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NASCAR Media Conference

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Stock Car Racing Topics:  NASCAR

NASCAR Media Conference

Kurt Busch
Jamie McMurray
January 18, 2006


JAMIE McMURRAY: We're just trying to get cars to drive well. As cool as it is, if your car doesn't drive well now, when it gets hot, it always seems to turn into a bigger issue. Right now I'm just getting used to working with my new team and Jimmy Fennig. Everyone has different ways of going about making their car handle, and I'm just kind of trying to take everything in from what the 26 team has done in years past. They've run really well here. I think they've run 2nd twice. I'm just kind of going through the normal routine.

Q. What does the water from that well at Roush Racing taste like that all you guys seem to be able to be so successful once you get there? In all seriousness, what's it like? Is there a different attitude, a different vibe when you get to Roush Racing that's made that so successful that you can sense now coming in as an outsider?

JAMIE McMURRAY: Well, they've won so many races over the last few years. You know, when I first went in and spoke with Jimmy, we were just trying to get to know each other, and he had talked about winning a lot. He said you're going to have races where your car just is great and it's a dominant car, and you just need to take care of it. And then he talked about races where you had to work on it. As he was saying that, I thought, that's great, but that's the attitude already. We haven't even been to a test yet, and he already assumes that because he knows that the cars are great and that he's assembled a great group of people. It's definitely different from where I came from. From an outsider looking in my first few times to Roush Racing, it looked like everyone was on vacation because there was no one there, and come to find out that's all that worked there. They do it with a lot less people it looks like. It just looks like everybody can do everything there. There's not necessarily like a specialist for every area. Everyone there is a racer, and they pretty much can do everything. It's different for sure, but a good different.

Q. Your thoughts on the car tomorrow. Have you seen it, have you -- I don't know if you've tested it or do you plan on testing in it tomorrow?

JAMIE McMURRAY: I've never -- I haven't tested it. I've only seen one, and that was on the Internet. No, I don't know a lot about that. They talked about it a little bit, but I think until we get closer, there's not been a lot of discussion. You know, it seems like every time you change something, there's a reason to change it, and sometimes people don't always agree with it. But, you know, I suppose that will be like anything else once we get used to it. It's what we do every week. It's just the way it'll be.

Q. There's going to be a lot of questions for you in pre-season about pressure, expectations and all those kind of things. Obviously you know those are coming and probably nobody has better expectations for you than you. Can you just address those and all that situation?

JAMIE McMURRAY: Well, I mean, obviously all of my teammates won races last year, and the car that I'm in won races last year. Yeah, I mean, I've thought about that a lot. I thought, what if you go halfway through the season and you don't win a race or you go all year and you don't win. But I've thought that for the last three years. So it's not really any different. I think that obviously I'm more positive about it this year. I'm very excited that I got to get in the 26 car this year and didn't have to wait another year. And I think mentally you're a lot more positive because you know that the cars that you're in are capable of winning because that's their record. I'm so excited to get to Vegas and get in one of these cars at the Mile and a Half track. They've had so much success there, and racing, regardless of what people say is a mental sport, and if you believe you can win, if you're in a car that can win, you more than likely will. If you have a negative attitude, typically you don't get very good results. The fact that all of my teammates have won last year and the team I'm with has won, I mean, I don't know that I view it as pressure, because like you said, for me everyone in the garage area has that, whether they're in a car that's capable of winning or not, they all want to and there's pressure to win.

Q. You kind of touched on the equipment and the winning, but do you feel that you also can turn to your other drivers, teammates, more than you've been able to?

JAMIE McMURRAY: Yeah, most definitely. I mean, that was -- when I viewed leaving Ganassi and coming to Roush, I mean, that was one of my big decision makers, was not only did I feel like I was getting in the best equipment, but I knew that I was going to have two rookies as teammates this year. If we had won a lot of races over the last couple of years, then you would feel maybe you didn't need to pull information out of all of your teammates, but we hadn't. When you look at the teammates that I'm going to have this year, it's so hard to compare two race teams and not knock on the other, but Matt and Mark and Carl, Greg, I mean, all those guys have won races and are incredible drivers. Yeah, I mean, I'm certainly going to dig all I can out of those guys and see what I can learn.

