Q&A with Kyle Busch ahead of Daytona 500

Joe Gibbs Racing driver Kyle Busch was made available to media via videoconference prior to the Daytona 500 next Sunday:

KYLE BUSCH, No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing

How much have you been meeting with Ben Beshore over the last month?
“We’ve been meeting periodically here and there, talking on the phone a little bit here and there as well, too. I’ve had my fair share of seat fittings here this off season, just to kind of get everything kind of back in order, back where I wanted it and to feel comfortable and stuff like that. So he (Ben Beshore, crew chief) was a part of each and every one of those and just being down on the floor, being with some of the guys and kind of intermingling and mixing in with what all we were doing and had going on. Besides just kind of side talk on that front, we obviously talked about a lot of different things that we did do well and didn’t do well last year, as far as the 18 team goes. So I kind of let him into my aspect of what I thought. I know also that he’s obviously been in constant contact with Adam (Stevens, 20 crew chief) as well, too with their relationship. Obviously, Adam hired him on, brought him on years ago in 2015 when I got Adam as my crew chief on the Cup side. There’s been a lot of things that those guys have been working on and the engineering groups and stuff going back and forth on how to prepare for this year.”

Are you trying for an Indianapolis 500 ride this year or is that further down the road?
“No, that’s further down the road. That’s on the back burner. Haven’t had any discussions with anybody and don’t foresee that being possible and to me, it wouldn’t make sense either until everything’s kind of all back to normal and you get the whole big hoopla of what that event’s really all about. I really enjoyed seeing my brother do it and obviously he had success and, Fernando Alonzo and last year it just kind of seemed like, you know, the Indy 500 grand, but it was kind of a lost Indy 500 if you will. So we’ll wait until things get back to normal.”

What do you think of racing on the dirt at Bristol Motor Speedway and what have you been doing, if anything, to prepare?
“I think it’s an interesting play. I think it’s definitely an interesting opportunity to go run on. I’ve obviously been on dirt when I was a kid running some Legends cars and dwarf cars and Modifieds and you know, it was a while until I got back on dirt, which was with the Prelude races at Eldora and was pretty successful there finished second, third, I won one. So, you know, there was some good runs there that I had running at the Prelude. So I would be way more optimistic about it and way more looking forward to it I think if it was in a real full-fledged dirt car, rather than the cup cars. I just don’t know that our big, heavy stock cars are cut out and made for the dirt profile. That that’s my opinion, but the tire also is not conducive to the dirt surface very well. And so to me, from my understanding, from talking to some of the other drivers that have run the Eldora truck race the last few years, well, since it started is you’re pretty much holding on the whole time, praying you’re not going to spin out or crash. And that, to me doesn’t sound like a very fun time, although it is entertaining to watch.”

Can you talk about your first Rowdy Energy athlete being announced and do you plan to continue with Brexton racing in dirt?
“For me, I feel like there’s a play there. Obviously, the Rowdy Energy play not only a sponsorship play, but also a B2B play with Brian Brown in Casey’s general store. We’ve got a relationship going there with those guys. So we’re real optimistic about that opportunity and, Brian, what he can do in the World of Outlaw ranks for us also in the ASOC ranks as well too, just the sprint car world. We had great success with Rico (Abreu) and we’re working on some things to maybe continue to partner with Rico here this year. So there’s, there’s a lot of different things that we’re working on with the Rowdy Energy banner, but as far as it relates to Brexton (Busch, son) and what his future plans are I’m not sure exactly. Obviously it just kind of feels right with the path that we’re on. You can go quarter midgets, you can go these outlaw carts. It seems like these outlaw carts have kind of picked up and taken off a little bit. It’d be nice if there was even more tracks that would run these outlaw carts around our area. We’ve got Millbridge, Mountain Creek, three or four speedways that we run around here just within a two, two-and-a-half hour radius of Charlotte. We’ve also ventured out and gone to Missouri during the winter time in order to run indoors, but that’s just what he can do right now, so is he going to be a dirt racer? Is that going to be his path? No. And you know, to me, I feel like that’s just where we are right now, where we can be right now. I don’t think you can run Bandoleros until you’re eight. Then you can’t run Legends cars until you’re 10 or 11 with Bandolero experience. So we got time, you know, that’s just kind of where we started with, where he’s at right now.”

