NASCAR Media Conference
September 28, 2010
DENISE MALOOF: Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to the NASCAR teleconference in advance of this weekend's NASCAR events at Kansas Speedway. Joining us is Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge for Penske Racing. Sunday's race is the third race for the NASCAR Sprint Cup event and Kurt is among the 12 drivers eligible to compete for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title during the season's final 10 events, or the Chase.
He heads to Kansas fourth in the standings. He's 59 points behind leader Denny Hamlin. He had a very good outing last Sunday at Dover, finishing fourth and jumping one spot in the Chase standings.
Kurt, you have your work cut out for you at Kansas, which I know you would like to tame. What's the key to the breakout for you there?
KURT BUSCH: Kansas has been a tough track for me over the years. Not just for me at Penske Racing, but a little bit over at Roush Racing. I posted my best finish at sixth. That came back in 2004 during my championship run. That's the ambition this time around, is to have a nice, solid finish. Don't get me wrong, if we have a shot to win, we're going to go for it.
We have to get our Miller Lite Dodge dialed in and turning in the center corner. Kansas is a little similar to Chicago, and we struggled a little bit at Chicago earlier this year. That's just what has us worried a little bit.
DENISE MALOOF: I hear you have a little more on the line if you come away with the title this year.
KURT BUSCH: We got a couple exciting things going on with this being my final eight races now with Miller Lite. Internally we've discussed some different fun promotions. We might be able to get beer for life if I bring home the championship for the No. 2 car.
It will be an exciting adventure, of course. It's something we've been playing around with. If you see me running into guys out on the track, it's because I have more motivation now because I'll get free beer for life if I win the championship.
DENISE MALOOF: Let's go to questions for Kurt Busch, please.
Q. Kurt, it's still a bit early, but we're looking at a possible Busch-versus-Busch scenario for the championship with you guys third and fourth. Would that be a good or bad thing?
KURT BUSCH: I think it would be great. I think that neither one of us would shy away from that challenge.
But I agree with the first part of your statement; it's a little early. Right now there's still 12 very competitive cars. It's not just one guy you have to focus on. You have to go out there each week and beat everybody or do the best job you can to beat as many as you can.
Q. On Busch versus Busch, how exciting do you think that would be? It's been maybe since the days of the Allisons that this series has had brothers going after it like that. Talk about that story line. Then you were talking about struggling in Chicago and Kansas. You blamed it going to Cubs games. What night are you going to the Royals game and what kind of baseball fan are you?
KURT BUSCH: I think the chance for me and Kyle to race for the championship has its best position in years. We'll see how it shakes out. We're right there, third and fourth. There's so many weeks to worry about.
I was making fun of myself for not maybe having the focus in Chicago. Of course, I'm always focused on the racecar, what happens on that track.
Just because I am a big baseball fan, I love seeing Chicago Cubs games. One of our associate sponsors, Cintas, is putting together an event at the ballpark where the Royals play. We're going to be out there Friday night.
Q. You and Kyle growing up, any other time have you been so neck and neck before?
KURT BUSCH: It's always been tough with me being seven years older. I was always in a different racing division than Kyle.
Q. Kurt, what is going to be the key in the sense of Kansas where you feel like you know immediately if you have the situations resolved with the mile-and-a-half, or is it something that can be worked out with limited track time you have each weekend?
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, it's when you try to accelerate coming out of the corner. If the car is somewhat stress free, it's not pushing the front tires out, the rear's sliding out, if it has a good, solid base and a feel, then I think we'll be more competitive this weekend. That's where we struggled at Chicago, is putting the power down on corner exit.
Q. You've been through this before. How have you learned how to deal with the pressure? Is there additional pressure with the Chase, having won it? If so, do you feel like you handled it as well as you could and how have you learned with dealing with the pressure as we get to the final races?
KURT BUSCH: It was an amazing 10 weeks. All different types of new scenarios. The excitement level is up at an all-time high. The stress level is at an all-time high. It's something that I thrive off of. I like the competition, the chance to go out there and beat the best.
It's just a playoff atmosphere. You can just feel it in the air. It's just like baseball, firing up in the playoffs soon. It's like football, basketball, you name it. Our 10 weeks are our playoffs. You got to be bringing your A game every week.