Q. When you start a season, as drivers do you set goals that the drivers -- we talk about it all the time, do you write down somewhere a number of wins and position and all that stuff, or do you just go to the racetrack every week and try to knock out the best week you can? Are you as a driver and drivers in general goal-oriented people?

JAMIE McMURRAY: I don't specifically write something down. All the media interviews you this weekend and when we come back for the 500 and ask you what your goals are for the year, and every driver tells you he wants to win some races and make the Chase. That's what everybody wants to do. I think that goes without being said, what your goals are. But I don't do that, no. I've never heard of anyone writing down specific goals. I think teams maybe do that. The crew chief gets the team together and maybe sets goals. But for a driver, you just go out every week and you try to win. That's what your goal is. And then when guys get on a hot streak, you can't ever tell when that's going to come around. So no, that's something I've never done.

Q. Drivers in your sport have switched teams like forever. They've always been doing it, yet there seems to be an implication that when you and Kurt did it, there was something inappropriate about what you did. Could you talk about that a little bit?

JAMIE McMURRAY: Well, I mean, I don't think I did anything inappropriate. I mean, I was not going to leave Chip Ganassi racing until my contract was up. But I had an opportunity come along with a team that had won championships and was winning races and what I thought was the best organization in our sport, and so I signed a contract to drive for them when my contract was up. When I spoke with Jack, he said, look, I don't want anything to do with what you have right now. What we're doing is when your contract is over with. I don't really view that at all as doing anything wrong. I can't speak for Kurt because I don't know his situation or what happened there. You know, everyone in our sport does what's best for them, and sometimes that decision is hard because when you make a decision to leave a team, there are 20 or 30 families on your team that maybe don't necessarily depend on you, but your success is also success for them. So it makes the decision hard, but you make your decisions based on what you feel is best for your career.

Q. Do you miss the fact you're not going to be able to race in the Rolex race this year, and how much did you enjoy it and would you like to be a part of it in the future?

JAMIE McMURRAY: Yeah, I wasn't going to do that anyway this year. I had a great time last year doing it, but when you do the Rolex race, you spend a couple of days going to their shop to get fitted for seats, then you spend a couple days testing down here, then you come back down here for a couple days, and that takes away a week of your three weeks that you get off. I would like to do that again in the future, but that is not something I'd want to do every single year.

KURT BUSCH: Here at Daytona, I believe the Charger is going to be the car to beat when we show up for race time Speed Week. They might be fast in practice and might sit on the front row, but I believe that the Charger, the way the Penske cars have been racing on the plate tracks as well as Ganassi, as well as Mears, the veteran guy over there for Chip Ganassi, is going to be pretty tough, as well

Q. Can you reiterate, talk about Kyle? He's your little brother. He's had so much success early on and what your expectations would for him going forward.

KURT BUSCH: To see Kyle come up through the ranks so quick, to be able to jump from one series to the next and act as if he belonged there all along, the ability to have that racecar feel. I think he does a great job in relaying the information back to the crew chief on how the car is handling and what it was like in the past versus what he'd like to feel. And to see him come up through the Busch Series and have the success that he did there, to jump into NEXTEL Cup, and I think he sat on the pole in California in like his fifth attempt at a pole, and he got it. That just showed right away that he was going to be a strong force during his rookie season. And to win two races, I think they're given the right credit. He won the Night Race in California and he won out in Phoenix. That was a motivation that I think he felt family-wise, and that was a true testament to what he's been able to do with race cars and his emotions. One thing that Kyle and I always try to do is give good information back to the crew chief, and that stems from working with our father, my dad, Tom. We wanted to make his job easier when we were racing cars, so we told him everything that the car was doing so we could work on it together. I knew from the beginning he could be a strong racer, a strong force to be reckoned with, and he's getting more and more comfortable, so I'd expect great things from him this year. I used to see him in my rear view mirror, now I'm looking at him through the windshield, so it's fun.

Q. Kurt, going back to how different it is for you, I notice a big smile on your face. You're very cordial and stopping and letting everybody take a picture and signing everybody's autograph. You've kind of become that Penske I've-got-the-world-on-a-string kind of guy. Are you that happy being at Penske? Have things gotten that good for you? Or has something happened that someone told you that, hey, there's a big award for Mr. Congeniality? You seem really happy.

