NASCAR: Q&A with Fontana Cup race winner Kyle Busch
I know you know you’re good, but did you think you would challenge for wins, the Clash, the Daytona 500 and here right off the bat with RCR?
KYLE BUSCH: Truthfully, no. I felt like there was going to be a little bit of a learning experience, a little bit of a growth pattern, but also on the flip side of that, I always just kind of looked back and watched some of their results and success that they had last year with Austin. He ran second here last year, and Reddick was super, super fast. They were fast at the Clash before they broke, the 8 car was.
It’s just been really, really cool, and it’s been a great piece of — we’re making history, right, but a great piece of opportunity to go out there and continue to win races at a new team with RCR, so I can’t say enough about Austin giving me a call, first and foremost, but then Richard and Judy giving me this opportunity to go out here and race for wins.
I’m thankful to be a part of our Lucas Oil Chevrolet team today.
It’s been a while since you just controlled a race and did what you used to do and won it like that. Is your mentality any different when you’re in that situation now because so many things have happened to you? Are you like, something is going to go wrong, or are you just like, nope, it’s the old me, I know what I’m doing? What were you thinking?
KYLE BUSCH: Yeah, all of those things. There were a couple moments where I got loose. I about busted my ass on that last run. So I was like, please don’t. But fortunately was able to hang on well enough and tried to find another groove that my car would work better in, so it was always a constant evolution of where you needed to be and just trying to work.
That’s what I enjoy the most about this racetrack. It’s a two-mile racetrack. It’s big, it gets spread out, but man, you can move around and you can spread out and you can make your own destiny by trying to find something else that will help work for your race car.
It’s a sad day for me to see this racetrack be in its last race being a two-mile configuration. Glad I was able to win the final run here.
Seemed like the fans gave you more cheers than we’re used to hearing.
KYLE BUSCH: Yeah, man, Rowdy Nation is growing, loud and proud. Watch out, we’re going to take over. It’s just fun to see them and to give them something to cheer for again and to have an opportunity like today to win a race this early in the season, get everybody juked up and excited and also continue to hopefully have more races like this where we’re able to win, get some of those playoff points, kind of stockpile them a little bit so we can have a good time at the end of the year.
Kurt was one of the first people to come to Victory Lane. You guys hit a milestone today for winning brothers in the series. Can you talk a little bit about that, and probably the only thing that would have made it cooler would have been to have him in the field.
KYLE BUSCH: Yeah, no, he’s left all the heavy lifting for me to do for the rest of my time here. He took a break. But no, it would have certainly meant a lot to have him in the field, but just him being here and being around and still his role over at 23XI is really special. I know he’s got a lot of friends over there, a lot of great guys over there that really pull for him.
It’s neat to have him be there. He was emotional. He’s getting soft in his old age. It was just cool to see him come up to the car and be a part of our celebration there for a quick moment. But it’s fun to set records always, and when you’re able to do it as a brother tandem, there’s nothing more special for our parents, I’m sure.
You also had straight wins. Did you beat a record on straight wins, consecutive wins?
KYLE BUSCH: Years, yeah, 19 straight years. Richard Petty had that record. He and I were tied at 18. There’s not very many records that you can beat that Richard Petty has, and certainly that was one that I set early on a long, long time ago that I always wanted to achieve and get, so I’m just so thankful for the opportunity to set that bar and would love to continue to keep raising it.
This race had spinouts and crashes, but it also had intervals of just uninterrupted racing. During those stretches, was it like an eerie feeling thinking that maybe another restart was going to happen, or were you just locked in in the zone?
KYLE BUSCH: Yeah, there was a moment there when I ran Ross Chastain down the first time and I got to his bumper and I was trying to make a move to get by him and I just couldn’t figure it out, and then my car just flipped a switch and went super loose, so I about crashed a few times, and I was just hanging on at the end of that stage and then we were able to make some more adjustments to it to get it better on the long run, and then from there, we battled again with Ross all the way up until we pitted there for the final time. Our guys executed a really good job on pit road and got me out front, and then I was able to drive away.
Yeah, when you get times like that, that’s always — I don’t know, it’s maybe not fun for the fans to watch when it gets a little bit spread out, but it’s just fun for the drivers to really zone in and get to work and find different grooves and different things that will work for you and work for your car in order to make the most out of it.
