NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Kobalt Tools 500
Topics: Kobalt Tools 500
March 8, 2009
KURT BUSCH: Today I felt like the track, not the competition, felt like old school Darlington, old school Rockingham. The tracks here in the southeast chew up tires. The times I did brush the wall, I was just being stupid, trying to race the competition. I lost track of the ultimate focus, which was just driving the racecar, how many laps you have on your tires, have confidence in the pit crew, which they did an outstanding job. I just feel like the overall package today was very strong. It comes from a lot of hard work during the off-season, the culmination of everybody putting their heads together and knowing that we went through some hard times last year, trying to pull through and figure out where were our weak areas and where can we improve.
To start off this year rolling like we have, it feels good. Today it leaves me speechless because of how much hard work has been put in, how excited we are to pull our Miller Lite Dodge into Victory Lane, put Dodge up on top of the board. With everybody struggling up in Detroit, it feels really neat to do that.
KERRY THARP: Crew chief Pat Tryson, what do you feel, what are your thoughts of the calls on pit road and some of the things that the crew did to help get this win?
PAT TRYSON: Pit crew did an awesome job. The calls here are fairly easy, pretty easy. Put four tires on almost every time. Felt pretty comfortable. Thought four would be better for us. Kurt did an awesome job. Pit crew did an awesome job.
KERRY THARP: Questions for Kurt or Pat.
Q. Kurt, with all the slipping and sliding going on today, were you slip sliding a little bit less than everybody else because of setup or were you just enjoying the slip sliding more than anybody and managed to get away with it?
KURT BUSCH: I felt like after at Saturday's practice, in our team meeting with David Stremme and Sam Hornish, everybody had the same complaints. I told them, I said you have to deal with loose in at this racetrack. You're never going to get that fixed as far as your chassis setup goes.
I felt like that helped them. It also helped us focus on the more important part, which was to be sliding the right amount on corner exit. The guy that has the best grip from the middle of the corner to the start/finish line is usually going to have a really good day. I learned that from the great Benny Parsons. He always told me, that's where good cars lay down the power.
When you have good engines, like we do at Penske, felt like I could really get a good run off the corner. Everybody was slip sliding. Maybe we were sliding less. But that's just due to the setup that Pat Tryson gave me and all of our engineers have worked up over the off-season.
Q. Pat, any thought whatsoever about not taking four tires coming in with two laps to go? Kurt, what the hell was that victory lap?
PAT TRYSON: For me, there was no thought about doing two tires or no tires at all at the end. If you watched the race last year, I think Jimmie almost won it putting on four tires at the end. Pretty easy decision for me. Confidence in the driver. Hopefully we get more of these soon.
KURT BUSCH: I felt like the call was perfect. We needed four tires if we were going to win this race. The only apprehension was if there was a yellow immediately after the restart, Edwards would be locked in as the winner.
Things were going our way today. We fought hard. We had everything we needed: strong pit stops, a good-handling car, a strong motor, and great assistant spotter on top of the box with Roger Penske. With the victory lap, that's something me and my buddies drew up after a few too many Miller Lites one night. We had a name for it, but it didn't feel right. Seems to me when you put a car in reverse like that, it lets the car relax and lets it feel like it did a good job. Kind of like cooling down a horse after a good Kentucky Derby run. Looking forward to many more of those.
KERRY THARP: We have team owner Roger Penske. We'll get some thoughts from Roger about a very impressive victory out there today.
ROGER PENSKE: From my perspective, being up with the spotters, you get a chance to see all the drivers competing. Kurt ran a foot off the wall all day long, kept the car underneath him. There was no question on the long runs we had a great car. What really came today to the forefront was we put it all together, we had a great driver from the day he jumped on the team, but I'm not sure we've given him the horse he needed.
I think over the off-season, I complained about not having testing, but I'm glad we didn't because we worked on some of the things we needed. Obviously the Dodge R6 engine had been terrific. Last week, a little disappointed, had some problems. But pit stops, Pat, all the guys back at the shop with what they've done with the car. Interesting, the same car we ran at California. Looks like we can run a car at least two races now, right, Pat?
