NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Daytona 500
Topics: Daytona 500
February 17, 2008
DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA
KERRY THARP: Tony, thanks a lot. See you in California.
We're pleased to be join understand by our race runner-up for today Daytona's, that is Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge.
Talk about your run out there today.
KURT BUSCH: It was a great run for the Miller Lite Dodge. We started 43rd. I thought we would just take our time moving towards the front since there was nobody behind me, I can say that. Yet the car didn't want to go towards the front. We definitely struggled more than we thought we would have and the car was tight. It just didn't seem to quite have the punch to push through and to lead a draft or to push other cars strongly.
But then nightfall came. The handling characteristics cured themselves somewhat. We still weren't a race-winning car, but yet I had the power like I thought I needed and I had the outside lane in my favor.
For one instant, driving down the back straightaway, if Ryan Newman didn't pull up in front of us, I honestly thought we had a shot at winning the Daytona 500.
But, you know, having that mindset all day of just plugging away, working our way up, and if this thing ends and we're 10th or better, that's a victory. For us to come home and push Ryan Newman to victory, I feel like I've got a small bit of that victory within me.
I was emotional pushing him across the line. It felt incredible to have a Penske 1-2 finish today. To have Newman jump up in front of me, I thought that was the most beautiful thing in the world because I knew one of us Penske cars was going to win at that point.
I'm just very happy. I'm not bitter at all for finishing second. To take this car and finish second with it, I think that's something special. But then that's definitely overshadowed by a Penske 1-2 finish today. That is something very important and I think that needs to be acknowledged.
KERRY THARP: We'll take questions for Kurt.
Q. When you got white flagged, what was going through your mind knowing you had to go through the riffraff to get back to a quasi safe racing place in the pack?
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, the speed zones on pit road aren't all the same length, and at some tracks that last segment before you pull out onto the track is a shorter segment, so there's no room for error.
At the time I was dodging my teammate, Sam Hornish, Jr. He was pulling outdodging Jeff Burton. I was looking at the grass making sure I stayed out of it, making sure I didn't run into my own teammate.
The third thing I forget to take care of was my tachometer. I was a bit fast exiting pit road. It's like, Man, here we go again.
I hope we don't go a lap down and have to worry about working our way back up from a lap down. But we were able to stay on the lead lap. We had Mark Martin behind us. He got us back up to where we needed to be. Yellow pops out, and then we got to fight our way through the traffic again.
I just kept the same hat on. That was, Hey, take your time, play it cool, there's still many more laps to go, because nightfall still hadn't come in yet.
Q. You made it really clear from the time you signed with Penske how important it would be for you to give Penske a win here. It was obviously a big goal. Can you talk about how you feel on behalf of Roger. Have you ever felt this good to finish second in a race?
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, I'm sure Roger will be in a bit later and talk about how important this race is to him, and how many years he's tried to win it, to be able to be part of that, to have a Penske 1-2 break through for their first restrictor plate win and his first 500. It's just icing on the cake.
Ryan did an excellent job today. He had a very fast race car. We worked together well on the track. I think that just goes back to putting your egos aside. We're not running 1-2 every week. We need to bump our cars up from 9th, 10th, 11th and run up in the top five every week. We know we've got more work to do.
So it was emotional for me. I saw a glimmer of hope we might win this thing. Then he pulled up in front of us. I said, Hey, that's fine. I'm glad it's this blue car that pulled up in front of me because it says Penske Racing on it. I was very emotional crossing the line finishing second, because I know we did something very special for the captain today.
Q. Could you maybe elaborate more on Roger Penske. Here's a guy that won the Indy 500 14 times, but he always seemed to have trouble here. How much did he kind of stress to the drivers how important it would be for one of you to win this race?
KURT BUSCH: Roger never put extra pressure on us to win this race. He does throw in a nice bonus in our contract if we do win (laughter). I think that shows his incentive, how important this race is.
But honestly, he has this approach, such as when we wanted to switch our points, he asks you a question on, Hey, would this be a good idea if we swap the points? It's almost like he's got his mind made up already. And you just know when he speaks to you on what his direction is.
