NASCAR Media Conference
September 8, 2009
DENISE MALOOF: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to this week's NASCAR teleconference in advance of the events at Richmond International Raceway. Those are significant. Saturday's Chevy Rock'n Roll 400 is the final event in the Race to the Chase, the 10-race stretch that precedes the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Saturday's Richmond race is a cutoff event. Following it the top 12 drivers in the standings will compete for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title during the season's final 10 races.
Joining us today are two divers who are hoping they are in that group, Kyle Busch and Brian Vickers. They're among the 11 still eligible for eight remaining Chase spots. The top four drivers in the current standings, Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, and Denny Hamlin respectively are in.
We'll begin with Kyle, who drives the No. 18 M&M Toyota. He's 14th in the standings, 37 points behind Matt Kenseth.
Kyle, it's a simple to-do list this weekend, isn't it?
KYLE BUSCH: It pretty much is. We just go to Richmond with this weekend's task at hand, try to do the best we can. Ultimately win the race if we can or get the best possible finish and try to get the most points out of there in order to get ourselves into the Chase.
DENISE MALOOF: We'll now go to media questions for Kyle Busch.
Q. For the Chase to be a success, is it important for it to have the drivers with the most wins, like you and Mark Martin? Do you think the Chase has gotten past the point where it feels like you have to have the post popular driver in the sport, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., in there?
KYLE BUSCH: I think we've seen the past few years that there have been guys that have had a lot of wins, won races, not make the Chase. We've also seen Dale Earnhardt, Jr. miss it a couple times. He's made it a couple times, but he's missed it a couple times. I think you still have a successful season in the Chase, in the sport and the recognition it deserves if I'm not in it, in Mark Martin is not in it, if Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is not in it, it's still a success. You have great drivers like Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin who will be fighting for a championship, among others. It will still be a great fight down to the end.
Q. How do you handle the pressure of this? When you get in a racecar, that's usually when you're most at peace. How do you handle not overthinking this, pushing yourself into something, getting too aggressive? The pressure really is on.
KYLE BUSCH: Yeah, the pressure is on for sure. We just have to do what we need to do. It's not these two races, Atlanta or this race coming up at Richmond, that's what's going to put us in the Chase. It's more of the season that we've had that's kept us out of it.
We've struggled a little bit this year. We haven't been as good as we've needed to be. Unfortunately we're in this predicament. But last year we were one of the best cars all season long. We were solidly locked in within the Chase. Sometimes things change in a year.
But we're trying to get ourselves back in position to get ourselves a place this weekend, run strong, hard, and come out of Richmond with a good finish.
Q. Are you afraid if you change anything that would maybe switch things around or do something that would hurt your effort?
KYLE BUSCH: Yeah, possibly. I mean, I don't think there's anything we can change. We just go every week to try to run the best we can and try to ultimately contend for the win if possible or just get the best finish that we can get.
Unfortunately we haven't had some of the best cars this year. I haven't done some of the best driving I've needed to do this year. But we're trying to get back on par with the way we need to do things. If this weekend is a success, we win the race, still don't make the Chase, we did all we could.
Q. Do you think victories should be weighted more? You could finish the season with more victories than anyone except Mark Martin and not get in. Should there be an exemption for guys who have won the most races? You seem to be a driver that people love to dislike. Does that bother you? Do you feel misunderstood? Do people not know you?
KYLE BUSCH: I think, you know, the first question, I really don't know how you can give more points for a win or make sure that those guys are in the Race to the Chase or whatever. Unfortunately, that's the way the sport goes sometimes. You got to be consistent in order to make it in. If you're not consistent, if you just can go out there and win races, who is to say that a guy that can win five races and have the most wins out of the year, but yet he sits 10 races out, he picks his five best tracks, wins at those places, he's guaranteed a spot in the Chase. It won't really work.
