NASCAR Media Conference
Topics: NASCAR, Nextel Cup
THE MODERATOR: Give us your thoughts and emotions on being a NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series champion today.
KURT BUSCH: Just an unbelievable day. To be able to persevere such as we did again, to overcome all the different obstacles, to put together a great season such as we did, with the regular season, superb job, and then with the playoffs, outstanding. One little slip here or there, we were able to make up for it. We started off the Chase with a win. We finished with a top five and a pole. Unbelievable the way that Jimmy Fennig executed the whole program, to give me the best race cars I could possibly drive, and to give me equipment that would give me the position like we had today. A top five finish, I was in stitches, I was just sick to my stomach the last few laps. I'd been out there forever. I haven't had freshwater in a while. This isn't parallel to the Super Bowl or to the World Series. This first championship that NASCAR put together with this new format and to be the first NEXTEL Cup champion, it took so much from within, it's like any other championship in the world. I felt like I had the whole world on my shoulders, every lap today, but I felt like I was alone or I had my whole team behind me and I had the fan support and I knew that I had the equipment to do so. So many emotions today. And to be able to pull through and to finish like we did, to cap off a great season, it's an unbelievable feeling.
THE MODERATOR: Jack, thoughts on winning the race and thoughts on winning a NEXTEL Cup championship today from you?
JACK ROUSH: It's just been great. You know, to be part of Jimmy Fennig's program, you know, Jimmy has organized this 97 team in his own light that comes from all the good history that he had with Bobby Allison. Jimmy Fennig has only worked for two NASCAR team owners, turns out Bobby Allison and myself. Of course, he spent so much time with Bobby. Bobby has been an inspiration to me, as well. But anyway, to be here with Jimmy and the doldrums when we were just getting Kurt started to have brought Jimmy into the program, had Jimmy take him as a son or as a driver that was incredibly talented, that he considered to be worth his energy and his commitment, to hang in and bring us all along, it's just been incredible. He's built the team, and he's helped Kurt advance. I've had many questions. You know, Kurt has had some lumps and bumps in his young career here. You know, Kurt is an incredible quick study. Things are going right, once he understands how something works, he never forgets it and he won't put it aside. And if something happens that's not right for him or not good for him, well, he makes the commitment to go forward and do it differently. If somebody asked me what's the thing is that's made the most difference as seen by me for Kurt this year is how close he's been to Mark and how close he's been to Matt and how close he's been to Greg Biffle. And to watch him to start to mentor has you has now Carl Edwards, who has come along on the same path that Kurt came through just a few years ago.
THE MODERATOR: Questions.
Q. Two or three saves again today. This race today was almost like a summary of what your whole season has been: save after save after save.
KURT BUSCH: It's just a scenario to where I've seen things go wrong and tried to understand the best that I can what I need to do as a driver to communicate to the team, to be able to persevere and to stay focused on the task at hand. Things are always magnified when you're in this position of driving for a championship. There's other teams that have bumps in the road, as well. And to be able to put forth an effort such as this in 10 races, I had one smooth race, I believe. That was New Hampshire. Maybe Martinsville a little bit where we finished fifth. But to go to each of the racetracks and attack the racetrack for a win and nothing less, one racetrack after the next, 500 miles one week, 400 the next, go to a rough-and-tough racetrack like Martinsville, follow it up or the week preceding was a Talladega Superspeedway event. The driver has to adapt to so many changing circumstances at the racetracks, every single one is different. Even your competitors, because you see different competitors at every racetrack to excel at one specific style of racetrack versus another. And the final 10 races, the racetracks challenged every team to the testing ability, to the team's focus, to the motor tuning and development. You name it, it was a full-team effort. The way that we were able to overcome all of those circumstances, there's positions and time to be lucky, there's positions and times to be able to make sure that you stay focused and put those thoughts at bay and put together the best effort. And I'm overwhelmed. I'm completely exhausted about what these final 10 races meant. But it's a true testament to what a team has to do, to what a driver has to do, to what an owner sees as a leader, in the way you have to compete at your top level for 10 races against the 10 toughest competitors. That's what this season meant for us, was these final 10 races, because that's what the NEXTEL Chase for the Cup is.
