NASCAR Media Conference
March 21, 2006
DENISE MALOOF: Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to this week's NASCAR Nextel Cup Series teleconference in advance of Sunday's Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway. A quick reminder to those of you who are attending Bristol that the weekly Nextel Wake-Up Call interview opportunity is Friday at 10:30 a.m. in the infield media center at the track. The guest will be the defending race champion Kevin Harvick and NASCAR Busch Series driver Burney Lamar.
Our guest today is Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge. Kurt, that No. 2 car at Penske Racing South has seven victories at Bristol when it was driven by Rusty Wallace. This is your first year in the No. 2 and your first race at Bristol. You have five victories of your own at Bristol. How excited are you about this weekend?
KURT BUSCH: I mean, the crew looked at the schedule and put a circle around Bristol, so we actually really haven't even raced four races yet. We're so excited to go to Bristol, this is definitely the focal point of the beginning of the season for us.
I'm just excited to have the chance to drive this car at Bristol. I know how many times I've tried to hold it off because it was just going that much faster than mine. To jump into that car, we know we've got the best car possible to go to Bristol with.
Myself with four victories there, it's my favorite racetrack on the circuit.
DENISE MALOOF: I can understand that. A bit of a bumpy ride in Atlanta, so I know you're eager to get to Bristol, right?
KURT BUSCH: It was a tough pill to swallow yesterday with having such a good Dodge Charger with us. It was the first time to run that Charger and it ran great. We led laps early in the race. We paced ourselves then got caught up in an incident, two lap cars below us got together us and squeezed us up into the wall. It was frustrating at that time. We said some things on the radio. To clear the air, I have no problems with Kevin Harvick, or even when Stremme made that mistake. I just wish som of the lap down cars gave respect to the lead lap cars. That's the bottom line it from it.
No hard feelings towards anybody. It was a chance to run with Kahne and Mark Martin and try to win that race. We just came up a bit short on that.
We look forward to Bristol because it's a chance to bounce back from a disappointing finish on Sunday.
DENISE MALOOF: Sounds good. Let's get ready for some questions for you.
Q. Last November was probably one of the low points you had. Do you think how things have worked out in the next five or six months that you might be happier and more relaxed now than you've been in a long time?
KURT BUSCH: I had a great chance to talk with all the good people out in Maricopa County. The things that happened last fall are definitely behind us in the way that we're putting together great activities with that community with different services, different this, different that.
I've had the burden of having this contract negotiation going on for two years on my mind. With that behind me, with the chance now to drive the Miller Lite Dodge, have a chance to win races, it's all good times around me right now. So no worries.
Q. Have you started your community service there yet?
KURT BUSCH: We've got great things in the works right now, everything planned. But, no, we haven't started anything just yet.
Q. Can you talk about the respect of the lap down cars? They're racing, too. How do you see that? Can you go through what you think is fair and not fair? Where is the line drawn?
KURT BUSCH: Well, with our new safety procedure with the Lucky Dog, it's a great chance for lap down cars to yield to the lead lap cars because they're going to get a chance when the next yellow comes out to advance back onto the lead lap. I don't see much need for the lap cars to race each other that hard. It was so early in the race, you know, you just have to take your time.
It was unfortunate for us to get squeezed into the wall like that. But, you know, sometimes those things happen. I hope that we're able to bounce back this week at Bristol.
Q. Can you talk more about the Charger, what it feels like to you. If the Charger wins, others are driving an Intrepid within your own camp, can you talk about what you found out with the Charger?
KURT BUSCH: Ever since I've jumped into it, it seems to run great on short runs. We've been polishing on it to make it a better car in the long run. It just seems from the Fords that I've driven in the past a little bit of rear downforce. But we're working on that. We're showing strength each time we come back to the racetrack.
Then to see Kasey Kahne win with it, it's that much more gratifying to know we've got a car capable of winning races. Now we've got to go out there and have some luck.
Q. Your success is pretty well documented at Bristol, and the 2 car. Have you had a chance to test in the 2 car at any short tracks? What differences, if any, do you see between the Penske approach to Bristol versus the Roush approach?
