Kahne's NASCAR career may be over
The 38-year-old recently announced his impending retirement following the conclusion of the 2018 season and withdrew from this weekend’s Brickyard 400 due to lingering issues from heat exhaustion sustained last weekend during the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.
But during a teleconference on Friday morning, Kahne says the problems run much deeper than just last weekend.
The Cup Series veteran said he has faced these issues for over a year, including last year’s race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, when he last reached victory lane. He also experienced similar bouts of dehydration at Kentucky Speedway and Bristol Motor Speedway.
He even admitted that the ailment played a factor in his decision to retire.
THE MODERATOR: Good morning, everyone. Thank you for joining us today in advance of this weekend's events at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. We are now joined by our Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver Kasey Kahne, driver of the No. 95 Chevrolet for Leavine Family Racing. Casey, thank you for taking time to spend time with us this morning. At this time we'll turn it over to you.
I had basically since last year, you know, since last year, the start of this year, each race I get a little bit worse by the end of the race with my hydration. It just got to where at Darlington I had been to the care center a few times. Darlington I had to go to the care center again. It's been the worse that it's been this time. It's kind of lingered all week, stuck with me. I just need to figure out how to make it better.
At Darlington, about a hundred to go, it was really hard to keep my eyes open and see. I was struggling to do that. I was trying to control my heart rate because it was so high. I basically just kind of laid in the car and drove around the corners. I had to just control the car just to try to do as little as possible so my heart rate would go down because it was so high. At that point all I'm doing is focusing on my body and my health, not on what I should be actually focusing on, and that's racing.
After the race, I went to the care center. I threw up all the way there. A lot of fans seen it. Threw up in the care center. They got IVs going in both arms. At that point I got to where I wasn't sick any more. Sick all the way on the drive home.
It's just been a rough week. That's where I'm at today. Not racing Indy. Really tough decision. I would much rather be there than not. At this point I have to just figure out how to finish these races, how to be able to go that long in a hot car in the environment that we're in, between the air temp and the dew point degrees, just to control it all.
It's been really tough. It's getting worse as the season has been going. Just been struggling with it. Have to figure it out before I get in there again and do it.
THE MODERATOR: We'll now go to media for questions.
Q: Is this a matter of something that you're going through because you're a driver in a car or are you sick? Should you be able to handle this? What sort of testing are you undergoing right now? Did you feel it last year?
KASEY KAHNE: I could feel this coming on for -- there were times last year when I definitely felt it. This year it's been much more consistent. At this point the reason why I actually feel really good during the week, I feel good the first part of the race until I lose that amount of fluids. At that point it's when it starts going that direction. I can't keep back up.
We just did blood work. The doctor had a few different tests that we did this week. So we're just going through that stuff, trying to find a way to, you know, be able to put together a whole race and not hurt my body internally by the end of each race when they're this hot right now.
Q: Is this something, what you go through in these races, that the normal human should be able to go through, and you would be ill if you didn't do it? Is it so dramatic that not every person could do it?
KASEY KAHNE: I think it depends on everybody. I've been basically the same size, the same person for 15, 16 years in NASCAR. I didn't start having problems until the last year, two years. I don't really know why that is. We're trying to figure that out. But I just can't control the temperature of my body and my heart race. Once it gets to that point, there's nothing I can do till I get out of the car. We're still trying to figure that out. That's why I'm not racing this weekend, because I don't want to create any more damage to myself, to my body, until I understand it better.
Q: You've always been a guy who has been involved a lot in physical fitness. You're surrounded by a lot of friends who do the same thing. Has this particular problem, have you heard other drivers experience something similar or has this been something that has been kind of just your unique situation?
KASEY KAHNE: For me it's been more a unique situation. I know there's times when some other drivers get pretty worn out, start heading that direction. But for me it's every week. I don't hear of anybody else like that. I talked to the guys afterwards, everybody seems pretty good.
I've learned some things (indiscernible) from Jimmie because of hydration, things like that. I try to use a lot of to be prepared for the races. They don't seem to help me like they help others. Just haven't hit on anything to really help me at this point.
Q: Do you intend to stay sitting out until you find some sort of answers or resolution, or are you taking it one race at a time?
KASEY KAHNE: Just taking it one race at a time. My whole reason for doing this is because I know that Indy is a tough one, the dew point is always up there. I just know that I'll be in that same situation there. For the full race, I'd be in the same situation. I can't go through it again, so I've had to not go there, you know, learn more by the next one, decide from there.
Q: Why not start the race and just have somebody on relief if you start feeling ill?
KASEY KAHNE: That would be I guess a way to do it. I just feel like to not even mess with it at this point in time, figure it out. It's not that easy to get out of the car. Last week with a hundred to go, I definitely shouldn't have been in the racecar any more. I stayed out there, put my body through it, my brain, my head. It was really difficult.
I think it's just better off for me to stay home and figure out how to help the situation before I get back in the car.
Q: During the race, were you more concerned about yourself or did you feel like I don't want to say a danger for others? Did you feel there was a chance something might happen that could hurt others?
KASEY KAHNE: No, I didn't feel like that all. Once I got through a certain point with my eyes and stuff, I really just had to slow down, control it for myself. I was more worried about -- the reason I pretty much barely drove the end of the race was because my heart rate was pumping so fast, I was having a hard time breathing and keeping up with it. I get done with the race, laying on pit wall. After basically not trying for an hour, the doctor still can't get my pulse because it's pumping so fast. I just can't control it. I need to figure out how to control it.
