there's some drivers who would. As far as racing in IRL, never full-time, though. Once a NASCAR driver, stock car driver, always a stock car driver, I believe. The sport's so big, and there's so much recognition to it. And there's so much to achieve and it's such a draw, that's the draw for the drivers. I think some would like to drive Indy cars just to have they have, and get that experience. But I'd probably pass on that opportunity if it came to me.

Q: Why is that? Because it's too difficult logistically?

EARNHARDT: Probably. Yeah, it's too much travel back and forth. If I went and did it, there would be a big crowd there, hassling and carrying on with everybody, making a big deal out of it. I wouldn't be able to go and do it under the radar and enjoy it. There would be pressure to have to run good and pressure to put down some kind of lap times. It would be compared to everything else that's been run there, and it wouldn't be fun. So, I'd have to avoid that situation (laughs).

Q: Are the two disciplines that far apart? We've talked quite a bit about Montoya, Hornish, Allmendinger and some other guys trying to make the transition from IndyCar to stock cars. Are the disciplines so far apart that it's very hard to make the move in either direction?

EARNHARDT: Yeah, there's something about . I don't know why it's difficult, (but) it's difficult for some reason. A road course guy comes in our sport, he has trouble going around an oval. He has trouble trying to negotiate Turns 3 and 4 at any given track. I don't know why he can't map that corner out in his mind like he does each corner at a road course. I don't know why that is or what that is, I guess the techniques you use on a road course are so different as far as braking and how you arc and turn into a corner, what corner of the car you're feeling, concentrating your mind on the most. I think that there's a lot of talented road course drivers that can get in there and drive ovals, and over time become very good and very successful. I don't think it's impossible at all, but there is a tough learning curve once you've done one thing for so long and go to do something else. It's kind of tough.

JIMMIE JOHNSON

Q: You've won the two biggest races this season. Is it only fitting that you win the championship, too?

JOHNSON: I think so. I'm not sure anybody else believes that or wants to hear that as far as drivers go, but I'd love to be the champion - it's been an awesome year.

Q: You've been in the situation before where you've been at or near the top of the points going in. Has your approach changed at all so far and/or will it change throughout the Chase from previous years?

JOHNSON: I think going into it, most drivers have the same idea just getting started to see what happens. You know, every point counts on the racetrack when we're in the car, and you've got to be as aggressive as you can and at the same time not do anything stupid, or try to avoid stupid things from taking place. So, it's just going to be something where we get in there and really work to see where things shake out. I feel that my experience in the Chase the last few years makes me stronger, but I have to say that when I look at favorites, I have to look at past champions. I really think those guys have been in the fire; they know what it's like to win a championship, and they've delivered. So looking at that, Jeff (Gordon) and Matt (Kenseth) would be the favorites going in, and then I'm right up there with them.

Q: There's really not that much disparity coming into the final 10 between first and second place, but if there were, it's all gone with a five-point lead. Should there be more reward and even some recognition for the regular season champ?

JOHNSON: Yeah, without a doubt. I think there needs to be some type of championship awarded to the guy that wins the first 26. I do feel there needs to be a bigger separation in points between each position.

Q: You mentioned in Victory Lane here at Indianapolis your reverence for the "500" and what that means and what this track means. Is there any chance that we'd see you in an open-wheel car here?

JOHNSON: I would love to. My dream before I hang up my helmet is I want to race at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and I also want to race in the Indy 500. Hopefully I can put that together some day. I don't think we can do it while I'm racing in the Cup Series - I don't want to take anything away from my Cup effort. If things ever slow down and I can find the time to do it, I'm all over it.

Q: There's a pretty good record of guys winning the Brickyard 400 going on to win the championship. Are you aware of that?

JOHNSON: I am. I just hope I don't mess it up.

Q: You have been at the top of the points going into the playoffs a few times and not won the championship. Has this made you more or less a fan of the points system?

JOHNSON: It doesn't change my opinion of the playoff system. It's changed my opinion of August. I think we've done a better job of producing and getting the right finishes. I don't really have anything against the Chase - I think it's done a lot for our sport. It really has gotten stick-and-ball sports fans tuning in and watching NASCAR with football starting back up, so it's doing a great job for our sport.

Q: In all the other sports when I talk to athletes they always bring up the playoff intensity - somehow the intensity goes up during the playoffs. Have you sensed that in the Chase races in years past?

JOHNSON: Without a doubt. As everyone goes on, it gets more and more intense. It's funny to look back on the last couple of years and look at this trip to New York that we're all on. Everybody is all friendly, hanging out and having a great time, but I know in two or three weeks we're all going to hate each other in the sense that we're trying to get every point we can, and the intensity is going to go through the ceiling.

Q: In a race-to-race basis in the playoff system, how much do you and your crew chief and your spotter keep track of the other nine guys in the Chase during the course of a race?