To me, it was coming together. Kurt didn't lose faith. I know sometimes last year we wondered whether we'd fallen off the train. Not a lot of turnover on our team over the off-season. We were one of the teams that kept our people. The overall guys, Pat, Kurt hung in, saw what we were doing to try to get a better car. I think it's shown in the last four races. We're back in business. It takes execution. To me that's what happened today. I take my hat off to Kurt to lead that many laps. I said to Pat, when you lead that many laps, normally you don't win. Great thing to see.
KERRY THARP: We'll continue with questions.
Q. Kurt, when you come to track, how many times do you expect to scrape a wall during the race?
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, since I start understand racing here, seemed like a racetrack that chewed up tires, then you had to choose a lane that your car was running good in. When your handling would fade away, you had to try to find a new lane to try to get your car to go as fast as it could. Right up by the wall, I was grinning from ear to ear. This place I love it, feels like Darlington, the old Rockingham. You race the racetrack. To have the confidence in it.
Our car was dynamite. At times it got a little loose, I overdrove it, got into trouble. Brushed the wall, scraped the wall. That's where you've got to refocus, get back to racing the racetrack and have confidence in the car to know that it can take a couple bumps and bruises is a testament to the COT and the ability of Penske Racing to build something that's durable after a few hard licks like that.
Q. Kurt, does this give you bragging rights on Kyle for a couple of weeks? Are you getting tired of all the publicity he's been getting lately, the accolades?
KURT BUSCH: It does give us bragging rights because we have an off weekend. We get to definitely to pour the Miller Lites for a week, then get backed focused again heading to one of my favorite tracks, Bristol. I felt like I needed to hold my end of the bargain. I'm real proud of him. Real happy for him. He's done a tremendous job transitioning to Gibbs Racing. To be up front every week like he has, to run strong.
To beat him today, beat guys like Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, it's really a special day. Those guys did give my racing room. I thank Carl and Jeff for that. It the big picture, like Roger touched on. We didn't have much turnover this year. Roger believed in his people. We had everybody in the shop feeling scared because of the economy and the tough times. Roger assured everybody that we were going to try to pull through this and do it the right way. To be able to be sitting where we are with as many employees as we are, it's a good stuff moving forward.
Q. Was there a point about halfway down that backstretch when the reverse lap that you thought maybe this was not a good idea, am I ever going to finish this lap?
KURT BUSCH: I was actually surprised at how tall the reverse gear was. I maintained a lot of speed. The problem is that the caster is in reverse when you're heading that way. It was going to swap ends on me pretty quick.
I just kept focus like Don Johnson would coming around the start/finish line, flipped a 180, did a little Miami Vice action. It was a real blast. Happy to do something like that today and create a statement. That could be the name for it, the Don Johnson.
Q. Does this get you back at the grown-up table at Thanksgiving?
KURT BUSCH: Actually, with me owning the house, the condo, controlling with my wife what happens during the holidays, we've been at the adult table. It's been good. So I feel confident. We only have eight seats, so we got to pick who's there the right way.
Q. In 2007, with few exceptions, the Daytona 500 being one of them, someone from one of three teams, Hendrick, Roush, Gibbs, has won or someone else has won on the basis of strategy, not really speed. Today you certainly were the dominant car. I just wondered if that says something about the progress of your team or if it says something about the progress of people with the handling of this new car, that more people are discovering things that will put them at the front.
KURT BUSCH: It's definitely a process to get through a full 500-mile event. You never know what's going to get thrown at you. If you have a good car on the short run, you always fear you won't have a good car on the long run.
This race seems to gain more and more yellows at the end and to create strategy on who's on two tires, who stayed out. Today the yellows were timely in the fashion to where we could still continue to put four tires on and put a dominant car back up front. It really just gets back to all the hard work that we put together at Penske Racing. We had a second-place finish, runner-up at Phoenix last year. I thought we had an excellent car. We just got beat by a very dominant team in Jimmie Johnson and Hendrick.
