NASCAR Media Conference
September 13, 2005
DAN PASSE: Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to the first NASCAR NEXTEL teleconference of the 2005 Chase for the NASCAR Nextel Cup. Thanks for joining us again. Some housekeeping notes as we head back to New Hampshire. We have two events for you this Friday, September 16th, in the New Hampshire media center. First at 8:30 a.m. will be Juice with Jimmie, a Q&A session with Jimmie Johnson. The Nextel Wake-Up call will take place at 11 a.m. with guest Rusty Wallace. Today we're joined by Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 97 Sharpie Roush Racing Ford and 2004 NASCAR Nextel Cup champion. Kurt is also part of the second Chase for the NASCAR Nextel Cup as set in Richmond, starting a 10-race competition at fifth spot, a mere 20 points behind the leader. He's had a great year this year with three wins, including Phoenix, Pocono, and this past weekend at Richmond. He's also chalked up eight top five finishes and 14 top tens this season. Kurt, you won last year at this race in New Hampshire which certainly put the 97 team on the road to the championship. Tell us how you feel about New Hampshire. What about this track is special to you?
KURT BUSCH: New Hampshire put down a new set of bankings and asphalt, what was it, two, three years ago. It created the way you had to approach that flat racetrack with the bottom groove being different from the main groove in the middle of the racetrack. It seemed as if it turned it into a one-lane racetrack. But what it did is it created a challenge for drivers to put in a setup that could work in both lanes. Since then, the 97 car has had tremendous results. Our team has been able to do well with pit strategy and then to have the setup that could maneuver high, low and pass cars. That's enabled us to win a couple times and finish second in the last four out of six races. A fun racetrack, it's the magic mile. Bob has done a tremendous job throughout the years with keeping it up to date, fan friendly as well as racer friendly.
DAN PASSE: We'll open it up to questions.
Q. When you look back at last year's Chase, what can you take from that that you can use this year as far as dealing with the pressures of 10 races to the championship?
KURT BUSCH: Each of the races are different. We hope that we start off on a good foot, similar to what we did last year, just to be able to run consistent and then to not get too far ahead of ourselves with the way -- if there's a bad finish, we can't stretch ourselves thin the next week trying to go for a win and trying to gain points. Then as the leader in the last 10 races, being the points leader, you go to the media center after every race, just being prepared for that, to be able to talk about the day's events and not let it wear you down week after week. Last year, leading eight out of the 10 weeks, there was ample time to talk to the media. It just seemed like it can burn you out if you're not prepared for it.
Q. Does it burn you out during the week because of not only the media, but with the emphasis on the Chase, there's a lot of sponsor obligations I'm sure that you have to take care of to take advantage of the Chase?
KURT BUSCH: Definitely. And you're absolutely right, with just the way that everything changes now with these final 10 races, one thing that I've done is put it into a schedule to where we're testing quite a bit this month. It's all race car. The media stuff that we'll do and the sponsor things we'll try to keep around the racetrack and keep it to a limited number so that we're not stretched thin during the week, let's just say going to Denver, Colorado, doing an appearance. We have to keep things in perspective and we know we can't be running around the country. Have to stay focused on the race car because that will ultimately win the championship.
Q. Do you divert your attention to everything that's going around about your future ride with Penske?
KURT BUSCH: Well, it's right now a time for our team to shine. What we're going to do this year is something very special, and that is to hopefully back up our championship that we got last year. So it's fun to work with the team right now and to see everybody pulling together very strongly because we don't know what 2006 has in store.
Q. Can you talk a little about how important the role of the Truck Series played in your career.
KURT BUSCH: It's a great steppingstone to bridge the Southwest Series on up to the next competitive series, which is the Truck Series, and then to be able to show up at all these big racetracks for your first time, going to Daytona, seeing tracks like Darlington, then you get to go to Miami, all these big racetracks, it definitely bridges the short-track state of mind and where everybody begins. I mean, everybody has to go through the short-track ranks. So the Truck Series is perfect. I wish I spent more time there to make the mistakes and to come up through the ranks and then to move on to the Busch Series, which is the next logical step. When you have a car owner that says, "Let's go to the Cup level," my short stint in the Truck Series, it helped me in many ways, but yet I wish I would have spent more time there.
