NASCAR Media Conference
August 24, 2004
THE MODERATOR: Welcome, media, to the NASCAR NEXTEL teleconference this week. A few brief announcements. The NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series is back in Tennessee, at Bristol Motor Speedway this weekend for the Sharpie 500. The race takes place under the lights this Saturday evening starting at 7:30 p.m. and will be broadcast on TNT beginning 7 p.m. eastern time. The NASCAR Busch Series will also be at Bristol, racing Friday night in the Food City 250 starting at 8 p.m., also broadcast on TNT. Finally it is a triple-header sweep for Bristol this weekend as the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series will be at Bristol Motorspeedway for the O'Reilly 200, which begins at 9 p.m., and will be broadcast on the SPEED Channel. The Race for the Chase for the NEXTEL Cup is truly heating up as no less than five drivers are within 70 points of the Top 10 in the points standings. In the meantime race fans are also registering via their NEXTEL handsets or NASCAR.com behind their favorite racers. One of those fans will be the lucky winner of $250,000 if he or she is drawn to line up with the driver that wins the NEXTEL Cup. Registration for the promotion continues until September 5th. The NEXTEL leader bonus is up to $40,000 at Bristol Motor Speedway. A NEXTEL Cup Series driver can claim the NEXTEL Cup leader bonus when he wins the race and is also the leader following that race. Jimmie Johnson was the most recent racer to win the NEXTEL leader bonus claiming $90,000 at Pocono on August 1st. No bonus was claimed this past weekend at Michigan International Speedway, thus the bonus rolled over another $10, 000 and will every week that the money is not claimed. There will be no NEXTEL wake-up call at Bristol because it is a night race. However, a special event will be taking place at the NEXTEL Experience just outside Bristol Motor Speedway on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. Kurt Busch will be making an appearance to race in the No. 97 Sharpies Ford simulator against a fan who will have qualified the day before in a simulator competition against other fans. It's another example of ways that NEXTEL is bringing the fan even closer to NASCAR drivers. And media are invited to join the fun, again Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at the NEXTEL Experience which is located just outside the Bristol Motor Speedway track. Speaking of Kurt Busch, he is our guest this week on the NASCAR NEXTEL teleconference. In just three plus seasons, Kurt has proved to be one of the top stars of the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series. He made the jump from the Craftsman Truck Series right into NASCAR's premiere series without a hitch. Kurt is the driver of the No. 97 Sharpie IRWIN Industrial Ford for Ralph's Racing and is setting his sites on a possible NEXTEL Cup Series title in 2004. Kurt has victories this season at the spring Bristol race and this summer's New Hampshire event. He rules at Bristol as you might have known because of the past two seasons he has had three consecutive wins there. He current sits in sixth place in the point standings following a solid sixth place run at Michigan. Kurt, welcome. Thanks for joining us. Congratulations on the season you're having and being in the Top 10. Obviously, you must be one of those drivers who is thrilled to be going back to Bristol, given your success there in recent years, obviously given the importance of this race to be in that Top 10.
KURT BUSCH: Thank you. Good afternoon. Things are going well in the Sharpie camp. Every time we get a chance to look forward to Bristol, obviously the team gets pumped up about the event and of course our sponsor Sharpie always gets excited because they get to do extra things around that event. Again, it's that season where kids get to go back to school, the products are flowing off the shelves. It's a timely fashion for advertising and it's a timely fashion to try to pick up a win.
THE MODERATOR: Being at Bristol, your comfort level there on that track, you've won three straight races there, how are things a little different this year given the fact that now we have this Race to the Chase for the NEXTEL Cup, trying to be in the Top 10, you're in sixth place now, is it going to be different for you going to Bristol for this particular race versus even the spring race?
KURT BUSCH: Oh, that's a good point, John. With the new Chase For the Cup, NEXTEL has brought in great excitement around this time in the season with the points situation. It normally never comes down to looking around at the 11th or 15th place teams at around the Bristol event. That's going to make what we forecasted about this excitement on the new points system so strenuous about this race because anything can happen at Bristol. You can end up in the inside fence with just one small little bump or just with somebody checking up in front of you, you pop a hole in the radiator. The mechanical side of things is going to have to be the most important aspect of this event, just being able to finish. That's the mindset that I take into all the Bristol races, just trying to focus on making sure that I take care of the 97 Ford and dodge all the different wrecks out on the racetrack. If I'm in position to win at the end, we'll go for it, but I just go there just to survive.
THE MODERATOR: Let's open it up to the media for questions for Kurt.