Then there's days, like you said, the fastest car doesn't always go to Victory Lane. That fear is in your head all day when you had a good car like we did. Our Dodge Charger ran strong on the bottom, ran strong on the top. You thank your crew and the team for putting in all those hard hours and hard work back at the shop. Since Thanksgiving, it's been non-stop over at Penske Racing.
Q. Pat, you had a fueling issue early in the race. As it turned out, you weren't the only ones. Can you describe exactly what the problem was. Were you concerned about it recurring during the race?
PAT TRYSON: We weren't a hundred percent sure what happened. We checked everything out. Didn't turn out to be a major problem. Fortunately, we were able to guess good the rest of the day and everything worked out.
Q. With all the attention that Kyle has been getting, do you feel like you have received the amount of respect that you deserve or have you been overlooked the past year?
KURT BUSCH: Not at all. I think the kid has been dominant and he's been on the gas. Just like Carl Edwards was out in front of us with a 'green-white-checkered' today. I thought for an instance, this is how these guys win, they put themselves in position to win. I thought if there was a yellow off the restart, Carl Edwards would be sitting here talking to you guys after a dominant performance by our team.
You always put yourself in the best spot you can. And Kyle did a great job of that last year, Edwards, Jimmie Johnson. Those guys won seven, eight, nine races. When you're good, you're good, things are going your way. We hope we've turned a good corner to be able to compete with the Miller Lite Dodge week in and week out.
Q. Kurt, how big of a statement is this for Dodge to win on a track this large after what Chevrolet and Toyota and everyone else has done the past year?
KURT BUSCH: It's a great banner to hold up and to hold proud. Everybody up in Detroit, a great group of people. Mike and everybody from above him to below him does a great job. They make you feel like family. They make you feel like we're all in this together, we're all in this to push our limits in each area. When you get a new nose like we got this year from Dodge, it changes the downforce balance. It takes smart people bike Pat and Don in our engineering group to decide what to do to get that balance right.
I'm proud to carry the banner today, into an off week. It should motivate people to feel comfortable with Dodges and go to dealership, especially Penske dealerships, look at those vehicles, rub on them a little bit and say, Hey, I want to take one of these home.
Q. What were your exact thoughts when the last caution came? What does it feel like to have a perfect driving record for the day?
KURT BUSCH: It was good and bad at the same time. I felt like the 83 car was catching us. Brian Vickers and I were going to put on a heck of a show. It kept reminding me of Darlington: to never give up, put your car in the right groove and let the other guy try to pass you clean, or if he's going to bounce off you.
Then with the yellow coming out, I was like, Well, this is nice. When other guys had a different strategy, I was thinking, Oh, this is nice. So you're going back and forth with your emotions. But at the same time you have to believe that you have the fastest car, which I did. I felt like I had to hit my mark, which I did. We can never give up.
I got great racing room from Jeff Gordon and Carl Edwards to be able to bring the Dodge home to Victory Lane. I had have a great team that gave me great pit stops, kept me up front and kept us in the lead. That's how you get those driving records, is driving up front. That's what my team did for me.
Q. Kurt, so far no drivers have been exactly sure what's going on with the tires. Was it the way they were built there was no grip or were they falling off, not falling off?
KURT BUSCH: I felt like this racetrack, it's a Catch-22. Do you repave it or do you leave it? A hundred percent of the people would say, Leave it. Goodyear, would they say repave it? That only starts a cycle like what we have at Charlotte, where they ground the racetrack a couple times, repave it. Then it takes a couple years to find the right combination with the tire.
I felt like the tire test was adequate. I'm going to be a guy to say that the tire was fine today because we had a dominant car. I think if you go through the garage, you'd have to ask the others what they thought about the tire. When we come back and race here in September, it's going to be hot, it's going to be slick, it's going to be just as bad. So I feel like this gives us an advantage coming back in September running strong today.
Q. What do you need to get win at Bristol? Roger, for all the years you've been in this sport, not winning for a while, how much does that wear on you?
