An Interview with KURT BUSCH
DENISE MALOOF: Good afternoon, everybody. I'm Denise Maloof from NASCAR public relations, and we are joined here in the Talladega Super Speedway media center by our 2004 series champion Kurt Busch, who is like his peers in the second day of a Car of Tomorrow test at Talladega, and we will look ahead a little bit to the first race of the Chase at the New Hampshire International Speedway this weekend.
First I want to welcome everybody to the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup series weekly teleconference. I'd like to give you another conference that's very important this afternoon, it is the ESPN on ABC Chase for the NASCAR Nextel Cup conference at 3:00 PM, 1-800-289-0572. Your conference ID number is 718123.
Kurt, three years ago when you won your title, you also won the first Race for the Chase at New Hampshire and that portended your Chase that particular season. How important is that first event coming up this weekend?
KURT BUSCH: I think the first few events of the Chase are very important. To get off to a good start is key. I just feel that you're not, I guess digging out of a hole so to speak.
So it's great to start off on a good foot and I'm excited about New Hampshire and some of the success I've had in the past and just getting the Chase underway. It's been a hard-fought battle just to get into it, and we feel refreshed and ready to go. It's almost like we pressed the reset button, and now we have got another ten weeks where we have to charge hard.
DENISE MALOOF: What have you learned at Talladega?
KURT BUSCH: It's been very interesting. Speedway testing sometimes gets a bit painful with the single-car runs. But it's different enough to where you have your thinking cap on and you're trying to make your Speedway car as fast as you can make it, even though that it is a Dodge Avenger, it's still going to – still going to have four rubber tires sitting on the racetrack, and away you go.
The draft is a bit different. The draft seems easier to get into, but then it seems just as easy to lose the draft. And so I guess the draft has a bigger swing when you have a car that creates more drag.
So, I'm excited about it. It's going to change the element of how Talladega races, and I think it will be twice as exciting, and I think there's going to be big packs for most of the time and then there's going to be times when the pack is spread apart. And if you have pit stops, if you have one little mishap on your pit sop, you lose the chance of hanging in the draft. So pit stops will be very important, and how you get on and off pit road will be that much more of a presence.
Q. You spoke about the drafting and getting in and out of the pack. Can you chime in on the fact that Vilma is doing his first Super Speedway lap these two days, and what it takes for you guys to start trusting him and bringing him in the draft and bringing him to the front of the pack and that type of stuff.
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, any time that you have a rookie that's in the field, you hope to stay as far away from them as you can.
But it just takes time for them to get adjusted and to make the mistakes and to learn. So I've been a rookie before in the draft, and the best advice that I would give is to follow other guys and to just make sure that you don't jump out of line and learn – well, I guess you do want to jump out of line and learn how quick you can get to the back.
But you just follow the guys in front of you and you try to just develop a steady wheel positioning where you hold the wheel straight and you're following in a smooth line and you're not changing lanes and making erratic moves.
I think he'll be just fine. Montoya has done a great job blending in. And then now I'm hearing Frank Kuehne is going to be on his way over.
So it's easy to see these guys looking at NASCAR, but yet it's easy to see it from the inside how this is the premiere motorsports division in America, if not the world. So we have quite a bit of talent coming into our sport that it's not your normal rookie so to speak. We have talented open-wheel drivers that are now considered rookies in the Cup world, so it's exciting.
Q. Are you looking forward to the fact that five of the ten races are going to be Car of Tomorrow races?
KURT BUSCH: I like that it's 50/50. This season it seems like even though we only ran 16 races or we will run 16 races with the COT, it seems as if testing and the focus has driven all of the teams in a direction to work on their Car of Tomorrow program. So it just seems like half the time we have split, running down the middle of running the regular car. So it could be the Dodge charger and then the Dodge Avenger.
I like the opportunity that's ahead of us with teams having to focus half their time on COT races. Will they play a role in who is the champion? I think so. I think that you have to have a good Car of Tomorrow program if you want to win this championship.
And the feather in the cap that goes along with it is any time you win with a COT, it's good to carry in to next year. We've had some good success this year on some of the bigger racetracks, such as Pocono and Michigan. But the tough cookies on that one is we don't get to race that car on that setup when we go back there next year.
So the Car of Tomorrow is very important.
Q. One of the concerns they were focusing on with these tests out here is seeing that the car had the ability to make passes, yet still keeping the speeds under control. What do you feel about having been out there for a day and a half about the speeds, where it stands, were you able to achieve that balance?
KURT BUSCH: I think when we had the bigger restrictor plate, it might end up going at a pace that might be too fast for NASCAR's concern.
As the drivers are concerned, the faster we go, the cooler it is. Daytona is a little different than Talladega, and I think that NASCAR should take a look at running a larger restrictor plate here at Talladega to increase the speeds. So that maybe the cars will begin to slide around a little bit and make more of a – I guess it would be more important for handling than it would be for all-out speed.
So it's fine. Whatever size plate they give us, we'll work with it. I think the whicker on the rear wing is very important. Right now teams are running a one-inch whicker and yesterday it was at an inch and a quarter. And the larger that whicker gets, the drag is built into the car and it's easier for the car behind to catch up. It reminds me a bit of the Iroq cars, the way that the cars are drafting right now. If you get cut off from the draft, you lose it in a hurry. But, if you stay in it, it's a very aggressive draft and you can bump-draft real easy. It's going to be exciting.
Q. I know you touched on this yesterday a little bit. How big is it going to be for you guys winning this, being able to come out of this Chase with a win, with it being such a who's who of drivers, big wins for some guys and past champions, how big is that for you guys as drivers and also for the sport?