Do you have a heightened sense of determination for this season coming off of a one-win season in 2020?
“Not really, no. I mean, for me, I’ve had one-win seasons before. I think it’s been twice or three times actually. Fortunately for me though, the following seasons, we’ve kind of come back and we’ve been able to win three, four, five, eight, whatever times it’s been, in those following seasons. Obviously being with a new crew chief, that’s going to be an interesting play. The other interesting play is still going to be the fact of no practice and what we can do and what we can get done with simulation in the simulator and that sort of stuff in order to be best prepared for when we get to these races. The whole No. 18 M&M’s team with Ben (Beshore, crew chief) and all my guys, the new guys essentially, it’s going to take a little bit of time to get used to, but also there’s not a whole lot of time for us to get used to one another working with one another at the racetrack. It’s just get in and go, so it’ll be interesting to see how all that plays out, but I wouldn’t say I’m anymore fired up or anything than any other year getting in, getting started. I mean, obviously I feel like it’s always a five-win season is a good win season. That’s always kind of been my number of what you should have. And if you’re ever short of that, then hopefully there are years in which you’re past that. And you have seven-win seasons, your eight-win seasons, whatever, in order to kind of rebuild those years that you were short on wins. So, I feel like I’m probably behind the eight ball. I’m not having as many, five-win seasons that I would like to have had through my career. So there’s definitely some catching up to do that’s for sure.”

Was last year more difficult on you and your team due to how you approach race weekends with so much trial and error through practice sessions?
“Yeah, absolutely. There’s no question about that. I feel like my team Adam (Stevens), especially, they always do a really good job of preparing and getting the best prepared race car they can to the racetrack. But sometimes you just don’t quite read the exact information, or you pick up on the exact information that you need to in simulation because the simulator — the simulation can’t tell you what the cars doing. If it’s bouncing off the tire, if it’s sliding the tire, it can’t tell you how the car is reacting to the tire, to the racetrack. And so, I’m the best computer we got, you know what I mean? So having me be able to be behind the wheel and try to transcribe and describe what is happening in that race car during practice sessions is pivotal. And we just didn’t have that last year. We didn’t have that opportunity last year. So we had to resort to different circumstances in order to make ourselves better. We just kind of fell short on that I feel like. That’s kind of what I was talking to with Bob (Pockrass, Fox Sports) earlier was just there’s kind of had to be a new philosophy thought up if you will. And I, and I feel like that’s kind of gone across the board at JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing), not necessarily just myself and Ben (Beshore, crew chief) and Adam’s going to do the same thing that he did last year with me with Christopher Bell. I think there’s a whole new group and an opportunity for us to kind of think things through differently.”

How many new people are you working with this season and what kind of a challenge is that for you? Have you been in that position before working with a few new team members?
“Last time this all went down was 2015 when I had Dave Rogers. We were transitioning from Dave in 2014 to Adam (Stevens) in 2015. Adam, obviously he brought in kind of a whole new group of guys besides the car chief. Nate Bellows is the car chief. Same thing kind of happened again where Adam went over to Christopher Bell, took all of his guys, the number one, number two engineer, the interior guy, the shop guy, the frontend mechanic, the underneath guy, everybody off the whole team stayed with Adam besides Nate. Nate and I, we’ve kind of had a working relationship over the years. He and I have stuck together again. So, Ben (Beshore) brings in himself, and he’s working with the number 20 team engineer from last year, which was Erik Jones’ engineer with Chris Gayle and then the number two engineers as well from that group. And then pretty much all the 20 guys as well, too. So, I kind of feel like I got fired from the 18 car and moved over to the 20 guys. With the way everything kind of played out how it looks in the shop, and they got the hauler, I have a new hauler, they kept a surface plate. I got a new surface plate. So there’s this whole thing mentally in my head that I kind of got fired and rehired. Maybe that’ll hold true with how it looked in 2007 to 2008 from Hendrick to Gibbs. And I went off and won eight races. It’s a new challenge, it’s a whole group, but looking forward to it.”

