CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Kasey Kahne was frustrated he’d blown his championship chances with a “hardheaded mistake” at New Hampshire, and it boiled over into a brief televised interview that left viewers speculating about his health.
Kahne said Tuesday there was nothing physically wrong with him following his accident at New Hampshire. Rather, he realized immediately after his crash with 47 laps remaining Sunday that his title hopes were over, and he allowed his anger to derail the now widely discussed interview with ESPN reporter Jerry Punch.
“I screwed up and I was frustrated. Two races in, I’m already out of the Chase. It’s a (crummy) deal,” Kahne told The Associated Press.
Fans watching Kahne’s post-crash interview on television immediately took to social media to say Kahne appeared dazed, confused and some speculated he had a concussion. Punch tried to ask Kahne what happened to cause the crash, and Kahne said, “I don’t know. I’m not sure what happened.”
Punch tried again, and Kahne didn’t offer any more insight. After a third question from Punch, Kahne told him he couldn’t hear him and the interview came to an awkward end.
“I couldn’t hear what he was saying,” Kahne said Tuesday. “I knew he asked what had happened. At that point, I didn’t know exactly what had happened. I knew we were three-wide getting into Turn 3. Did we have a little contact, and that’s why we spun? I wasn’t positive on that. But I was really just mad, and I didn’t think too much of (the interview) until I saw people thought something was wrong with me.”
Kahne’s health was just fine, he said, and he’d already been medically cleared by the care center. He returned to his car with 25 laps remaining in the race, but the damage was done: Kahne had been running eighth at the time of the accident, which occurred when he was stubbornly racing Brian Vickers for position on a restart, and he wound up 37th. It dropped him to last in the 13-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup championship field.
“I just screwed up. I was under him and we were really close together and racing hard and you can lose grip pretty easy off of (Turn) 4, and I maybe should have just backed up a little bit,” Kahne said. “But I was trying to stay beside him to be there when we got to the next corner. I needed to just give up and get in line and try to pass him later. I didn’t want to give up that one spot, and I ended up giving up 30 spots because I was hardheaded and made a hardheaded mistake.”
It seems only fans were concerned about Kahne following the interview. Denny Hamlin made fun of the interview on Twitter, posting a picture of an irritated Kahne and Dale Earnhardt Jr. said Tuesday he thought the 30-odd seconds captured his Hendrick Motorsports teammate correctly.
“I know a lot of people were commenting on Kasey and how odd that interview was, but if you know Kasey, he has a tendency to have that kind of reaction sometimes,” Earnhardt said. “I wasn’t that surprised. The wreck was odd, how his accident happened was odd, and I think he was sort of trying to hold himself accountable while he was being interviewed. I think he was a bit angry with himself.”
The accident dropped Kahne 71 points behind leader Matt Kenseth, winner of the first two Chase races. It’s more than a full race behind Kenseth, and Kahne has resigned himself to his fate.
It’s tough to swallow for Kahne, who worked so hard over the summer to earn a spot in the field.
“The first thing you think about is you are racing to make the Chase, and now you are out of it with eight races still to go,” he said. “It’s just so many points out. I could see Matt having one bad race, everybody having one bad race. But not two bad races. The guys who are going to win the championship are definitely not going to have two bad races.”
Kahne isn’t writing off the final two months of the season. He said he felt awful Sunday night and most of Monday, but perked back up Tuesday to reset his goals for Hendrick Motorsports and his No. 5 team.
“I feel terrible for my guys, and I feel like we are out of that part of it, the championship, but there’s so many good tracks in the Chase for us coming up,” he said. “I feel like we can still come back and get in the top 10, and maybe even better than that. As much as I love giving speeches, I want to be part of Las Vegas. I owe it to my guys.”