Indianapolis: Busch, Harvick, Johnson press conference, part I

Brickyard 400/IROC at Indy press conference Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson Aug. 2, 2003, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Part 1 of 2. Moderator: Welcome. Joining us trackside of the MCI Media Center is your 2003 IROC champion, Kurt ...

Brickyard 400/IROC at Indy press conference
Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson
Aug. 2, 2003, Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Part 1 of 2.

Moderator: Welcome. Joining us trackside of the MCI Media Center is your 2003 IROC champion, Kurt Busch. Kurt, congratulations.

Kurt Busch: Thank you. It's quite an honor. It's really been great day for me for qualifying for sixth with the Winston Cup car and just being able to perform the way that I needed to do today. And, you know, one bad finish will take you out of the finish with the IROC series, and it feels good to be able to bring it home.

Moderator: This was Kurt's first season in IROC. He won his first IROC at Talladega on April 5th of this year. He also finished second at Daytona and third at Chicagoland. Kurt, just a question before we throw it open to the media. It's been a busy day after the race. You got right back in your Cup car and started practicing. Has this accomplishment even started to begin to sink in with you yet?

Busch: It did the last couple of laps of the IROC race, being in position to hold Mark Martin off and what other challenger, what other competitor would you want, somebody that I look up to as a mentor within Roush Racing and as many championships as he fought for and he got in the IROC series as well as Winston Cup, he's always the most aggressive competitor but yet he never shows it. And it's a great honor to race him and to be able to come away with what you would call a championship over Mark Martin; it's something you dream about as a kid. And a lot of preparation goes into my IROC races, with studies of tapes, with different types of practice situations. I get in as many cars as I can, and I felt as if I put the right amount of pressure on myself as well as the competitors so that I could perform the right way and achieve the best finishes that I could each and every race.

Moderator: We'll throw it open. All the way back, Claire.

Q: Congratulations, Kurt, it's a big honor to get that, and you had said that your dad had something to do with this or your daddy encouraged you along the way to achieve. Can you kind of say in what sense he too was focused on this?

Busch: Very -- the father figure he was, just he was a great friend, a great mentor, a father figure, and the two of us just hung out like anybody else would, whether we had a father-son relationship or not. He's been the greatest mentor and the greatest guidance that I could ever have when I jumped into a race car, and I relate back to that because of the fact of IROC we don't have a spotter, I don't have a crew chief, I just have 40 laps and, in our case, 60 laps at Chicago, to just race the car to the best of my ability and whatever the car is underneath me is what I've got to drive. And it reminds me of the past when you came up through racing, when you had a 50-lap late model race or a Southwest Tour race that was only a hundred laps long, you had to race what you were given. You couldn't complain to anybody, nobody there to help you, not even a spotter to tell you when the green was coming out. You have to watch the flagman. That's how much I reverted back to my past to achieve this championship. And every time I do that I think about the sticker that my dad always laid on my dash before I went to go race, and it was strategy. I always looked at that, and I always tried to play that.

Q: Kurt, when this thing started, would you ever have imagined coming with a worst finish of fourth in the series and a championship, is that a realistic expectation going in?

Busch: I always come from humble beginnings, and of course I knew I had a lot to learn, and I spent as much time as I could in the car at Daytona during practice. And I just wanted a modest finish out of that first event, and then I began to assess what I could do after that finish on who I was able to manipulate in the draft and who I was able to pass with ease and who was going to be my challengers. And so after that race, I felt as if I made one mistake and that was when I had gone up for the lead, I only led one lap. I thought that's what it took to get a bonus point, but I was wrong, it takes the most amount of laps to get bonus points, the second most, and the third most if you want to achieve bonus points. And so with that mistake I went to Talladega trying to achieve most laps led so I could get that extra five points, and that put me in a great points position. And so it was one mistake that I made throughout the year, and I think that helped me achieve the success I had at Talladega. And then the way that I approached the season was to run as hard as I could at those plate races to get a solid points base built for a track like Chicago and Indy where it's more difficult to pass.

Q: Kurt, from what I understand the future of the IROC series is a little shaky. Does that disappoint you a little?

Busch: That's what I've heard. I knew that going in. Just due to the fact of the other drivers not participating, I can't imagine why not, the way that the cars were prepared, the professionalism that the Signore family showed me and just all the group there from Jersey, they race four times a year, they bring what they can to the racetrack, and the prestige I think is missing from the other drivers on what they're missing. They need to appreciate it a bit more and jump back in, and when they get the invite to accept it, whether it's from year to year they think the car's changed, I haven't had that taste, I had competitive cars every time I ran, and you have to do the best you can with it. And so it was a great show, and I believe the point situation came down to the best show that it possibly could have with a rookie in charge, with a veteran Mark Martin, who's won every race he has at Indy, and then with Mike Bliss being the dark horse in the bunch, I think that really staged itself for a great finale and the way the cars raced throughout the year. If I had to throw one thing in there, I would say that we need to go to Daytona for a second event under the lights at Daytona and maybe take off Chicago. Obviously we need to come back here to Indiana.

Moderator: Talk about the race today itself. That restart was pretty chaotic there for a while. First talk about your strategy, and then did you gain much on that restart?

Busch: Yeah, there was a restart at Talladega and a restart at Chicago, well, there was one at Daytona but I wasn't affected by it, and here again today, where I was able to take advantage of two cars and advance my position and so I never lost on a restart. So I feel as if that had a great benefit toward the final outcome and just the way that the whole race progressed today. We got a caution at halfway. I almost contemplated coming in to get tires, but I knew that would be probably a wrong decision based on track position is so vital here at Indy, and so the race just progressed a little bit further. My car got a little bit on the tight side. I saw Mark catch up to me but yet his car got tight, as well. So we just needed a better balance, I believe, or I needed to back the corner up. You know, hindsight, I think I did the job I needed to do, and if I was more aggressive, I may have been able to challenge for the lead.

