Interview with Kurt Busch
HERB BRANHAM: Thank you, and good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to today’s NASCAR cam video teleconference. It’s in advance of Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Michigan International Speedway, the LifeLock 400.
Our guest today, joining us from Penske Racing headquarters in Morrisville, North Carolina, is the 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, Kurt Busch. He’s the driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge. Current is currently 21st in points. He comes off a very solid eighth place finish this past Sunday at Pocono raceway. Kurt has won twice at Michigan, including last August. Kurt, things are obviously looking up after this past weekend. Michigan has been a good track for you in the past. What’s the outlook going into this weekend?
KURT BUSCH: Well, we’re excited about the run that we had last weekend at Pocono. It gives the team a boost of confidence to know that, hey, maybe we’re just missing a couple small things. Pocono has been a great track as well as Michigan. We’re really pumped up about this weekend. Hopefully last year, we won the last race there, and that will help us going into this weekend with just the knowledge that we have about the racetrack.
HERB BRANHAM: We’ll be ready for media questions now for today’s NASCAR cam guest, Kurt Busch.
Q: Thanks for joining us today. I just wanted to — I know you’ve probably been asked this a million times this year, especially with Kyle’s success this season, but was Kyle a hyperactive kid growing up? What kind of kid was he when you were growing up with him?
KURT BUSCH: He was just my little brother. You know, he was seven years younger than I was, and he was always trying to hang with the older crowd, with my friends and things that we were doing. So whether it was baseball or radio-controlled cars or racing in general, he was always with tougher competition, and so it made him better as a younger kid. He was a real quiet guy just like myself, and our work ethic is instilled from our father, and that is just to go out there and work hard and go for those race wins. Just a regular guy, and he’s been thrown into the spotlight. I’m real happy for him.
Q: In terms of the spotlight he’s gotten this year, are you at all surprised that he’s done so well in his new team in a new ride?
KURT BUSCH: Well, I’ve said it all along with this new race car, once a team gets hot, they’re going to be hot for some time because it’s just the new technology of this race car. Sometimes when you catch a wave, you can ride it for a long time. And so Hendrick had it last year, and it looks like Gibbs Racing has it this year.
Q: Have you ever gone up to him and said, what are you doing this year, are you nuts trying to do all three series, especially with the weekend he had last week?
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, he’s just a racer at heart, and he wants to race, race, race. You can’t take that out of him, you can’t take it away from him. So I’m happy that he’s doing well. You know, it was a bummer weekend for him. He did stretch himself a little thin with racing in three different states, but hey, he’s on the gas, he’s young. You’re only young once.
Q: Just following up on that, you went through some of these times with the fans and being booed and so forth, and came out of it and won a championship. Have you given Kyle any advice on how to handle what he’s going through?
KURT BUSCH: He seems to be doing real well. He hasn’t asked for any type of advice, and you know, the thing is that we’re both racers and we both love to try to win. He’s got everything going for him right now, so he’s grabbing life by the horns, as you would say in Dodge Land, and he’s going for it.
Q: One other question. Several of the drivers, regarding Pocono, the length of the race, a lot of them said they think it would be a more interesting race if it were 400 miles. What are your thoughts on that?
KURT BUSCH: That’s been a debate ever since I can remember with the way that Pocono seems like it’s drawn out forever. Even Matt Kenseth made the comparison, hey, you’ve got the 24 Hours of Daytona and you’ve got the 500 Miles of Pocono. So it could stand to be shortened.
But these race cars, these new ones, they’re so much warmer inside and hotter inside, and then the demand put on the driver because you’re driving twice as hard it seems like with this new car. So a 400-mile race might be more exciting.
Q: As you know, the media tends to focus on the guys who are running right up at the top, in maybe the top 10 or so, either on TV or things like here and now we’re talking about it. When you’re running 21st as you are now, what sort of pressure does that put on you outside of the racing stuff, but in terms of the media stuff?
KURT BUSCH: I’m not sure how to answer that. I mean, really it’s business as usual. You know, when you’re 21st you want to be 1st, and when you’re 1st it can be real easy to get smacked down to 21st. So you have the good times and you have the bad, and you try to even them all out. We’re working real hard to get ourselves back up in this points mix and see if we can’t make the Chase. The media is what it is, and when you’re hot, you’re hot, and when you’re not, you’re not.
Q: Does it get frustrating to not be in the spotlight, though?
KURT BUSCH: Not at all. I’m not one to go out there and seek it and soak it up when I’m in it or not in it. For me it’s my race team and the job that I have at hand here, which is to get the Miller Lite Dodge running better so we can be up there in points and have a shot at the championship.