Q. You went to your dad when you were 14 years old and said you wanted to race. He said to keep your grades up and he would give you his car. You're the youngest champion ever, all this stuff. It's been a long road for you personally. You have a team behind you, but you didn't get here at the age of 26 for nothing. Can you address the long road to where you're at now at the age of 26?
KURT BUSCH: One might argue that it hasn't been a long road. I've been very fortunate to slide into different rides, that's what racers call them, to be able to meet the right people and sponsors, car owners, crew chiefs, and to be able to do this in such a short time frame, it's mind-boggling to me. I've had so many things fall into place in my life that I'm very fortunate for. To be able to work for such a caliber team at such a young age was overwhelming to me. And all's what I knew at that level was to go to the front, race as hard as I can, and wrinkle fenders along the way. That's how I thought I was supposed to race. That was the wrong mindset. When I raced with Jimmy Fennig my second year, he gave me great cars that would lead races and run up front. Now I'm an unpolished rookie or second-year driver that has equipment. Look out. I ran over people again. It took some time for me to understand the bigger picture and to know there was no real level higher than this, and there never will be in my life. I'm fully committed to NASCAR and the NEXTEL Cup racing circuit, just to be able to understand the bigger ethic and bigger picture about racing at this level is one thing that I misunderstood the first couple of years, and now I've been able to put that in grasp and to learn from Jimmy Fennig, to learn from Jack Roush. And, of course, my father was always there. He was the first one that I would go to after a race when I got home and ask him questions about what I did wrong and what I can do better. And he's really helped me along to this point.
Q. When you pulled up, they handed you the trophy. It seems like it took you a few minutes to really grasp everything that was going on there. Is that the point when it really hit you that you won?
KURT BUSCH: I had the 48 in front of me, the 24 in front of that. I'm doing all these numbers in my head trying not to run into walls. I thought I did it. It took all the way to the back straightaway for them to communicate to me that we had done it. Immediately the emotions overtook anything that I did all day today. When I got to the point of hoisting the trophy, the first NEXTEL Cup, it meant so much to me, it meant so much to NASCAR, and I know that it means a tremendous amount to NEXTEL to savor those few moments and to act as if I've won something that's never been done before. And I did that today. Those were the few thoughts that went through my mind as I hoisted up the trophy.
Q. Jack, you were the last team owner to win the Winston Cup title, the first to win the NEXTEL Cup. Two different points systems. Talk a little bit about that.
JACK ROUSH: You know, we'd been in the old system, competing in the old system, last year was our 17th year. Of course, we'd been to the trough four times with Mark. He finished second. I was surprised that we were able to win last year. Our Taurus 2003 was dated. We hadn't had a new set of templates for it since '97. So we had a nose that was behind, a tail that was behind, and our engine was revised the last time in '92. The Dodge and the Chevrolet had had numerous revisions since then. So I didn't think that our engine was great and I knew our car wasn't great from an aero point of view. I was surprised we were able to come up with the durability, the consistency that the DeWalt team was able to do what they needed to do. I fully expected with the new engine program and with the new Ford this year to be a factor since we'd kept most of our people in place and had learned a lot, you know, through last year. I'd hoped to be able to put all five in the Top 10. You know, I'm greedy that way. And that certainly is our goal for next year. But if we come back and look at the chances we had to lose this championship in the last 10, you know, the times that Kurt got himself caught in a situation where he had to spin the car to miss a wreck, he had a wheel fall off today. My heart stopped when I saw how close he was to the pit wall, crashing that pit wall head on getting into the pits as the wheel come off. There were many ways for us to lose this. We can't expect to win two championships in a row with all the hazards that are out there. So this is a feast or famine business. It's incredibly hard to do this. I'm just glad to have a chance to have won it twice, you know, with Kurt and with Matt. And I look forward to repeats for Kurt or Matt and the other guys.