KURT BUSCH: I am very happy. It's obviously new, and things are so different, and when things are new, it's easy to get caught up in the newness of it. You just bounce from one thing to the next, whether it's racecar setup or different things with the sponsor, going to Milwaukee so many times already. Those guys have instilled some great qualities in me. You're exactly right, it's following the Penske MO of how the drivers are. It's not any type of confidence, it's not any type of I've got a chip on my shoulder. It's fun, really, to smile and walk around with a Miller Lite suit on knowing the guy in charge is Roger Penske. It gets back to the conversation I had with him during the off-season. I said, I don't want to do any appearances the morning of the Coca-Cola 600. He looks at me real funny, kid, what are you talking about? Like, I want to go to Indy with you, Dude. So I'm going to go to Indy this May and hang out for the beginning of the 500 and then fly back to Charlotte so I can do the race that night. Just opening up the door with him and having that rapport, it's been great, and I feel comfortable with it. Yet there's so much to learn from people like them and DR have helped me understand that you don't have to be so uptight. Loosen up, and they smack me around a little bit.

Q. Just a little more along those lines, what impact have Roger and Don Miller and the other people at Penske had on how you interact with the public and the media, and I also wanted to ask you, what did you think of what Hamlin did last year in the 11 car when he came up?

KURT BUSCH: I think the difference I've noticed already is I've got a NEXTEL phone and I had probably 180 numbers saved in there. During this off-season, that number has jumped up to 230. It's because people come up to me, and it's opened doors for relationships, and talking about Don Miller, we're getting a couple street rods put together and I have to call him up and some of his part suppliers. Ryan Newman, we called him for fishing tidbits because I was on the shore of Virginia and having some fun, and had that opportunity with Roger. He calls me Christmas Day and says merry Christmas, and I was just blown away. Roger is calling me Christmas Day? He said I need you to come to the Super Bowl with me. Can you make it? Let me think about it. Okay, we're there. That's opened up another door to talk with both of his sons, Greg and Roger, Jr., and I've talked with him. I bought Eva a card through Greg. I think that's what Roger's direction was, say, talk to Greg about cars. Roger is great, and Don Miller, and then working with Tim Sendrick (phonetic), the guy from the open-wheel team who's now the general manager at Penske Racing South. All the time I'm meeting with people and developing relationships with them, where before it was just race the car, get in the car, make sure the sponsor is happy and go to the next race. I'm now realizing that there's more to it than driving around in circles going fast.

Q. NASCAR is going to eliminate the elite division in the NASCAR ladder, and they've been talking to people who said without the Southwest Series nobody may have ever heard of Kurt Busch. I kind of wanted to get your reaction to the elimination of the Southwest Series, and how important was driving on the Southwest Series in your progression as a racecar driver?

KURT BUSCH: I've got a great story that goes along with that. It's tough to see the realignment of the regional southwest tour cars, Southwest Series. Late models used to be a division where you could somewhat afford to race them and slap on a set of fresh tires and race them for a couple weekends. Those days are long gone. The price has just elevated itself beyond a reasonable value for what you can race a late model for. But the Southwest Series was traveling around going from Colorado to Northern California, Southern California, Arizona, into Nevada. There was great race tracks that taught racers many different qualities. We would race on the Speedway of Phoenix, and the Mile and a Half in Vegas, and go all the way to the road cores at Cedars Point. All those were cut tracks. Where you have the Midwest Series and they wouldn't race on those big tracks or the Southeast Series. You might have a chance to get on Kentucky Speedway. The Southwest Series is very versatile. Back when I used to run there was three or four races on TV and those were the big races that everybody showed up for. But the series just above that, the Grand National West Division is now what it's going to become, I believe those cars are now going to a composite body instead of a steel body because when you have a steel bodied car, it takes way too many crew guys to fix it every week and maintain. So I think that's the reasoning why they're moving the direction around. Still don't know for sure. But the story I wanted to say for sure was Mike Wallace was racing what was then Winston West and I was racing Southwest Tour, and he want now he's racing at Irwindale, the same track as me, and I looked at Mike and said he's a NEXTEL Cup driver, I want to talk to him. Mike, how did you win that race in Pike's Peak? I just wanted to pat him on the back. He told me the whole story. Mike, that's cool. I'm a driving in the Southwest Series trying to move on up. What do you think of the Winston West and do you think it's a softer series? As soon as I said that, I'm like, oh, I just kicked him in the rear end for telling him that he did a great job in winning that race at Pike's Peak but I told him the series was soft was my next sentence. Is this some arrogant punk, some kid that thinks he's cocky? What number are you running tonight? I said, I'm running the Ford car. I qualified third; where did you qualify? Mike qualified 22, but I'm going to come and tear your door off. Geez. Early on I learned that I'm phrasing things just the wrong way. I was trying to find out if the Grand National West Series was the next step I needed to take and try to find a ride in that series or throw my life on the line and go for a Truck Series ride. After the race Mike came over and said, find yourself a truck to drive, we'll see what you've got. At the end of the year that's when I got called by Roush to race his truck in Daytona, and I finished second to Mike Wallace in my first race. That was kind of fun.