So case in point, the Daytona 500 is very special, and he wants to win this race. So I'm happy that I pushed a teammate to win this race. You know, Ryan Newman might drop in behind me later on down the road and I might have my shot at winning. Who knows. But it's great to do it for the captain today.
Q. Before the race, all the talk seemed to be about Toyota and about Hendrick. How did you at Penske kind of tune all that out? Also, does this 1-2 finish in your mind put you there in that place where now you need to be considered in that same mindset as Gibbs and Hendricks and RCR?
KURT BUSCH: You know, it was one of those races where you knew at the end it was gonna be a different style of race with the different lanes. Everybody is going to handle better at the end. So, yeah, I would agree that the Gibbs' cars were very quick all week, the class of the field today.
The Hendrick cars, maybe they didn't handle as well as what they thought they would in this 500-mile race versus some of the others.
Then there were some odds and end cars that were quick. But that 12 car could hang on the bottom groove longer than anybody else. Every time I noticed, I was up top, about 10th, 15th, there was the 12 car hanging on the bottom all on his own making it work.
He showed very good strength. We know exactly what he had in his car for setup. We were just a bit different, trying to make our car handle like we thought we needed to. So it's just a great 1-2 finish. He had a very strong car.
I don't know if we're in the same caliber as the Gibbs and Hendrick cars are right now. But it's definitely great to finish 1-2 and to be leading the points right now.
Q. This question absolutely has to be asked. Given what has happened in the past, did you take any particular satisfaction in helping deprive Tony Stewart of victory?
KURT BUSCH: Question has to be asked (laughter).
It didn't matter who was to my inside, outside. I was doing what Kurt Busch needed to do to win the race. And when a blue car jumped up in front of me, like I said earlier, it was nice that it was my teammate and I was able to help that car win.
Now, if the orange car jumped up in front of me, that was going to be my best opportunity to try to finish up in the top three. And so if he would have jumped up in front of us, I would have pushed him. He stayed low, and that gave the opportunity for Newman to jump up in front of us.
So maybe he did think twice before he jumped up high, that it was me up there. Instead of worrying about who it was, he should have just went there.
Q. Of course you're happy for the Penske win. Knowing that your brother probably had the strongest car all day, could you comment on that, knowing what he's going through right now.
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, I think the Gibbs guys feel dejected right now. They did their homework. They had fast race cars. They had the strength that you have to have to win.
But I'm just beside myself that I'm sitting here where I finished second. It was a great effort from our team. We had big hearts; we persevered; started in the back; found our teammate at the end and won the race.
For Kyle, if he would have pulled up in front of me, I would have pushed him. I'm happy that we had a great run. They finished solid, as well. There's going to be another one of these Daytona 500s next year, and I hope my car is a little stronger, just like their car was today.
Q. The tires didn't seem to be as big of an issue as we expected. In the middle part of the race it seems like you went forever on a set of tires. Were they not as bad as you expected?
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, when the field got stretched out, the pace seemed to slow down a little bit, and so the teams weren't on edge pushing hard on their right front or right rear tire.
I still thought that the tire gave us fits as far as handling. If your car wasn't right, you would definitely lose the draft and fade towards the back.
Handling was very important. Horsepower was important. Once nightfall came, that helped a lot of the cars that were ill-handling, got them back in the game.
Q. Last year your team, you and Ryan, struggled a little bit at the beginning of the year but came on strong. Can you pinpoint a time and a thing that you did? Was this a continuation of last year, or something new?
KURT BUSCH: No, this is really -- our team is beginning to gel. For us on the Miller Lite Dodge team was to have Pat Tryson. That is definitely a point we can look at and see that that helped put us in the game.
For the 12 car, it's great to have Roy McCauley and Newman working well together. To see them win, break that winless streak, it was only a matter of time. I'm happy I was able to push him forward to do that and to see a Penske 1-2 today.
You know, it's just hard work. The whole team, I've got every single one of my crew guys back pushing hard. Even the over-the-wall guys are the same. When you have that continuity, it only makes things go smoother.
