NASCAR Media Conference
August 22, 2006
THE MODERATOR: Welcome to this week's NASCAR teleconference in advance of Saturday night's annual nighttime showcase, the Sharpie 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway. This race will be the eighth event in the Race to the Chase; those are the ten races that proceed the ten races for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup.
Today our guest is Kurt Busch, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Dodge. Kurt is the 2004 series champion. He comes into Bristol really looking to start a rally and get into this year's chase. He's 14th in the points standings, 279 out of 10. But on the other hand, he's a five-time Bristol winner, latest victory coming in this season's spring event. 11 Bristol starts, that's all it's taken, Kurt, to post five wins, and during those 11 Bristol starts, he's led a total of 523 laps, incredibly impressive.
Kurt, I guess you could say time is running out in one way, but on the other hand, you've got to feel good about coming into Bristol this week. You've really made your mark there in a relatively short time. What's the outlook for this weekend?
KURT BUSCH: The outlook for this weekend is hopefully to drive the Miller Lite Dodge into victory lane. We've run short on our team to make the Chase, so there's no sense in holding back. We're just going to let everything rip and see where we wind up. We hope to gain points. The last few weeks we haven't gained the points that we needed with a couple of pit road calls, and of course last week we ended up cutting a tire and hitting the fence.
So, things have been up; things have been down for us. But we're not giving up. We're going to keep driving as hard as we need to to gain the points because the fat lady isn't singing yet.
Q. Have you come to relish going to Bristol where sometimes the fans want to put a black hat on you? Have you come to relish going in there and winning anyway, and just sort of enjoying it sometimes as the boos might ring down?
KURT BUSCH: Well, it's just a fun racetrack. I've always enjoyed going there. It's the night race and it's action-packed. There's a lot of intensity around this race and the best way to approach it is to stay cool and make sure that you're comfortable with the setup and just walk in there knowing that you have a good shot at victory lane, and they want to root against the guy that they know is competitive to win.
Q. And also speaking of this year, how much can your win in a day race, like you say, the night race, when you go there this time, do you go in with a chassis setup that has translated somewhat from the day race or is it literally daylight and dark difference?
KURT BUSCH: There are some things that are comparable and we're bringing back -- we could really confuse everybody if we say this the right way or the wrong way. But bringing Rusty back from retirement and with the chassis we won the race with earlier this year, we'll be bringing that car back that is named Rusty to Bristol, and it's got a decent setup in it. I think we had a few things we could even get even better with the race for us. There's things you do in the spring, there's things that you do in the fall and hopefully it's enough to get the job done.
Q. Of the three veteran drivers who made changes going into this season, Jamie McMurray going to Rousch and Bobby Labonte going to Petty Enterprises, and none of have you have bettered your situation, do you have any regrets about making the move and is it a situation where chemistry and continuity are so important in the sport right now, that it takes a couple three years to find that?
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, I have no regrets whatsoever. I found a very comfortable place, the way that Roger Penske runs this organization, and the great cars. When I was a rookie, I finished 27th in points, and that was because I didn't know the setups and I didn't know exactly how to drive the cars. And like you're saying, the chemistry took time to develop. So that's the situation we're in now. Its takes time for teams to develop along with me and the knowledge, and in the last six months, even Rusty's set ups, they are all expired; the series changes so quick that if you're not on top of your game, you're not quite in the hunt so to speak. So we've got some work to do, but we have won a race and we have been competitive with our Top-5 and Top-10 results. So I'm very satisfied with where I am right now.
Q. We hear so much about the importance of communication between the driver and the crew chief, how was it for you going over there. Was there a learning curve, was it something that you're still getting a handle on?
KURT BUSCH: I would say that this is a very engineer-based group. A little different as far as the communication but I just jumped in, as the season progressed, I learned so much, just the difference in how we approach the setups and just takes that time to get used to everything and to know exactly how tight the car is. The crew chief can hear it in my voice; so, it goes back and forth, and we made progress.