JOHNSON: Yeah, you're really focused on those guys and try to outperform them and find out where they are on the track, so we'll definitely have an eye on everyone.

Q: You made a reference to stick-and-ball sports. So kind of in a similar vein, teammates, so obviously you've got some guys that are competing for the same prize that you are, that are in this Chase for the Championship. I don't want to say team orders of any sort, but how will the teammates work together over these final 10 races?

JOHNSON: That's a good question. I think we're still going to be working as teammates like we always have, but at the same time we've got to do what we can for our race team, and I've got to do everything I can to win a championship for the 48, so the notes will be working and we'll be sharing information, but when we're on the track, you can give an inch - you've got to race your teammates just as hard as anyone else.

Q: This is only the third year of the Chase for the Championship, and it seems like it's been forever. Can you imagine this battle basically being you and Matt Kenseth being in a command duel if we were under the old system of three years ago?

JOHNSON: Yeah, sometimes I look at that and think what it would be like. We'd be in a pretty comfortable position as far as second or third in points is kind of where we would end up, but it's not that way and Matt's going to be a guy we're going to have to worry about, and it's just not the way it is right now.

Q: There have been so many good moments for you this season; obviously the reason you're close to the top of the points standings. I don't know if you can rank it at this point, but where does your victory at Indianapolis, where do you put that in the things you've accomplished list?

JOHNSON: Well, that's very, very high on the list. It's tough for me to pick between Daytona and Indy, which means more to me. They are both very special for their own reasons. I've always wanted to win the Daytona 500. I've always wanted to win the Indianapolis 500 - I never thought I would be there in a stock car or dreamed I'd be there in a stock car. With all the troubles I've had there at that racetrack, to come back and win, it meant the world to me. It was such a big struggle to get over and to win that race. It's very, very high on my list. I hope this championship comes and knocks them both down a notch.

Q: I'm curious here about the announcement by Sam Hornish that he's going to go test an ARCA car. We're throwing around the possibility here of crossover in the other direction and whether or not it's possible. In this day and age and in this climate, is it likely that we would ever see a Cup driver go in the other direction and drive an IndyCar?

JOHNSON: I'm not sure. I think that for a driver to leave stock cars and go to IndyCars or IndyCars to go to stock cars, you're going to have to dedicate three or four years to learning the car, learning the tracks, the crew and everything that goes with it, so I really respect any driver that's willing to take that challenge because it's going to take a few years before you get back to the winning ways and back to the things that you're used to. So, I encourage guys like Sam to come along, and I hope that he does and I hope that they come over and give it a shot.

Q: You mentioned earlier that you'd really like to try the "500." Is the time change, the fact that they moved the race up, has that made it that much more almost impossible for Cup guys to do the double?

JOHNSON: Yeah, I think the time change hurts it a lot. Talking to Robby (Gordon) and Tony (Stewart) both, it's just eliminated any opportunity to make it.

Q: What would be the most difficult part of the transition from a stock car to an IndyCar?

JOHNSON: Finding that last half a second. I think it's easy to get close, you can look at a map trace of the computer stuff and see the driver's inputs and all the stuff that goes on, but to find that last little bit, to feel it in your seat and get used to the race car, that's the part that's hard to get.

KASEY KAHNE

Q: Do you feel like you have a new lease on life at this point coming into the Chase just 45 points back?

KAHNE: Oh, yeah. I feel like we have as good a shot as anybody at this point. We've had one of the best seasons, my best season, so far. Five wins. We've been very competitive everywhere we've went. We just had about six races there where we weren't consistent enough to be further up in the points. But, over the last month, we've been really good again, and I feel like we can carry that into the last 10 races and give these guys a good shot.

Q: It's already been said that there are going to be some tweaks and changes to the system in the future. Should more be given to winning races?

KAHNE: I guess you could. I guess you could give more to that and just make it a bigger deal. I don't know what that will exactly do, though. I think you do need to be consistent to win a championship, and you probably need to be consistent to make the Chase. You know, five wins and consistency, we would have been way up front. It's been good how it is and whatever anybody wants to do. If they change it, we'll race with those new rules.

Q: Do guys in the Chase have concern about guys that aren't in the Chase, that their only goal is to win and might take a few more chances since they're not in the Chase as much as those in the top 10?

KAHNE: I don't know. I feel pretty good about everybody out there. I think that the guys that are racing for 11th and racing for 15th are good guys, they didn't make the Chase. I was one of them last year, and all I wanted to do was win races at the end of last year. And you know, we raced as hard as we could and didn't take people out or anything like that. I don't think we'll have any problems with anybody, but you know, just racing hard.

Q: You are one of several open-wheel guys with this background here in Indiana and the Midwest that has made it in NASCAR, the Cup. We're going to see Sam Hornish Jr. run some ARCA and Busch (Series) next year, (Juan Pablo) Montoya is already confirmed for Cup. What kinds of things do these guys have in store? How tough of a transition, especially starting at the Cup level, is it?