Q. The extra emphasis and the pressure at Bristol, if you guys weren't under pressure enough, NEXTEL has put some more pressure on you. What about your personal comfort level? You're in the middle of the pack at sixth. How do you feel about where you stand in terms of making the chase?
KURT BUSCH: Well, things are now, I look at the top five, I'd say they're locked in with their opportunities to gain points or to lose points. The guys that are 6th through 10th obviously have to race hard, and the guys that are 11th through 15th have to have everything go there their way as well as somebody have a bad day in front of them. So we're one of those teams that can't afford a bad day. We've got some cushion in case we miss the setup that we'll still run competitively enough to gain points. But Bristol is by no means a track that we're going to miss the setup on as well as California Speedway, the race after it, and then of course with preparations for Richmond, that's the final race where we get locked in for this NEXTEL Chase for the Cup. Things are good for us as far as the tracks that we've got coming up, it's just a matter of dodging any of those unforeseen circumstances that come up.
Q. Just wanted to ask you, if things go right this year, you and your brother could win championships. Certainly would be a great feat for the family. Can you imagine how your dad might react if both of you guys finish the year with championships?
KURT BUSCH: That would be fantastic. He's a great mentor to both of us. He's been able to relish in our success just in the short amount of time thus far. He spends a good deal of time with Kyle, helping his career, with Kyle being new to the whole professional program. My dad hangs out over there quite often. And he's still able to give me some insight on what he sees with my racing, just as a coach would thrroughout any player's career. So my dad is an integral part in what I do on the racetrack as well as off the racetrack. He's able to smile every day knowing that we're having fun, enjoying our jobs, and going out to race for a living. But it's still a great relationship that the two of us share with my father.
Q. You were a crew member for your dad's race team when you were about 12 or so. Any special memories of you watching your dad compete in races in that time period?
KURT BUSCH: Oh, definitely. That's a great question. It's a great opportunity for me to speak on my father's success as a racer. He went to a division called Dwarf Cars back in 1991, which is just little motorcycle-powered cars that you run on dirt tracks all around America. The series began to gain momentum in the early '90s. He went to Phoenix, Arizona, they had the national championship down there at Manzanita Speedway. It was the first race I ever got in the pits. I just kind of hit in the holler. I was 14 years old. I got to stand in the infield and watch him race, and he became the national champion that year. I remember just sitting on the fence watching the race, the pit wall, and the preliminary races were going on. We sat there. My dad said, "There is no way I can keep up with these guys." Here I am a kid saying, "Dad, you're just as fast. You're just as fast." He was able to become the national champion that year. That was the first ever race I got to sneak into the pits.
Q. Winning three consecutive races at any racetrack is a huge feat, let alone Bristol where so much is out of your control. How do you account for that?
KURT BUSCH: Well, it's a daunting task to say the least. Each time I go there, I don't expect to win, and I don't expect to run bad. It's just a matter of controlling the most that you can within your car. Yeah, it's difficult to forecast when somebody spins and wrecks in front of you which way to go because you have to make those split decisions so quickly. Just being able to absorb the information out in front of you is key at Bristol, whether it's a car that you've got to pass, whether it's a different stage in the race. If it's early in the race, you're more conservative, obviously if it's later in the race, and somebody's faster than you, it is difficult to keep the car behind you because they can move you out of the way. The philosophy for me is to do the best job that I can and by doing so it allows me to focus and stay ahead of the game.
Q. Does the spotter at Bristol, the communication that the two of you have, become more important at that kind of racetrack than at any other racetrack?
KURT BUSCH: The spotter is a key element that you have to have, and everybody has to be flowing in the same direction. Everybody has to be clicking on the right moves with the spotter relaying the information. He can't be overriding the crew chief, who is trying to give me setup information. And, of course, when a yellow comes out there, you've only got maybe 15 to 20 seconds to decide what to change on the car for a pit stop. So there's constant communication, of course, between the spotter and the driver, then I've got to relay information back to the crew chief. All of us have to be on the same page so we can stick together and pull through and pull the weight we need to pull.
Q. Has it helped you this year to have your family living in North Carolina? If so, how?
KURT BUSCH: It's great that we're all close again. We all used to live in Las Vegas, of course. I moved away to Michigan to run with the Craftsman Truck Series of Jack Roush and moved down to North Carolina with the Cup program. Kyle was given an opportunity in North Carolina. So it's great to have all of us back together living fairly close out on some land where dad gets to be a farmer every now and then. We get to smile and enjoy times outside the racetrack again. We hadn't had that in the past few years. It may have eased my mind on a couple days of the week to have everybody close and to know that they're going to be around. But, you know, it's just this professional world of chasing a dream and having to travel around to all the different racetracks, to go and to race against all these different competitors. It's great to see a familiar face when you come home or when you have a chance to come out to the land.
