NASCAR Media Conference
July 7, 2009
JOSH HAMILTON: Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to this week's NASCAR cam video teleconference in advance of this weekend's events at Chicagoland Speedway. Joining us today from Penske Racing in North Carolina is Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge. Kurt comes into Saturday night's LifeLock.com 400 fourth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings. He has one win thus far this season and five career top-10 finishes at Chicagoland.
Kurt, big weekend ahead with eight events remaining in the Race to the Chase.
KURT BUSCH: It sure is. Chicago to me always feels like a second home just with my love of the city, my family being from that area of the country, just trying to put our Miller Lite Dodge in Victory Lane. Of course, Miller being close to our hearts up in Milwaukee now has a new headquarters in Chicago. So I will be there tomorrow at the big headquarters saying hello to some of our executives, of course telling them how great racing is to their program.
JOSH HAMILTON: Thanks a lot. We'll now go ahead to media questions for Kurt Busch.
Q. I was wondering, how young is too young for a kid to start racing today, in your opinion? Would it have been advantageous for you to have started sooner?
KURT BUSCH: Well, it's always a tough debate. It's up to the family to decide if they want to go and pursue the racing.
You know, it's not like a ball-and-stick sport where you just pick up a baseball glove, you go out and play T-ball with another group of teammates. A racing family really has to have that commitment from mom and dad and everybody. That's why it's tough to get involved at the entry level in racing.
Quarter midget racers, there's kids all across the country that jump in them right away at six, seven years old. I didn't get my first start in racing till I was 15. It just took my dad 15 years to explain to my mom that I'd be okay. So it's having that relationship between the parents and the child and knowing that the child is ready for racing.
Sometimes go-karts could be dangerous because they don't have the roll cage on them. That's why a lot of kids and families head down the quarter midget direction. Legend car racing is where I started. Maybe if I did get a chance to start sooner, maybe it would have helped my career develop quicker. I couldn't imagine going any quicker than what I did, starting at 15 and making it to Cup by 22.
Q. Do you wish there were more traditional programs like summer soccer leagues, more affordable ways for young kids to get started?
KURT BUSCH: Well, there are. You know, with the Bandoleros, Thunder Roadsters, Legend Cars, INEX has done a tremendous job making cars readily available for youngsters and families to get involved. You know, it comes down to sponsorship and how much money the parents want to throw in towards the racing.
But if you look around everywhere, there's grass-roots levels starting up here, there and everywhere to get kids involved in racing. With our sport so prominent on TV these days, it's real easy for kids to want to try to get involved.
Q. Could you talk quickly about Tony Stewart, what he's been able to do as a driver/owner this year. He obviously had a win this weekend. He has 14 top 10s this year. Could you talk about what kind of you've seen.
KURT BUSCH: Well, it's been tremendous to watch those guys come from nowhere and develop a team and cherry pick some of the top quality people at Hendrick, yet get them all under the same roof and get the best out of them. And they've done it in a short amount of time. It's been quite remarkable to watch.
We all knew that Tony was very competitive and yet it was gonna be a matter of time before this team developed. I don't think anybody expected this team to be as strong as they are right now. So it's definitely neat to watch. It creates in the back of anybody's mind, Hey, maybe I can go and do this. But I think you need to find special people to do it. That's what Tony has done at Stewart Haas Racing, finding all these great people to help him get to where he is today.
Q. As a driver, can you imagine being a driver/owner, having all that responsibility on your plate?
KURT BUSCH: Oh, there definitely is, seven days a week, 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. That's the whole lingo from Vegas, 24/7. You've got to stay on top of it. There's quite a bit of energy you have to put into it as well. So you have to find those key people that you can delegate the responsibilities to to help your workload be a bit easier.
I'm sure there's fires that you have to put out every day. When you don't want to continue to race for an owner, you have to absorb those fires because you are the key guy, the go-to guy now.
Q. It was about a year ago this week when he announced that he was going to split and become his own owner. What was your reaction after hearing that? Shocked, I guess?
KURT BUSCH: You know, it wasn't shocking. But yet behind the scenes who knew what more he wanted to accomplish for Joe Gibbs Racing. And the fact that the sport is definitely changing enabled him to get these sponsors lined up and get these people lined up and create this environment to where he's going to make more money if he's an owner and driver at the same time.
So his marketability, the way he's teamed up with Brand Sense, those guys have done a tremendous job to give him the exposure levels that bring in top-quality sponsors.
Q. How satisfying has this year been for you overall? You've struggled the last couple of years in the points, you haven't made the Chase on a couple of occasions. How has your performance this year been reflective in the adjustments that have been made with the new car?
KURT BUSCH: Well, you said it right there at the end, the new car. It's something to where we were behind the scenes thinking that we were going to be fine with this new car, yet we got hit with a steamroller when we debuted it basically in 2008 full-time. So it's been a learning curve. We anticipated here at Penske Racing we could have just a few cars in our stable and take these cars that were more universal to all the different styles of tracks.
And basically what it's gotten down to is the quantity of cars have gone back up, cars have taken on their own identity for specific racetracks. The fact that like today, I was sitting down looking at our notes from last year's Chicagoland race, we just wadded it up and threw it in the trash can because we've changed everything.
