This Week in Ford Racing March 29, 2005 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 97 IRWIN/Sharpie Taurus, has won four of the last six NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series races at Bristol Motor Speedway, including three straight Food City...
This Week in Ford Racing
March 29, 2005
NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series
Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 97 IRWIN/Sharpie Taurus, has won four of the last six NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series races at Bristol Motor Speedway, including three straight Food City 500 victories. Busch, who comes into this weekend ranked fourth in the point standings, spoke about the prospects of a fourth straight triumph on Tuesday's national teleconference.
KURT BUSCH - No. 97 IRWIN/Sharpie Taurus
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE AUTOGRAPHS FOR EDUCATION PROGRAM WITH SHARPIE?
"It's a great program that Sharpie has introduced and it kicked off at the Super Bowl with Howie Long. It's a program where we're gonna go across the country to different middle schools, high schools and even elementary schools to have kids give me their autograph, instead of me giving them mine. What the program is really set up for is to give a million dollars in school supplies to schools across America. We call the program Sharpie's Retractable Autographs For Education, so it's a great program that I've been involved with so far. I kicked it off at Vegas at my old middle school and the autographs from the kids will actually ride along on my deck lid at Bristol because we know Bristol is a great place for Sharpie and a great place for Kurt Busch."
WHAT HAVE YOU GUYS FOUND AT BRISTOL?
"It's just a combination of crew chief, car, driver and team. You can't be weak in one area and expect to win at any race track, for that matter. Bristol is a unique place. I went there my first time as a rookie and wrecked out real early. The fall race, Sharpie decided to sponsor it, and I was like, 'Wait a minute. This is gonna be a problem here because this is my worst race track and my sponsor is now the sponsor of the fall race.' But all kidding aside, I thought that once I got comfortable with that race track on how you can be very aggressive with how you drive and how you set a race car up there, and then be patient enough to know when to race and not get into trouble and protect your race car - so it's a matter of protecting your race car at certain points and being overly aggressive on other points of the race."
DO YOU GO TO BRISTOL COMFORTABLE?
"I get all juked up about it. Our team is definitely gassed up every time we go to Bristol. It's a fun race track for the team. Everybody that goes there, you're just in a different atmosphere at Bristol and it's a love-hate relationship. Right now, our team definitely loves going there. We're due. We'll knock on wood, but we don't want that bad luck. This time around we tested to try to help continuing on our run of three in a row. We want to do four in a row in the spring race and then go there and win the Sharpie 500." CAN YOU FEEL THE FANS AT BRISTOL INSIDE THE CAR?
"You definitely know at the night race when all the flash bulbs are going off. It's the most unique feeling that we get around the circuit. When you take the green flag or checkered flag at Bristol, there are so many flash bulbs going off that you feel you're some place special. There are only those few dates that we have at Bristol to allow that to happen. The fans let you know if you've done a good job or a bad job at Bristol. It's really fun."
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT IN THE CAR AT BRISTOL?
"The first thing that crosses your mind is to protect your race car and to allow yourself to look beyond the hood of your car - to absorb what the other drivers are doing immediately in front of you. If they're checking up, you have to be able to get on the brakes quick and avoid any type of wreck that's gonna happen. That's the biggest thing is just protecting your race car and knowing when you're able to race hard and when you're able to ride around."
DO YOU HAVE A STRATEGY THERE?
"You have to have a game plan and at a track like that it is very difficult to find one that you're comfortable with. If you do find one, then you can roll with it and I think that's what other past winners at Bristol have done. Darrell Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon have won there a few times and, for us, it's just a matter of getting in that Bristol groove."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE FINE LINE OF BEING AGGRESSIVE AND PATIENT? "That's the tough deal for some drivers is to know when to run a specific lap time - to be as fast as you can go, but you can't do that lap time if there's somebody holding you up in front of you. You have to find that other guy's weakness and then when you're able to stretch it out, that's usually when you're in the lead or when you're just riding around halfway through the race and there's nobody around you - that's when you can gain some track time. But there are always gonna be yellows. You can't get too excited. You just have to wait for the race to come to you."
SOME CRITICS CONTENDED YOU WERE TOO AGGRESSIVE EARLY IN YOUR CAREER. HAS YOUR SUCCESS AT BRISTOL QUIETED THAT TALK?
"Early on that is your first impression and that usually lasts quite a long time and my right foot was very heavy. I had to race hard and I wanted to go quick and that hurt me at many places. Then at Bristol it killed me. I made 50 laps my first race there. In the fall race my rookie year I think I was eight laps down running all on my own, so it's a place where you have to learn patience. That was my worst race track my rookie year and that definitely helped me develop as a driver as I continued on my second year working with Jimmy Fennig for the first time. He just taught me so much that I knew I had a lot to learn."
WILL THE SAFER BARRIER AFFECT THE RACING LINE?
"We were there a couple weeks ago testing and they don't affect the primary groove whatsoever. Even the outside groove, I slipped up a couple of times because when you're testing you want to try different things, and we tried the outside groove just a little bit and it didn't seem to affect the line at all. So if somebody does get in trouble, they're definitely gonna have a softer wall to run into - whether it's the outside or the inside barrier down the front and back straightaway."
WAS THAT A CONCERN WHEN YOU HEARD THEY WERE GOING TO BE INSTALLED?