Q. You threw out a pitch for the Cubs, didn't you?
KURT BUSCH: Yes, sir. I had that opportunity I believe back in 2002. I got the team together, after our race in Chicago, we went down to a Monday night game. The Chicago Cubs invited me out. We had great tickets to sit out in the bleachers. I was able to throw out the first pitch. It was a cool team gathering to have everybody there and have no worries about work for the day. We asked Jimmy Fennig if we could have the day off. It was great to have the day off and throw out the first pitch.
Q. Kyle is doing that for the Braves. Do you have any pitching advice for him?
KURT BUSCH: He played little league baseball for a few years, just as I did. It is almost just as nerve-wracking as starting your first race at Daytona for the season. He's got his work cut out for him. But it's the Atlanta Braves, it's not the Chicago Cubs.
Q. Speaking of the Cubs, how did you like the painting that the California Speedway gave you for winning?
KURT BUSCH: That was a fantastic piece of artwork. What he's referring to was a great artist's rendition of the Sharpie car crossing the start/finish line with the checkereds in hand in front of Wrigley Field. It was a great collage of the two most I guess passions in my life, of racing and baseball. The two were combined into one little picture. It was a fantastic piece that sits up in a nice spot in my trophy room. It's just a great piece of artwork that I was given for winning at California Speedway. That Speedway is first class with the way they handle different winners throughout the years. To be part of their Walk of Fame as well as getting a nice piece of artwork, it worked out pretty well. Our chance to go to California and win this time around are high and of course I'll try to do the best I can to try to achieve more success at California Speedway because of the great people there.
Q. What about the fact of two of the next three races are short tracks? Bristol this week and Richmond the week after. Fontana is really the only way that you guys won't be collected in somebody else's (inaudible). Horsepower is going to be the key. How do you see Fontana shaping up in this whole thing?
KURT BUSCH: Fontana is one of those common style of racetracks where we spend most of our time, a mile and a half to two mile, where aerodynamics are key, as well as horsepower. A new wave of setups. There's a lot of work to be done on our side of things to make sure that we're competitive. We have won there in the past, but the setups continue to change so rapidly that we've got to stay on our game and make sure that we get a good finish out of it. I believe our team is strong enough with the cars that we build and with the pit stops on pit road to be able to lock ourselves into the chase for the Cup and go after it.
Q. Coming into Bristol, certainly it has been alluded to that your confidence is there, performances there. Are there other tracks that you feel equally as comfortable going to and maybe it hasn't reflected in wins but still a good track for you guys?
KURT BUSCH: There's quite a few tracks that I feel comfortable enough to win, such as Bristol. But there's some more tracks that I still believe I need to work on to obtain that type of success. The short track program for the No. 97 Ford has been great in the past few years. When I first started with the program, we excelled on the mile and a half's. It's just the change in technology and the new wave of setting cars up. I believe that the road courses are tracks that we've done very well at, lap time-wise and handling characteristic-wise but haven't received the finishes we thought we could have obtained. Sears Point is a track I had a lot of starts in the Featherlite Southwest Series. When I've gone there to qualify, we've been top five the last three years, but just with one top five finish. That's just due to unforeseen circumstances. So road courses and some of the mile racetracks. We did win at Lowden this summer. But in the past I thought we've done real well at Phoenix, Lowden of course, and with the mix of Dover in that mile. So those are some of the tracks that I feel very confident about every time we go.
Q. Have you had an opportunity to talk with anyone with the new surfaced area at the Martinsville Speedway with the work they've done there?
KURT BUSCH: I have not just yet. I've heard some rumors about what would be repaved. Of course, they're moving the railroad tracks so they can put in more grandstand seating and elevate the fans excitement at Martinsville Speedway. A short track where you see bumping and grinding all the time. That's what fans thoroughly enjoy, the roots of our sport. Martinsville, the surface there has always been tricky and treacherous. We'll see what we get in time around. We actually are going to perform a two-day test with our team to help our chances in this chase for the Cup.
THE MODERATOR: Getting back to Fontana, the race at California, California Speedway, obviously a couple of factors play into that for you. It's close to your Las Vegas home, also the importance of the race. Why don't you sort of describe what your feeling and attitude is going to be heading back there for that particular race when you add in the importance of this one in particular.