KURT BUSCH: First part of your question is we have tested at a short track, Lakeland, Florida. We did that back in January. That was actually our first test with the new team. Things went well there. I see the way they prepare cars and approach short track chassis is much more in detail than what I'm used to in the past. I believe that's how Rusty has had success in the past at Bristol, is the fact they build good cars. Rusty is definitely very keen on what shocks you need to run at Bristol, the different adjustments. I'm going to use that knowledge as well as what I've had there in the past. Hopefully we can definitely put together a good run to gain some points back.
Q. What differences do you see between Rusty's style and your style at Bristol? I know you've had a chance to talk to him about his success at that track.
KURT BUSCH: With the way that his setups have looked on paper, they're just a little bit on the tighter side from what I'm used to. But the way that he gets the car to rotate in the center of the corner is magical. Rusty definitely has always had that touch at Bristol - at every short track for that matter. I'm looking forward to the opportunity to driving the car there and definitely putting together what I've done in the past there.
Things are just looking up and up for this weekend.
Q. On paper so far this year you have a 38, two 16ths and a 37th in terms of the finish. How would you grade your performance, say, from A to F, the performance of you and the team compared with what we're seeing on paper so far?
KURT BUSCH: You know, I would not try to boast and to pound our chest real hard, but I would give us an A right now with the way the team has come out of the box strong, with adapting to new setups, a new driver, pit stops, crew chief in a new position, driver learning different things from the sponsor. We've had a lot to adjust to. We've had a short amount of time to put it all together.
For us, we've led laps at three of the four races so far. We've wrecked at three of the four races so far. That's why our performances haven't always ended up positive at the end of the day. What we take away from it is valuable lessons in setup and in knowledge with team communication. We've definitely had a great four races so far, and we've taken away something from each of the four races.
Q. With the talk about short tracks, they're supposed to be the great equalizers on the circuit. If you look at short tracks, you've dominated Bristol, Jeff Gordon has dominated Martinsville, winning four of the last six. Based on that, how is it that you two have done what you have done at Bristol and Martinsville over the last couple years?
KURT BUSCH: You know, I always look forward to going to the short tracks, whether it's just a breath of fresh air in differences from our regular mile-and-a-halves or, like you say, it's an equalizer.
Bristol, it takes that mental aspect to know when to race hard, when to ride around and protect your car. Same aspect at Martinsville that Jeff Gordon has had success with. He's able to run competitive lap times and put his car in position to be around the front of the pack at the end of the race.
Then it comes down to just the comfort level you have with the setup and the racetrack. That's why I'm very comfortable at Bristol. I've won at Martinsville in the past, even Richmond, another short track. That place is fun as well. So it's just having that attitude going into short tracks to know that you can do well and to know when you have to race your car hard.
Q. Looking ahead to Martinsville, talking about what Jeff has done, can you go into or detail what you've seen he's done? I've heard people talk about the mental aspect, relating it to him. How do you see how he's driven and maybe used his head?
KURT BUSCH: At a track where a driver feels comfortable, it seems like when things go wrong, it just bounces right back to be positive. Even when he gets behind the eight ball, I think he even went a lap down in one of his wins and came back strong to get his lap back and win the race. You can't get down when things go wrong. You keep that positive attitude.
His setups are definitely one to look at for Martinsville because his car runs good on the beginning of the run and then it maintains that pace all the way through to the end of that tire run. He's usually the guy to beat. If you want to set a benchmark to look at, Jeff Gordon is definitely the guy at Martinsville.
Q. Bill Lester said his goal yesterday was to win the respect of other drivers out on the track. Do you think he did that?
KURT BUSCH: Oh, absolutely. It was great to see him out there, just his adrenaline out on the track, to see him make the race was fantastic for our sport. Then when he was out there racing, you could tell he was very courteous, very aware of all of his surroundings. For him to finish the full 500 miles was a victory. That's what every driver wants to do in their first race.
He did a fantastic job. He knew how to race that racetrack. He knew how to stay out of trouble, as well.
Q. How does a young, inexperienced driver win your respect?
KURT BUSCH: It comes over time, race after race. Once you learn how to crawl, then is time to walk. Once you learn how to walk, then you can run with the big dogs. You just have to pace yourself. A driver like him has that veteran experience already because of his age, and the experience level that he learned running the Truck Series will definitely help him.
Q. The big issue the past couple of races has been tires. What seems to be the big -- besides them getting eaten up, has it gotten out of hand, in your opinion?