Q. Kurt, I've heard some drivers say whether it be Chase or non-Chase drivers, non-Chase guys say the Chase drivers race us harder, Chase drivers say it's harder to get around some of these non-Chase drivers. Have you noticed any difference at all in the way people drive you? Any more or less give-and-take whether it be a Chase or non-Chase driver you've been around?
KURT BUSCH: I really haven't noticed. I think the 26 races have their feel of the regular season. Now that we've been in the Chase, I'm looking for every position I can be gaining. Yeah, last week Logano finished third right in front of us. The week before that, it was Edwards who was a Chase guy. Whether it's a Chaser or non-Chaser, it seems like everybody is racing hard and tough for every single spot.
Q. Any difference in your driving style? Have you felt maybe you have to be a little more conservative here at the beginning and will there be a point where you can say now you're comfortable or uncomfortable enough to put a little more 'go' into it?
KURT BUSCH: Well, I actually have the opposite problem. I started off too aggressive in New Hampshire, ended up spinning the car while I was running for third place. You got to just remember, it's 10 weeks and you have to settle in, but at the same time you're amped up and every position counts.
Q. Kurt, when you're on the track in the Chase races, how aware are you of where the other Chasers are? Is your spotter telling you, updating you on what's going on?
KURT BUSCH: No, not at all. We're just staying focused on what we have to do. If we're running fourth on the track like we were at Dover, yeah, I know two Chase guys are ahead of me. The best part about it is there was a larger quantity of Chase guys behind us. You don't necessarily focus on it. When you get towards that final pit stop, you're looking to find any Chase guy you can to finish in front of him.
Q. Kurt, I asked your brother this same question. It goes with the Chase scenario, too. You probably worked just as hard the first year you broke into Cup. Can you compare your approach to driving now, that first year to this year, especially with the Chase format?
KURT BUSCH: Well, it's been a great 10 years. This past weekend was an anniversary for me. Now I have the experience level to know what racetrack requires what driving style, just knowing a track's characteristics. It's like showing up and knowing how to do everything, except you can get into more detail.
Over the years, you learn not to overdrive the car, but get good, solid finishes. Then there's times where you see yourself out on the racetrack, getting into a sticky situation, you need to bail out, give up a couple spots, whereas as a young driver, you would still stay aggressive and possibly wreck the car.
Q. You hear a lot of times it's the small things that make the big difference. Right now do you concentrate on small things or are you constantly overwhelmed with the big picture?
KURT BUSCH: No, it's just one race at a time. You have to be prepared and have things built and cars ready to go in advance.
But really it gets down to Friday morning, Kansas Speedway practice. That's the most important part of what we have to do next.
Q. Kansas is the first of four intermediate tri-ovals left in this playoff. As somebody who has historically been good on those kind of tracks, can you put in perspective how important those tri-ovals are going to be in terms of the championship picture, given there's so many of them?
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, they do make up the largest quantity of a certain style of track. Kansas is pretty different compared to Texas and Charlotte and Homestead.
But, you know, it's a challenging track. We only race there once a year. There's two tracks in the Chase we race once a year, Kansas and Homestead. There's a little bit of an uneasy feeling going there if you don't have a solid notebook because you only race there once a year and it's hard to find that speed.
Q. Sounds like you don't think whoever comes out of Kansas running well will have any kind of edge at Charlotte or Texas or anything like that. Sort of an animal unto itself?
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, it's comparable to the others. Don't get me wrong there. But, again, it's tough to separate one out of the 10 that are the most important. We can just say that, yeah, Kansas will lead us towards the other mile-and-a-half's.
Q. Seems like everybody talks about Talladega is going to be the turning point. If you're not doing well by Talladega, that's the one that is going to wipe everybody out. Do you agree with that assessment?
KURT BUSCH: Talladega can make or break your season. It's part of the game. It's a wild card. If you find yourself out of a hundred points after Talladega, it's tough to make it up in those final three weeks.
Q. Now that you've had almost the full season to evaluate the Dodge relationship, I'm wondering if your thoughts might have changed as to whether you prefer being the only Dodge team in getting all the technical attention directly from Dodge or if it would be better to have other Dodge teams out there to perhaps be gathering data that would be helpful, and also a drafting partner in certain situations, especially now that you're in the Chase?