Q. I wanted to ask about the phenomena of points racing, I guess you'd call it. In a lot of fans' minds, there's the sense that the Chase has led to more points racing and people not necessarily going all-out but just running a conservative, strong race. But you said in your opening remarks there's no sense in holding back, we're just going to let everything rip. So it's a long-winded way of saying, you know, what effect has the Chase had on the intensity with which drivers race or don't race when you're coming up to the cutoff at Richmond?
KURT BUSCH: The intensity is still there. I think everybody has a strong will to go to victory lane each week, and drivers do whatever it takes to get to victory lane. The conservative nature of our points is just that when you have from fourth, I think, to 14th, points positions can swap very easily. You don't want to have those bad days. Those bad days are what really hurt you in points. A win can come along and bump you up in points but if you have a bad day, it really just erases all that you did the week before. So it's not any different than it's always been. Consistency is the key to winning a championship.
Q. Wanted to ask you, during the race this past weekend in Michigan, you sort of embraced the title of being controversial a little bit, and tried to joke about it. Is this a sign that you're trying to let people see more of you to kind of get rid of some of the stigma that might have carried over from when you were with Roush?
KURT BUSCH: Well, it's just funny on how, you know, I'm minding my own business out on the track leading a race, and then everybody says "Kurt's in another controversy," which was with the pits being closed. So I just think it's funny.
It's something to where a lot of times when fans come up and meet me, they are a bit apprehensive and a bit tentative because of what's been mentioned about me and by the end of the conversation or the autograph session: "Oh, you're really not a bad guy at all. You're a real easy-going guy, real easy to approach."
It's just funny to sit back and make fun of yourself. It's human nature. People like to see that. That's something where before I was just a bit more reserved when I did things like that.
Q. Now I know everybody is aware with Bristol coming up there's going to be a lot of tempers flaring, basically you take a car there and hope to come back with at least a steering wheel. Is this the race where a lot of where you go in and maybe set yourself up to know that there's something, could it make you mad right from the beginning and try to keep yourself a little calmer than what you normally would during the events of a race?
KURT BUSCH: Well, that's just Bristol, and you have to roll with it. You know that things out of the ordinary are always going to happen at Bristol. It's water under the bridge. You always have things that go wrong during the race, somebody bumps into you, somebody checks up, it's just part of the Bristol action. You just try to roll with the punches, you could say.
Q. Because Junior is 10th in the standings is there a bulls-eye on him in the race?
KURT BUSCH: Not at all. You don't look at the points and base your targets off of that. What you look for when you go to a race is who is strong there recently, and who you are going to have to beat to win the race.
And right now, I would say a lot of people look at us as the guy to beat.
So there's not really any targets that people put out on each other, unless Carl Edwards and Junior want to continue on with what started in the Busch race at Michigan. We'll see how it all shakes up.
He's 10th, he's been there for last few weeks right now Kasey Kahne is 11 points behind him. If Kahne finishes three spots in front of Junior, Kahne is in and Junior is out for when we go to California. At Richmond that's when you've really got to mind your P's and Q's because you hope that you have a smooth day there. And right now, Dale Junior who is the guy that won the last Richmond race.
Q. There was talk over the radio about how undrivable the car was at Michigan. With that being said, the guys on your crew say how much knowledge you really have about race cars. Is there a communication issue or are you just not able yet to what you need to behind the wheel to Roy?
KURT BUSCH: Well, there's the corner bound issue that all drivers are facing these days. If you hit it just right, you're a dominant car and you walk away from the field such as Matt Kenseth did on Sunday. If you miss it just a little bit, it ends up being a handful. And right now, we tried something that was something -- something that we knew from testing but we had not run it in a race yet and it just ended up going sour for us. So I was just trying to communicate to them that way we probably shouldn't try to go down that road and try to work on something else to try to make these corner bound packages work a little better for us.
Q. As far as the Car of Tomorrow goes, there was talk that guys have extensive Truck experience should be able to catch on faster to the driving field of the Car of Tomorrow; would you agree with that?
KURT BUSCH: You know, I enjoy driving the Car of Tomorrow yesterday, if we're not all confused by now, when I did drive it. It had qualities of the existing Cup car; it had qualities of a Grand National car, which I now have experience in. It also reminded me a little bit of the Iroq Series, as well as the Truck Series.