Q: Since you and Ryan finished 1 and 2 at Daytona and until Kasey got hot, the Dodges kind of seemed to not be a threat. Has it been horsepower or aero or none of the above?
KURT BUSCH: You could really say it’s a combination of things. Last year with our downforce car, Dodge had the most downforce in the garage area on the front end, so that made the cars turn really well. So this year with the new car, not as much downforce. Our cars are really struggling to turn with the front end. Like you said, Kasey Kahne has gotten hot recently, so whether it’s a Dodge or a Ford, Toyota, Chevy, I don’t think it matters with this new car.
But then it matters under the hood, and that’s the engine, and I think that Dodge can do a better job at getting some more power. We’ve got a new engine that’s certified, but we don’t have enough time and development into it just yet to put it in the race car and race it for points.
Q: And then I’ve got to ask you about the Cubs, not too bad of a season. Do you have any plans on going to any games coming up?
KURT BUSCH: I love how hot the Cubs are. It’s great and it’s fun to watch them. It’s been 100 years since they’ve been this hot and led this early in the standings with this record. So I’ve got a couple games slated. Hopefully around our Chicago race I’ll have an opportunity to make it over to Wrigley Field. I’m just a lifelong Cubs fan, and this could be the year.
Q: Are you going to be in the bleachers or in the press box?
KURT BUSCH: It doesn’t matter, wherever we can get tickets. If it’s a group of guys, of course we’ll be “bleacher creatures” out there.
Q: You said earlier that with this new technology, sometimes you catch a wave and ride it for a long time. So with this relatively new car, is true driver talent being displayed? And what I mean is are some guys successful only because their car is better, or is their true talent being shown because they’re adjusting to what this new car has created?
KURT BUSCH: Well, it takes everything to be successful in this sport. You can’t just have a good car and a poor driver and expect championship-type results. You have to have the full package. And with this new car, when you get hot, it seems like the team helped that driver get warm and catch on fire.
But Kyle Busch isn’t doing it all by himself, but you can’t take away credit from Kyle for not going out there and racing well and racing hard.
On the flipside of that, Ryan Newman, myself, we haven’t forgotten how to race race cars, so why can’t we find the success that some of the other teams are having?
Q: Going back to the older car, how is this different from what would happen with the older car? Would you see some guys up and down like what you’re seeing at this point, or are things a little bit different with this car?
KURT BUSCH: Well, last year’s car had the downforce qualities where you had to choose your setup around some of the downforce or aerodynamic changes, so it was a different balance.
With this here it seems more engineering-minded from the bump rubber technology on the front end, maybe even different front-end geometry that some regular racers don’t know where the engineering department can help. So it just seems like when — Kasey Kahne a few weeks ago, he wasn’t even on the map, and here he is won the last two out of three races, so it can be just that quick or that easy when you find it.
Q: Thank you for joining our call and thank you for sharing your experiences this year.
KURT BUSCH: Not at all. It’s great to be part of that as well as giving fans insight as to what’s going on. There’s so many interesting things and stories every week, no matter if you’re winning races or if you’re 21st in points.
Q: You’re going to Michigan this weekend, and obviously that’s a track that holds a special thought in Roger Penske’s heart. What is it like for your team heading up there this weekend?
KURT BUSCH: Well, it’s the manufacturer’s backyard and everybody gets excited to carry their nameplate to victory lane at Michigan. I’ve had the chance to do it for Dodge, and of course Roger Penske’s headquarters are up there. It seems like a second home race for everybody. You’ve got Charlotte, of course, and then you’ve got Michigan, which are two very pride-filled racetracks, and any driver that goes to victory lane at Michigan feels that for their manufacturer, it’s a proud day and a proud moment for Dodge when we get to win there.
Q: You’ve been very busy the last couple weeks, you’ve been doing philanthropy, you’ve been doing a lot of testing. Is this week sort of a relaxing week or are you still working a lot?
KURT BUSCH: I’ve been heavy at it. We’re here at the race shop. Roger Penske was here this morning. So we had about three hours’ worth of meetings just trying to cover all bases and put together a plan for the next few weeks, whether it’s engine development, whether it’s testing, just trying to hit the racetrack and gather information.
Q: And finally, you were saying how if a driver can get hot, they can get hot. Is the Chase still realistic for you if you can get hot?
KURT BUSCH: I’m waiting for when it’s my turn to get hot. We want something in our notebook to click and to turn our car into a top-5 car each week. Maybe it’s just around the corner, and I hope that we have a chance to chip away at 12th place in points. We gained 70 over the last couple weeks, so that’s what we need to keep doing.
