Q&A with Kurt Busch
DENISE MALOOF: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to today's NASCAR cam video teleconference in advance of this weekend's racing at Bristol Motor Speedway, which includes Sunday's Food City 500.
Our guest today, joining us from the Penske Racing headquarters in Mooresville, South Carolina, is the 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge. Kurt comes into Bristol third in the series standings and comes off a victory two weeks ago in Atlanta. He has five Bristol victories in NASCAR Sprint Cup competition, and he's tied with Jeff Gordon for the most Bristol wins among active drivers.
KURT BUSCH: Hey, Denise, it's good to see you and talk to everybody.
DENISE MALOOF: You have such a great start to the season, even though we're so early into 2009. Now you come into one of your best tracks. It's obviously a big, big week for you.
KURT BUSCH: We're definitely pumped up with how our season has started. Daytona is one thing. Then to evaluate where you are in the mile-and-a-half's is another. The third step for this season to get under our belt is short tracks, Bristol and Martinsville. We're hoping we can blend in the setups that we've figured out so far this year into Bristol and into Martinsville.
But that's going to be the big challenge. Nobody knows what to expect because we haven't had much pre-season testing to help us with the short tracks.
But we feel like we've got our homework done. Went down to New Smyrna Speedway in Florida and tried to get used to the short track feel of things again.
DENISE MALOOF: Thank you, Kurt. We'll now go to the media for questions for today's guest, Kurt Busch.
Q: Like they said at the top, you have to be brimming with confidence going into this weekend, both with your win at Atlanta and coming up to a track that clearly you do well at. I wanted to ask you about the fact that you're tied with Jeff Gordon at something, and you actually have a chance to pass him at something this weekend has got to be pretty cool for you.
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, it definitely is. Anytime that you're mentioned with a four-time champion, it makes you feel good about things, and that you've done some of those specific areas right.
But you never do the same amount of things as good as Gordon. So if we can beat him on this front, that's going to be great. It's a head-to-head battle. Right now he hasn't won this year. We're third in points right behind him. I think whoever does better out of the two of us will definitely come away with a win or the points lead leaving Bristol.
It's definitely a fun week to challenge ourselves towards that. And at the same time, if we can't come out of Bristol and Martinsville with two good runs, then we're going to be running right with him for the championship down the line.
Q: What has it been this year for you and Penske Racing that has made the difference for you running up front this year?
KURT BUSCH: Well, we've worked on all areas. Last year everybody would ask: What areas do you think you need to improve on to make your car a championship-caliber car? We couldn't put our finger on just one thing. I think we had to look at all areas and make every area better. And we've had a lot of people pulling the rope in the same direction helping us do that.
Engines, aerodynamics, setups, you name it, we're doing it better.
Q: What's the difference now for you at Bristol, now that the place has been resurfaced, based on how it was a few years ago?
KURT BUSCH: You know, that's a great question because I haven't had the success since they have resurfaced it. I believe it's the fact that it's not so cut and dry anymore. You had to race the bottom. You had to be on the bottom. That's where you had to get your car to set up and work well.
Now you can run around anywhere on that racetrack. It still has some small things that are Bristol, but yet it's not as tough, it's not as mean as it used to be.
Maybe I just need to relax a little bit more on the driving style there.
Q: Working with David Stremme, how has that been with your team this year, having Stremme as your teammate?
KURT BUSCH: Having David Stremme come in has been probably the best guy in the garage we could have found. He knows that he wants to use this second opportunity to go to the top echelon of the sport. And what better team to do it with than Penske? Sam Hornish, Jr. is now into his second year. I think that team communication, between him, Stremme and myself, everybody's doing a better job, and that's making all of Penske stronger.
Q: Whenever you come through Chicago, we talk about Cubs. Season starts in three weeks. What do you think about the Cubs this year?
KURT BUSCH: I'm definitely feeling better about years past, knowing last year we all were so let down. I almost felt suicidal with the way the season ended.
So now I'm looking forward maybe to winning a playoff series, whether it's NLCS, NLDS to get to the World Series. I think we now can relax a little bit knowing they're doing the proper things to making themselves more of a challenger up there, especially in the NL Central, how many good teams there are.
Q: Is team chemistry important and can it impact positively or negatively on track performance?
KURT BUSCH: Oh, it's definitely part of it. You have to be able to all pull the rope in the same direction. You can't have a guy sitting in the back saying, I'm not committed with you guys, I'm not going to go down that road. You have to allow the crew chief, the team engineer, the driver, to all communicate back and forth at all time. But the pit crew has to be on the same page to know. The guys back at the race shop building the cars, they have to know that. You really have to have that chemistry to be successful.
Q: Have you seen or experienced poor chemistry firsthand ever?
KURT BUSCH: I believe you said a wrong style of chemistry. Yeah, you have the good and you have the bad. It's up to the right person to find a weak link or admit to the group that he's not committed. And you have to really change things around to keep things going fresh, make sure that everybody's happy.
In this business, things can change pretty quick.
Q: Along the way to better results this year, I'm sure you weren't thinking that Kurt Busch has forgotten how to drive. What has been your thoughts as the good results happen? What were your thoughts as you went through the valley and finally see a peak at the end going into the rest of the year now?
KURT BUSCH: Well, it's been just a thought all along with the Car of Tomorrow, thinking that we couldn't get our front ends to turn right. They weren't reacting to our adjustments. We were struggling out on track. Knowing all along that, yeah, maybe sometimes you question yourself.