KURT BUSCH: Well, it's a matter of trying to adjust to the smaller rear spoiler. NASCAR has changed the aerodynamic look of these cars and the feel from inside the race car has changed. So Goodyear has brought a softer tire to try to adjust for that as well as a few years ago you would see guys just come in and put fuel only in a race car and head back out because the tires were so hard.
Now with them on the opposite end of the spectrum with a softer tire, you're going to have those days where people are a bit too aggressive, pop a right front or pop a right rear tire because they're leaning on them too hard. When we're in a situation like that, I think drivers need to be conscientious of how fast of a pace they want to set and conserve their tires a little bit.
I don't see it as a problem. It is a bit disappointing that we don't have as many green flag stops as we used to. But with all the yellows, it keeps the pack tighter together, more cars on the lead lap, more competition, and it's tougher to find those good finishes.
Q. I know Goodyear has been selecting some cars and drivers to do some testing. There's been questions about the beads, bad wrecks, Las Vegas. Do you think they will ever come up with a medium tire that could be used at several the tracks where tire equation is taken out?
KURT BUSCH: Well, it's a continuing battle that Goodyear faces, and that is to bring the most competitive tire to the racetrack that provides for speed, provides safety, as well as the feel that the tire has to have against the asphalt. Every racetrack that we race on has different asphalt. It might just look like it's a paved road with some banking, but Texas is completely different than Atlanta because Atlanta is there in the southeastern part of the country where it's very gritty asphalt. Texas doesn't have that. It has mortar mixture on the asphalt.
Goodyear has an ongoing battle all the time to find the right balance of tire that gives speed and safety to the drivers and the teams. I know they're doing their best job and that's all we can ask for.
Q. Anytime someone changes a job, especially when you've been with someone for so long as you were with Jack Roush, were you a little concerned during the off-season and apprehensive as to what you were stepping into?
KURT BUSCH: Really not at all. I looked at the Penske organization for quite some time. Dealing with the contract, talking with Roger, the people I met along the way, gave me great reassurance that this was the right move. I'm very comfortable with the team that I have. We're showing strength each of the races. We're putting that chemistry together where we can speak and not say a word and have communication get across to one another.
Things are new. When you first walk into a new place or a new house, new job, you have that new feeling. But we've definitely made a lot of progress in just a short amount of time.
Q. Regarding that new feeling, is there any one thing that you can point to after you joined the Penske organization that made you stand there and just go, "Wow, I like this"?
KURT BUSCH: I would just say the way that Roger runs his organization, it's a flat organization. What I mean by that is you can walk into anybody's office and ask them a question on how we can get things done a little bit better or easier, and nobody has a chip on their shoulder on how the totem pole is supposed to work. Everything is run flat across the board. Everybody is smiling and having a good time.
Q. You mentioned in your opening comment you were comfortable with the Charger. Two of the drivers in the top 10 are in Chargers. Is this the end of the discussion about the Dodge Charger is an inferior car?
KURT BUSCH: Well, it definitely helps make a statement, that's for sure. With Kasey winning, we're proud he took the Dodge Charger to Victory Lane. I was hoping we could do it first. We're definitely learning quite a bit with our new team and everybody, new places.
I hope that we're able to find success this weekend at Bristol with the Charger. It takes time for things to develop, whether it's a new team or whether it's this car. We're seeing it's starting to show its strength. There's no reason not to run that car.
Q. What is the main problem that the organization is having with the Charger?
KURT BUSCH: Just seems like once we get the rear downforce scienced out a little bit better, then we can have a car that can run at any style of racetrack. If we just had a little bit more rear downforce, which I think we can find within our own organization, then that will make us a little bit better when we go to Texas in a couple weeks. Right now we have a couple short tracks on the plate in front of us.
Q. You had some great wins at Bristol. Could you reflect on the win you had particularly against Jimmy Spencer.
KURT BUSCH: That's my most favorite memory, other than the championship a couple years ago, is when you win your first race at this elite level, it sinks into your head that you've made it per se, or that you've put in all your years of racing to make it to this level, then to find that success, that's the biggest moment. That is my most favorite win because it's the first and, like you said, I raced a veteran that day to get the win. It wasn't like we stayed out on fuel or had the race handed to us. We really had to fight hard to win that race.