So it's great to be back on top. It's satisfying to run consistent. We've had some tough days and we've turned those into good, solid finishes. That's what a championship team does.
But right now we need to start pushing a little harder and crack Victory Lane a few more times and take those bonus points with us to the Chase.
Q. The amount of people that have won races this year, has that helped, drivers with four or five wins leading into the Chase?
KURT BUSCH: I feel like you're still gonna have the same group of guys accumulating the wins. What I think it gets down to is just your core teams, Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Roush Racing, Penske, those are the top guys right now that are in the top 12. You've got Juan Montoya knocking on the door. You have David Reutimann knocking on the door. There's going to be that group that gets separated. I think it still sticks with the powerhouse teams that have a shot at the championship.
Q. A question about the finish at Daytona the other night. Pretty scary, especially for your brother. Racing with the restrictor plates at Daytona and Talladega, would you like to see something else done so you wouldn't have such a crazy finish?
KURT BUSCH: Well, it's a Catch-22. Restrictor plates were mandated for us back in the '80s on restricting the car's speed because otherwise we would be exceeding 220, close to 230 miles an hour. And I think it would be much more dangerous to hit the fence at that speed than it would at 180.
So the restrictor plates bunch us up, it creates an environment that's very taste friendly for our fans. They love to see the cars side-by-side, nose-to-tail. What happens all day long is you try to put yourself in position to win. When it gets down to it, drivers aren't going to give that extra inch they were giving for the full 499 miles. It comes down to that final finish.
So what's positive out of the last two restrictor plate races is that the drivers involved in wrecks all got out unscathed, hardly any scratches on them, and they went and raced their cars again the next week.
Talladega was a bit more of an issue because a couple fans got hurt, but that's something we can improve on with the catch fences. I think if the race would have ended without a wreck, we would have been wondering that on the other side of it of how it was a boring race.
So it's a tough situation. As racers, we want to see everybody safe, we want to put on a good show for the fans, and I think that that happened.
Q. With everything that is going on with the American car industry, do you, your team and Roger Penske look ahead to next year? What if there no longer is a Dodge in racing?
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, it is tough for us to look too far ahead. But we do have to keep where the headlights are meeting the road in perspective. And for us, I feel a genuine responsibility to get Dodge more exposure and to take care of those guys up in Detroit by buying vehicles for my personal fleets. I bought a Dodge 2009 Challenger. That's our T8 model to raffle off on Kurt Busch.com this year. It's created quite a buzz in the auto industry with the different advertisements we've put out for it and just people get a chance to win a $50,000 car with a $100 ticket they can buy.
We want to keep pushing, keep going in the present, giving the best results we can for Dodge on the racetrack.
Behind the scenes, that's more of a Roger Penske question on who is and how is and how is it all going to work together for the future. But right now my job is to go out there and sell Dodge Chargers and get out there and race and try to get into Victory Lane.
Q. On the restrictor plate situation at Daytona and Talladega, if the plates were taken off, would that make it more safe? What does NASCAR need to do? It seems like is it the blocking, is it the yellow line? What is it that drivers would like to see changed to make plate racing more comfortable for you guys?
KURT BUSCH: That's a great question because it's hard to pinpoint one exact thing that will make a positive for everybody because if we took restrictor plates off, we would just be going too fast. And if somebody that had less experience in the car got sideways and wrecked at 220, that would be a hit that would almost be unsustainable. It would be a tough impact for anybody to survive.
We keep the speeds where they are, that bunches up the cars a little bit more. What we need to do is really get in the drivers' heads. Get in there and say, Listen, we don't need anybody to get hurt by somebody making way too aggressive of a move. But yet nobody cares because they're going for the win. That's what they want at the end of the day.
So it's a tough Catch-22. I don't really have the right answer for you on what we could do to improve restrictor plate racing right now other than maybe Daytona needs a different restrictor plate size than Talladega, and that would create an environment to where we would have to make the cars have more downforce instead of just going for raw speed. Downforce helps the cars handle better.
Q. This is more of a marketing question. It has to do with your brother Kyle. His profile is blossoming as a bit of a controversial, outspoken guy. I'm curious if you have any perspective on Kyle's outspokenness, whether that's good for Kyle and for the sport at this point?
KURT BUSCH: Well, it will continue to be good for Kyle as long as he backs up his results on the racetrack. With this new car, the way that Joe Gibbs Racing and his Toyota team have found a package that makes them very competitive week in and week out, that will continue to back itself up.
It's a matter of when the results start to drop and he still continues to push at that top level with his image, it will start to clash a little bit and it will catch up with you.
Is it good for the sport? I think it's great. It's colorful. It's fun. The way that he's challenging our sport's elite, like Dale Earnhardt, Jr., to race harder on the racetrack, that's what every racer wants. You want the other guy egging you on and you want to go out there and produce those results.
It's just a deal where within the family I wish him continued success.
JOSH HAMILTON: Thanks a lot for your time today, Kurt. Good luck this weekend in Chicago. Thank you to all the media that took the time to join us today and talk to Kurt and thanks for all you do with the coverage for our sport.
KURT BUSCH: Thanks again. I echo those remarks. It's great to talk to everybody across the country, sitting here in North Carolina, it's great to get everybody's support. Thank you.
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