So once we get further down the road with this Car of Tomorrow, the qualities of being a versatile driver will help drivers adapt to that car quicker because it is its own animal, and the more experience that you have from all walks of racing will help.
Q. You talked at the front of the conference that the fat lady hasn't sung. 279 points down, in reality, do you think you can make this Chase?
KURT BUSCH: Hey, we're going to give it all that we can. It's a matter of doing our job, and I'm a race car driver, and I communicate to the team how the car is handling and the crew chief makes calls in the pits and we're going to step it up and do what we can to try to make it.
We've been hanging on a little bit closer than the points where we are now, but we're just going to keep driving hard and see what we get, you know, and if we make the Chase, that's great, it's wonderful, gives us a shot right at the championship. We're only 35 points out, so that's the way we're looking at it.
Q. And also you mentioned the emotions of Bristol. Do you do -- at, say, Bristol and Richmond, do you do anything different on race day leading up to the race to make sure that emotion is, you're like at a minus before the race starts, so you don't get overcome by emotions? And I'm in the only talking to you but other drivers, as well.
KURT BUSCH: The way I approach the short track race is that you always have to expect the unexpected. With just the way the sheer volume of cars on such a little track presents problems in all directions, you've just got to roll with it. You can't get too excited when somebody bumps into you by accident or purposely, because if you get excited about it, then you're not driving the car at the proper pace to try to go to victory lane. So just kind of roll with it.
Q. If there are any tweaks made to the Chase formula, is there any change you particularly would like to see?
KURT BUSCH: I've heard that's a topic of discussion lately but after 2004, I wouldn't tell them to change a thing. It's had it's two years so far, and you know, the develop in where it is at this point, it still gets back to consistency. Tony Stewart didn't even win a race during the Chase last year and won the championship. So consistency is always the key in NEXTEL Cup racing.
Q. And if I could ask, what specifically, regarding the compress of the points standings after the Chase, you know, with just five points between each thing, are you comfortable with that? Should there be more of a space in between?
KURT BUSCH: You know, that's the decision NASCAR has to make. One thing as a driver that you hope doesn't happen to you during the Chase is one of those freak deals where you get a flat tire and you back the thing into the wall or wreck. One of those circumstances shouldn't just take you completely out of the Chase. So maybe if there is a little bit of an adjustment to where if you finish poorly in one of the Chase races, you're not eliminated right off the bat.
Q. Kevin Harvick has run quite well at Bristol in recent races, and with things mounting last spring there and everybody wondering late in the race, if Harvick catches Kurt, what's going to happen. When you go into a race there, do you do a little extra looking out of the corner of your eye; if that 29 is near you, do you expect confrontations, or is that all just bluster on his part, do you think?
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, he likes to throw a lot of smoke and mirrors and he has to do that to cover up something of his heart. I don't know what he's got going on with me but I don't look around for him. I don't look around specifically for anybody. Whatever it takes to get the Miller Lite Dodge up front is what I'm worried about. If I have it pass the 29 to do it, I'll pass him clean and that's the respected racer that I think I've proven to most of the drivers.
Q. And do you think his current position regarding the chase and everything might cool his jets a little bit and make him a little more cautious on and off the track?
KURT BUSCH: That's something that you'll have to ask him. I don't know.
Q. Can you identify any elements of your job, your team, your personality that public perception may not be in tune with reality?
KURT BUSCH: I find that response from quite a few fans that come up, but in all due time, things will turn around. You know, there was just a bad departure from an awful situation and they wanted to exploit that to everybody.
But yet we're seeing a lot of teams now going through driver changes and other things and leading from one team to another, and everybody seems to be doing it very professionally. So it just shows that the decision I made to come over to Penske is what I thought it would be with great people all around me.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks to all the media today for participating. Kurt, best of luck, pal. If anybody can pull this off, likely it would be you. So good luck going into Bristol this weekend.
KURT BUSCH: Thank you. We're definitely going to give it a shot and see where we end up and we've had a great run so far this year. We've still got more work to do.
THE MODERATOR: Absolutely. Best of luck to Kurt this weekend and thanks again to all of the media as always we appreciate the coverage.
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