Q. Much was made last year of the Newman-Wallace feud, I guess. How has it been working with Ryan and how closely do you expect the 2 team to work with the 12 this year?

KURT BUSCH: I think it'll take some time, but already I've seen movement out of some of the meetings, where Matt Moreland actually scheduled a meeting with myself and Ryan Newman and the two engineers. So the six of us had a little powwow, and I stayed quiet the whole time, just listened, tried to absorb what the problem was, which was obviously Newman is a new school guy, Rusty is an old school guy, and the two just clashed a little bit. And when Newman would have good information and new things sound by his team, Rusty was available to that, but Rusty didn't quite keep it in-house was the main reason why I think the two didn't quite get along. Rusty has grown up in the Cup garage and he has friends like Mark Martin, Darrell Waltrip, friends all over the place where they would just chitchat about setup. That's changed recently. That's where the two I think were somewhat imbalanced, and what I see with my new crew chief in his engineering frame of mind, it's the new school way of doing things. Ryan and I have talked about that, it'll take some time to develop, but I've already seen some of the actions take place where they came back from their test in Daytona last week, told my crew chief what they learned, what they saw, didn't get a chance to run, and here we are this week helping with some of his setups and what he thought would work, that they didn't have time to get to. So we'll go to Vegas together in a couple of weeks and just get rolling from there. I don't see Ryan a problem at all to work with, just a matter of blending into the program, and now with Penske restructuring and having an engineering based group I've got to step up to that program because I'm the old school Jimmy Fennig way of life where he was a veteran and had things his way. It'll be a good challenge and overall I think it will be better for the program. Once the two of us run parallel with each other, I don't see a problem at all.

Q. Were you at all surprised last year at the end of last year just how ugly everything got, personal it got, coming from the Roush camp after you left there?

KURT BUSCH: I was very surprised that it got that personal. With the way that everything came about, looking back on it, maybe I could have done it a different way. But I thought the best approach was to vilify them early on. That way they would get their sponsors lined up and do things they had to do. I was a bit disappointed that Mark Martin had to stick around for another year when he said he was going to retire. I don't know how that came about, but I really thought that Mark set a precedent to have a salute and what he's done for the fans, I thought it was a great way to go now, and now he's back. It kind of gets weird over there every now and then, and I look forward to driving the Miller Lite Dodge and I've got a trip to Milwaukee next week to learn more things about the brewery and their direction. That's where it'll just change over and I'll be known as a Penske guy, and we'll move on from there. I didn't finish about Denny Hamlin. I was very surprised. He got a pole last year in just his five or six starts that he made, and the maturity he showed, I didn't know him all that well from the Busch Series, and then he jumps into Cup and runs as competitive as he was running, it's a quality car obviously and it's got great people around it. The kid has got to drive it, and he did great. I would say that going into this year since now my brother is not a rookie, I can honestly say that I'm biased towards Denny Hamlin for Rookie of the Year. Let's see what the kid can do.

Q. You always say you're an old school guy and kind of you are, and Jimmy Fennig is on old school guy. But you're a young guy who came out of school, you read the tire readings, I've seen you working with the tires and that sort of thing. Actually how much of that engineering background or how much of that new school do you understand even though you're an old school racer?