Q: Just wondering, just curious about what kind of advice Sam Hornish has come to ask of you on his transition from open wheel to stock cars, and whether you have any theories in general as to why those guys have had a little bit of a struggle this year.
KURT BUSCH: Well, Sam has been a great teammate so far, and the information that he has from open wheel sometimes doesn’t necessarily correlate with the stock car world. But he’s a true champion and he’s a fighter, and you know that he’s going to give it his best each and every week.
The questions that he mainly has is about the specific racetracks because he’s used to some of the open-wheel ovals or the street circuits that he’s been on before, and nothing really compares. I mean, a driver goes to Pocono, and the first time you usually go there is in a Cup car if you’re in the Sprint Cup Series. So this past week was a big learning curve for him. But he just came off a couple hot weeks at Charlotte, where he did well in the All-Star race as well as the Coca-Cola 600, so he’s done a great job progressing through the year.
Q: Any remarks from him as far as NASCAR being maybe tougher competition than he was expecting or the level of competition in general?
KURT BUSCH: He hasn’t said much about it. You know, I think that he knows that this is a challenge, and all the open-wheel drivers know that NASCAR is pretty darned tough. And it’s just not 20 or 25 cars that are out there, it’s 43, and legitimately 30 of them have a shot at winning each and every week. So the competition is the fiercest, and I think that NASCAR is definitely being recognized as being the toughest division in all of racing.
Q: I would like to know how fuel prices are affecting your team. Are you taking less airplane rides? Are you renting less cars for the team, anything along those lines?
KURT BUSCH: I haven’t directly felt the pressure, other than I filled up my Dodge vehicle this morning at the Mobil station, and it took $73 to fill it up. I’m like, I used to put a $20 bill down to fill up my Volkswagen Bug in high school. So I’m feeling it that way. It’s almost funny to look at it. And then to read in the papers that the oil companies are in 10 billions worth of profits, I’m kind of confused by it.
But it would hit Roger Penske’s pocket more than mine, and I can tell you that we haven’t done anything different. We’re still trying to push hard to win races for our great sponsors
Q: What about some teams around you? Have you noticed some teams cutting back or anything?
KURT BUSCH: I haven’t. You know, it’s really a tough state to be in, of course, with fuel being the price that it is. But the show must go on, and I haven’t seen anything different at the racetrack other than everybody is just trying to get a one-up on the competition.
Q: With the Coke 400 in Daytona coming up, are you excited to be coming back to Daytona where you had that great finish in February?
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, Daytona is always great in the summertime. It’s hot, it’s slick, and the track uses you up mentally and physically because of how different it is in July. So yeah, we’re pumped up. We finished 1-2 there back in February. Hopefully our setup will be fairly close when we get down there, and hopefully we’ll have a chance to win one of these restrictor plate races.
Q: I’d like to note that a lot of people did ask about your brother, and my question to you is this: Did you help him get a jump start? Because really he had to be able to learn from some of your experience before he even got in the sport, we’re talking driving and everything.
KURT BUSCH: Well, I would say that he’s definitely ahead of the curve for the age that he is versus most drivers, even myself included. When I was racing in Las Vegas, legend cars or late models and whatnot, I raced because I had to be 16 years old. Well, they passed a rule that you could be 12 years old and race legend cars in the Young Lions division. So some of us drivers paved the way and helped change the way that drivers can get into different cars at different times, and so he started competitively racing at 12 in legend cars, which was unheard of at the time for when I was growing up.
Q: Can you also talk about whether your car was hot this past week at Pocono? I mean, guys were falling over practically, Danny Hamlin to the infield care center; Dale, Jr., was sick; also Brian Vickers, his words were being slurred at the end, he could hardly talk. Talk about the cooling system in your car and whether you felt the car was all that hot.
KURT BUSCH: Well, this new car is definitely warmer than the old car. I don’t know why. I don’t know what adds up to it. But it seems like it’s 15, 20 degrees warmer in there, as well as you’re working twice as hard. It doesn’t turn very well, it doesn’t stick very well to the racetrack, so you’re up on the wheel racing hard.
I saw it coming. I saw the heat coming. I got as hydrated as I could before in the days leading up to it. So it’s a tough battle. Here it is, that’s only the really first hot race of the year at a big racetrack with this car, so we’ve got Michigan next week that we haven’t been to, Sears Point is always warm out there in Sonoma, and then we’re going to be back at Daytona, Chicago, Indianapolis. That one is going to be a tough one, as well. Who knows what NASCAR can do. They don’t seem to like to listen to the drivers.
Q: Did you feel that you were about to pass out when you got out? How did you feel when you got out of your car and stood up?