Moderator: Any more questions for Kurt?

Q: Have you had enough time, probably haven't with the Cup practice, to figure out where this ranks among your career achievements so far?

Busch: It's real satisfying to know that my father and I would just sit on the couch and observe these IROC races and the amount of talent and competitorship that was within these races because the guys are always friendly and the guys always just want to rub each other's face in the dirt, and so you have that camaraderie going back and forth on how competitive this is, and it really means a lot. To compare this to my first Winston Cup win wouldn't be something wrong at all and of course my Southwest Tour championship that I achieved in 1999, you know, championships are few and far between. And to put this on the shelf, it's wonderful and it's something that I worked very hard for and I was fortunate to be in the positions I was all year long with the IROC series. And so this ranks up above that Southwest Tour Championship, right along with my Winston Cup win at Bristol.

Moderator: Well, Kurt, congratulations, we're going to go ahead and let you go, you start sixth tomorrow in the Brickyard 400. Good luck.

Busch: Thank you.

Moderator: Now joining us in the Trackside Press Conference Room is the pole sitter for the Brickyard 400, Kevin Harvick. First of all, Kevin, it's just a pole, but it's a pole for the Brickyard 400. What does this do for the team and you heading into tomorrow?

Kevin Harvick: Well, it gives us a lot of confidence, that's for sure because, you know, I'm not the greatest qualifier in the world, and to lay down a lap like that and sit on the pole at the Brickyard is pretty cool and, you know, the guys are all pumped up. We struggled a little bit in happy hour at the beginning of it and got our car really good at the end. So we're looking forward to tomorrow and you can't get any better track position than what we've got at the start of the race. So we need to try and lead and get those five points, because right now that means a lot. But trying to put ourself in a position to win the race is the ultimate goal tomorrow.

Moderator: This will be Kevin's third Brickyard 400 start. His first in 2001 he started 11th, finished 11th, but led 18 laps of that race. Last year in 2002, he started seventh and finished fifth. We'll throw it open to questions for Kevin.

Q: Yeah, Kevin, this has been, I guess, you would call it an uncharacteristically quiet season for you so far. Is that by design?

Harvick: It's too much work to cause a lot of commotion, but, you know, we've just got to take all the energy that I have and channel it toward the right things and racing a lot more this year in the Busch car and fortunate to have the IROC car and I've raced my truck a few times, but just learned how to -- it's no different than everyday life, just focus so much on one thing, focus on what I need to focus on during the weekends and don't dwell on things during the week and really just, you know, try to live my life during the week. It's really important to me what happens on the weekends, but it doesn't make my life stop during the week, so that's the main thing that I've tried to focus on this year.

Q: Kevin, I'd lake to hear your thoughts on the stature of the Brickyard 400 versus the Daytona 500.

Harvick: For us, it's pretty much the same emphasis that we put on the Daytona 500. You know, for myself and the guys, to sit on the pole here is a total team effort. I have nothing to do with sitting on the poles at Talladega or Daytona, those are strictly race cars and power and, you know, tricks here and there. So when we come and you do something here and you know that everybody has put as much emphasis on this race as they do for Daytona or anything like that, it makes you feel like you've really accomplished something. You know, I grew up an open-wheel fan, being from Bakersfield, a Rick Mears fan, so I always thought I was going to race Indy cars. And my father said no, he wouldn't even let me drive a midget. So he worked on stock cars, and that was the direction that I headed in.

Q: Is this as big as Daytona 500, this race?

Harvick: It's right there. I mean, stock cars have a small advantage at the Daytona 500, but it's close, for me anyway. I'm not going to speak for everybody else.

Q: Kevin, you didn't just step on it and get the pole, I mean, there were records set, there were like 10 people that surpassed it, and I think four that busted the record, so you were the top of the group that broke the record. Is your car that good for tomorrow and how do you translate this pole to the race on Sunday?

Harvick: Well, I think the biggest thing you translate from the pole is track position. You know, the whole day you're going to be trying to decide if you want two tires, you want four tires and really trying to be able to keep that. But our car was terrible at the beginning of happy hour, and we made two small little changes, and, man, it really took off. I'm so excited about the race tomorrow, just for the fact that our car's running good and we were able to adjust on it in happy hour. We haven't raced this car since Las Vegas, and I think it's on its third body, and we've never even taken it to the racetrack. So it's the same chassis that we raced here last year and had a lot of success and won Chicago with last year, so the car -- the chassis itself has always done it good and it's just working out the small characteristics of the body.

Q: Could you just comment a little bit more, expand on how the pole will help you in the early part of the race, how you hope to capitalize on that advantage?

Harvick: Well, the biggest thing is just leading the lap right off the bat and then you can get that out of the way. But, you know, obviously pit stalls come into play and getting a pit stall either the first stall or one with an open end, I don't even know where they pick, but I know it's one of the two, and, you know, the main thing is just when you start up front, it makes your day -- usually makes your day a lot easier unless you have problems. If you're off a little bit during one or two runs, you usually fall back seventh or eighth, and if you're starting 25th or 30th, it seems like it takes forever to make you up three or four spots. So just need to make sure we capitalize on it all day.

-ims-

Part II

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Series IROC
Drivers Kevin Harvick , Kurt Busch , Jimmie Johnson , Rick Mears , Mike Bliss , Mark Martin