But it's just think sitting in the seat, knowing that, man, the front ends just aren't turning. When that got back to the engineering department, the guys setting up the cars, when we could really sit down and think about it, we threw some ideas off the wall.
When we didn't make the Chase, we were able to use those ideas, put them into race circumstances, and find out from there what we needed to do heading into 2009.
So you got to bang your head up against the wall every now and then if you want to figure out what you need to do.
Q: You got a name yet for that victory celebration?
KURT BUSCH: You know, we had compiled over 10,000 types of emails, letters, phone calls. It's been fantastic. The results, we're going to be able to reveal them this Friday. I hope that it fits and everybody enjoys what's come up with it. Just the sheer excitement of going to Victory Lane is one thing, but creating a new style of celebration, that was the fun part. Hopefully we'll be able to do it again at Bristol this week.
Q: Was this something you had thought about before or is this something that just happened after you saw that checkered flag
KURT BUSCH: Well, the victory lap going backwards was definitely thought about beforehand. Me and my buddies might have had too many Miller Lites one night and said, Let's do it, let's see if the reverse gear will make it all the way around the racetrack. It did. Didn't know the name of it. It took off like wildfire.
The results from my home state of Nevada, Virginia, all the race teams, people here in North Carolina, Chicago, and the guys up in Milwaukee, folks that work at Miller Lite, they're really heavily involved in this trying to make it fun.
We're having a grand old time with it. Hopefully there's going to be plenty of time for it this year.
Q: You and your wife have gotten involved in a lot of off-track events, your foundation, national TV appearances. Is that beginning to become more and more important for veteran drivers now as new, younger guys are added to the sport every year?
KURT BUSCH: Well, I believe it's important at any point in your career, when you have a chance to live like we do, race every weekend, affect a lot of people, you're a role model for children and you're a role model for different types of groups and foundations.
Me and my wife started this a few years ago. It's been something near and dear to our hearts. The more events we have, the more impact we make. It's just a snowball effect. It continue to get bigger and better. Not just in North Carolina, Nevada and Virginia area, we're looking to go more nationwide with things. Can't wait to do something in the Tidewater area.
Q: You're so good at Bristol. You look at Jimmie Johnson, he's struggled at that track. Have you noticed anything about his driving style that makes it tougher on him?
KURT BUSCH: You know, him and I actually had a joke about that last year, how I feel like when I go to Charlotte, that's the fastest track as far as the feel, to know when you're slipping, when you're sideways. He says, That's funny, I feel that at Bristol.
Those are the two tracks we won at the most and we almost had the same complaints. It's hard to know when you're sliding, when he's going fast down into turn one. It just has a different complexion. Some drivers view tracks different than others, but yet we're both champions. We've done well at each of those tracks.
It's a hard question to answer.
Q: You can have a great rhythm, like he has as Martinsville, you have a great rhythm at Bristol. Is there that big of a difference?
KURT BUSCH: I would say there's a huge difference between Martinsville and Bristol just with the banking and then just the car's ability to gain the grip into the corner and off the corner at Martinsville. That's where I've struggled tremendously. That's probably one of my weakest racetracks, Martinsville, but it's turned out okay with the results.
Q: Kurt, there's a conversation about the changes at Bristol. You were talking somewhat about that, it becoming more civilized. Now does it mean that the guy who races at Bristol, since you don't bump someone out of the way so much to pass, is really the best driver versus the toughest driver or the most aggressive driver? What do you think?
KURT BUSCH: Well, it definitely still has its same attitude, in that if you're the leader, and the second-place car catches you, the second-place car is usually a little quicker, that's because you caught 'em. Does that leader want to give up that inside or does he want to give up the lead or is it a guy behind him he doesn't care for and he really wants to put up a fight? That's what makes Bristol great.
Usually the fastest car wins, but a lot of times it's who had the strategy to stay out, who ended up dodging the traffic the best when cars get in the traffic, that will happen.
So that's what makes Bristol so exciting, is you just never can predict how things are going to happen.
Q: Can you also talk about that backwards lap. People were wondering how difficult it would be, given that you had the HANS device on and the spoiler. You were talking about the gears. Talk about visually doing it. Never really practiced it, I'm sure.
KURT BUSCH: No, I didn't practice it, because I thought it would tear up the transmission or the motor, having to turn the engine. It was most difficult, like you said, driving with the mirror of the car, because the castor setting was wobbling back and forth like a shopping cart.
It was a challenge. I was looking for the white line, making sure I kept the wall lined up with the mirror. Then when the dogleg changes on the front straightaway, I was losing track of where I was again.
I think the corners were the easiest. It was the straightaways that were the tough part.
Q: Correct me if I'm wrong, but you had the new Dodge engine in your car. It seems to be way better. One of the best things is that the engine actually seems to get the car out of the hole faster on the green flag. Do you feel that?
KURT BUSCH: Absolutely. I think that's what the new R6 engine from Dodge has provided for us. The biggest thing has been durability that we focused on. Also to gain more power low end and top end. You can definitely see the low-end torque on restarts. When you go to do the restarts through the gear, tracks where you're full throttle, not flipping the tires, you really get to put your power down.
DENISE MALOOF: Thank you, Kurt, very much for your time today. We appreciate it. Best of luck this weekend at Bristol.
KURT BUSCH: Thank you so much. It's always great to win a race, have an off weekend, then look forward to your favorite racetrack. Living on Cloud 9 recently. NASCAR PR