KURT BUSCH: I felt all right. I was pumped up. We had an eighth place finish and that carried me right into the hauler to get undressed and to get out of there.
Q: Thank you for your time today. Can you talk a little bit about your season as a whole and how you’ve dealt with the peaks and the valleys, the good finish at Daytona and then the disappointments beyond that to 21st in points? How have you kept that even keel and kept from going home and kicking the dog every night?
KURT BUSCH: It’s a tough battle. There’s the good years and then there’s the bad years. A year like this is definitely a character-builder. It teaches you to fight from within and to keep reaching and to keep pushing harder each and every week to have a shot at trying to get back into the top 15 in points or top 12 or even just try to crack the top 10 barrier each and every week. You’re working hard and you’ve got to keep things on a level field to know that, hey, you can still do this, everything is going to be fine. We’ve just got to work through this to get this new car to work better for Penske Racing.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about how the Kurt Busch of 2008 is dealing with this and maybe how the Kurt Busch of 2002 and 2003 might have handled it differently?
KURT BUSCH: Well, I feel like I’ve got more years of experience under my belt, and just being able to expect the unexpected and to be able to deal with it easier because when you first start out, you’re out there, you don’t know what the history or what the past has brought you, and so you’re just winging it. And sometimes that doesn’t necessarily bode well for the ultimate success. So the experience level has helped me and just being able to deal with the good and the bad over the years is definitely carrying us through this.
Q: I wondered if you could talk a little bit about your brother. I’m sorry if you already mentioned this, but I just got on. Talk about Kyle and what’s your thoughts on his schedule and kind of where he’s headed and maybe a little bit about his fans, maybe his popularity and kind of his thoughts on that and what you think of that?
KURT BUSCH: Well, I think that like any driver that gets hot in any racing series, there’s always that attention that’s around him. And the way that he’s winning races and beating the fans’ heroes, that ultimately leads to good stories. I’ve been through it and seen it. When you win races, you’re hot, and people necessarily don’t like it because you’re beating their favorites. So he’s got a grueling schedule with driving all the different divisions that he’s in, and I’m happy to see him do well in all of them.
Q: Do you think the fans will eventually turn around and be supporters of Kyle?
KURT BUSCH: You know, it just depends on what the overall view is. I don’t know what the Busch brothers do sometimes to have the fans go against them, but we’re just hard-charging racers like we have been taught to do by our father and by the competition. Sometimes it’s not well-perceived. But we’re just out there racing hard, usually putting on great racing action, and sometimes it just gets misled.
Q: We’re still receiving various comments from drivers concerning this new car, comments like it doesn’t handle well at some tracks. You and the boys will be racing at Michigan International Speedway, which is almost like racing at California Speedway because of the similarity of the tracks. Will driving at Michigan be a big help to you because you raced at California earlier this year with the tracks being so similar?
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, I think that it helps to go to tracks that are similar. That way you’ve got the notebook from earlier on in the year. But then on the flipside of that, what we’ve learned over the last few weeks is the most important information because it’s the newest information.
Michigan, it’s a bit different than California. It’s now summertime. It’s going to be hot and slick, so we’ll see how we deal with it.
Q: Thank you for being with us. I know it’s difficult to get out of your schedule and be able to stop down and talk to people such as myself, and I really do appreciate it. I wanted to know, as the older brother of Kyle, has he come to you for any advice on how to handle the pressure of being in this major spotlight right now, or has he been handling it himself?
KURT BUSCH: He’s been full throttle all by himself. He’s been racing all the different racing series and doing well at them, so I’m happy for him. He’s just doing it all on his own, really. It seems like he’s got it all under control and he’s on the gas.
Q: In what ways are you similar to your brother, and in what ways do you guys differ?
KURT BUSCH: I would say that we both want to race hard to win and to put on a great show for the fans. That’s where we’re very similar. We’re not very different in many areas, other than I’m probably still just the guy around the corner or the regular joe, so to speak, and just trying to be the regular guy that I always was, so that might be where we’re a bit different because his sunglasses are pretty wild right now and he’s definitely putting on this new image.
Q: How has your No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge not wrecked this season so far from the startup at Daytona until now, and what do you expect coming up this week at Michigan?
KURT BUSCH: Well, it’s been a good year in some aspects and it’s been a tough year in others. We still seem to have the same problem week in and week out with our front end of our Dodge is not turning very well. So whether we get our finger on it sooner or later, I hope it’s sooner, and that way we can get back into victory lane for all of our great sponsors and just try to get back in the top 12 in points.
Q: Kind of an off-the-wall question, but what do you do for vacation when you’re not racing, when you’re not on the racetrack or practicing or working with the team?