I don't know. As far as being the most disliked driver, I feel like I've got a lot of fans out there that do like who I am and how I drive. I do have a good, strong following. There's, of course, the legion of fans that may not like me for what I say on TV, for what I do on the racetrack or whatever sometimes. But that's a part of the sport. You can't please 'em all. Dale Earnhardt certainly didn't do it. Darrel Waltrip, Rusty Wallace didn't do it. Jeff Gordon right now can't do it. Even Jimmie Johnson, who is probably one of the best drivers on the racetrack as well as off the racetrack, knowing how to handle difficult situations, he gets boos, too. You're not going to be able to please the whole legion of everybody.
Q. Would you have imagined yourself in this position last year, sitting on the bubble? Do you kind of look at it as every season being different?
KYLE BUSCH: Every season's different, that's for sure. This season, the way it's gone, has kind of been a struggle. But, you know, a lot of people picked us to be the champions this year because of the year we had last year. We fell off in the Chase a little bit.
But for some reason we just haven't been able to hit our stride. We need to get back to being able to be consistent week in and week out. Even during a race, being consistent.
This past weekend at Atlanta, we were really, really good the first four runs of the race, and then we kept getting looser and looser all night. I kept falling back a little bit. At the end of the race we got tight. We just couldn't keep up with the racetrack the way we needed to do. It didn't work out for us.
Q. There's been some frustration from you during races about what the 11 is possibly doing better than you guys. Do you have any feel for that? Do you and Denny work well together or share information, try to get you two doing the same thing?
KYLE BUSCH: Yeah, it's kind of a struggle a little bit because it seems like whenever Denny finds something that he can really run well with, and we try to put it in my car, I can't drive it. I'm not very good at being able to put in what Denny can put in his car and run well with it.
So Denny and I talk. We share information all the time. Our teams work real closely together. All the Gibbs teams do, as a matter of fact. We were pulling Logano in there and using his notes, now that he's getting to the tracks a second time, stuff like that. It's hard because these cars are so temperamental, trying to find the right setup and the right thing that works is hard to do.
But we do talk and we do try to share information as much as possible.
Q. A lot of teammates say that, particularly the Hendrick guys, Dale Jr. can't drive a car the way that Jeff does. If something works for one guy, why doesn't it work for another?
KYLE BUSCH: It's just the way that drivers are. It's the way that a driver enters the corner, which is different than the next guy. All of us have different driving styles. There's not one driver out there that has the same driving style as another. Everybody is different.
That's the thing, 'cause sometimes when we go to test, Denny and myself, I've pushed myself to drive more like him, and I've become a little bit better at learning the ways that he does drive his car, so it helps me sometimes. While we're in a race, I can go back and think to that, try the things I know Denny is doing. It seems to help sometimes. It's hard to carry that every single lap because it's not the way you were brought up driving or the way you drive your cars. You're trying to pick up somebody else's traits. Sometimes it's good, sometimes it's bad. If you can get a car that drives really, really good, that fits you, then ultimately that's who wins every week.
Q. As you look back on the season, is there one particular race where you might say you really wish you had another shot at that one, where you had a great car, didn't get everything out of it you needed to?
KYLE BUSCH: Uhm, that's a good question. I haven't thought of that really. I'm trying to think. I mean, I know Infineon was a track that I missed out on. We fell back I don't even know how many times through the field the last couple cautions that came out, then we raced our way back up through there, but still ended up finishing like 23rd or something like that or 25th maybe.
When you look at it, I mean, the Daytona 500, I wish I had that one back, for sure. We ran 41st, getting in a wreck with the 88 and the 83 there. Unfortunately, you know, that was probably the biggest race that I'd love to have back.
Another one would be Chicago. Just to try to figure out what went wrong there. We know we lost some spring rubbers during the race. If I could have maybe felt that or if I could have maybe communicated that something different was within the car that maybe we could have got a better finish out of there, too.
Q. How do you like your chances at El Dora tomorrow?
KYLE BUSCH: I don't like 'em. It's supposed to rain. I don't think anybody is going to have a very good race if we're going to be raining. If it's dry, I'm looking forward to it. Looking forward to driving Bloomquist's car. I drove one of his chassis owned by Rick Eckart (phonetic), driven by Rick up in Kasey Kahne's foundation, ran second up there. So that was fun. To get my feet wet back on the dirt again was definitely cool. I'm looking forward to going up there tomorrow.
