NASCAR Media Conference
June 13, 2006
THE MODERATOR: Welcome to this week's NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series teleconference. It's in advance of Sunday's race at Michigan International Speedway, the 3M Performance 400. Great guest today joining us on the call, the 2004 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Champion, Kurt Busch. He's the driver of the #3 Miller Lite Dodge for Penske Racing South. Kurt had a great weekend at Pocono Raceway where qualified second and finished second in the race this past Sunday. Kurt, you've done pretty well at Michigan in the past, you've got four Top-10s, you've won a race there in '03, that was before you started driving for Roger Penske. Who used to own MIS. You have to be pretty excited coming back this time as a Penske driver.
KURT BUSCH: Thanks, Herb. Good afternoon everybody. It's good to be part of the teleconference. Today we're testing at Kentucky Speedway at this track to get better prepared and ready for Michigan this weekend. I've always enjoyed going to Michigan at a track where it's importance because of the auto manufacturers; and the way that my Penske team has been referring to it as their home track, and they used to own that place, literally. So it's not just because of the racing statistics that they have there.
There are quite a bit of important -- there's always a sense of pride when you get to go race at Michigan Speedway because of the auto manufacturers, and my team owner, of course. It's really a fun racetrack where you can run four-wide, three-wide, choose any lane that you want out on the racetrack, and it really leaves it up to the driver, and that's what the drivers always look forward to.
Q. In regards to what is often referred to as "silly season," where drivers and sometimes sponsors switch rides, last summer you announced you would be leaving Roush. In terms of being bombarded with questions about that decision week after week, looking back, how difficult was it to cope with that, and in the same vein, during the next few days, weeks and months ahead, how difficult is it going to be for Brian Vickers and Casey Mears, who are in sort of a similar situation, until they announce their 2007 plans?
KURT BUSCH: You know, it is interesting. This has come about lately, some of the drivers that you see in the NEXTEL Cup, different types of motorsports as well, are always confronted with, am I running well enough, is it my own self, is it the team, where are things wrong and why should there be a change.
So Brian, he's made the announcement that he wants to switch teams or he wants to go in a new direction. I don't know the details. I don't even know if he signs for three or four more years; I don't even know if his contract ends this year. What I do know is that he's trying to position himself for a position where he thinks he can go and win races. He's with a very competitive team. Is he high enough on the ranking order? Who knows, because we see the success that Jimmie Johnson has, Jeff Gordon, as well as my little brother, Kyle Busch, over there. Why isn't Vickers running well; who's to know. So he's looking around for other opportunities to try to win races, because we all believe that Brian Vickers is very talented.
So he's got now with the media and the questioning that's going to come about on why he is switching, where is he going. And the advice that I did give him at Pocono is to know in his mind that things are going to be a bit out of the ordinary in the next upcoming weeks and months and that when you jump in the race car, that's when you get to the fun and drive that car as far as you can and try to pick up a win.
Q. Ryan Newman was in town next week, met the Governor and was in the capital of Lansing, and he was asked how his relationship with you was, and he said it was pretty excellent; that you guys are working as a team; you have no issues. Although, there's a lot of work to be done. How do you rate your relationship with your new teammate, and secondly, what's the difference or the main difference between running for Penske and Roush?
KURT BUSCH: On the first part of the question with the team communication and the camaraderie, I think everybody is doing a superb job, and the way that the information is being shared.
Secondly, out on the racetrack with Ryan, it's definitely something where the two of us can help each other, whether it's a restrictor plate race at Daytona or Talladega, we've strapped in real well together; or a short track, if one of the car is faster than the other, we let each other go by. You know, those things go a long way and one little small thing can add up to be a big difference. And whether you're running for a win or helping a guy get a Top-10 finish.
So far, everything has gone very well working with Ryan Newman. I feel like he's a great teammate and the two of us will definitely be able to make one another better as we continue forward. And the second question, it's just the family atmosphere around Penske Racing and the way that he runs a tighter ship, not everybody wearing the white-collared shirts, but everybody here is smiling and having fun, and it's definitely an atmosphere where it's easier to work in.
Q. Looking at where you are in the standings, you moved up the spot to 17, and we've got 11 or 12 races left. Is the sense of urgency, has that become focused in your mind as far as it looks like the Top-10 drivers are going to go this year and the 400 points count?
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, I believe you're correct in the 400 points. You definitely have to race to the Top-10, and the Top-10 guys will be in. And so we look at it where there's still plenty of races for things to go wrong and things to go right.
Hopefully we're on the right side of things with our team because we have had our share of bad luck and misfortune, so when we are able to put a good race together, just like we did this past weekend at Pocono where our crew won the checkers realtime award for the least amount of time on pit road, we raced well and are competing in the Top-5 all throughout the day. So if we can continue to do that and position ourselves, we can make this Chase, and we'll have an opportunity to do that in these next upcoming races to see what we have.
