NASCAR Media Conference
October 6, 2009
HERB BRANHAM: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to today's NASCAR Teleconference. We're in advance of the fourth race in the 2009 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. That race is the Pepsi 500 coming up Sunday at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. Our guest today is the 2004 Series Champion, Kurt Busch. He drives the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge for Penske Motorsports. Kurt comes into Auto Club Speedway fifth in the standings, 11th in points behind the leader, Mark Martin.
Kurt, we're going to start off today, before we go to media, got a good question from a fan via NASCAR's Twitter account. The fan is Eddie in Laurel, Maryland. Eddie wants to know that it looks like there are at least nine drivers right now that have a pretty good shot of coming up with the series championship. What do you think your chances are of being the guy?
KURT BUSCH: I think Eddie's right. There are still plenty of guys that have a legitimate shot at this. And ours is still very high with our team at Penske Racing. We feel like the first couple of races have gone very well.
To finish 11th at Kansas was a bit off for us, but we struggled on pit road. We had loose wheels and the last adjustment we made on our Miller Lite Dodge didn't allow us to take advantage of the double restarts at the end. So we still find ourselves in a great position. You just don't want to have that bad race early on and have to dig out of a hole.
HERB BRANHAM: We have a really good turnout for media. So we'll go to the media for questions for today's guest, Kurt Busch.
Q. I want to ask you about your future teammate Brad Keselowski. On the TV broadcast of the Kansas race, they were saying that NASCAR had asked Brad to kind of tone it down a little bit. He was maybe getting a little too aggressive around the Chase drivers. Is that something that NASCAR has been asking of other drivers? Or should all 43 guys have the same amount of chance to go out there and be as aggressive as they feel they need to be?
KURT BUSCH: I love the fact that NASCAR is looking at Brad and telling him to back it down. That means he's fast. That means he's right in the mix with the frontrunners, and he's got a great car right now. The car that he has at Hendrick.
And the lack of experience is the only thing that NASCAR is concerned about. They don't want him taking away a championship effort of one of the chase drivers by slipping up and doing something that he shouldn't, so they're a bit concerned.
But I think he's great that he's fast and in the mix. And he's a smart enough guy that he can figure out where he needs to step in or step out of the way of a Chase driver.
Q. How do you feel about him as a teammate for next year?
KURT BUSCH: I think it will definitely help our program mature and develop with better feedback and information that can come across the board. Just having that young, youthful exuberance will definitely be an addition to our program.
Q. I wanted to ask you how do you prepare for a race, and what are you doing afterwards in the sense that I hear some drivers talk about watching tape of previous races before going to an event like they'd watch the California race before this weekend. I've even heard of drivers get on on computers and fill out notes, writing notes to themselves as much as on the plane after a race, things like that. What is your prep work before and what do you do kind of after a race?
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, before a race you're looking at videotape, like you say. And you recall races of recent past to help you decide which set-up changes you need to make. You go through the notebooks as far as what did you do recently at this racetrack, what are the general trends of the race team right now?
California Speedway, it's a two-mile racetrack. You're always concerned about speed at that racetrack as well as handling. You just try to go over as many notes as you can that really. When you get to the racetrack you have a good understanding of what are the key things you need to focus on.
This time around, it's the first time for us to go to California Speedway, Auto Club Speedway in October. Conditions will be cooler. Track will probably most likely be faster. After the race, you go through notes on what worked, what didn't work. Where were some of the team's weaknesses, and how can we advance ourselves for the next week. Even if you win, you're looking to find different ways to be better.
Q. Also want to ask you go back to the first question that was asked about the Chase and non-Chase guys racing. And I just want to make sure I have it clear. I know you've been on both sides since the Chase was created. Do the non-Chase guys need to be more aware of the chase guys or more cautious of them. Is that something that when you were in the Chase that you tried to do? Where's that balance in racing each other and respecting each other in that sense? Can you explain that, please?
KURT BUSCH: We're all out there still racing each other very competitively. It's a matter of the respect factor if you're a non-Chase guy. You in a sense -- this past weekend David Reutemann is a non-Chase guy. And he blitzed up there through there at the end. Got up on the high side of Mark Martin. Passed Mark and went on to pass other guys.
He has every right to do so. It's just in the back of your mind you're hoping that he is conscious and aware of who he is racing around.
It just so happened that the Top 10 were all chase guys except him. So you know he's going to do a good job. But in the back of your mind when I was a non-Chaser, you definitely want to give a couple extra inches to those Chase guys when they're out on the track.
Q. I'm doing a story on radio communication. It's so crucial between the driver and the crew chief to have that communication right so that during the race for the car adjustments. How long does it typically take for a driver and a crew chief to get comfortable and get a chemistry with each other? And at the same time, drivers by nature get very excited and emotional during races. Is there ever any concern that the crew chief doesn't have thick enough skin to handle those moments?
KURT BUSCH: Well, I feel like it takes at least ten races or so, and going through the different styles of racetracks to get that communication level. Daytona's obviously different than Martinsville. And Bristol will be different than at Texas when you start the season off.