In that third segment, there seemed to be a gap, bigger, smaller, back and forth. Were you just biding your time or did the car just come in finally and be able to get past?
KYLE BUSCH: I was trying to work on the 1, and the aero games are just terrible with this car. He was literally mirror driving just watching wherever the heck I was going and trying to put himself in front of me because it would just make me super tight and a few times I about hit the wall. You just keep trying to find different grooves that you can still make good time in and you’re in clean air and he’s not air blocking, but this racetrack gives you that opportunity to be able to do that.
It being a half-mile racetrack, a tight racetrack in its new configuration, you’re not going to have those chances. It’s going to be a completely different race and a whole new thing. But glad we were able to get it done today and find our way around him, and then again, have a good execution on that final stop.
I was wondering, since it’s the last Cup race here, can you talk about any memories you’ve had over the years here?
KYLE BUSCH: A lot. I would say that the first one that comes to mind is when I was 16 years old. I came here to run in the Craftsman Truck Series, and I practiced, I was fast he’s in practice and had a really fast truck and then somebody decided I wasn’t old enough to race, so they kicked me out. That was my welcome-to-NASCAR moment and welcome-to-California-Speedway moment.
But was able to come back, and when I came back here the next time I came back was — no, I ran Xfinity here. My first Cup Series start here I was able to qualify on the pole, and then we finished 25th, and then my second time here, I qualified 25th and I finished first. That one was much better.
But first win, my first Cup Series win was here. We’ve had five wins, including today, so just great time at California Speedway. There’s a few in there that I missed out on, but I think it was also here where I won — I was the first person to win two NASCAR races in the same day, Xfinity race and a Truck Series race if I’m not mistaken. Yeah, this place has had a lot of great memories.
With getting a victory this early on, does this mean that you guys get to experiment a little bit, or do you guys just get to fine tune because you’ve had three extraordinarily good runs the last three races and now you finally have the result to show it?
KYLE BUSCH: Yeah, no, you’re right. I don’t know. That’s to be determined. I would say that we need to continue on and pour the gas on the fire right now and go out there and continue to get wins and have fast cars and run up front. We want to get those playoff points. Playoff points is a big deal for the end of the year. I’ve won a couple championships having a lot of playoff points, and the couple of years I haven’t had a lot of playoff points I haven’t made it very far. I know what’s important, so hopefully we can get some more of that.
It does open up opportunity for staying out in particular races or maybe pitting and getting tires in particular races because you do have that win so you can take more chances, but I don’t know that you’d mess with setup stuff really much.
How much of your swagger do you think you have back, and what percent do you have to go to be feeling like your old self where you’re every week in the mix and knowing that you can do it?
KYLE BUSCH: Well, this is the first race nobody ran into me. I held my own destiny today, and I felt like I did a good job of that. But every other race this year I’ve been run over, so I’ve been getting — my results haven’t been indicative to how we’ve been running.
To answer the swagger part, it’s great to have the group that I do, and I’m excited about — I was excited about working with them when it all came through and I had the — basically I got hired. But it’s been fun to work with them and behind the scenes, and just last night we just went and had a go-kart night and had some fun. Just kind of laying low and letting loose a little bit and having fun right now.
I know last year you said you didn’t really know why you struggled, quote-unquote struggled —
KYLE BUSCH: We did.
Do you have any idea why? How do you go from where you were last year to where you are now?
KYLE BUSCH: Yeah, I’m not sure. You look at how the 8 car ran here last year, and they were fast. They had a really, really fast car, and I did the sim session stuff with them and worked on what they had here last year, and then kind of changed a couple things to what I felt like I could do or race better, be more comfortable racing for myself, and today it was just a completely different feeling of a race car than what I had here last year.
I think that’s just different philosophies of how you go about it and what this group here is doing to build grip versus my old group.
If not for the sale of the track, of much of the track, how much longer do you think they could have run races here?
KYLE BUSCH: Ooh. Yeah, the old repave question.
I don’t know, man. We always wanted to keep Atlanta as long as we possibly could, but there finally was chunks coming out of the racetrack. It gets tough. This place here, there’s a lot of saw cuts out there. The racetrack is pretty racy, but honestly when you get about eight laps into a run, you don’t even go and bother with the bottom anymore. It’s lane 3, 4, 5, which is still plenty of racing room to get around here.