Q. As stated earlier, you have one win at Michigan. Your teammate, Ryan Newman, has two. How much help or is there any help coming from that side on what you should do with the Dodge there?
KURT BUSCH: There's been a tremendous amount of help with getting the aero balance correct and with the general, I guess you could say, setup characteristics. Both of us have won there. We each know how to get around the racetrack.
But when we sit down and talk about it, he let's me know things he's done in the past, and I let him know of some small things that I've done and the two of us can make each other better. So I believe the team communication is going very well, as well as the driver communication to help us both do better.
Q. I'm doing a look back at the 2005 Pepsi 400, was that one of the longest days you've ever had at a racetrack?
KURT BUSCH: I can't remember exactly. Was that the rain-delayed race?
KURT BUSCH: It definitely was. I think we ended the race at three in the morning with Tony Stewart going to victory lane. I don't even remember how I did. It's always interesting when you go to Daytona in July on who has got their car set up for qualifying or who has got their car set up for the race. Because the track is so hot and slick, you need more downforce than you think, and sometimes it hurts you in qualifying, but it helps you in the race.
Q. A situation like that, is that bad for a driver to have to wait around that long; does it matter at all?
KURT BUSCH: It definitely wears on you a little bit where you have to think you're ready to go, you've got the belts tightened up, you're ready to go out there and lay the hammer down, and it starts raining again and you've got to come back in. Then you're trying to get calmed down and let time pass, because you really can't help the track dry any quicker.
So if you're in the mood, you're out of the mood, you're back in it. But when the final verdict is out, that means it's green light racing and that's what you do best, so whether it's late in the evening or early in the morning, you have to be on your game.
Q. Do you believe NASCAR champions have common traits and abilities, and if so, could you identify a few?
KURT BUSCH: Well, that's an interesting question. I would say that there's a select few individuals that are NASCAR champions. There's 27 of us that have reached this pinnacle, and it's something very special and we all get to share that fact and that glory of being the champion for such a hard-fought season.
And some of the traits and the qualities that I think a lot of them share, and as a matter of fact all of them have to share, is leadership qualities, whether it's when things go wrong, being able to put the team on your own back and carry them through; whether it's being able to pick the right crew guys and to point out when somebody is doing something very well and patting them on the back. Leadership quality is what makes a champion, and I think that's true in every sport.
Q. I was wondering, already with silly season going on, there are a lot of names popping up and a lot of open-wheel guys, you're in a unique situation with Penske where you have Helio and Sam Hornish on the open-wheel side. Do you think that these open-wheel drivers like Sam Hornish and Dan Wheldon with his name popping up could make the switch to NASCAR like Tony Stewart has?
KURT BUSCH: You know, it's always an open door to see if they want to come in and race these cars. I've dabbled with running a champ car a few years ago, but I found a good home with NASCAR. I would say that the younger that the driver is, the better the opportunity can be to have a successful star car (ph) career. It's wide open. I think Tony has done a tremendous job blending in, guys like Casey Mears, guys like Jeff Gordon did it years ago. But right now, the setups are very different, and it takes quite a bit of patience and at least a two-year deal, you can say, to allow that driver to come up to speed.
Q. You've been part of a big team where you've seen drivers running well and maybe one or two drivers not running well. As is the case with Hendrick and Brian, can you explain why, with the exception of last year having five cars in the Chase, you're going to see some guys running well and other guys not be able to do it?
KURT BUSCH: It's hard to say being an outsider. Looking at the program over at Hendrick Motorsports, you can see that a couple years ago, the 24 and the 48, hands-down, were the cars to beat every race. You know, Terry Labonte was doing okay and you had Joe Nemechek in and out of that car, and Vickers jumped in it.
Now it's kind of swapped. I saw the 5 and the 25 doing very well at the end of last year, beginning this year. But you can always count on the 48 doing well. What I think that comes down to is the team communication and the ability of the crew chief and the crew guys working together to find what that driver needs.
So maybe Vickers just isn't quite finding what he needs through his crew chief or through the setups that they are running, and then maybe they need to share information better. Who knows, I can't really say, but I can understand that Vickers is looking for an opportunity to match himself up with a different combination, car, crew chief, set up, whatever, to help himself win some races.
Q. With all of the publicity surrounding Toyota, what are your thoughts on Toyota coming into NASCAR next season?
KURT BUSCH: You know, the door is, again, open for anybody to participate in our sport. Whether it's the driver, whether it's an auto manufacturer, a team owner, such as Staubach and Aikman coming in with Hall of Fame Racing.