So whether it's a new group that's just getting together or a group that's been together for a long time, it just gets back to that relationship that you have with the crew chief in handling the heat of the moment battles. And a guy like I have Pat Tryson, he's definitely very animated, and has a very strong sense of what needs to happen and what the driver is going through out on the racetrack.
So the communication is great between him and I, and the group that we have. It gets back to that old saying, if it gets too hot in the kitchen and you can't handle the heat, you need to get out. Because it is the heat of the moment and you have to get your job done pretty quick when it comes to making calls.
Q. Does it work for everyone that way? This, for example, this past week Jeff Gordon was very, very upset about the handling of his car. And Steve Letarte stayed very, very calm. Is everybody different? Can some guys get pushed back by a crew chief, and others it doesn't work with, others need someone calm?
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, it works different for everybody. You're going to have a rookie driver with a veteran crew chief. You could have a rookie crew chief with a veteran driver. You can have all different types of combination with different demeanors and the way they handle things.
Ultimately, it gets down to the car's success, and how they're able to get to victory lane or turn a bad day into a good day. Out there in the heat of battle, things get said and are twisted around, but at the end of the day you put your arm around the guy and say what do we need to do next week to be better?
Q. A follow-up on a question about when you're not in the Chase. What is that like? I mean, it seems like all the media focus is on the drivers in the Chase for these last ten races. When you're not in it, do you feel like an outcast riding around? I know you're still racing to win and everything, but is it a tough situation to be in?
KURT BUSCH: No, not at all. I still think it's a great opportunity to do a number of things. One is to just throw yourself into position to try to win. Whether it's staying out on a pit stop or short pitting for fuel. Then there is the next scenario of using those final ten races to advance your program for the upcoming season.
There are guys this year that didn't make the Chase that are running very competitively: Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, David Reutemann. They're making names and waves out there just as they would if they were in the Chase.
So plenty of action going on all the way around. Usually your top 15 to 20 guys, which is just normal during the regular season.
Q. I wanted to ask a question or two going off the news that Yates and Petty are merging teams, and Roush is going to have more cars to take data from next year just like Hendrick does with Stewart-Haas this year. As a driver for a two-car team, do you see that as putting you at any sort of disadvantage?
KURT BUSCH: Well, we have a three-car program, so I hope that gives us another bullet in the gun. But, it does put us behind, especially with the way that there is no testing. The testing policy is definitely handcuffed some of the smaller teams because there's not that much information coming back in every Sunday from the racetrack.
So, yeah, Hendrick Motorsports and Haas have a great combination. I can't speak on what information travels between the two. But with Yates' situation, along with RPM merging with the Roush program, obviously those Fords will all be able to share their information. That puts all their eggs in one basket, but it gives eight cars the ability to transfer information. So it's the right move for them.
Q. I don't know how you feel about the way the sport seems to be moving, it's kind of like not officially super teams, but you wind up with these teams with lots of really, really good drivers and lots of data to choose from. Is that a good thing for NASCAR? I don't know. How do you see that?
KURT BUSCH: Well, every driver is out there to position himself to win. Crew Chiefs are the same way. Owners, sponsors, and sometimes the cream rises to the top. It's just a matter of finding the right combination.
I feel like at Penske Racing we have the greatest ability to do the best thing for Dodge. As well as this is the best situation for me in this family atmosphere at Penske Racing where we can go out there, win races and make sure that we get the exposure level for Miller Lite, Dodge, Mobil 1, all of our great sponsors, because they want to be teamed up with winners as well as I do.
Q. How is 2004 different from 2009 when you won the championship? We know there are some issues with Dodge coming back possibly next year. Your thoughts on 2004 when you won the championship and now in 2009?
KURT BUSCH: Well, I feel like we're off to a very similar start. Except that we didn't win at New Hampshire and bumped ourselves up to the first two or three spots in points. We find ourselves 5th with three very good runs. The 6th, 5th and 11th, if you add those together and divide them by three, that puts us around 7 and a half for our average finish. We find ourselves fifth in points.
Well, the game seems to have picked up a little bit. You have to run better than a 7th place average finish if you want to find yourself in contention. So we're going to have to bump this up and try to get our Miller Lite Dodge in victory lane in the next upcoming weeks to see what we can do to balance out the strong start from everybody else.
Q. How many mulligans do you get when you're racing in this? I mean, this is high pressure. This is for the championship. You know, you've been there before. How many mulligans do you get in the championship Chase before you're knocked out?
KURT BUSCH: It just depends if other guys use theirs or not. If they're going to still continue to post Top 10 finishes, there is no way you'll have the ability to have a bad day and make it up in bonus points or in wins. Consistency still plays the most vital role.
Q. Wanted to ask you, first off, in your career you've had two veteran crew Chiefs in Jimmy Fennig and Pat Tryson, guys who have been around for a while. Now as you've gained that experience in this sport and I'm not going to call you an elder statesman, but you've been around for a while and know how things go. As you look to your new crew chief, could you see yourself with a younger guy, more engineering based as opposed to the mechanical sense of a Pat or Jimmy? Or do you feel like what you've had in the past with those two primaries, that's kind of the path that you feel most comfortable with?