KURT BUSCH: Vacation is always spent on a sandy beach somewhere. Warm water is always helpful to just get away and break away and do nothing. Of course, you’ve got to sip on a couple Miller Lites while you’re out there on vacation.
Q: For the fans that are fans of a particular make or model, what is it that makes a Dodge a Dodge, a Chevy a Chevy? What are the differences now that the COT has kind of leveled the playing field?
KURT BUSCH: Well, everybody still has their passion for their emblem on who they want to see do well and just what their blood is inside. If you’re a Dodge guy from the get-go, you’re going to be that for life. Fans still have that feeling towards the Dodges.
The race cars are all relatively the same, but yet there’s the personality within the engine, of course, and then with the team race as far as building the chassis and what’s underneath that skin. If you’re a Dodge guy, you’re a Dodge guy for life.
Q: You mentioned teams getting hot and cold. It seems any given week teams can run well with good or bad luck and run poorly with good or bad luck. Is there any best way to prepare for the inevitable ups and downs?
KURT BUSCH: No, it’s just a matter of how you can deal with those tough days and turn them into positive days. You can have the fastest car in the world and have a bad pit stop or have a mechanical failure, and you can’t lose track or you can’t derail the whole process off of just one thing happening. So sometimes when you’re just not on the right track, you’ve got to find the right switch and get her turned around.
Q: Is there a best way to go forward after a bad week?
KURT BUSCH: You know, the best thing to do is just to chop it off and look forward. But at the same time, you have to go back and scratch the surface on, hey, where did something go wrong and what can we do in the future to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Q: Can you talk about your experiences at Pocono a little bit and also how that wild spin in the beginning, how you were able to pull everything?
KURT BUSCH: It just seemed like we were very, very tight at the beginning of the race, and so we made some adjustments during the first pit stop. Man, like I’ve always said with this car, it’s like a razor blade edge. We went from very tight to extremely loose with just a couple changes.
So we ended up spinning, tearing apart our front valance on the rough infield grass. Some of the access roads they have for safety trucks were there and we caught air jumping over all of that and tore a valance off and had to battle back from that. It can be real easy for us to complain about the valance and the height, but if we stayed on track we wouldn’t have had to worry about that.
Q: And going on to this weekend, what do you think we’re going to be talking about? A lot of people are saying it’s a fuel mileage rage, it’s a horsepower race. What are you and your team thinking?
KURT BUSCH: It’s good ol’ Michigan. You can race three wide at this racetrack and you always have to have a fast car at the beginning of a run, but yet you can’t count out the guys that are always fast towards the end because sometimes it does play into fuel mileage because the race, the fuel, everything always usually adds up to about 50 laps at this race, and 50 laps times four is 200, so that’s usually the whole event at Michigan.
Q: Earlier when you were talking about just the conditions of the car and just kind of how hot it can be and some of the upcoming races, about how hot it’s going to be in the upcoming months, you mentioned that NASCAR is not listening to the drivers. What is NASCAR not listening to the drivers on?
KURT BUSCH: Pretty much everything there is to know about the car, whether it’s the front splitter height or whether it’s the downforce. These cars are tough, and they’ve laid the bed and they’re going to stick with it. You’re not going to get me to jump out there and say this is what we need to fix here or there. It’s just the group in general all seems to agree, so whether NASCAR listens or not, we’ll know.
Q: I just was curious about the schedule that Kyle has attempted to kind of maintain throughout the course of the year. Racing as many different series as he does, is it something that you necessarily would do yourself, and why is it that drivers on the Cup side go down and race in Nationwide when clearly you’re racing in two different types of cars now, and any track time you might get might be nullified by that fact?
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, I mean, once you’re a racer, you’re always a racer. I think that’s why you see different drivers jump into different divisions and go racing. You’re out there for that trophy at the end of the day, and that’s all that your mind is set forward to do. Sometimes it can take away from your Cup program, which is the most important. I believe the Nationwide series is a great developmental series for drivers that are up-and-comers and trying to work their way into the Cup Series.
You know, the Truck Series is a great place for those young drivers as well as the veterans that have found a nice niche to go out there and race in. If it’s in you, you’re going to go out there and race every weekend in all that you can.
Q: Would you necessarily do that, do the schedule that your brother is doing?
KURT BUSCH: You know, I used to race a bunch when I was younger, four or five divisions on a race weekend, whether it was late model or modified, legend cars, you name it; anything with a steering wheel I was trying to get in. Now that I’ve made it to this elite level, my focus is strictly on the Cup Series and what I can do to focus on making Penske Racing stronger.
HERB BRANHAM: First of all, thank you to our 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Kurt Busch. Best of luck this weekend.