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!”