Q. A couple weeks ago after Bristol you said your target numbers with 3160. That would be 14th place this week if you don't lead a lap. Is that still your target or have you had to adjust that at all?
KYLE BUSCH: I mean, I still think that's a pretty good target. It's going to be tough, though, because not only do we have to beat the 83, but we also got to beat the 17. We need those guys to finish worse than 25th or something like that.
I mean, it's going to be hard. It's definitely not going to be easy. All we can do is do the best we can do. If we win the race or if we win top 10 or even 14th, we did all we could do. That's all we're gonna have. It's not going to be Richmond that keeps us out; it's going to be the rest of the year that we've had our struggles that's going to be what kept us from being in the Chase.
Q. Everybody around that bubble spot is going to have a little bit different strategy in this race. Can you describe your strategy and how it may change during the race.
KYLE BUSCH: Yeah, I mean, our strategy is just going to be the same as it's been the whole year. We just go out there and try to run the best we can. Fortunately we won the Richmond race in the spring there, so we feel like we can go back there and do well there. I'd run there about every time I've been there.
If we have another good, solid run, like a top-10, a top-five run, we really don't need to change anything. During the race, we'll have to do everything we can to try to win the race. If there's gonna be, like last time, there was a caution with 50 to go, some people in the back came in and put tires on and raced their way up through there. Fortunately the race went green the rest of the way, where I had enough of a lead where I didn't have to race any of those guys.
If something like that comes around this time again, we'll have to see where we're at in the running order, how many laps to go, see if we need to make a pit stop to get ourselves the finish we need or if we just stay out. It all just boils down to how the race is looking.
Q. Do you keep an eye on the guys around the bubble spot?
KYLE BUSCH: There's nothing you can do. You can't change what they're doing. You can't make race calls for those guys and tell them that they need to pit or whatever. There's really no point in going through that frustration and trying to figure out where those guys are. You just see what it boils down to at the end of the day.
Q. Sunday night at Atlanta, last 11 laps after the restart, you made up five spots. 15 points. That restart from that point on, was that desperation, controlled desperation, or just typical run at the end of the race?
KYLE BUSCH: It was just typical go as hard as you can go. You know you didn't have to save tires for the long run, 11 laps to go. It was basically all or nothing those last laps.
Unfortunately there, when we took the green and we were racing down into turn one, some guys got jumbled up. I was going to go to the high side but a car pulled up in front of me and broke my momentum so that sort of hurt a little bit of my run towards the front. Then we had been fighting tight, real bad tight the previous run before that. We made some adjustments there on pit road for that to try to free up the car.
It helped a little bit, but I still got a little bit tight towards the end of that race so I wasn't able to make up the ground I was hoping to. I was hoping to finish ninth. I think we had a car that was capable of getting back to seventh, eighth or ninth. If we could have got up there, then I would have been much happier with that than where we ended up in 13th.
Q. If you make the Chase this weekend, what makes your team a title contender?
KYLE BUSCH: That's a good point. Like I said, we've struggled this year some places and sometimes it's been me, sometimes it's been the car, sometimes it's been both not being able to hit it. I hope that we can be serious title contenders. We ran well at Loudon earlier this year. I don't remember where we finished there. I think we were like seventh or something like that.
But, you know, we feel like we can run well there. We've always had good cars at Dover. Unfortunately earlier this year we had a bump stop failure that put me back to 23rd. Then we go to Kansas, where we were running well last year until we had fuel issues. Talladega is in there. California, we really like that place. There's some good tracks for us in the Chase that we can really well run well at and shine.
As far as being championship contenders, the only thing that we can really do is just try to run as consistent as possible. I don't foresee us being the guy that's going to finish first, second or third every single race like you can count on the 14 or the 24 or the 48 on doing. We're more of the guy that's going to be maybe third here but then we might be seventh, eighth, ninth here or 11th or 12th there. If that's good enough to win a championship, then certainly we'll be championship contenders, otherwise we'll just be chasers.