How much will working with this whole new team change your approach to races?
“Well, yes, that’s kind of the point. I feel like that’s what we’re all looking for, what we’re striving for. And I feel like there was a philosophy shift late last year, especially built around that Texas win that we had. Before that Texas car got built, Adam (Stevens) actually came to me and said, ‘Hey, what do you want to do for Texas? What kind of car do you want to build? We can go down the path that we’ve always done this whole year. Or we can go down on an entirely new path. One, we haven’t tried yet and do this.’ And I was like, ‘We’ve got nothing to lose. Like let’s, let’s go down the entirely new path and see what happens.’ And low and behold, we win Texas, you know, so I feel like there was something to that. And I feel like that kind of opened up some eyes around JGR as a whole, and hopefully what we can do in order to get ourselves back into the right frame of mind in order to go out there and have a more successful season as a group, as a four-car group, not just the 18 team, but also too seeing Denny (Hamlin) running well and myself and Martin (Truex Jr.), And obviously Erik Jones kind of struggling, we definitely want to get JGR back up on the peak to go out there and win more races. And this year’s schedule is different than last year’s schedule. You’ve got more road courses, you’ve got a dirt race in there. You’ve got less 550 races, more 750 races. All of that gets thrown into the equation too.”

What are your thoughts on so many road course races this season?
“I’ve always kind of looked forward to the road courses. I wouldn’t say that I’ve not looked forward to them. It’s been kind of trying, I guess, at a few of them where we haven’t quite seen the results that we want to be able to see, but I’m optimistic that we can kind of turn things around a little bit, but knowing there’s a couple of cars out there that are just super good at road courses right now, we’ve got a little catch up to do. I’ve never been to Road America where a lot of these guys that have come up into the Cup ranks in the last few years have been in the Xfinity Series that has gone there and run at Road America. You talk about experienced guys or veteran guys kind of having the leg up, if you will. I feel like the tables have turned. Road America wasn’t on the schedule when I was in Xfinity. So those guys have had that experience where I have not. I’m going be a rookie going to Road America. So that’s going to be a little bit getting used to, and trying to figure everything out and knowing what to do and stuff like that. COTA (Circuit of the Americas), I think a lot of us haven’t been there, run on there, seen that place at all. I think some of the other drivers that have kind of seen a little bit on social media have gone over there and run some Trans-Am races and some other stuff just to get track time, just to kind of see the track. There’s going to be a lot of stuff like that, guys have different backgrounds and are going to have different experiences once they get there.”

Are you surprised with Chase Elliott’s performance on road courses?
“Yes and no. I mean, I kind of am, I’ve always felt like Hendrick has always had a good road course program. Their affiliation with Chevrolet, obviously with Pratt Miller, I feel like is a benefit to those guys. They utilize that pretty well. I’m not exactly sure what it is that makes them successful but, they’ve got a good road course racing background. I mean, we’ve seen it for tens of years of success. Jeff Gordon notably years ago. You had it with (Geoff) Bodine back in the day, that was before Pratt Miller, but anyway guys that now Chase has just kind of taken to it and has really done a good job and been fast. I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do and trying to put a little bit more emphasis on some road course program in order to get up there and challenge for that victory.”