KURT BUSCH: I think I'm new school enough because I grew up with a Nintendo. I've got one of those lying around. Having the background that I've had with computers, I took a little typing course in eighth grade because my mom was a secretary and she made me. Then I took a word processing class to help create my resume for college. That was in ninth grade. I think I know computers, I don't know. But the programs that I've seen created to help race cars and technology, I've kept up with. I've got them downloaded onto my laptop so I can tinker with them and understand and try to throw in equations. But I am behind in the times with the way that Penske operates. I am always looking forward to challenges to expand my mind for one thing and to obviously get up to the same level as Roy McCauley. I think they've had success on the Busch Series level, now it's time to see if we can do it at the Cup level. It'll be a challenge but we'll see what we can do.

Q. Did you take it personally at all when they changed 97 to the 26?

KURT BUSCH: I actually took it the opposite way to that. I thought it was an honor to have them retire that number or to move it off of the side. I took the number over from Chad Little and they asked me what number I wanted, and I'm like, I don't really know. Let's just keep the 97. That's fine. So we took it from a non-race winner to a winner or to a contender and then to a winner and then on to a championship level. I always looked at that little banner that Jeff Gordon had when I was growing up watching races, a checklist with Ray Evernham. You have to be an upstart to a contender to a winner to a championship to a dynasty. So the number got retired quickly after the championship, so it'll be a dynasty all on its own.

Q. Talk a little bit about what it's going to be like not to be hearing Jimmy Fennig's voice in your ear as your crew chief and the adjustment.

KURT BUSCH: I'm trying to come up with a nickname for Roy because he's switched on is what we call him. He's bouncing here, he's bouncing there, but he's got a direction. He has purpose to all of his calls, and he is 180 degrees different from Jimmy Fennig. It's cute, when I first got over to the Penske shops, everything is wide open. The shop is huge and everybody has got their big desks and big glass windows and you can see into any room except Roy's engineering room. Like, what's behind those doors? I go in there and there's all kind of gadgets in there that took like they belong at NASA and the windows are frosted. What did you do, Roy? Roger was about ready to rip me for that. So he doesn't like them? No. Well, I'm going to call you Frosty then. Kind of a big guy, looks like a snowman, and then he works for Penske. He's more like a cannonball. He can bounce around and get things done quick. He leaves a lot of damage behind, but we're learning as we go. I look up to him and his experience level, and with his voice on the radio already, we've got a plan and things sound good, but I just can't have him stretching me on fuel and on tires like he did in the Busch Series and the Cup Series, so I have to help with some of the experience level and I have to balance him out to make him a better all-around crew chief.

Q. You talk about relationships now and then having a good time at Penske and Roger calling you and merry Christmas and all that. Is that one of the big reasons you thought that you needed to make the change, that perhaps at Roush you were part of this bigger operation that maybe you didn't get the attention that you thought you needed in order to remain competitive, run from a 5 car down to a 3 and now a 2? Is that one of the main reasons, and is it working out the way you thought it would?

KURT BUSCH: I looked at the opportunity to drive for Roger in many different ways, the pros on his side and the pros on Roush's side, the cons and the cons. But the balance of everything came together when Roush decided to do this consolidation, and what that means is that I used to have a guy that worked his way up through the food chain and to hang bodies on the racecar, to have his own surface plate. And that means a lot when you've spent 12, 15 years of your life working up through the ranks of a race team. He was my plate guy. He built me speedway cars, built short track cars, he would build everything. Then they told him we're going to consolidate everything. What am I in charge of now? He's in charge of right front fenders for all five cars. It took away the identity of what that guy was trying to put into the teams. My lesson from Fennig is be a team player. Even when I was on my way out over there, Mark Martin, if you wanted to lead a lap, grab your five points. Every setup thing I learned, I was trying to help them make their cars better because we were all in the chase and it would be great to see one of our cars win. Things added up here and there, and then of course the relationships with the people could turn out different, and they're turning out to be. It's definitely an eye-opener to know that you can have a relationship with a team as well as race competitively and just everybody in the whole group, whether it's Roger himself or whether it's all the way to the jack man.



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