Q. You're the last name as team owner on the Winston Cup trophy, now you're the first name on the NEXTEL Cup trophy.
JACK ROUSH: How about that!
Q. Tell us exactly what happened with the wheel, and on the subsequent pit stops to fix that problem?
KURT BUSCH: We had a problem that in the car it felt as if we had a loose lug nut. And when you have that type of problem, it's hard to distinguish what exactly is wrong. Is it the wheel spacer that got caught up in the wheel wrong? Is it that there is something loose? You don't want to take and point your finger at somebody that did the wrong job. You have to analyze it the best way that you can. And after the pit stop, I still thought that the wheel vibrated loose, and we had a flat tire due to a blister, not knowing that the center of the wheel came out. So I pointed at the front tire changer during that pit stop. He was like, "What are you talking about? Do you need something?" I'm like, "No. This is a moment in my life and your life that we're not agreeing on." We were able to get back out on the track and to not have a vibration after that. That was the first time I've ever had a wheel that came apart. The center of it was tight against the hub. The wheel came apart from the outer ring. That's something that Jimmy Fennig explained to me. We were able to learn something new today as well as finish well enough to win the first NEXTEL Cup championship. The way our season has gone, there's so many lessons that you learn and you have to apply them quickly if you want to be competitive at this top level.
Q. Can Jimmy answer that, too?
JIMMY FENNIG: Well, the tire, it broke. First reaction you do is you go to the tire changer and see if the holes were oblonged. We brought the piece up on the pit box, looked at it, and they weren't oblonged. We're sitting there, "Is the wheel spacers backing off?" We're trying to fix the problem or find the problem. But the wheel was actually tight. I just was by the car right now, and everything still was tight after the race. So we'll take it back to the shop Monday and look at it and see if we can find. Maybe we had some bad wheel spacers or the metal was too soft or something like that that caused it. But the tire changer did have them pulled uptight. Why it broke, there's a torque ring that picks up the outside, inner part of the wheel. It picked up the inner part, not the outer part. We'll dig into it tomorrow morning and find out.
Q. As long as you've been racing, has that ever happened to you before?
JIMMY FENNIG: With Mark Martin in '98, we had a wheel come loose. So I said, rule, that the wheels get torqued when it leaves the garage and once it's on pit road before the race starts, so they're actually torqued twice. Since 1998, that was the last time that happened, it's the very first time. But this time it appears that the wheel wasn't loose; something else was the problem.
JACK ROUSH: To put that in perspective, that's a failure that you see, a fatigue failure that you typically see on parts that have been used too long. We replace, for the Cup Series, our wheels every year. At times when the truck wasn't as intense as it is today and the Busch isn't as intense as it is today, you would expect wheels to be used two years in Busch and maybe a third year in truck. That's the kind of failure you typically will see. We've got to go back and learn from this. Jimmy and I will put our heads together on it and look at some more parts. But I think right now, my hip shot, my shot from the hip is that next year we'll run our wheels for 26 races, and then for the last 10 we'll have another set of wheels. But in my 18 years, I've never had a wheel break that I felt broke because it was fatigued like this, but I've seen it on wheels that I knew were too old for doing what they were trying to do.
Q. Kurt, Jack said his heart stopped. What was your heart doing when you saw the wheel come off and almost hit the pit wall?
KURT BUSCH: I guess I have a good opportunity to throw Matt under the bus. His nickname is 'gravedigger' after he ran into those tires. That was the last thing that I wanted to do. Matt is a guy, he's always a racer. He's always trying to do the best job that he can in the seat. And that's somebody that I looked up to. Even though he's got a year more experience, he was one that helped me in what we put together as a team. To have that feeling of knowing that the light at the end of the tunnel was very dim at that point, and then to almost run into the tire barriers thinking about the light being too dim, I realized I was in the wrong frame of mind. And that's what I had -- the car wouldn't turn. I just had too much speed. When I applied brake, the car turned to the right even further because of the way that the caliper locked up so quickly, it turned the car to the right. I let go of the brake, turned it as hard as I could left, missed it. In doing that, I came into pit road too hot. So my speed on entry was too fast, and that penalty was to start at the tail end of the longest line. That was that.