Yeah, I have no idea how to answer that. The seams are kind of bad but actually where they put — I think it’s concrete patches at some of the places on the seams, those are super smooth and easy to go over.
So if you just redid all the seams, maybe it would be fine.
A few years ago you celebrated win 200 across all three. This is now 225. Do you see 250 or maybe even 300 in the future?
KYLE BUSCH: Yeah, I’m getting a little old too fast for 300. Trust me, the aspirations were there. Don’t get me wrong. But the limitations set by NASCAR is not going to allow that to come to fruition. Only being able to run five Truck Series races a year, that’s going to be tough to get that total up in a hurry or Xfinity for that matter.
But the Cup Series is where our focus is, and we need to be able to go out here and win races. If this can be a fantastic year of knocking off five, eight wins, whatever, that would be phenomenal, and all we could really ask for being with a new team and having a new chance.
Do you think that this one win has locked you into the Playoffs, or do you think it’s going to take multiple wins; potentially we could see 16 plus drivers win races this year?
KYLE BUSCH: Yeah, last year we were super close to that, so who knows. Definitely I think there’s still parity and you’ll see some guys that win that you probably wouldn’t expect to win at a couple tracks. We’ll see what that does end up looking like.
Am I safe right now? I’d like to think so, but if you ask me in 10 weeks and there’s 10 more different winners, then I’d probably change my answer.
I was in Victory Lane and clearly this track means a lot to you. I overheard you ask for a piece of the track. Clearly it means a lot to you. How important is it for NASCAR to continue to establish and have a presence out west, especially being from Las Vegas and coming from a side of the country that doesn’t produce that many drivers, how important is that for NASCAR to continue to preserve —
KYLE BUSCH: Yeah, I think this place is — we need to be in Southern California. I think the Clash is kind of a cool exhibition opportunity where we get to be in LA, like really out over that way, but man, I was really, really pleased and happy with the crowd that came out today. I thought that was awesome to see. There was a really good turnout for as cold as it was. I really thought people would shy away. But man, they came, so it was really, really good.
Just hope that the next track that we have puts on the show that we’ve been able to see here for the last probably 10 years, 12 years, but repaves are always tough. It takes a good five years for a repave to turn into something that’s decent.
I’m kind of curious what RC said to you in Victory Lane. You guys had a feeling it was coming. You guys were so close last week. He’s had great drivers before, but you’re such a franchise kind of guy that you can build a thing around. You must have seen the elation in his face.
KYLE BUSCH: Yeah, no, I certainly did. When I first crossed the finish line, I thought about Brexton and Samantha and Lennix all being at home and not being here and how mad they’re going to be at me for winning without them here. Then I thought about Richard and Judy and the chance that they’ve taken on putting me in their race car and letting me go out there and drive.
It’s just been super, super rewarding so far each week, even though we haven’t won, to just be a part of the conversation and be in the mix.
I hope that we’re able to repay them a lot over this year and the next few years to come before I decide it’s all said and done.
But just great conversation with him. He was like, man, this is the first of many, and I think one of the other things he said was — he showed me his hat, his Chevy hat that he has in Victory Lane each year. Whenever they win races they always put the track and the driver signature of where the wins were. Hopefully we get to fill that thing up. It’s always on the inside, so hopefully we get to fill that thing up.
I want to follow up on the pieces of the track. You were talking to Dave Allen about that and he seemed very interested and then your guys overheard you as well. They’re going to want some gifts from you.
KYLE BUSCH: Yeah, no, that’s cool. I thought it was really special when Bristol dug up their racetrack — was that 2007, going to ‘8, I think? Maybe it was later than that.
Anyway, they made these blocks and sent it to all the drivers of — it was the last race on that concrete surface or whatever. So I always just kind of thought, if they dig up racetracks or whatever, it would be cool to have some of those pieces, especially if you’ve won at that place or as special as this place has been to me with five wins here, it would be pretty meaningful, and winning the last one was super meaningful to me.