"A little bit, but with the way that we've run at Bristol in the past, I expected us to be able to overcome that problem if there was one quicker than most, but, right now, nobody struggled at all with the soft walls. They did a perfect job putting them in and nobody will notice they're even there."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE ROLE JACK ROUSH HAS PLAYED IN YOU DEVELOPING INTO A CHAMPION?
"What he did early on was recognize the fact that I knew nothing (laughing). I came from late model racing just a couple years before I got into Cup and I had so much to learn. He threw me in there with the sharks and then he realized that I made mistakes and I was admitting to him that I needed some help. He's been such a mentor for me with off the track and different scenarios businesswise, as well as what he thought he could see as the driver in me. I didn't know what my potential was, but he saw it there and he's definitely helped me take one lap at a time, one race at a time and one season at a time to get to this point. So from a dismal rookie year all the way to a championship, Jack Roush has definitely helped me out."
WHAT SETS JACK APART FROM SOME OF THE OTHER OWNERS? HAVE YOU SEEN THE WAY PEOPLE VIEW HIM CHANGE WITH THE SUCCESS YOU'VE ENJOYED?
"He's always had the fans' loyalty for Ford Motor Company and what he didn't have was the respect of the other competitors because he is such a hard-nosed racer. What makes him that way is he's hands-on. He's a very hands-on owner - one that you see in the garage area all the time. He's always checking the jets on the carburetors trying to make the teams better, so he's a different breed from most car owners, but what that does is it brings him closer to the teams and when he's got the right people in place, good things have happened. Matt was lucky two years ago and we were very lucky. We've now got two championships at Roush Racing. Jack's quick to say it's only two out of 18, but I think he's done pretty good the last two years."
HAS YOUR CHAMPIONSHIP CHANGED THE WAY YOU ATTACK THESE EVENTS MENTALLY?
"It has in some aspects, but it really hasn't with the bottom line of going out and driving the race car. That still stays the same. There are some drivers on the track that do yield to the respect of a champion and then there are times when we get out on the track first because we're first in points and NASCAR sends out the points leader first and we get great practice time, so there are times it will definitely help you. Where it will hurt you is where the team will get up on high plateau and not remember that it takes the day to adjust the race car and get it good for the day. The championship is not gonna carry us through a win on a specific weekend. We still have to adjust on the car as if we had never won there before because every day presents a new challenge."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT POSSIBLY RACING IN CANADA SOME DAY?
"You definitely see the Canadian support at the race track. They're great fans. When we go to Michigan, Watkins Glen, Loudon, New Hampshire. I've even seen some in the Chicago area out in the Midwest. It's really a unique opportunity for NASCAR right now to branch out and to try some of these different venues, but it's almost a no-brainer that you'll have the support from the fans up there. It would be a tremendous race whether it's on an oval or a road course. I'm looking forward to the chance of running up there. Mexico is a far stretch, going all the way to Mexico City, but with the success the Busch Series had down there, we all have to be open for what ideas NASCAR has and if there is a race and some points to be gained I'm there for it."
HOW HAS YOUR LIFE CHANGED SINCE WINNING THE CHAMPIONSHIP?
"The guys at the valet in the hotels at Vegas recognized me, so it was a little different there (laughing). But all kidding aside, it's been fun to go to these race tracks and have the team behind me that won the championship and for them to be able to absorb this with me. It's something very special - something many drivers don't get a chance to do - be at the top level of NASCAR. It's one week after the next. We still have the normal grind of racing hard, but to win a championship to further my career and be able to have the spoils of NASCAR taking me around to the White House, park first every week and get out on the race track first, I want to go and do it again that much harder."
ARE YOU COGNIZANT OF YOUR ROLE AS CHAMPION AND YOUR APPEARANCE OR WHAT YOU SAY?
"You do in one aspect and then in another there are different types of questions that help me be a better role model or better spokesman for our sponsors and for NASCAR with the aspect of now there's the leading role of being a champion and what's the direction of NASCAR. It's a big part for me to answer those questions and to be more involved with NASCAR to know what the actual direction is - whether it's rule changes or different sanctioning races that we're gonna go to, whether it's Canada or Mexico - just being involved more with NASCAR is a better cap to wear and you have more fun doing your job."
HAS YOUR PERSONALITY CHANGED THE LAST COUPLE OF YEARS?
"Oh it definitely has. I want to say that it hasn't, but I've had to grow and mature as a driver. When you're 22, 23 years old you're running around looking for a direction and if you've landed at this top level, you're not developed and not in your prime. It's taken me a couple seasons to get to that point - some bad situations and some turmoil, but everything in life makes you better if you learn from it and that's definitely what I've done. It's much easier to be more relaxed in front of the media now because I'm developed in the sense of my team in that they want me around, we're gonna have some fun together, we're gonna go win races and, hopefully, some more championships."
HOW DOES JIMMY FENNIG HELP YOU?
"Jimmy Fennig has been a tremendous asset - the one that has helped me the most. I couldn't have done it without him. With his experience and his calming hand over everybody as a team, he does a masterful job of putting the right people in the right place and then with me out on the race track - asking me questions and answering me in a fashion that he gives me the experienced mentor role and that's something for me to look up to. He's definitely been the character that helped win this championship and got the 97 to this point."
Continued in part 2