Q. The Truck Series, can you imagine yourself competing and leading a series at age 51 as Ron Hornaday is?
KYLE BUSCH: Yeah, possibly. I thought the standalone event at Chicago was kind of fun. There was a lot of people there. The garage area was kind of calm. It was weird to be in just in the Truck Series garage for the whole weekend. Normally I'm runningback and forth between Truck, Nationwide, Cup, all that stuff.
I feel like the Truck Series is a little bit more laid back. Hornaday likes it there. He's got a good home there at KHI, they're running really well. If I had the opportunity when I was 51 years old, I'd love to do it.
Q. Are you impressed by what he's done?
KYLE BUSCH: For sure. This year definitely they've really stepped up their game. Even though they may not have needed to step up their game, they did. They won five or six races in a row, whatever they did, I don't remember. Rick is a smart individual. Ron is a good driver. KHI is a good organization, a good company to work for. DeLana and Kevin have done a good job there, given a lot of people a start in racing or have carried on their racing résumé. It's cool to see them guys running well. I love the Truck Series. It would probably be something for me to go back and do when I got up there in age.
Q. You're having another great season in Nationwide. Given your position on the bubble, are you going to go back and maybe rethink all the racing you've been doing the last two years? Perhaps it's cutting into your Cup program.
KYLE BUSCH: I mean, the only thing it's really cutting into my Cup program is me being able to spend time with Addington at the racetrack without having to run back and forth between the garages and stuff like that. That's just the biggest part of it. The racing on the racetrack really isn't that big a deal. I don't get tired. So it's not that.
I actually feel like I learn a lot of things when I'm out there racing on the racetrack every day.
It's just not being able to spend time in the shop as much with the guys, spend as much time with Steve trying to discuss things.
But Joe Gibbs Racing is a smart organization. They're great at what they do. They build awesome racecars. We just need to get a little bit better sometimes at some racetracks that we go to and making calls during the race and stuff that we can actually keep going forward. Sometimes I feel like we make good calls and we think about it, it's like it sounds good, but it doesn't work. We need to figure out why things aren't working.
We work as hard as we can at trying to make everything better. I don't think it's my racing that is what has caused us to be where we're at.
Q. Do you find yourself more at ease in the Nationwide car, does it suit your style more?
KYLE BUSCH: Yeah, I love the Nationwide cars. They're fun. They're a blast to drive. They don't have as much horsepower, which I don't like. I wish they still had the open motors. They have a tapered spacer that restricts horsepower. I wish they were still open. The downforce of the cars, the way they drive, the way the chassis are, it's all really cool. It's kind of the way I've grown up in racing, being able to get the most grip out of a racecar. These COTs, you try to do the same thing, but it's so hard to find any. We do all we can every week. But the Nationwide stuff just seems to fit more to my driving style for whatever reason. I love those cars and can really hustle them and drive them through the corner.
Q. You talked about inconsistency in racetracks, inconsistency in the calls that go on throughout the race. If there's somebody possibly you've worked with in the Nationwide or Truck Series that is attune to giving calls or making decisions during the race that might better suit your style, strategize with Addington on race day?
KYLE BUSCH: We have our engineer who is up there. It's not just Steve that's up there. We have Chris Gale, our team engineer, for the last two years. Has been with Steve since Steve was the crew chief there. We've had another guy that's come in these past couple weeks from JGR working behind the scenes more as an engineer. He's been on the box, too. We've had some guys that we've been trying to get better with, trying to understand the car more, why the changes go the way that they go. We're trying to understand it exactly.
But I've had some of the same things in the Truck Series. I'll make a call to Richie or whatever to change this or change that, and it either won't work as much as I expected or it doesn't do at all what I thought it would. The same goes to be said with the crew chief calls. They'll make calls. I'll agree with it. It won't work.
It happens in Trucks, it happens in Nationwide. Seems like it happens more in Cup because of this car. It's so hard to get a handle on this car. I have the utmost respect for Steve and the guys he chooses to put up on the box with him. I feel like those guys are the best guys I can work with. It's just maybe us getting a little bit better at something, whether it's communication or whether it's spending more time at the shop figuring things out or answering more questions. Sometimes when you try to answer more questions, you come up with more questions, so it's hard.