Q. Any other memories of these wins?
KURT BUSCH: No, each win is very special. I remember each one of them. A lot of drivers say they remember their second-place finishes more than their wins. With my success at Bristol, I love the place. Last year we didn't quite have the success like I've there in the past. The year before that, though, my last win, when I won there at Bristol, was holding off Rusty Wallace the last 50 laps with a car that the distributor was starting to miss. It was miss-firing and not running at optimum speed. I had a lot on my plate trying to hold off Rusty Wallace and make sure the motor was going to stay together.
Then to win two races back-to-back in 2003, sweeping Bristol is something that's very tough to do. I love the place. When I go there, I just feel pumped up and confident I can do it again.
Q. Have you been able to assess what the biggest difference is between this year and years past? Is it the organization, the cars, the crew chief, maybe even the driver?
KURT BUSCH: Definitely the biggest change that I've seen is just the people around the organization. I've got a great crew chief. Not that I didn't in the past, Jimmy Fennig was wonderful. From the tire guy up to Roger has an attitude that is breeding success around here. Everybody's happy. We're discouraged we haven't quite finished where we wanted to in the first four races, but everybody is so pumped up that we're leading laps at each of these races, they want to see good things happen.
Nobody is getting down on one another and everybody has that upbeat attitude.
Q. You've won the day and night race at Bristol. What is the biggest difference between the two?
KURT BUSCH: The fall race is so much tougher. The summer race at night, the track is very hot, it's slick, the rubber seems to get greasy, you just slide around a bit more. The driver definitely has to work harder at the night race than in the spring. In the spring, it's nice and cool. The car sticks a little bit better. That's what I've noticed. I've won three spring races and just one summer race. It's just that the driver has to work that much harder during the summer race because it's tough to drive around a hot, slick track.
Q. You were fourth in the points at this time last year, sixth two years ago. In both years, eight of the drivers in the top 10 at this point made the Chase. How does your position in the points at this moment challenge you and how do you have to react with what you do or don't do on the track now?
KURT BUSCH: I believe the Chase is only two years old so it's hard to draw parallels to the past as far as how things are done, who is in what position, when and where. We are by no means in a panic. We have four races down. We've shown potential in each of those four races.
If our worst day was 16th, which we had at Vegas when we missed the setup there, that's the way we look at our season. We had top five cars at Daytona, Atlanta. We just didn't make it to the end. If we would have finished those two races, we would be top 10 in points.
We look at a couple short tracks here ahead of us, then we've got Texas. If we're 10 races in and we're still 27th in points, then we might start to look around a little bit about how to do things different.
Q. Obviously a lot of people call Bristol a crapshoot, yet you find such success there. What is it about Bristol that lends itself to what you do? Can you talk us through why you have had such success at that racetrack?
KURT BUSCH: It's just having that attitude and that positive outlook on what you can do at Bristol. Some drivers go just to survive. Some drivers are a rookie and inexperienced and they find trouble easy. Myself, I wrecked three times in the first hundred laps that I ever raced there. I got to watch the rest of the race from the infield, because that's before they had a tunnel. Watching 400 laps on the edge of pit wall in turn three definitely taught me a lot about that racetrack and what you have to do to protect your car and to try to win there.
You race competitive when you have to and pass cars when you have the chance to, but you try to rush nothing at all at Bristol for sections of the race. Then when you can race hard, you go and do it like there's no tomorrow.
Q. You're one that does not get frustrated by this racetrack?
KURT BUSCH: You can't get frustrated at Bristol at all. It moves so fast, the pace that you're on at 15 seconds per lap. When a yellow comes out, you have to have the communication to your crew chief done in advance because you're going to be on pit road before you know it. It's definitely a fun place to stay ahead of the game. When things happen and you spin out or somebody runs into you, no problem, it's Bristol, then you go back and attack the place to see if you can get a good finish out of it.
DENISE MALOOF: Kurt, thanks for joining us today. We appreciate it.
KURT BUSCH: Thank you very much. Thanks, everybody, for the call-ins. It's definitely a season where I'd like things to be a little bit better, but we've definitely had so many lessons learned with the Miller Lite Dodge already with the new team, new crew chief. Pit stops are getting better. We look forward to Bristol. We've definitely got this one highlighted, even in the off-season, to see if we can't win this race. Thanks a lot, guys.
DENISE MALOOF: No problem. We look forward to it, too. Thank you for joining us. We will see you next week.
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