Q. You mentioned earlier, you said it was one of the races where you knew at the end it was going to be a different style race. Can you elaborate on what was different at the end of the race, how things played differently. Did the role of teammates play a different role than what we've seen in the past here?
KURT BUSCH: Well, this race is about taking your time and positioning yourself for the later run. Some guys were very fast all day. Some guys were fast at the end of the race.
When it's daytime and you've got 400 miles to go, it's almost like you just want to click off laps and ride and see who's gonna rise to the top and be the players at the end.
When nightfall comes in, you're done following people. Now you're making your own lane, you're getting bump-drafted harder and you're sliding up in front of guys and taking more calculated risks because you want to gain those positions and get towards the front.
Even the crew chief wants to make sure he gives you the best tire scenario that the driver could want at the end, and so everything comes into play. It's just like you pick it up a notch. It's just like you inject everybody with adrenaline, and nobody's gonna lift off that right pedal when it gets towards the end of the race.
Q. Your decision to go along with the champion exemption, does that have any play with your team now, going strong the first race of the year?
KURT BUSCH: I think as a team, it was a smart decision and it played out. Sam Hornish, Jr., I don't know if he would have raced his way in during his 150 or not, yet he had points to fall back on. We had our champions provisional that I hope we didn't have to use, but we did.
I'm 29 years old. I didn't think I'd have to use a champions provisional right now, but we did. That was because we had an electrical problem on our car during our 150.
So moving forward, we now qualify with the Go or Go Home cars for the next four events. We'll get to go late. Maybe that will give us an opportunity to get a pole and lock us in the Shootout for the next year and give us better track position for the next few races.
Our goal is to roll into Martinsville. We gave up seventh in points, and we hope that we're around seventh in points at Martinsville, because then all this will act like it didn't happen.
Q. You said coming into this your goal after the last 10 days you had was just to take the top 10 and get out of here; you'd be happy with that. You get a third runner-up run in this event in eight tries. Does that bug you a bit, you've been second three times?
KURT BUSCH: The way today's race unfolded for us, my car just didn't have the muscle that it takes to win at Daytona. And to have that mentality of, Hey, let's just do the best we can, protect our car, make it to the end, gave us an opportunity to go for the win.
But we weren't able to drive into Victory Lane because our car just didn't quite have the muscle I thought it needed.
I'm still on the high of Penske Racing finishing 1-2. I'm sure later on this week and throughout the year I'll wish that I had an opportunity to win. But to finish third, it's great. I've got many more years ahead of me. I finished second in the truck race here before. I've finished second I think twice in an IROC car. Newman beat me once in an IROC race. I do remember that. I'm going to have to remind him of that (smiling).
But it's a tough race. It's a tough track. To have a shot at winning, to sniff it, smell it, feel the emotion on the last lap of being close, is something that will fuel me for the rest of my career to try to win one of these.
Q. Could you comment on your other teammate, Sam Hornish, his performance today, how far he's come, contending early, finishing 15th?
KURT BUSCH: Sam did an excellent job today. There was a point where he was my shadow on the track. Wherever I went, he went. I think his team told him to do that. I felt very confident in him behind me and helping the Penske cars work together.
He has a lot to learn, but yet he is a three-time IRL champion. So his learning curve is going to be like riding an escalator. He's going to keep going, absorbing this material. Before long, he'll be adding more quality ideas to Penske Racing to make all three teams better.
Q. Were you and your brother looking for each other in the closing laps to try to maybe help the other one out and it just didn't happen because restrictor plate racing is that?
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, the opportunity for him fizzled I think when he got bumped from the lead. You know, he was right in the mix. He was on the low lane. Burton was in the mix, too. I think he got shuffled in the middle. At that point I saw myself running side by side with Kyle. There's nothing you can do at that point to jump in lanes with one another.
So we were at the mercy of who was bump-drafting us from behind. That's what pushed me up ahead. Had a glimmer of hope to win, but then Newman pulled in front. It was on from there. It was great to have a Penske 1-2 today.
KERRY THARP: Kurt, thank you. Great performance out there tonight.
KURT BUSCH: Thank you.
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