Q. We heard on the TV after Jimmy had gotten the piece of the wheel, there was something wrong with the wheel. You were able to make a joke. As the race got on, more things went bad, you were less able to joke. How did you focus, just go back to racing?
KURT BUSCH: Knowing early on that you have time to make up different circumstances, be able to pull up through the field, you're able to smile still and know that you've got a shot because you can still work as hard as you can and pour your heart out because tomorrow is going to be another day and you hope that you gave everything that you did today. And for us to have those problems early, it was good. To have smaller problems later, it was still chewing at me. But I knew that if I could find the 24 and the 48, that we would have an opportunity to race those guys for this championship. And things at the end of the race came into play for us in a positive way.
Q. Kurt, what is the most significant thing to you to be called a series champion now?
KURT BUSCH: Well, this one has its first. This is a tag that NEXTEL came into our sport to create a new identity around NASCAR racing, to create a playoff system to where you have to be a driver and a team to persevere over anything that happens in a 10-race playoff. If one or two bad things happen and your finish isn't that great, it somewhat takes your chances away. But if you're able to go for the win in every race and beat the best of the best, 10 guys for 10 races, and to be put up with the likeness of other names that have come through our sport as champions, it means so much to me. And to give Jack his first NEXTEL Cup championship, to win the first one for NEXTEL, I know there's going to be so much work ahead of me, that will help create a stronger identity for the 97 team and what Jimmy Fennig has put together. I look at it has a team effort. But in the history books, it's my name. I know that Jimmy looks at that. I know that Jack looks at that. I look at the others that have come through our ranks. To be a champion, to put together races, to put together an effort, it was all different in the past. This was the first one in the new era of NEXTEL as our series sponsor. To win this championship, it's unparalleled to anything that's ever happened in motorsports because of the way and what it took as far as an approach to win this.
Q. Kurt, when you had the problem with the wheel, the slow pit stop, on the radio you sounded like you were a little tense, but you didn't flip out. Is that maybe a sign of maturity that people have been talking about with you?
KURT BUSCH: I believe at that point in the race, it was time to either shape up or ship out, and I wanted the team to rally behind every one of themselves and to know we had no more room for mistakes. To have that circumstance of the wheel falling off, something that I've never had before, to have the miscommunication on what we were going to do as far as our pit stop, it was still early enough in the race. Even if we had that towards the latter part of the race and didn't have the outcome that we would have had, it's a team effort. We got to this point because we're a team, and we were going to win this thing or lose this thing because we were a team. There wasn't going to be any finger pointing. I would take all responsibility because the media would have been on my shoulders afterwards. It is a great thing that our team pulled together today, and what I've learned from these two individuals sitting to my right, that I've been able to piece things together to know what it takes to be a champion.
Q. Jimmy, is it true, did he completely maintain his cool and composure?
JIMMY FENNIG: Yeah. I mean, Kurt has been doing an awesome job on these last 10 races. We ended up spinning out a couple. He kept his cool, come back, and we got a nice top five finish. You know, he just calmed down. Everything's been cool. We have a long way to go. At the end, the results show it. He's been doing an awesome job at that. I think I probably get a little bit madder on the box. You can ask Jack (laughter), last week at Darlington. No, it's a big team effort. One guy makes a mistake, we go help that guy. We all stand behind. Nobody points fingers, like Kurt said.
Q. Jimmy, we always talk to the drivers that are in the battle for the championship about how much pressure's on them. Given everything that was at stake today, did you feel any additional pressure that you guys had to perform, you couldn't make mistakes?
JIMMY FENNIG: Well, I kind of had meetings every Sunday with the crew guys, the pit crew guys. We go over what needs to be done. We kind of just say, "Do like we've been doing to get us to this point." I kind of joke around a little bit, keep them relaxed. But there is pressure on them guys. They got to perform. They know they have to perform. But, you know, throughout our meetings, we just say, "Do what you did to get to this point," and that's what those guys do.