I would cherish having one of those. It’s not all that glamorous or cool looking. It’s a piece of asphalt. But it’s still a memory in which I have from being here, and the team would love to have a piece of that, too, for being the last win here.
You had gone karting with your team last night. Can you talk about how you guys as a team have really come together over these last couple of weeks just doing personal stuff, putting the cell phones aside and just having fun, and part of that is leading to basically what we’re seeing on the track?
KYLE BUSCH: Yeah, I think it’s been really good, just the camaraderie within the group has been really fun. I wouldn’t say they’re laid back. They’re obviously hard workers, and they really dig in, but they have a great ethic about them that just sort of fits.
Being at RCR, there’s a lot of racers at RCR. That’s me. This is all I know. This is all I’ve ever done. Just kind of having the chance of working with those guys that they don’t give up and they have all the grit in the world to go out there and give it everything they’ve got, and when we wrecked in the Duel last week and they prepared another fast race car that felt really, really similar to that one, I was really impressed about the competition side of the similarities between the cars and being able to pull another one out.
It’s all been good, and just continuing to build on that and have some fun. I’m sure they’ll have a great trip home. I’m waiting on Austin and Richard here before we head home, so it’s going to be a good trip.
Your streak was kept intact last season because Tyler Reddick and Chase Briscoe spun in the final turn of Bristol dirt. After the season finished, did you talk to either driver about how that finish went down?
KYLE BUSCH: Yeah, there was some joking around at some of our — I think it was our — it wasn’t at the banquet, but I think it was our Chase, like the playoff drivers when they all got together after the regular season was over. There was definitely some joking around about that, so it was really — I lucked into one. I stole one last year. But then there were probably five that I could count that we could have, should have, would have won that we didn’t. It would always seem like there was something against me that wasn’t allowing us to score a win.
Yeah, happy to — I think there was another year, 2014, winning here, that was the only non-restrictor plate win for Joe Gibbs Racing that year. We won one race at JGR and it was me here in California in 2014. That was also a close year that was almost going without.
Your crew chief said that Goodyear brought a much more durable tire, and you mentioned almost losing a couple times. How was the grip compared to the tire last year that wasn’t so hot?
KYLE BUSCH: I really didn’t notice a whole lot, to be honest with you. I felt like the tire was really, really similar last year. That one run where I got super loose, I felt a vibration and I felt like that tire was coming apart, so I had to start trying to take it easy, but I was still trying to hold the position that I was in and hold those guys off behind me so we could be further up on that pit stop at the end of that second stage.
But yeah, no, to me, tires felt really similar.
Someone mentioned you broke Richard Petty’s record of 18 straight seasons with a win. How have the conversations been with you and other drivers in that caliber, whether it be Richard or others?
KYLE BUSCH: Yeah, I don’t think there’s really been any. There’s been some media questions about it and stuff like that, like what would it mean and what do you think, can you do it, and stuff like that. But I haven’t really talked to Richard about it.
But it’s here, and we got it. It’s pretty special. I’ll take the honor of carrying on the most wins now, which is really, really special, and hopefully, like I said earlier, I’d love to elevate that bar a little bit higher and take it to 20, 21, 22, whatever.
I was curious about how different it is or how it is working with a new spotter like Derek Kneeland after such a longtime spotter in Tony Hirschman.
KYLE BUSCH: Yeah, talk about bittersweet. That was another bittersweet moment, when Hirschman told me that — well, he never really did tell me that he wasn’t coming. I had to find out. Anyway, you always hate to not be able to take people that are close to you or mean something to your success and the past races that I’ve always had with Hirschman have been super good, but that didn’t work out.
Honestly, I think Derek is probably a top-3 spotter in the series, and so I didn’t think I was making much of a move there. It was probably a lateral move. You’ve got your A-tier drivers, your B-tier, your C-tier. I feel like spotters are kind of the same, crew chiefs are kind of the same. It’s all about how you mix all those guys together and what your success looks like.
But Derek has been great so far. He was super good at Daytona. I felt like I learned a little bit from him and there’s a couple things that we talked about for him to get better on still after Daytona, and then today I jumped his ass there late because the lap cars were running right in my groove and I’m like get them out of the way, let’s go.
So then he had to march around on the roof and make some holes for me, so he did a good job.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you so much for your time. Congratulations.