NASCAR: Kurt Busch still recovering, hopes to race again
Kurt Busch was made available to media to discuss his Grand Marshal duties for Sunday’s Daytona 500.
What does it mean to you to be included in the group of Daytona 500 Grand Marshals who have won the Daytona 500 as well as a NASCAR Cup Series championship?
“Yeah, this is a very special honor. I’ve been choked up about it since I found out about it earlier this week. To reflect back on some of the accomplishments and some of the race teams I’ve been with. Then to sit there and, ‘Whoa, this is Richard Petty, this is Bobby Allison.’ This is a group of legends and true racers and to be part of it – honestly, I’m very humbled. I’m blown away by it and this is a very unique opportunity. I’m very excited about it and a little nervous of course. I’ve got my championship rings, I’ve got my leather jacket and I’m going to bring it in from the young guy’s side. So I don’t know how the old man band is going to do, we’re not a boy band. But we’ll have fun with this moment and having the guys and girls start their engines. It’s fun to have this opportunity and stand on that side of the stage for a change.”
How long did it take you to find the leather jacket?
“It’s been hanging in the closet ready to go. It’s been idling the whole time.”
How are you doing? How is your recovery?
“I’m doing well. Everyday life is normal. When I do my workouts with the physical therapist, we switch them up a little bit now onto a balance type of pad and it helps with creating core strength and it helps with my movements that I have to do and it’s fatiguing. I notice things that bring me up and then break me down when I have to do a day on and a day off now. Where I was pushing seven days a week to try to get back to the car and then in all honesty, I took December off. It was an emotional time and that was part of this process as well. But I’m doing well. I’ve got a great consulting role with 23XI and the race team. Brand ambassadorship with Monster Energy. We’ve been together for 12 years now and still having a ton of fun. And then with Toyota, blending in with their racing family. They got to see another side of a Busch that they hadn’t seen before so it’s nice to be hanging out with them.”
Is there a strategy that works in this race over the final five to 10 laps?
“For my race, the year I won in 2017, it ended up being a long fuel run to the end. One of those classic 50 lap duels of guys conserving fuel, positioning themselves to be up front to lead. Tony Gibson, my crew chief at the time, said we were good for 48 laps, but not 50. He told me I needed to save him two laps of fuel. I had zero intention of leading any of those laps other than the last one. And the guys started running out of fuel. (Joey) Logano ran out of fuel, (Martin) Truex Jr., Chase Elliott – all the top guys. Then at the end when I was trying to make a move on (Kyle) Larson, his car sputtered and then (Ryan) Blaney is coming out of nowhere chasing me down. That was one of the last true runs at the end. Now it is circumstantial, but you have to get in position to be in that position to win. Bubba Wallace has done a great job of doing that and being in contention to win. Ryan Blaney, Denny Hamlin – you can see the patterns and the ones that position themselves for it. Then you have to have Lady Luck on your side.”
Is this new consulting role with the team rewarding for you?
“Everything just happened a year sooner than I expected them to and I’m happy with where everything sits. Even like Ty Gibbs, with him jumping in the Monster Energy car last year and getting him up to speed in the Cup Series, Monster Energy always told me to out my arm around him because he was going to be the one for us later on. With things being fast-forwarded and now with it being the second week of being here at track in Daytona, we did the Coliseum last week. There’s no question where my role is with the team, it’s everywhere with the team. And doing different interviews with the team and with our other sponsors. I’m doing everything the same, but not putting a helmet on and instead putting a radio on for practice, qualifying and the race.”
What’s it like to be able to share your wealth of knowledge with the drivers at 23XI Racing?
“There was a moment last night with Tyler Reddick trying to learn how to draft with Denny Hamlin, who’s his boss. I saw it and thought, I went through that last year in this race. Our debrief right after the race, it’s the thing I did last year with Bubba (Wallace), it’s to advance quicker and to advance smarter and to apply the right things to make sure that 23XI is going in the right direction. I’m not doing it by myself. I’m just an extra set of eyes and an extra set of ears. I’m pretending sometimes that I have the blinders on and I’m driving the car. I think you can see with Bubba’s maturity level last year in the second half, other than Vegas when he screwed up, but the way that he took control and had good average finishes last year, his average finishes he had in the second half were better than the average finishes I had in the first half and we put a car in the top-10 in his first season. Those were things that happened at Furniture Row and we saw how they advanced. That’s just what I hope to do with this team and have Tyler Reddick on the gas digging hard and add to his three wins that he got last year.”
What did you see with Tyler Reddick and Bubba Wallace in the Duels?