Q. Jack, two win two championships in a row, can you talk about the emotions you're going through, the sense of satisfaction?
JACK ROUSH: Well, we're 2 for 18. That's 11%. That's not very high (laughter). I did a little better than that before I started stock car racing. I expected to. But we are on our way. You know, it is two out of 18. It's not zero for 18. With what Kurt is able to do now, what Jimmy is able to do - you are going to give me some more years, Jimmy?
JIMMY FENNIG: I'm not done yet.
JACK ROUSH: Jimmy built a new house. I've been waiting for the letter. He said he was going to go the way of the dodo bird. But, anyway, we've got a long time with Kurt here. You know, he's going to go at least 20, 30 years longer. I hope that I'll be around to see most of that. We expect to win lots of championships with Kurt. Greg still has his championship in front of him. Mark has got one more shot at it. Matt Kenseth has his teeth whetted on it. Carl Edwards, what can you say about Carl? We're real excited to go compete for a championship every year. With the way NASCAR has got the thing for the 10-race deal, if you can salt the field of 10 with two or three strong horses like we had this year, you've got a better chance to win a championship than you really did under the old scenario. The thing that I'm sure will be talked about and lamented over is the fact that Jimmie Johnson had this thing organized. It was a cakewalk for him if it had been under the old situation. Putting them all together, 50 points apart, it's like throwing it under a blanket. We just want to have all of our guys in there if we can.
Q. How does it feel to finally get a title after spending so many years in the sport?
JIMMY FENNIG: It feels good. I always say, you know, it don't really matter because I've enjoyed myself over these years. I've won races. But today's a special day. Winning my very first championship with Kurt Busch and Jack Roush and this Sharpie team, it will sink in pretty hard tomorrow, but I feel good about it.
Q. Jimmy, you said you always be satisfied with your career, even without a championship. Is it any more important that you have this accomplishment now?
JIMMY FENNIG: Well, the reason I say that it is because I'm fortunate enough to be doing what I love to do, which is go racing. That's all I did all my life. I've been pretty successful at it. So if I didn't win the championship, it really -- I was going to walk away with a smile anyway. But, like I say, this one's going to be special to me. Hopefully I can keep doing this another 10 years, you know, keep following Jack.
Q. When the wheel came off, were you concerned about damage to the brakes, suspension, steering, so forth?
JIMMY FENNIG: Well, number one, you want to make sure the sheet metal's okay because we're playing in a very aerodynamic day now. And then the next thing that come to my mind, why it came off. That's 'cause I got to fix why it came off so we can continue on. That's all I thought about, is why. Kurt said he had brakes, so I knew we were going to be all right there. But it really concerned me, and we kept kicking the space around me and Jack. I showed Jack and everything else. We still couldn't figure out why. Right now to this time, I still can't figure out why. I wasn't concerned about the camber or nothing else because the wheel just came off. It ended up landing on the sway bar. We have little short pieces on the sway bar for flat tires, for rubbing, to handle that problem.
Q. Kyle was pretty distraught at Atlanta, Phoenix and last week at Darlington. How much were you there to kind of help boost him up? Jack, you still have a little bit of hole in your heart that Mark hasn't been able to get his championship?
KURT BUSCH: One thing that we have done as brothers is we've stuck together no matter what we get involved in. It was evident to me that he thought that blood was thicker than business when the championship form started. He was torn in so many different directions, when this race finally came down to the end, and of course what he went through after Martinsville, to have Ricky Hendrick so close to him as an owner. I'm not that much of a mentor just yet as far as looking at different types of life scenarios, but as far as race car and focus of what you have to do in a car, I tried to give him as much advice as I could and tried to calm his nerves and to ease his pain. Just as all the whole racing community was down and felt the effects of what happened to Hendrick Motorsports. If there's any piece we could give from our championship to help soothe their needs over at Hendrick Motorsports, I'd like to do so. Kyle was one that branched me to them in knowing how tough this was to go through as a racing community.