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, I feel like we've got a great situation with Dodge, that they've got all their eggs in one basket, so to speak, with being with us at Penske Racing. Sometimes the manufacturers position themselves for tire tests. That may have hurt us, it may have helped us, in gathering tire data information. A lot of that comes from the people up in Detroit. That could have hurt or helped us in certain situations.
To me it's great we're in the Chase. We're doing the best we can to bring this championship on home. The Dodge group feels like family. We're all out there racing together.
Q. Based on your success this year, looks like Brad is going to win the Nationwide championship. Considering all of the negative publicity and problems that Dodge has had over the last year or two, do you get any sense that the NASCAR success is sort of a newfound boost to the company?
KURT BUSCH: Oh, absolutely. It's vital when you have such a large group of race fans following our sport, what manufacture is competitive. Right now that Dodge Challenger looks great out on the racetrack. Brad has positioned himself well for the final homestretch running for that championship. It will look beautiful down at Homestead, the Miami area, with the championship trophy. That's exactly what Dodge wants.
Q. Kurt, I'm wondering, where you are in the standings, does that have any effect on how you approach a race? Does it make it so you can be a little bit more aggressive or conservative knowing you're high or low in the standings?
KURT BUSCH: It does more towards the end of the Chase. Right now it's the beginning and you race each race just to play it smart, be cool. Go for the win, of course, but you have to get as many points early on as you can. If you find yourself with a cushion, then you can race with a cushion.
Q. Kurt, you've talked about racing at Kansas. What makes it so tough racing at various tracks? Is it a mental thing or just a certain part of that track that gets to you?
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, each racetrack has its own personality. It could be something that a driver struggles with like turn one or something at a specific track, hard to overcome. It could be its basic layout. That challenge as a team as far as how they find the grip, get the car handling well.
Shoot, who knows. A track like Kansas, with the altitude there, the way things shake up in the Midwest, weather mixture, you never know if the engine has the perfect combination.
Q. You said you don't really pay attention to the other Chasers. After two races in the Chase, you're fourth in the standings, just in front of Kevin Harvick. We know Shell-Pennzoil is heading to your team at the end of the season. Do you have a sense of urgency to keep him behind you?
KURT BUSCH: Not really. I like your style of thinking (laughter).
Those sponsors and relationships have their time and place in the sport. We're going to find that out once we move into next year with Shell-Pennzoil. Harvick has had a great season. They led the points all year long. Anytime that big articles and different types of web pages were spread out NASCAR-wise, Harvick was a leading candidate for that. He's gotten great exposure for them. I know they're rooting for us and we're rooting for them.
Q. Considering the up-and-coming drivers such as Justin Allgaier and Trevor Bayne having a hard time securing rides for next year, have you heard anybody voice their concern about the growth of talent in NASCAR that may be stunted in the near future?
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, there's definitely a concern, and yet at the same time they're been some action taken, not just from team owners but from NASCAR, to find a unique points system that could help those full-time Nationwide guys receive more exposure and be able to bring up new, promising talent and create bigger names for those guys to help lure in the bigger-dollar sponsors.
It's definitely a work in progress and everybody is on the same page.
Q. Kurt, the brother thing one more time. When you're on the track and you see the 18, do you see your brother or do you see a competitor, a rival? What goes through your mind when you're fender-to-fender with the 18?
KURT BUSCH: All three of those and probably many more. He's my little brother. You know, we're teammates in one aspect; we're competitors in another. You know, I'm the bigger brother, so at the end of the day I want to win, and he's supposed to finish second to me.
He's a tough challenger on track. He's definitely in championship form, just like any other racer. But I know he's my brother, I know I want to beat him, but at the same time I'm going to help him.
Q. What do you think of him breaking the Nationwide record, what he's done in this short period?
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, it's been phenomenal to watch. He's got those Nationwide cars dialed in. He's built his own empire with his truck program. He's full-throttle racing all the time. I'm proud to watch him do it.
DENISE MALOOF: Kurt, many, many thanks for your time today. We appreciate it. We know it's a busy day. Good luck at Kansas. We'll see you there.
KURT BUSCH: Absolutely. Thanks a lot. This is a promotion we started last year, but Operation Homefront which helps military families in need will be back on our car for a good chunk of the races here in the Chase. Hopefully bring us some luck.
DENISE MALOOF: Excellent. Thank you very much.
Thanks to all the media who participated. We'll see you next week.
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