KURT BUSCH: With the short track season coming up, I feel like we certainly did our job on the mile-and-a-half these first three races. Now that we're heading into an off week, we focus on the short track season, Bristol and Martinsville. I've won there before. We need to run a little stronger. I hope to marry the setup we have right now from these tracks into those short track type setups. How do we do that? That's up to our smart guys back at the shop. I feel like there's key things that we can take out of each of the events so far this year that will help us in Bristol. We did a quick test at New Smyrna this past week to help us with that.
ROGER PENSKE: As far as my situation, obviously racing with Hendrick, Gibbs, Roush, Childress, these are great friends of mine. I look up to them. We've won a lot of races. It's unfortunate that we haven't been dominant in the last few years. I think we put this team together. When you look at the turnover of our team, the same people are with us. They saw how we committed to the chassis, to the aerodynamics, to the engine program last year.
To me, it's like running a business. A business isn't successful the first day or the first year. I think I had to get Kurt to buy into that. I think he has. We've been good friends right from the beginning. Obviously, a driver like him can drive for any team out here. His brother is a great driver. I can tell you one thing, there's not many people that can hold a candle to Kurt. That's why we hired him. I think bringing Tryson onboard brought some tenure, some experience.
We looked at the stats last year. If you can finish below and not finish over the position of 30th, you get in the Chase. Let's race the car we have each day. Today it was tremendous because we had the best car. I've never seen it so dominant since Rusty's win a number of years ago at Pocono. We're a team, we want to win, we want to win fairly and squarely. I think it's a great sport. For Dodge, particularly, the trouble that they're going through with the government, I hope this gives them some momentum this week. They sit down with the government, show motor racing helps sell cars on Monday, give morale to their team.
Q. Pat, what did y'all decide, at what point during the weekend, you were going to commit to the high line all day? Kurt, how many times did you actually hit the wall? You scuffed it up pretty good.
PAT TRYSON: We didn't really commit to the high side -- he would run on the bottom, then go up to the top. Kurt makes the decision depending on how the car is handling, whether he's going to run the middle, run the bottom or run the top. He runs wherever his car runs the best. I guess he committed when he felt it was the best up there.
KURT BUSCH: There were too many to count on both hands, times we brushed the wall. Two significant times that cost us speed and actually crushed in the crush panels, the panels that keep the air from coming inside the car.
So I actually hurt us at one point. You just have to get back to racing the racetrack. You do that as places like Rockingham, Darlington and here at Atlanta. So the ricochet over a dozen times, it's neat because the COT allows you to do that, but you just got to hang her out, let her rip on the outside lanes. I feel like that's where the Penske power is, gives us good runs down the straightaway. We were I think the best car from center to corner to start/finish line today.
Q. Could you say what the first name was of the victory lap?
KURT BUSCH: It's real. You have to take it with a grain of salt, the guys I was partying with. They called it the Donkey. I don't know if I want that to stick, but they said, Push it, push for it. I'm thinking, we had a good Hot Rod today. Rusty Wallace would say that. We're going to nickname this car Hot Rod, if that's all right, TR? Sound appropriate? Let's do that. This car is a Hot Rod. We'll nickname our reverse victory lap Hot Rod.
Q. Pat, did you have enough gas to finish the race without that caution?
PAT TRYSON: Of course, we did. We weren't stopping, so, yeah, I think we did.
KURT BUSCH: I didn't think you were wanting us to stop. When he says let off the gas and conserve fuel with 20 to go, that's the worst that can happen. It all worked out.
Q. We saw that caution come out early in the race during green-flag stops. It really jumbles the running order. How close were you to coming into the pits? How many laps were you planning on staying out there?
PAT TRYSON: We were originally going to run another four, then when everybody started pitting, we were going to come in in another two. We didn't want guys out there on new tires and we were on old. We were going to run another four.
Q. How shocked were you to see a crew member run out after the tire? What would happen to a guy on your team if that happened?
PAT TRYSON: I'd have to come off the top of the box. We know better than that. I'm sure that person is going to learn. You just can't do that because anything can happen. Somebody could get hurt.
We were watching it pretty close.
KERRY THARP: Guys, congratulations. Great performance out there today. Thank you.
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