JACK ROUSH: You know, Mark is a true champion. Mark and I were holding hands, saying it would be fine for either one of us, or for us together, not to win a championship. We thought we'd been doing the right thing, and we were happy with the success we had, and it was enough. But, you know, Mark, based on the way he raced the IROC cars and all the championships he had there, the Busch cars, all the races he won there, he deserves a championship in NASCAR's top series. It's one of the things that I feel bad about when I go to bed every night, that with another owner, he probably would have had a couple of them by now, and I've held him back, and that really bothers me. But we'll do our best effort to put him in a car that can win next year, and then we'll go look at trucks and whatever's left.
Q. Kurt, I'm curious if you could describe to us what is it about your personality that you think you're going to be able to bring to the championship? How would you describe how you are? Matt was very quiet last year. Tony Stewart was not very quiet necessarily. But how would you describe your personality, how you think it will be as a champion?
KURT BUSCH: This is a new look and a new face for NASCAR. I'm a driver that likes to go back to tradition, and to go to the heritage of our sport. I hope I'm able to link the two together to create an identity of new fans as well as keep the old fans interested in what we've done as a new format. To be a leader in what we can do with NEXTEL, the possibilities are endless. And I am more ambitious and willing to do anything for them to help create what they want out of this program. To be a champion, the first of NEXTEL, the second in a row for Jack Roush, the first for Jimmy Fennig, and the first for the '97 Sharpie Irwin racing team, there are so many people that I represent, that any time I speak or any time I show up for a type of appearance, there will be people affected. And hopefully people that are turned on to our sport more so than what they were before as well as follow our team in more depth.
Q. Kurt, you had a pretty charged reaction during driver introductions. Do you think you won some fans over as you begin next year as the champion?
KURT BUSCH: That's what's great about our sport. The fans are entitled to root and pull against anybody they want to. And to be in a situation such as mine, the underdog, somebody that came up in this new format, new system, to be able to come up to the top - maybe too quickly - through my career, as well, relatively unknown, just a different look, from the West Coast, to race too hard too early, wrinkle those fenders, and to crumble the spirits of some of those fans, this is definitely a bullet point in my career that will help some of them realize that I'm not such a bad guy, I guess. It's been fun to go up against the likes of Dale Earnhardt, Jr., to go against the favorites of Jeff Gordon, and of course the favorite Jimmie Johnson with so many wins in these final 10 races as well as what they had as a racing family to go through. I always look back to these two individuals to my side. They're the ones that pull me through any circumstance that I see. The way the fans react, I hope that it's more of a positive outcome because I need to do my job as a champion to lead NEXTEL into their second year.
Q. You talked about your dad earlier. You didn't come up on the southern bull rings or even the Busch Series. How is your background affecting the way you are a race car driver? How did that help or hurt you?
KURT BUSCH: Well, I believe it was the quick, gradual -- it was the rise to come up from one series to the next, without spending a certain amount of time learning the bad habits of what that series had within it, or not developing the a port with the drivers. Jack moved me straight into Cup with only one year -- six months of truck experience. To go from the bull rings and the Saturday night short tracks out in Las Vegas, relatively unknown to the truck world, then completely unknown to the Cup world, ever single one of my mistakes were up at this elite level. And that's one thing that I did wrong. Maybe I should have waited another year in truck. Maybe I should have done a year in Busch. But one thing that I'm able to say, and it's because I'm in this position today, that we continued to race hard, we continued to learn hard lessons, and the knowledge that I have about race cars has fed from my father. It translated right into Jack's frame of mind, the way that he approaches race cars and the way that he builds his teams. I was the racer at heart. That's all I wanted to do was race, and I didn't understand the bigger picture. That's where the results came quick, but the rough edges of the other things were a bit more magnified.
THE MODERATOR: Kurt, Jack, Jimmy, thank you for joining us. Congratulations on your championship.
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