How do you view Kasey Kahne's signing with Hendrick Motorsports?
“I'm excited, man! This is the absolute best scenario. I'm really, really excited. I'm so psyched about it and so relieved that we can go on and work on racing and not worry about Hendrick Motorsports and my team and everything else and what the future is. We know it's set. It's a perfect scenario. Kasey Kahne is a really right fit for this organization.”
Would you consider getting out of the car before 2011?
“If I did, I wouldn't be driving it. It's not clear to me why you don't understand. Those guys wanted me to drive it for 2012. It was a little bit stretched to do one full-time season. I gave them three. It's been the gift of my career that Hendrick Motorsports has given me. One of my biggest concerns has been who is going to be the successor, so that I didn't knock them out of getting the very best, A-number-one fit. That's why I started talking to Kasey Kahne before anybody, in September of last year.
“I would appreciate it if no one would write anything about me retiring, because I'm not going to retire. I'm going to race in 2012. So don't even talk about it. I'm racing in 2012. There will be an opportunity for me, I'm sure, that will be exciting and fun and that I can help people. I feel like I've done that. I feel like I did that in the No. 01 at DEI and I feel like I've helped the No. 5 team realize that they can win races and contend for a championship. And so I'll find another opportunity that's exciting to me and I don't want to commit to that now. I want to make sure that Hendrick is set and they are set. It's such an incredibly perfect scenario.”
Is your legacy, then, to leave a championship team for someone else? You create opportunities for others that you leave some that you can look back and be proud of regardless of what happens?
“It was really, really important to me to make sure that Hendrick Motorsports had someone better than me to come in behind me. And I'm more comfortable now than I was a month ago, because I didn't know what that was going to be; although I knew I was going to drive through 2011. I didn't know how that was going to work out with the timing, because my choice for the guy that succeeded me here; the timing wasn't exactly right. They were going to be open in '11 and I was going to exit in '12. So, this has fixed that. I'm happy about that. I've had the time of my life and I don't understand how people want to put a negative spin on this. This is actually the most exciting thing that could ever happen to Kasey Kahne, to Mark Martin, to Hendrick Motorsports, and all of us. This is perfect. I don't know why everybody is digging for something negative.”
Did you speak to Jeff Burton and Matt Kenseth about this?
“Yes, I did. They're my best number-one friends, Jeff Burton and Matt Kenseth, and I love them to death. I confide in them – Jeff wants to be my agent for 2012 and has discussed, a number of times, even again yesterday, about that. So you've got to ask him what his plans are for me, because he's got some really far-fetched plans that I'm not even going to tell you about. But I will be racing in 2012; I just don't know exactly what that will be; won't worry about that. It'll be a fun and exciting new opportunity to help some people and to do something that really gets me going, you know? And until then I'm going to race my guts out here in the No. 5 car. I love (crew chief) Alan (Gustafson) and I love Hendrick Motorsports and I think they're set in the best possible scenario for the future.
“I don't know what I'll do in 2012. I have absolutely no idea and I won't be able to answer that question possibly until late next year. I don't know. I'm going to do whatever I want to. And I'm not even going to know what I want to do for a while and I'm not going to know the scenarios that might be there. But I've been in the sport long enough to know and have the confidence to know that really interesting opportunities come up and they will and they'll be fun and exciting and I'll explore driving and other things as well. I love this sport and I'm going to be in this sport for a long time. I'm going to drive for a long time. And I might get involved in other capacities as well. For the first time ever, I would consider an opportunity like Tony Stewart had. I don't want to be an owner, but if I can be an owner like Tony Stewart, maybe I want it.”Why is Kasey Kahne such a perfect fit for this team?
“He's obviously incredibly talented. He's incredibly marketable. And his personality will fit with Rick Hendrick, with Doug Duchardt, with the crew chiefs, with the drivers, with the marketing, the whole thing. Kasey Kahne's the total package.
You said you talked to Kasey. Were you a part of making the deal happen?
“I initiated it before ever talking to Rick Hendrick, because I didn't want Rick to know that I was as concerned as I was about it. So I talked to Kasey two or three times last year, starting back around September, and then I didn't get involved after that.”
What is it about this sport that keeps drawing you back?
“I love it with all my heart. If you compare all the other things that I could do with my time, there's no comparison. It is like a 10 and a zero. There is nothing else I have found in my life that I can throw my passion toward and occupy my time that I enjoy as much and that I am any good at. You know, I'm really not all that good at anything else or maybe I would like it more! I have had the time of my life racing in the No. 5 car.
“I am more relaxed now than I was two weeks ago knowing that Hendrick Motorsports has got the ideal scenario in place for going forward. I didn't want them to wait around for me next year to decide if I was willing to continue going forward. I was willing to give up the ride to make sure they were set and I'll do something else really fun and fresh and new. It is the perfect scenario.”
Is it hard for you to even fathom not doing something here?
“That is why I am more open than I ever have been to other things in racing that would accompany driving. I'll drive and I might drive and be consulting or I might be an owner/driver, transition into an owner if there was another scenario as wonderful as Tony Stewart's. I think Tony's scenario was great. I have a lot of great friends in the sport, people like Jack Roush and Jay Frye. There are going to be plenty of things for me to do and be involved in the sport.
“But, for me to consider going away from NASCAR and crawling under a rock for the rest of my life, that's no longer in the equation. I love what I do and I love this sport. You know, since '07 that has just grown and rebuilt and I recognize that now and it's a part of everything that I am made of.”
Is this a little bit bittersweet for you, knowing how much you enjoy working with crew chief Alan Gustafson?
“I feel so fortunate to have a whole year and a half yet in front of me to work with Alan and this team that I'm not really bittersweet about it. I'm so grateful for the opportunity. It's been the gift of my career to realize this and to be able to do this and be successful. It's also exciting to do new things and I love and embrace the excitement of 2012 and whatever that may bring. As long as everybody understands I'll be driving!”