Q. Do you think without the Truck Series, you could have gotten where you are today?
KURT BUSCH: There wouldn't be any way I would have been able to jump into the Cup with the success I had without the Truck Series. I wish there was more time to spend there, again. But there's so many things that the trucks teach you about aerodynamics and about just the professional ranks of racing, working with a professional team. It's a big step to come from the regional area of the Las Vegas area to the Truck Series.
Q. You really had a nice season, but a lot of attention has been focused on some of the older guys and Stewart. Do you feel in your mind you and your crew is really coming together at the right time right now?
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, we're hoping to pattern exactly what we did last year this year again with the way that we saved some good cars to race immediately in the Chase, at New Hampshire and at Dover, and the way that we came in last year, seventh in points, very similar to this year, now we're fifth. But we've been somewhat under the radar. That's a position that the 97 team has been pushed into, but yet it's better to have that when you go into the Chase without those expectations because we can sneak up on them and gain those points when we need to.
Q. Last year in the Chase you started off, won the first race, won the last, which is pretty ideal I guess. Just talk a little bit about how important it is to get off to a good start in the Chase.
KURT BUSCH: Well, it's very solid. That's what you have to do. Last year we saw a guy, Tony Stewart, who had trouble, as well as Mayfield, then they seemed to rebound after that. Just the pace. In many ways, it's like a golf tournament: if you start off and you're 4-under or 5-under, the other guys are waffling around with a bogey and a par, they're not going to catch you. It's up to the leader to make those mistakes. We did have a big mistake, though, at Atlanta with the motor blowing up. That took away our solid advantage. So when you have a bad race early on, it's just that much more difficult to overcome later on.
Q. I wanted to ask you about the role Mark Martin has played. Obviously, he's been the longest one there with Roush. How was he welcoming to the drivers when they came in? What has his relationship been with you throughout the years?
KURT BUSCH: Mark's been a great guy to me. He's like the old wise man who is off sitting in his chair. When you come up to speak to Mark, you have to phrase your questions properly and he'll give you a great answer. He's more than willing to help out at any time. Just his wisdom, his veteran state in Nextel Cup racing, he's a guy that you can watch and learn just by keeping your mouth shut as well. He's definitely a great role model for any young driver to look up to. To have him here at Roush, to have a great start in Cup racing, it was a perfect guy to look up to.
Q. As a Roush group, have you talked about where you're going to test to make the most advantage for the group or has it been mostly individual, this is where we'll test but we'll share the information?
KURT BUSCH: I think the teams primarily start off with - I know we do - with our objective on where we want to test and what we want to accomplish during these final 10 races. Some of the teams have less tests to work with versus others. Then there's a guy like Carl Edwards that struggles on short tracks, so you have to let him use his tests at a Martinsville or a Phoenix, per se. It's definitely an advantage to have five teams in the Chase, and we'll see as we go how we're able to work together and benefit from one another. Some teams might not make it all the way to the end. You can definitely use that type of a teammate down there at the Miami Speedway.
Q. Can you break down your other teammates one by one. Who do you think has the best shot? Who are you gunning against, because there is going to have to be a friendly rivalry, considering all five of you are involved?
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, it will be fun just to see the way that some of these teams will approach the final 10. With a guy like Mark Martin in there, he hasn't won a points race this year, but he's in this Chase because he's been consistent, and that's what it takes. He's going to be above and beyond the other teams as far as being able to come up with a good finish when you have a bad race car. Then you look at some of the racetracks that are involved and you think of Greg Biffle because there are so many mile and a half's that he's run very successful on this year, tracks like Texas, tracks like Kansas. Then you'll have Homestead that he won the finale there last year. A guy like Matt Kenseth who came from nowhere in points, I think he was 17th, 18th a few weeks ago, eight weeks ago in points, and now he's into the Chase. He's put together a tremendous run to get in. But then you look at maybe they've stretched themselves thin with race cars, with testing, with the team being worn out. You have a guy like Carl Edwards, who is not as strong as some of the other Roush cars on short tracks. That's just because he's new and it takes time to develop those skills on a short track. Each one of them has their strong points. Each one of them has their weak points. We hope that we utilize each one of their strong points at the 97.
Q. Is your team still a hundred percent behind you as they were before you made the announcement that you would be leaving Roush eventually?