So it's something to where I think it takes time for it to develop. They have definitely going to have their work cut out for them to get their cars up to speed and their teams up to capacity. It seems like they have always had sufficient funding, and they may spend that the amount of money that they need to spend to be competitive and win races and that might challenge some other teams to have to step up and ask for more sponsor money or get some stronger auto manufacturer support. We'll see how it goes. They are more than welcome to come into the sport. It's just a matter of getting their teams up to speed.
Q. Talking about leadership qualities and the need to carry the team, I talked to Robby about the 24 and even though they had been in the Top-10 for a while, they were not having the success that one might expect out of Jeff Gordon and Robby's contention was that the series is just way too competitive now for any one driver to carry a team. What are your feelings on that?
KURT BUSCH: Oh, I would definitely agree with what Robby Loomis has to say about that. With the way that series is, so many changing things -- let's just say we ran Pocono this weekend. In seven weeks when we go back, it's that much more information that the teams will have when they go back to that race. That's how quick things are changing with the setups, with the aerodynamics, with pit stops for that matter. We had solid pit stops, 13 seconds, all day, and we had one that was 12.3. Soon, 12.3 is going to be an average pit stop. So that's how quick things change.
So you have to have a captain of the crew; you have to have a leader in the pit. You have to have a leader when the crew guys are changing things on the car and making sure everything is tight and keeping up with, you know -- in Jeff Gordon's case, wheel bearings and keeping up with the brakes and just the general trend. So when there's driver leadership and crew chief leadership, team owner, everyone on the same page, that's when it clicks, and that's when you have a successful program.
Q. How tough is it going to be for to you win another championship, and when do you think it may come, if it does, and secondly, if you have you and Jack spoken at all since last year?
KURT BUSCH: I believe it just takes time for things to develop and for the team to all come together. When I first jumped into a car and I believe I finished 27th in points, and then there was a crew change, some guys that knew how to turn some wrenches, a crew chief that knew how to make the calls and boom, we finished third in points. After that, it just took a couple years to get that consistency into it and bam, then you're there every week. So I think it takes time to get that consistency built, to know exactly what to have at each of the tracks for the car and keeping up with the setup.
So, it can happen next year. It could happen this year still. But realistically, I think it takes a season or two, or three. There's a bunch of drivers that have swapped teams, and it takes them a couple years to get things into place.
Second part of the question is, no, I haven't spoken to him since our last when I walked into his office and said that I would be willing to come back and race for your team next year, but I have signed for a team in 2007. That was the last time we spoke and that's where it led.
Q. I'd like to get you to look ahead to Sonoma. How hard is it to get you to go from a big oval like Michigan to a road race like Sonoma? I think you were third there last year.
KURT BUSCH: It's always fun to go to the road courses. We have our Sonoma race, Infeon I guess we should call it, as well as Watkins Glen. To prepare for those races, we go to a road course somewhere in the southeast and go testing. So I was just in the car last week before Pocono testing a road course, shifting gears, turning left, turning right. And your mind just jumps into that road course racing for a day, and then you're back on the oval for the next couple of weeks.
When you go to Sonoma that's when you shift gears, literally, and jump into road course racing for a weekend. I thoroughly enjoy it. Sometimes it almost feels like a weekend off.
Q. Have you seen films of Jeff Gordon's accident at Pocono, and what would you have to say about the safety improvements that still have him with us today?
KURT BUSCH: The first part of it, I haven't seen any type of video with the accident other than I guess it was Clint Bowyer's camera being filled up with mud and not being able to see driving down into turn one. And to have a driver have that vicious of a wreck and to be able to walk out, shake his head a little bit and look at his car, that looks somewhat cartoonish. I even radioed in to our crew and asked if Gordon was okay because of how hard of a hit that was.
So if things the things inside of the car, the things outside of the car that are bolted on to it as well as the SAFER barriers, NASCAR has done a tremendous job and they should be patted on the back after that type of incident for anybody; Casey Mears did it on lap one when Scott Riggs got loose. There's times where I've hit the SAFER barrier and just kind of shrugged it off and gone, wow, really glad that I hit the SAFER barrier. It's really something that in our sport, it's needed and it's great to have that type of security when you go out on the racetrack.
Q. If it was up to you, what additional safety improvements would there be?
KURT BUSCH: You know, right now I think that there's nothing that I would change immediately with the SAFER barrier or with our cars in general or with the seats that we wear or sit in. I can't really put my finger on anything that I would change. I've been involved in a couple vicious wrecks, and last season I had a horrible in April and I was able to bounce back from everything. Right now everything's going very smooth. It's hard to look into what's next in the future.
THE MODERATOR: Just want to first of all thank all the media for participating. Kurt, as always, great answers and we really appreciate you taking out time from testing to be with us today.
KURT BUSCH: No problem at all. Glad to be part of it and we look forward to running well in Michigan in front of the auto manufacturers crowd.
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