KURT BUSCH: Well, this one definitely is going to have a different value to the normal races that are held at California Speedway. It's the first time that we're going there for a second date, as well as prime time television on a Sunday evening where everybody is going to have a chance to watch our race on NBC. NEXTEL has done a tremendous job bringing in different excitement levels, whether at a short track or speedway. Any time you add a night factor into things, it will definitely showcase a different style of race. The sparks will of course fly. We'll have the flash bulbs going off. The excitement level of prime time TV, and of course a chance to win at California Speedway for the first Labor Day venue. That's the excitement value that our team sees right now. But, of course, we can't get caught up in that and lose track of our chase for the Cup and getting locked in as well as the past that we've had there. We've run well in the past. A great finish my rookie year, to finish second my second year, to win last year. We just stumbled a little bit on our new setup this time around, but we'll probably go back to some of our roots for this fall race to make sure we've got a great solid finish ahead of us.
Q. The first time the lights at California Speedway are actually going to be really tested by any Cup cars, any race car in particular, is during the race. Does that give you any kind of apprehension? Are you so confident with what they've done over the years that you don't think there's going to be any problem?
KURT BUSCH: It is a different element that we have to make sure we take care of the right way. With tracks cooling down at night, the temperatures going down, you're usually given faster speeds. The track gives you more grip, and the numbers keep going in different directions. We'll rely on our past with different styles of tracks that are similar to California Speedway with night racing. And one thing that I'll look back on is some of my west coast roots with the asphalt out on the west coast provides for a lot of grip even when it's warm out during the daytime. It doesn't seem to change much at night. So that's an advantage that I believe I can bring into California Speedway and try to look for in the asphalt to make sure that we don't get too aggressive on one specific tire versus another and to make the car to where it can adjust. I believe the race starts late enough in the evening to where the sun will be down and the temperatures will be cool. It will be a whole different aspect for us than what we've normally seen.
Q. You can tell the difference from asphalt from an east coast to west coast racetrack?
KURT BUSCH: Definitely. It's something that I might be looking at too in-depth. I try to find as many advantages as I can. In the southeast, you have a lot of sand mixed in with the asphalt. It is very abrasive on the tires. That's very noticeable. For us at Darlington, Rockingham is one of those racetracks we don't race on anymore. Charlotte has that small characteristic as well as Atlanta. Those are some of the small characteristics I see in different areas of the country. Of course, when we race up north, those tracks go through such harsh winters that the snow really takes its toll on the tracks.
Q. Y'all are coming down, it looks like unless something catastrophic happens to you, you'll be in that final 10. Something almost catastrophic is happening to Jimmie Johnson. Jeff Gordon seems to be on a roll. However, when the clocks reset, you're only going to be something like, what, 30 points behind him. Are you going to be on a roll?
KURT BUSCH: Well, that's obviously the new format that is going to give us -- what you can look at is a second breath of fresh air or second opportunity to start the season over. We've looked at it as we don't really want to run too aggressively and lose track of our ideas early on in the season as well as saving our tests for the latter part of the year because we know we need to run strong when the money's on the line. That's in the final 10 races. We have at the Sharpie IRWIN team found ourselves in a position that we didn't really care for or feel like we deserved to be in, being seventh in points at one point. We were just too close to the cutoff point. So we stepped our game up at the first Lowden. So far we've been able to rip off four Top 10s in the last five races. That's helped us. But when we get into that next Lowden race, there's not going to be much opportunity for mistakes. Everybody is going to have to be on their game.
Q. What are you going to do with Gordon? He's on a roll there. How is it that you will be able to compete door handle to door handle with him?
KURT BUSCH: Well, there's different tracks that you see the 24 run well on as well as the different tracks you see the 97 run well on. There's places where he's going to get a little edge on us, such as a Martinsville style racetrack, maybe Talladega, because he's won two races this year. Then there's tracks that fall into our favor, such as the Lowden track where we won a little earlier this year, as well as the flat mile at Phoenix, which is similar to Lowden. Those are just two tracks on my side and two tracks on his side that I think he'll run well at and we'll run well on. That leaves six more that we'll have to duke it out on and see who is the better team that's prepared for the final 10 races.
Q. Do you know what other NASCAR NEXTEL Cup drivers think as the season continues and they're not anywhere near the Top 10?