Q. Is there anyplace you'd rather go this weekend than Richmond?
KYLE BUSCH: Bristol. Bristol or Richmond, that's about it. Those seem to be our places that we can really run strong at. Charlotte is another one. At least it's not a place like Pocono or somewhere that I might struggle pretty bad, the Brickyard or something like that.
I feel good about it. I'm excited about our chances. I feel like we can go out there and try to win another one. That's all we can do to put ourselves in the Chase.
DENISE MALOOF: Kyle, thanks very much for joining us today. We appreciate your time. Good luck this weekend.
KYLE BUSCH: Appreciate it, no problem. Thanks, everybody. See you this weekend.
DENISE MALOOF: Now I understand Brian Vickers has joined us. Thanks for joining us today. Brian, drives the No. 83 Red Bull Toyota. He's 13th in the standings. He is 20 points behind Matt Kenseth in 12th place. Brian, it's a simple task Saturday for you, but it's not that simple, is it?
BRIAN VICKERS: No. I mean, I think it's very clear as to what we have to do, which is pretty much go there and win the race. That's not necessarily the only way to get in the Chase, but that's really how we're going to gain the most amount of points.
Even if we accomplish our goal, which is to go there, sit on pole, lead laps, win the race, there's still no guarantee we're going to make the Chase. If Matt finishes second, there's nothing we can do about it.
The last thing that myself or anybody on the Red Bull team is wish ill upon anybody. We don't want anything bad to happen to our competitors. But we need them to at least not have a great night, no matter how our performance is.
DENISE MALOOF: Let's go straight to media questions for Brian Vickers.
Q. Everybody around that bubble spot have different strategies going into this. What is your strategy going into this race and do you keep an eye on the others? How might that strategy change during the race?
BRIAN VICKERS: I think our strategy is going to essentially be to gain the most amount of points possible. We can't get tied up in what everyone is doing. I'd be lying if I didn't say we're not going to stay on top of it and be aware of it, no different than Atlanta. When I was racing with Matt and Kyle, I knew I was also racing with guys for a spot in the Chase.
The best thing that we can do, the most important thing we can do, is to not make a mistake, not have a bad finish, but we need to have a good one. We sat on the pole earlier this year. Hopefully we can do that again. Lead a lap, get five bonus points, try to win the race, collect as many points as possible, and the rest is going to be up to our competitors.
Could that strategy change throughout the race? Of course it could. If Kyle and/or Matt have a problem, or Greg Biffle, anyone else that's on the bubble, has a problem during the race, we know we have to finish 20th instead of first, then of course that's going to change our strategy. We may not take a risk to win the race when we conservatively can finish seventh or 10th and make the Chase. I'm sure that Ryan and the guys will stay on top of that throughout the race. My focus is going to remain on passing the guy in front of me and if we're leading trying to stay in the lead.
Q. Do you have any feelings about Richmond as a track? Seems this may not necessarily be your favorite place to race. Any trepidation about coming in here and needing a good result?
BRIAN VICKERS: It's been an up-and-down track for us. I have two poles there. We haven't won a race there. It hasn't been one of our best tracks either.
I like Richmond. I think it's a good racetrack. A lot of fun. I enjoy racing there. But I'd like to have the average finish I have at some tracks going into this Race for the Chase, of course. Richmond is not a bad track for us. We need to go there and repeat the same thing there on Friday, which is get pole, then get the race package to work. We were good on the short runs, but we were bad on the long runs. We think we know why that is. We think we know how to fix it. We've gotten a lot better since then. Hopefully if we can fix the long run part of our race package, then we should be really good because we had one of the fastest cars if not the fastest cars earlier this year.
Q. You've been so strong in the last several races. You're so close to making the chase. Is that all you think about this week or can you live a normal life until you get to Richmond?
BRIAN VICKERS: No, I try to live as normal of a life as possible. I find that over the years just doing this for a long time, if you get caught up too much emotionally and mentally throughout the week, even on the weekend, as to the challenge ahead, you can mentally drain yourself. You can really wear your body and your mind down just overthinking a situation.