KURT BUSCH: You know, it's an incredible group of guys this year that have made the Chase, five past champions are in. And the way that everybody is running with race wins, even a guy that doesn't have a win that's in the Chase, Clint Bowyer, he's fast. So this is definitely probably the – definitely, probably; this is the best group of drivers that I've seen in all of the Chases.
And so when you win this year during the Chase, you're beating the best of the best. And so we hope that we can be the flagship banner for damage and carry us deep into the points and hopefully with the last two races up for grabs, we're still in it and have a shot at the championship. We just have to take it one race at a time and see how it goes.
Q. How much more is depending on your team is juggling a COT with the old car especially over the last ten races?
KURT BUSCH: It seems business as usual, but yet we've been building Dodge Avengers just hand over fist as quick as we can, especially trying to get a stash built up if something does happen in the Chase. It's a different kind of workload, because you have to build your regular car and you have to build a Car of Tomorrow.
All the meanwhile, you're trying to race your way into a Chase. And then once you're there, which we did make it, now we've got ten weeks ahead of us, but that will be tough and grueling, and it's just everyday life I think in the life of a NASCAR team.
Q. You talked about just how easy it can be to lose the draft and right now what you're saying, it's not uncommon to see at Talladega in the past some drivers who have run at the back just to kind of avoid problems and to kind of ride around for a while, clicking off laps. If you're saying you're losing the draft, is that an option that's no longer going to be there to run at the back and you're going to have to force yourself to run up the middle and run up the front and have the possibility of getting caught up in something?
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, I like the way you're thinking, because it's going to be interesting to see some of those guys that do take the conservative approach and hang out in the back; are they going to lose the draft? Are they going to risk losing it to the point to where they are going to go a lap down? Who knows.
So I've always been one where I think the front of the pack is usually the place to be, and it's not the safest sometimes, but it seems like there's less cars when you're towards the front or to bounce off of when things go wrong to try to avoid. So I'll leave it up to some of those other guys to use that conservative approach, and we'll have to see how it works out.
Q. Being a past champion, and we've seen a few years already with this Chase format, is there anything that you can carry over strategy-wise from your past experience into this year's Chase or is this just a completely different animal?
KURT BUSCH: No, I think since the inception of the Chase each year, you learn a little more that you're in it, and you get to see how the last year's champion did it and the year before.
Now that there's been three runs at it, the approach for me is about the same, and that's to be consistent and to get off to a good start and hopefully the points will fall in your favor at the end of the day. Just avoiding disasters is key, but each week you want to try to finish ahead of some of the Chase competitors so that when you do have a little bobble, that you're not too far behind.
It's almost like half the time you have to beat the guys, and half the other times, the guys are going to beat you. You just hope that you do it on a consistent basis
Q. You've been on a pretty good run, and it just seems like a far cry since the back in June when you were in Dover and finishing 42nd. Do you look at that race as kind of like a defining moment for the season, because your progress has just been impeccable since then.
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, at that point we scratched our heads a little bit and said, wow, we're 17th in points now and this isn't where we want to be. And if we want to make a run at this championship for our great sponsors like Miller Lite and Dodge and Mobile One and everybody at Penske Racing, we've had to get our act together. And it feels great that we've been able to put together a consistent run. And to have Pat Tryson come aboard, the new crew chief has just been phenomenal. I've just been creating an analogy, it's been like playing poker. We've had good cars all along; we just didn't know how to bet them. That's what Pat has done for us, he's taking our good cards and helping us win good hands with them.
So going into victory lane a couple of times was great, and we still need to keep the pressure on when the Chase starts this weekend.
Q. Can you handicap the Chase a bit? If you look at the Chase, you've got some young, aggressive guys, and then you've got some veterans, and then you have veterans with championships, how do you think all of that will play out?
KURT BUSCH: It's a tough field all the way through. Whether you're first or whether you're 12th, you deserve the right to be in there, because you've done something great so far this season.
And the Hendrick cars, I would say, are probably the favorites going in.
Then you've got to rank the Gibbs cars; I think the lack of experience that Denny Hamlin has is usually overshadowed by his talent. He's a great driver. He's fast and he's very consistent. So those four guys are probably your top-notch guys.
I would throw us in the mix right behind them. We can do some damage. We can hit you each and every week with being consistent. We just have to turn a 7th place car into a race-winning car at a couple of events and we'll have a legitimate shot.
Guys like Carl Edwards, they are going to be good. It seems like his Car of Tomorrow program is coming together quicker than the other Rousch cars. You've got Kenseth, you can never count him out. He's the David Pearson of today, the little Silver Fox. He'll be hanging out, taking a 15th place car and finishing 7th with it.
And then you have my little brother who is going to be fast at all of the racetracks, but yet he's departing from that team. Are they going to be able to keep it together? I hope he can. I wish him the best.
Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick with RCR, Jeff Burton, they are going to be tough. Burton won at Texas earlier this year. Bowyer, he's knocking on the door every week and Kevin Harvick, he's been in a little bit of a struggle, he won in Daytona but he's made the Chase. He's going to be there.
Q. You touched on this a little earlier, I just wanted to follow back up on strategy in the Chase, in 2004 when you put a lot of points in the bank, winning the first race there, did the strategy change in were you able to go for more consistency of yourself and crew chiefs and such, or did you change approach?
KURT BUSCH: No, you have to continue to pour it on each week because the time that we – well, what we did in the Chase is we won the first one, and then we ran consistent after that, but we were shooting for race wins.
Meanwhile, Jimmie Johnson went out on a tear and won four Chase races back in 2004, and we held him off just with our consistency. So you just hope to avoid those bad races, and you have to run up front, and that's what I see that's going to have to happen this year in this year's Chase with as tough as it looks like already, you're going to have to have bonus points, and you're going to have to have race wins.
DENISE MALOOF: Thank you very much for participating both on the phone and here at Talladega. Kurt, thank you very much and best of luck this week.