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, it's definitely wide open right now. With having a veteran-type car guy, having a new engineering-minded and based type of individual. It's one that can balance both worlds. Who knows how it will shake out. For us we're focused on this 2009 Chase.
Once we find ourselves out of position, which we hope we don't, then we'll look down that chapter. But for me, the ability to work with anybody, I think, it's always been my strong point. We do have to find the right guy to put into this position because there's such a high demand for us to do well, and we don't want to take too much time having to crawl up to speed.
Q. Also wanted to ask you about qualifying in your years in the sport. Is the emphasis on qualifying increased or decreased over the years? And if there is a value, what is the value in qualifying with the length of these races these days?
KURT BUSCH: Well, it hasn't increased or decreased as far as its importance. It's still on my mind, on a scale of 1 to 10, it's a six. It's significantly important to qualify well. And that range can jump up at different tracks. At a road course, you want to qualify really, really well. And at a Super Speedway, it doesn't matter where you qualify.
So I think it's just based on off of which racetrack. And of course during the Chase you want to be up towards the front to get those five points for leading a lap as well as having a better pit box selection.
Q. What about Martinsville? Where does it rank for you?
KURT BUSCH: Martinsville ranks fairly high. I would give it an 8 out of 10 on its importance. It is so difficult to pass. We're going to have double-file restart this is time. Who knows if the outside will even be worthy of driving around on on the outside with all the rubber build up. So Martinsville is going to be even more of a wildcard this time.
Q. If I'm not mistaken, you're running that new Dodge engine. Now I don't want to take anything away from your pit crew, but what makes that engine so much faster? So much better?
KURT BUSCH: We've found some of the new motors and new programs to have more potential down the longer line. So the new R-6 is fast. But it also gives us the ability to run more tape on the front of the car, which gives us more front down force because it runs a little cooler.
So a little cooler running engine, as well as just the ability to be able to have more potential in a motor long-term is why we made the switch.
Q. Is it me or do you feel it seems like also you guys can come out of the hole faster on the drop of the green flag?
KURT BUSCH: Well, it definitely gave us a bit of a power gain. But I would call that equivalent to the rest of the competition with them gaining their power as well. It's not that we have a superior advantage. We're just keeping pace with the rest.
Q. Chrysler Group announced some changes in leadership yesterday. Mike Accavitti has resigned. And there is a new CEO of the Dodge car brand, Ralph, and I don't know how to pronounce his last name, it's either Gilles or Gilles. Have you talked to him at all?
KURT BUSCH: I haven't met Ralph. But I do know that this has changed hands, and that this in the short term won't affect the motor racing program for Dodge. I do enjoy the support they gave us, and they're fully committed they fully know about the details behind the scenes.
One thing I've gathered from Ralph is he is an avid car enthusiast. He spends time at the track and goes go carting and likes Formula 1 racing. So it's up to us to carry the NASCAR banner through these tough times.
Q. There's been some talk recently about Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski kind of going back and forth, maybe, because they're involved in Twittering and on Facebook. I'm not sure which. In this day and age how important or is it important for NASCAR drivers to reach out to fans and sponsors through these type of social networking sites on the web, and is it something you do?
KURT BUSCH: These social networking as you call it devices are really getting into so much detail it can leave you vulnerable. That's why I don't participate in it. I don't think it's necessary.
I think there are plenty of avenues for media exposure, not only for myself but for Miller Lite, for Dodge, for Penske Racing. To still continue to do things in a fashion that won't leave you vulnerable for certain types of situations that can arise from this Facebook or Twitter or what have you.
Q. Do you know does Kyle participate in any of this?
KURT BUSCH: I don't know.
Q. You guys always want to win, but just being in the Chase is a great achievement, too. Can you describe going into a typical race day knowing that you're still in the hunt for the championship? And how important is it the overall effect of being a chase contender on your resume?
KURT BUSCH: It's definitely an accomplishment to make the Chase. Once you realize you have a shot at the championship, which hopefully happens right away, you've got ten weeks that you have to be at your very best, and you don't want small little things taking away potential points each and every week.
So there is that playoff atmosphere. Like when Major League Baseball's about ready to fire up, when the NFL goes into their final weeks, the NASCAR has the Chase. And each and every week is very important.
Such as at Kansas this past race week, I finished 11th. There were nine chase drivers in front of me, which, that's not a good day. An 11th place finish is okay, but it's not good when that many Chase guys are finishing in front of you.
So the atmosphere is very intense. It's nail-biting. It is definitely a pressure-cooker situation, and that's why these 12 drivers are the best for this season because they have a shot at the championship.
HERB BRANHAM: Thank you. Kurt Busch, we appreciate you taking the time out. Best of luck at Auto Club Speedway and the rest of the Chase.
KURT BUSCH: Thank you, Herb. Always looking forward to a west coast trip. Being from Las Vegas, Auto Club Speedway is a great chance for us to try to get a win this weekend.
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