I think that really applies to anything in life, but especially racing. I try to focus on the task at hand during the week, whether it's other work-related stuff or racing-related stuff or just personal downtime. Try not to let it eat at me, I guess you could say. It's not easy.
Q. Are you surprised it's only taken three years for you to basically have a team that started at nothing to now be a race-winning team and be contending for the championship or do you think it's something that should have come along sooner?
BRIAN VICKERS: Somewhere in the middle. Although I would have liked for it to come along sooner, I don't think that would be realistic. At the same time I'm also not surprised that we've been able to accomplish what we have. The reason I say that is because we have a lot of really good people. It's a brand-new team. We had to start from zero. By all means, what Tony has accomplished this year is amazing. I would never try to take anything away from that. A lot of people have given them credit for leading the points being a brand-new team. That's not really the case. Haas has been around for a long time. For all intents and purposes, the car is Hendrick Motorsports, same engineers, same setup, same chassis, same body. I'm not sure where you define that line as a team. When all of the equipment and the information is the same, it's the same.
So it's completely different. I know we've been compared to that before. I know that's not your question, but that's been brought up before. I think it's very different.
For us, we were the first employees that walked in the shop. There weren't tools, much less racecars. We had to start from scratch. The fact we built what we have in this amount of time is impressive. I'm proud of what Red Bull has accomplished, and Toyota. Brand-new manufacturer, as well.
But that being said, there were good resources, a lot of very smart, driven people. That was the potential that I've always seen in the team. It's satisfying to finally see that realized.
Q. If you make the Chase on Saturday night, who are the teams to be the ones to beat?
BRIAN VICKERS: I think we're going to be competitive. If you look at the record the past 10 weeks, we've earned -- I read in one of the papers this past week that we've earned the most amount of points in the past 10 weeks than anybody. Maybe it was nine weeks or 11 weeks, but roughly about 10 weeks, we've earned the most amount of points on the track. That's what it takes to win a championship.
Can we maintain that? I don't know. It won't be easy. It won't be easy to maintain that over a course of 20 weeks, but we've done it for 10. If we can make the Chase, do another 10, we win the championship. I know we're capable of it. I think at this point we need to set high goals and expectations, but we also have to remain realistic. We are a very young and new team. Just to be in the Chase is a huge accomplishment. What we do from there I think is all gravy. That doesn't mean we're not going to try to win the championship. I think to try to put that pressure on such a young team, the expectation to win the championship, would not be right. It doesn't mean that we don't think we're capable of it or we shouldn't try, but I think to put the expectation up there that we should is probably a bit strong for a two-and-a-half-year-old team.
Q. In looking back over the first 25 races, is there one particular event where you would really like to have it over again?
BRIAN VICKERS: Oh, wow. I'd say there's 18 of the first 19 races. The only one I would say we wouldn't do something different is Michigan where we won the race. Hindsight is always 20/20. I feel like we made the decisions we made at the time for a reason and we made the best ones we could. We had a lot of good races this year, but we've had a lot of mistakes, my part, team's part, Toyota's part. Lost several engines this year. Everybody gets caught up in Richmond when it comes down to the Chase, especially when you're on the bubble. It's really not all about Richmond. It's about 20 races, however many races it is, 26 races. Every race leading up to Richmond pays the same amount of points. Daytona all the way to Richmond. Whatever happens at Richmond, you can't just blame it on that one. There's always going to be races throughout the year that cost you a lot of points. Of course we're going to look back on those and wished we got more points.
In all, I'm proud of the team, proud of where we are right now, proud of the accomplishments we've done, that we've accomplished this year. Have we made mistakes? Of course, we made mistakes. But we did the best we could at the time and that's all you can ask for. I think we've grown, learned a lot, done well.
Anyway, I hate to run. I know Kyle ran a little long, but unfortunately I have another one-hour teleconference. I'm going to have to go. But thanks again for your time. If you have any further questions or need anything else, contact Red Bull and we'll do whatever we can to help you. Thanks for your time and we'll talk to you later.
DENISE MALOOF: Thanks, Brian. Thanks for calling in. We appreciate that.
Thanks to all the media on the call. Thank you for your time and interest in covering NASCAR. We will see you at the track this weekend and next week again.
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