Being from Las Vegas, is there always more pressure to perform when you’re at that race track?
“Yeah, certainly, you always want to do well. I feel like I’ve won that race before and just the huge sense of relief that kind of comes off your shoulders when you’re able to do that and win at your home track is pretty awesome. Kurt (Busch) was just able to finally get it done last year so that was really awesome to see. I remember mine, I think it was 2009. It’s been a long time. Back at that time, it felt like winning the Daytona 500. I hadn’t won as many big races as I have now or have won as often as I have now. Well, except last year I only won one, that doesn’t count, scratch that. So the point though is a lot of guys look at the Daytona 500, everybody puts extra emphasis on the Daytona 500 because it is our export’s biggest race, right. Then you’ve got the guys that all go their home tracks and those guys put extra emphasis on their home track, and they want to do well there. So, it’s just kind of that same philosophy, I think.”

What has it been like experiencing so many racing firsts with Brexton’s racing career?
“It’s been great. It’s been a whole lot of fun. With all this COVID stuff, but I don’t think it ever would have happened if it wasn’t for all the COVID shutdowns and whatnot, but thankfully the short tracks have been able to stay open. We’ve been able to go do some of the racing that he’s been able to do. And so we went out to the track the first time just to kind of look at it, check it out, see if he liked it, wanted to do it. Then we borrowed a guy’s cart and he let him test it for about a month or so, we just made some laps and stuff. And then we went out and got our own car, and then we put them in a couple of races and it was rough in the beginning, just going two laps down in an eight-lap heat race. I mean, that was eye-opening obviously, but he’s really, really grown. When we started about August September-ish and then it was, it was like six weeks in that he really, he flipped the switch. I mean, he went from getting lapped in heat races and the main events to then boom, like all of a sudden, just one race, he finished on the lead lap and he didn’t run last and stuff like that. And it was like, wow, okay. We’re getting somewhere. We’re going, there’s improvement. And that’s what I’ve always told them. I’m like, look, man, if we always have improvement, and we are always going forward, it’s going to be a good thing. You can’t ever just sit there and do the same thing over and over and over again, we’ve got to improve, we’ve got to learn, we’ve got to do the next step better. He’s done that and that’s been real fun to watch. And what’s also interesting is you put out something about your kid wants to go racing and his favorite colors are green and orange and all of a sudden you have sponsors knocking on the door. That was pretty cool as well with ServPro and Crash Racers and Sheets, Laundry Club that jumped on with him in order to take his racing to the next level and get him with all kinds of colors on him. So he looks good and he’s doing good.”

How would you like to see NASCAR toughen up the eligibility requirements to compete in the Cup Series?
“That’s kind of an ongoing debate that we’ve had on the driver council with NASCAR over the last couple of years. I think they’re just continuing to try to keep as many cars and owners in the opportune positions that they can. Obviously, I feel like if you limit it too much you’ll be down less than 36 cars. There’s a point to where you’ve got to have enough cars out there, but also you want to be the pinnacle of stock car racing in the world that you’d like to have opportune talent be in the right cars or in the right position, but that’s never going to happen either. There are guys out there that, hey, they might do a good enough job, and they might be in lower budgeted teams. And then if they were in a good car, they would do a good job who knows, but life’s not always fair. So you just have to get the opportunities that you have and go race with what you got. So I think that’s kind of what they’re allowing is those opportunities that some people get.”

Have you spoken with Denny Hamlin about the Daytona 500 and what do you think makes him so successful at that track?
“So we haven’t spoken yet. We’ve kind of all been in our own isolations if you will and haven’t been around each other much, but we do have a team meeting coming up on Monday, I guess, to prepare and get ourselves ready to go for the race season. Typically, we always have our post-race meetings. This’ll be kind of the first pre-race meeting if you will, of the season. We’ll have that on Monday. We’ll have that opportunity to talk then, but Denny (Hamlin) has done a really, really good job, and I’m not sure how or why or what exactly has gotten them to the success level with this current generation race car at the superspeedways, but he’s done a really good job with it ever since this car kind of came out. Especially this body style, I think it was 15 or 16. He’s been the guy to beat. He’s been in the class of the field, him and a couple other guys as well, too. So they just kind of get it and understand what it takes in order to do well and be good at this body package. They’ve got one more year of it, so enjoy it while you can because it’ll change again next year.”