KAHNE: I think the biggest thing is just getting used to the short tracks and the heavier race cars. I mean, just driving those types of tracks with a heavy car that slides around and it doesn't have as much downforce as an IRL (Indy Racing League) or IndyCar, whatever they're coming from. That's going to be their biggest learning curve, and once they get that, they're great race car drivers that are going to be battling up front with whoever is up front in a NASCAR race. It's going to be good.

Q: Your thoughts about your new teammate, about having Elliott Sadler jump on board so late in the season, how has that relationship worked so far?

KAHNE: So far it's been great. I think it's been a huge relief for Evernham Motorsports. We have a guy that really wants to work with myself and Scott Riggs and do a lot of the same type of setups. We've already learned a lot since Elliott's been there already, and we're looking forward to the end of the year. I hope Scott gets a win. I hope Elliott gets a win, and I hope we get some more. It can be good. I know Ray Evernham has put a lot into what we have there. Elliott's just going to be a bonus to making '07 better than '06.

Q: When it comes to racing and team orders, we actually think of Formula One more than we think about NASCAR. What can we expect Riggs, what can Elliott Sadler, what can your teammates do to help you in these final 10 races to win the championship?

KAHNE: Just what they are doing right now. Race as hard as they can and try to get all the spots they can. Every spot they get will help me. So if they are finishing up front and I'm up front, that's knocking some of the other guys back, then that's big. I'm just hoping that those guys hang in there. They're doing a great job, and we all learn together and finish up the season strong.

Q: Kasey, I'm sure you didn't care who you knocked out of the final 10 to get into the final 10, but obviously it is the defending champion, it's Tony Stewart. Here in Indianapolis, that's a pretty big deal. How surprised were you that of the guys you could have knocked out or that you could have knocked out to get that final spot, that it was the defending champ that you sent home?

KAHNE: Yeah, until the race was over, I didn't know if we were in or out or who was in or out. When I found that out, I was really surprised. Tony is as good as they get in a race car and to not have him in the Chase was surprising. I know that the 10 drivers that are in the Chase, that if any one of them missed it, I think would have been somewhat surprised as good as everyone has ran this year. It's too bad. I think Tony would have had a shot at winning the NEXTEL Cup as good as he and his team is.

Q: I'm curious about Sam Hornish's decision to start testing an ARCA car. I was wondering if at this point if there is any possibility of crossover in the other direction. Would it ever be in the future a possibility for you or some of the other Cup drivers to go in the other direction and step into open-wheel cars?

KAHNE: I don't know for anybody else. I know personally, I really like where I'm at. I really like the team I'm with; being a part of NASCAR is really awesome. I really enjoy it. You know, in time if we can win a NEXTEL Cup, if we can win a lot of races, then I would definitely hope to get a shot to do some testing in an IRL car and eventually do the "500." That's something that I've always hoped to do and hope to do before I turn 29 or 30 years old. We'll just have to see what happens, but I know I have to perform in NEXTEL Cup first and get Ray Evernham a big trophy if I want to be able to go and do anything else.

Q: What do you think would be the most difficult part of that particular transition?

KAHNE: Every bit of it. I think, just doing the proper testing and being prepared when I got into a car or into an actual race and qualifying and that type of stuff that I was ready for it. I think doing the testing and being prepared. I've driven an IRL car before, I've driven a Champ car and with the NASCAR experience now, I feel like I could do it if I had the right test.

Q: In all the other sports, we always hear about playoff intensity and that some how it goes up a notch when you get into the playoffs. Do you sense that in a race as you go into these final 10, or is it intense every week?

KAHNE: I think it's pretty intense every week. I know the last four weeks were really intense for us, and after we won California and gave ourselves a shot at the Chase, you know, going into Richmond, that weekend was really intense, too. NASCAR racing, in general, is intense and the pressure is always on to perform for the sponsors and everybody that supports us. And, you know, these final 10, the closer you get to Homestead, it is going to get more and more intense.

Q: And in the way that you had to race your way into the Chase, how much did you hear from your spotter, from your crew chief about where these other 10 guys were? And in these final 10 how much do you monitor those 10 guys during the course of a race?

KAHNE: Well, myself and my spotter didn't say a word the whole race. We just tried to race at Richmond, tried to pass as many cars as we could, go as fast as possible and see where we ended up. I know Kenny (Francis) and the team were probably looking at where they were and what they needed to do or where I was on the racetrack to make sure we were good in points and once I crossed the start/finish, they told me everything was cool and that we made it. You know, I was relieved at that point. I never asked. I never really worried about it. I could only do what I could do, and that was drive as hard as possible. In the Chase it's going to be, uh, I don't know, I haven't been in the Chase. I'm just going to race as hard as possible and make good decisions and be consistent and try to win a few more races. I don't feel like we're done winning races for the year yet.

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