KURT BUSCH: Each team has an objective at the beginning of the year to do the best that they can and to, of course, run for the championship. As different teams find themselves in places, they continue to adjust, whether it's to win on big tracks, whether it's to develop new crew guys or to develop a new situation for the next year. There's so many different ways to look at each of the teams. The way that our team has performed this year with two wins and I think we're now into the double-digit Top 10 finishes, we've been up to par, but we haven't been what you would call an A plus effort just yet. I believe that's all going to fall into place when we do get into these final 10 races with the tests that we've saved and with the preparations that we've made. Hopefully everything will fall into place and we won't get too far behind.
Q. I spoke with your brother earlier. This will be kind of interesting. Can you describe for us moments in your job that you must approach fans and moments that you must avoid the fans?
KURT BUSCH: That's an interesting question. Of course, with my unique position with being the spokesperson for Sharpie pens, it's a great opportunity for me to go and sign autographs any time that I can. Of course, when you have different autograph sessions, that's a more-than-welcome time for fans to come up and to get autographs and to buy memorabilia. When you have a practice session at the track in the garage area, it's difficult. When you're communicating with your crew chief back and forth, engineers, over to the holler, it's difficult to pause and take the moment, but it's still a pleasure of mine to give anybody an autograph that is willing to come up and ask for one. But it is tough in the garage area at times.
Q. You've had some changes on the Roush team. How much will you miss a guy like Jeff Burton and how much are you looking forward to working with a guy like Carl Edwards?
KURT BUSCH: There were times when I came into the program just so fresh and naive that I had to rely on experienced guys such as Jeff Burton and Mark Martin to help me through the smaller things as well as the big projects. He'll be deeply missed by all of us at Roush with the leadership skills - Jeff Burton I mean - and the way he was able to orchestrate different people into different positions and to put together a strong program that he had for so many years. Whether it was just a new wave of setups or just the chemistry that fell apart, we wish Jeff Burton well on his way. It's opened the door up for a guy such as myself. Carl Edwards, coming in from the Truck Series with some wins there and the ambition to run hard at every racetrack. We're going to see a whole new 99 program because Carl Edwards with just come in and look at different things different ways from the way Jeff Burton viewed things.
Q. Bristol, track position means more here pretty much than just about anywhere. How much preparation goes into qualifying for this particular race in contrast to others?
KURT BUSCH: Bristol's very difficult to qualify. It's one of those cool places where you make one little slip, you're chasing the car, hustling as hard as you can, you end up half a 10th slower than the leader, but it felt as if you lost a full second. It's very difficult to qualify at Bristol. It is important to start up front. It isn't everything, but it does give you a good pit selection when it comes time to picking pits and understanding what you've got to do for the rest of the day. When you qualify poorly, you've got to work your way through the pack and take risks as far as two tires or even staying out. When you get to start up front, you make sure you take four tires each time and have a nice solid race to where you're not stressing yourself.
Q. Since you came into the series, who has done your favorite rendition of the national anthem?
KURT BUSCH: That is completely different. To look at all the different stars that NASCAR has brought in, it puts us on a new stage of taking marketing to a different level. We've had some great talent, male and female, country artists, rock stars, rock'n roll bands. I'm a little biased to Britney Spears, before all this marriage stuff and all her issues behind the scene. She's pretty hot and did a pretty good job singing it.
Q. Who would be your choice who hasn't done it?
KURT BUSCH: Who hasn't done it? Man, they've had so many different people in to sing the national anthem. One guy that I thoroughly enjoy and I can't remember his name offhand, but out in Phoenix, they have the Southwest Tour race, the truck race and the Busch race, they allow this guy with a trumpet to come in and play the national anthem. It's a different rendition, something you wouldn't necessarily feel in the Phoenix area, but this guy is just phenomenal and puts on an awesome national anthem. I wish they'd bring him in for the Cup race as well.
THE MODERATOR: With that I think we've come to the close of Kurt Busch joining us for the NASCAR NEXTEL teleconference. Kurt, thank you so much for coming on board. I had the luxury last week of going to Cooperstown to the baseball Hall of Fame, so the baseball spirit is alive and well, but it's also going to be a big time for you as far as the next few weeks of getting that Top 10 and running for the championship. Starting with Bristol, good luck there and thanks for joining us. Obviously, we at NEXTEL will be really excited about having you out to the NEXTEL Experience Saturday at 3:30 to get in that simulator and race against a fan.
KURT BUSCH: Thanks. I'm pretty sure you're probably going to throw me in there cold turkey, no practice laps. Here is this fan taking practice. Always mixing it up.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks for joining us and good luck this weekend and best to you the rest of the season, too.
KURT BUSCH: You got it. Thanks again, guys.
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