Q: Do you ever feel this way during practice or just in the race?
KASEY KAHNE: It's just once I go for a certain amount of time. I sweat so much. Practice on Friday, I felt great. Coming off an off week, all that, I felt really good. Everything is going good. After practice, my suit is just dripping water. Like if I wring out the inside of it, it just drips. I'm fine for 50 minutes, an hour and a half, two hours. Once you get past that point in time, you can't catch up. You've been losing throughout all that. Then I quit drinking as much always because I start trying to throw up. You're not putting anything in, and you're losing even more. Just gets so far behind that, you know, your heart is trying to help cool you off, hydrate you, but there's nothing else to use.
Q: When you say you can't drink any more, that's because you're so nauseated that you can't keep anything down? Is that accurate?
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, that's accurate. Basically by the time I left for the care center, got to the care center, I had nothing in me. I had no fluids. I'd thrown up everything that I had either drank or eaten that day. I'd sweated everything out that was in my system. I just basically had nothing left at all until they got the IVs in both arms. From that point, I'm just so cramped up because my chest and neck and my arms are so cramped during that time, during the end of that race. I'm so cramped up, they're trying to hold me. Actually a complete mess, so yeah.
Q: Have your doctors given you any indication that this issue can be resolved before the end of the season or has the idea been thrown out that you may not be back in a car this season because it may take more than a few weeks to figure this out through testing?
KASEY KAHNE: I mean, we really didn't get that far yet. One thing that I have learned is people do sweat a ton, like certain people sweat way more than others. There's nothing wrong with that as long as you're putting it back into your system. So, you know, some people can sweat up to five liters an hour, but then you got to get it back into your system. Also, depending on your size, if you're 300 pounds sweating that amount, it's not near as big of a deal if you're sweating that amount and only 140 pounds. Size definitely also is part of it. That has never changed for me. That's what's really confusing to me. I've always been the same size. I would say the only thing now, there's not a lot different today other than my age and just sitting in these hot cars for years and years and years. I'm not real sure it's a whole lot different than what there's been in the past size-wise or anything like that. That's why I get really confused why this started in the last little while.
Q: You talked about Darlington. How many times would you estimate you've gone to the care center this year after races? Was Darlington as bad as you felt or have you felt similarly as bad at other races this year?
KASEY KAHNE: Yes, I feel like it's slowly, you know, progressing, slowly getting worse. Darlington was definitely the worst I've ever had it. Kentucky this year was rough. Indy last year was rough. Bristol this year was pretty rough. There was others, as well. Darlington is definitely the worst that it's been to this point.
Q: You said doctors are still trying to figure it out. Looking ahead, next week, with Las Vegas, the early forecasts are temperatures around 100 degrees all three days. Does it make sense for you to get back in the car even if they start to find things because it's going to be so hot next week?
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, I mean, I saw the weather, too. That definitely worries me. But if we can come up with a solution to stay hydrated throughout the race, prior to then, we feel really comfortable with it, I'll be in Las Vegas.
Q: You said this has been bothering you for some time. Did this have any effect on your decision to announce your retirement earlier?
KASEY KAHNE: I mean, it's been on my mind, for sure. Yeah, I mean, it's definitely part of that decision, for sure.
Q: You talked about your heart rate going up so high. Would that be to stroke levels? What is the doctor saying is the potential hazard?
KASEY KAHNE: I mean, they never really told me. I know as hard as I work out during the week, how I have to breathe in order to get enough oxygen for where my heart rate is at, when you're working very hard, there's other workouts where you don't work near as hard, you do it for a longer period of time. But, yeah, those last hundred laps at Darlington, I was doing all I could to breathe, to stay caught up with where my system was.
Q: Running Sprint cars, you did a little back and forth, midgets, whatever. Because they're shorter stints, are you having the same type of sensation when driving one of those cars? Is the ventilation better for your condition?
KASEY KAHNE: I think the open air helps a lot. I also think just 30-, 40-lap races, you're talking to 20- to 40-minute races, just a completely different situation between the open cockpit and the shorter races. I haven't had issues at all there. That's kind of to me more like a four-, five-mile run, 15-mile bike. I feel great when I do that stuff. I always have. I still do. It just seemed like it's more like the heat, that heat for three to four hours straight inside the car without all the air coming through, coming past you, whatnot, to keep you cooled down.
Q: Not to really put you on the spot, but as far as medical treatment moving forward, what is your schedule as far as appointments with doctors between now and the rest of the season?
KASEY KAHNE: That was kind of this week, I had some this week to try to learn more about what's going on, if it can actually hurt me longer term or anything like that, the effects and stuff. So we're still waiting on some of those answers which will be early next week. So that's basically where I'm at right now. I met with three different doctors this week. We'll learn more early next week.
Q: You said you've been to the care center a few times after races. Has NASCAR played any sort of role in this? Have they followed up with you? Has NASCAR tried to help you with this or you've been treated each week, for lack of a better term, they're telling you to go see your doctors?
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, they've actually been great. They do a really nice job taking care of me when I'm down there. It's been really nice. This week, basically Monday, they got on the phone with my team right away trying to figure it out because they hadn't seen anything quite like that before. They were part of working with Lisa and our group here to come up with a plan, come up with doctors to visit, just try to get a better handle on the situation.
THE MODERATOR: Kasey, thank you for joining us this morning.
KASEY KAHNE: Thanks, guys. Appreciate it.
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