“With Bubba (Wallace), he had that confidence and swagger that I knew he would have. Their car doesn’t have a scratch on it and the way their pit strategy unfolded. Again, a lot of it is that on and off pit road and the gas man miscommunicated his head nod to the jackman so they lost a couple spots in the pits. That’s where Bootie Barker and I kind of saw that, got with the pit stop coach and we hope that’s not an issue as we go forward. Bubba was smart. He had a chance to go for it at the end, but again, it’s a Duel and we need to get that car to the 500. With (Tyler) Reddick, he was trying to draft with Denny (Hamlin) a few times and he just wasn’t as aggressive as he needed to be. And that’s just that first day type of jitter. He was fine on and off pit road. The 45 guys were really good with their pit stops. So again, just trying to find those last few things that will make a big difference on Sunday.”
Do your doctors believe you will be cleared and can be cleared?
“They believe it, I believe it. I just know that right here, I’m not 100 percent to race with these guys, the best of the best here at this level. Could I go do a SCCA club race next week? It’s probably not wise. Go-karting has been fine for me, the simulator has been fine, it’s just when I had my head in the headrest and there’s that movement, that’s bothers me. And then with the progress that I’ve made, progress since August, yes. I do believe there will be a full recovery and the new physical therapy I’m on is another challenge and a lot of it is with the balance and eye movement.”
If you could get cleared, would you get back into a Cup car?
“That’s the thing, life moves forward. Contracts happen. This is a big time sport and there’s eight figures these days for sponsorship money. Those don’t just fall out of the sky. I’ve got a great relationship with Monster Energy and with Toyota and that’s why you see me here at the track, pushing hard and doing everything the same as I would be if I was racing. There’s a big announcement next week with Tyler Reddick at the Monster Energy headquarters, there’s a video today with Ty Gibbs. There’s a lot of fun stuff going on. Once there’s that green light, then there’s the chance to open the door for discussions so it’s a process. Can’t push one before the other.”
How have you processed the fact that your career likely didn’t end on your terms?
“I’m fine with the way everything has gone. With the way that you know from right in here with how you push for a championship, I told Denny (Hamlin) that I had one good year in me and I signed a two-year deal. This would have been that swan song, Kevin Harvick retirement tour, but I’m glad that he’s going to have that opportunity. For me, I’ve always been that, believe it or not, that shy guy, that humble guy. I just like to go out and race cars. We’ll see where it pans out. Whether it was my decision or somebody from above, it doesn’t matter to me. I’m very happy. I’m complacent. And to have had this opportunity to race in this sport for 23 years and to hit all of the high notes and the low notes, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It’s a Hollywood ending going for pole on your last lap ever right. I’m smiling about it and I’m happy with it.”
Do you think NASCAR is going through a youth movement?
“There’s always been a changing of the guard or a cycle that happens whether it’s one or two guys or girls here and there or it’s a group. I was just thinking about that this morning. With myself and (Kevin) Harvick, we’re a class of 2001, class of 2002 was Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newman. 2003 was (Greg) Biffle. 2004 it was Kasey Kahne and then 2005 was my little brother. Kyle Busch will be the elder statesman here pretty soon, it’s pretty wild to think about. Denny Hamlin was 2006. It’s just part of time and how it catches up with you. Sometimes it’s a surprise and sometimes it’s not. There’s great young leaders that are part of our sport right now with Chase (Elliott), (Ryan) Blaney and Bubba (Wallace). Noah Gragson has yet to put his foot stably down, but I think he can be a superstar in this sport too. He’s just a passionate kid from Vegas who reminds me a lot of myself.”
Has this made you think more about how you want to approach the years to come in this sport?
“I’m doing exactly what I want to do. I don’t want to own a race team. I was getting older and I wasn’t going to drive full time. I have an unofficial PHD in this garage and to give back to young engineers, young crew members and just like yesterday on pit road, this one young engineer, last year was his first ever NASCAR race. He didn’t do any Truck Series stuff, no Xfinity things. He was standing there like a deer in the headlights. This year, he says to me, ‘Dude, there is so much to thank you for because I know exactly where I need to be and exactly what I need to do.’ I think this kid will be a crew chief one day, but he’s got a long way to go. Just to see his growth in 365 days, that’s kind of where I thought I would be at this point in my career as well.”
How has it been this weekend not being in the race car?
“It’s really tough to get around. I didn’t think people would recognize me without my driver’s suit. I literally have to leave like 20 minutes before I do anything. The fans are awesome and I’m signing diecasts still and signing hats and I didn’t expect that. That’s one fun part of it that I should have understood. It’s really neat though to be able to have my role with the team, but also still be that guy that can sign an autograph for a race fan that watched me throughout my career.”