KURT BUSCH: I believe they're more behind me now than we were this time last year, knowing that this is a unique opportunity, A, to defend our championship, and B, to get the most out of 2005. I can just feel the team at a stronger intensity level. All of us went out to the start/finish line at Richmond and kissed that start/finish line and kissed that racetrack that had robbed us so many times of a good finish. We all felt very complete by that win. Now we want some more.
Q. Looking at the last 10 races, the mix that's there with the Chase, would you have Richmond on the inside of that 10-race mix, and what other tracks would you think would make the Race for the Chase a bit more beefy for the final 10?
KURT BUSCH: As time progresses, I'm sure we'll see a few tracks get mixed in, a few tracks get taken out. We've already seen that change already with Darlington not in the final 10, and now we have Texas. Richmond is a perfect racetrack to be part of the excitement of the Chase. I believe it's in an even better position by being the final race of the 26-race regular season. It just seems to have the intensity now that's comparable to the Bristol night race. So Richmond is a perfect slot. I see tracks like Daytona getting involved in the final 10 in the future. Some of those tracks that have maybe one date during the season, like a Chicago possibly getting mixed in. But you wouldn't want to throw a track like Indianapolis in the final 10 because of how prestigious it is already on its own. That would defeat the purpose. There's definitely a good group of tracks that we have right now in the final 10, and there's some tracks that I'm sure they'll mix in over time.
Q. About the recent buyout of Team Caliper and Action Performance by ISC and SMI. In the past, it seems that the Roush drivers hadn't been as widely promoted or heavily promoted in the marketplace as some of the Action drivers have. I was wondering your thoughts on if you think having everything under one umbrella is going to give the Roush drivers more of a presence in the souvenir market?
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, I definitely can. There's pros and cons to each of the situations with Action and Team Caliper, the way they've been involved in the sport before. It seems as if Action is more tailored to specific teams, where they have Dale Jr., they have Rusty Wallace, they have Tony Stewart. Team Caliper in the past had primarily all the Roush Racing cars. So now it's all mixed in together. It will be an opportunity to see how the sponsors react and how they want to advertise their marketing, as well. Those are usually the ones, the sponsors anyhow, are the ones that are the stronghold and the ones that get involved and the ones that push the merchandise. When you have that opportunity to start things new, it's wide open.
Q. You have pressure to make the Chase and pressure to win the Chase. Do you look forward to the end of the season for relief or do you adjust as you go?
KURT BUSCH: There's a 26-race regular season where you can bring the intensity of the final 10 into every week, and that will burn you out pretty quick. That's something that I tried to do last year, and modeled that pattern again this year, just to run each of the regular-season races as if they were important, and they are definitely. We've got three wins so far. But the final 10, the intensity, the pressure, just the anxiety to get to the racetrack and have a solid finish, to check one off your list, the final 10 is definitely so intense that you can wear yourself out before you even get there.
Q. Does coping with the pressure get tougher every year?
KURT BUSCH: It gets tougher every year in some ways. But the closer you get to the end of the Chase, the pressure builds and builds and builds. When Miami rolls around, that week is just the longest week because you want to get the race over with and just get on with a regular life. But that's what the atmosphere has created. That's what the Chase for the Nextel Cup is. It's a 10-race playoff where you have to be on top of your game. There's the pressure cooker of the playoff atmosphere.
Q. How different does it feel this time around knowing that you're the defending champion and all?
KURT BUSCH: It's been great. Each of the racetracks this year, parking our hauler first, getting to go through tech first, it gives you a nice feeling when you show up at the racetrack. Then when the media rolls around at the track, sometimes when we go out to Kansas City, some tracks with just one date, the champion gets more notoriety with the questioning to help with just to set a tone for the weekend, to answer questions about the state of NASCAR. So it's been great. I love the hat of wearing this championship role, and then to be able to go out on the track and race the other competitors, it's been fun. Everybody wants to knock us off. Here we go, it's 10 weeks, a fresh start.
Q. We've been to a few of these tracks here. How helpful is that? Do you take much from the earlier visits or is it way different the second time around?
KURT BUSCH: Well, you have to put more emphasis on the Chase races when you see them early in the year. Tracks like Martinsville, Talladega, then Atlanta, those are all tracks that you hit early in the season, and you want to make sure that you gather as many notes as you can so that when you show up there in the fall, you've got your homework done and things are good to go. Tracks like Vegas early in the year, California, you still race those races, you want to win them, that's what our team sets out to do every week, but they're not part of the Chase races when we come back in the fall.