How hard is it to manage Rowdy Energy with all the other obligations in your life?
“Fortunately you try to get the right people in the right places and you don’t have to do a whole lot around it. Obviously, I have been a huge part of it and been in, I don’t know, 50 something Zoom calls over the course of the last year, trying to get it into a different outlets and retailers and stuff like that in order to carry our product. And so it’s been going well, it’s been going good, but I’ve got a great CEO, Jeff Church, who is running that program for me. We’ve hired on, I think something like eight or 12 people just in the five months in order to kind of take that next step and get it into more doors coming into quarter one here this year and carry that success out throughout this year and get it into more doors next year. You know, a lot of people are taking the chance on us here as a young brand, only being a year old, but we’re thankful of that. And of course, there are others that passed on the opportunity, but they know that if we’re successful in the markets that we have and the doors that we have that they’ll pick us up as we get going here. We’re looking forward to it. It’s certainly had it’s headaches, but you put good people in good places and they can do a good job.”

When you decide to step away from racing, how will Rowdy Energy fit into your long-term strategy?
“Obviously, yeah, it would certainly be something that you would like to have as an end game. Obviously racing is not going to be forever when you’re done racing, the paychecks stop, they don’t continue unless you go into doing TV or something else that’s maybe racing related that you can get paid to do. I don’t even know what to say. Some guys go into driver counseling or whatever it’s called, helping some of these younger guys, but that’s definitely not going to pay you a whole lot of money. That’s just kind of going to keep you going with your bills and whatnot, but the Rowdy Energy plays, obviously a CPG brand, consumer goods that if it’s successful, can get you to — whether you plan to sell that after five or 10 years or whatever, and cash out and go on your merry way, or whether you tend to stick with it and keep running it and be a part of the brand, which is what I would like to do. Obviously, it’s my name, it’s my brand. It’s what we started here, Samantha and I and Jeff Church. And so, if I can carry that on into the future, I will, and it could happen. I know I’m not going to say it won’t happen, but obviously the goal is to one day be as successful as Monster, Red Bull. But in reality, I know that if we’re a number three, four or five brand, top five brand, then I would say that we’ve met our goals and what we know that we can achieve.”

What are your expectations for John Hunter Nemechek in the Truck Series this season?
“I would like to think that John Hunter is ready to go and get back to victory lane. Him and I, we flew together a few times last year and we talked a little bit about some of the opportunities that he’s had and what he’s done and what he feels like he’s learned and what he’s missed out on and what he wants to kind of get back to. I feel like that was a good opportunity for us to talk and to get him kind of back in the Truck Series. Fortunately, I think it all came full circle, being able to put Eric Phillips (crew chief) with him and get Eric back. If we didn’t have Eric, I don’t know where we’d be, but I feel like we’re in a pretty good spot. I’ve always kind of said, we need to get a Matt Crafton type guy at Kyle Busch Motorsports. One that can be a guy who can race year after year and, and race for wins, race for championships, compete, contend and keep our equipment running up front and doing well. Since I’m only allowed to run the five or so races a year, that only gives me the opportune time to get in the stuff, to kind of talk to the younger drivers about what they’re feeling and what’s going on. And if you kind of look at past history, the races that I’m in, our drivers tend to run better, but the races that I’m not in, they’re kind of all off in la la land. So hopefully John Hunter can kind of help rein that in and be a part of our organization for a long time and go out there and be a guy that can race for wins and race for championships, and also help the development of some of these younger guys. And he is a young guy, but to help the development of some of these younger guys that come up and come in and if they move on and are able to go to the next level, then so be it. But I know John Hunter is going to be itching at the opportunity to have success and, if somebody calls him he would probably go back up into the Xfinity or Cup, but we’ll worry about that when the time comes.”