Q. Talk about the success of your brother Kyle. Do you expect to have him in the Chase one of these days?
KURT BUSCH: Oh, definitely. It's something that could happen as early as next season. He's done a great job as a rookie. He's got a great shot at winning the Rookie-of-the-Year title, which is a coveted prize in this sport. And to have him now in the winner column, it's very satisfying, it's very unique. It's special to have Kyle win out in California, close to our home in Vegas. But it's special because I helped a little bit, I want to say, to get him to this point. It's been great.
Q. With all the competitors in the Chase, who do you pick to be your toughest competition?
KURT BUSCH: Oh, outside of Roush Racing, we look at Tony Stewart, who has been competitive on all different types of racetracks this year. The thing of it is, he's done that recently. Early on, I believe up until the first Michigan, he was hanging out ninth, 10th in points, had the look of his teammate like Bobby Labonte where they were struggling a little bit, then, boom, he shows up, is winning races. We couldn't stop him. We won at Pocono, but he just carried that momentum right into Indianapolis and he's been fast. He's the No. 1 target. Then we look at guys like Matt Kenseth, who got into the Chase by being very competitive at the perfect point of the season. They were so far behind in points that you never expected them to make it. So they definitely have a role going right now. Then you have guys like Greg Biffle, who are competitive on all the mile and a half tracks which are the primary tracks in this Chase.
Q. Looking into the future, moving into Penske Racing, any thoughts of his historic place in running the Indy 500?
KURT BUSCH: I've never had the itch to run the Indianapolis 500 in an open-wheel car. But I do have the itch to go to see the race maybe before I retire as a driver. That will be something in the future. I'll work it out. Right now the focus is obviously on our Chase races, what we have to do this year. I found a good home with stock cars.
Q. Could you even imagine what Mark has gone through of having such an illustrious career and coming up so short for the championship so many times?
KURT BUSCH: Well, Mark is a true champion in everybody's mind. He's been a guy you can count on every season to win races, to be there for his fans, and just his tenacity, his work ethic, his wisdom around his crew chief and his team. He's a leader in every which way. To see him run so successful with the IROC cars, he's going to be probably a four-time champion at the end of the year with the IROC Series, he's got as good a shot as anybody right now to win the second Nextel Cup. He's got it going right now.
Q. Is there one thing that stood out that he has taught you or you have learned by watching him that has been instrumental to you?
KURT BUSCH: I would say the patience factor in working with a team, understanding that you have to have the right people in place, the way that he's been able to surround himself with good people throughout his career. Mark is a leader in many ways. To see him and the way that he conducts himself as a leader behind the wheel of the race car as well as walking on foot across the shop floor, he's a guy that you can look up to in that respect.
Q. Is there more pressure being the defending champion going into the Chase than it was looking for your first championship?
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, there is definitely a bit more pressure just because now this team is on the nap, what Kurt Busch has done to win races. I like to go and to try to win race. If you can't, you look for those consistent finishes. When you're a team that's won a championship, people look at you and how you did it and what your approach could be. So this team has to still continue to look for new ways to create avenues to win as well as to build competitive race cars. So there's definitely more pressure. It comes in many different ways, whether it's on track with other drivers, whether it's with the role of helping NASCAR continue to grow with the media, then the sponsors. They're definitely having a great time advertising the championship. So there's more things and aggressive things they do.
Q. Do you think there's anything different about winners that many drivers at all levels don't seem to possess? In other words, is there something special about winning that seems to run in your family?
KURT BUSCH: It's at a level we start out on, which anybody can start out on, which is family racing, it starts out as fun. Everybody gears up as a family, goes out to the racetrack not expecting to win, but expecting to bring the car home in one piece so you can go and do it again next week. That's something that our father has instilled in Kyle and I about taking care of our equipment, racing it competitively and trying to create the best result. It's been fun. It's been a humbling experience to come up through the ranks such as I have, such as Kyle has, and then to be able to win. That's obviously the objective at the end of the day.
DAN PASSE: Thank you very much, Kurt, for joining us. Best of luck this week in New Hampshire. Thank you, everybody, for your participation. We'll see you next week.
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