Daytona 500 media day visit: Kurt Busch and Regan Smith

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Team Chevy Racing press release

KURT BUSCH, NO. 51 HENDRICKCARS.COM CHEVROLET, met with members of the media at Daytona International Speedway and discussed his new team Phoenix Racing, having fun and working for his brother Kyle in 2012.

Kurt Busch, Phoenix Racing Chevrolet
Kurt Busch, Phoenix Racing Chevrolet

Photo by: Eric Gilbert

IN REGARDS TO HIS NEW TEAM AT PHOENIX RACING: “Everyone is working three times as hard and it’s great to see the youthful exuberance and excitement. It is their race team. This is different. It’s a small group and we are hoping that we are the little team that can.”

DO THEY PUT YOU TO WORK WHEN YOU ARE AT THE SHOP?: “Yeah I jump right in there with the guys. We have been mounting seats which has been the primary focus. Even to stringing the car or bump steering it. I was there when they put it on the pull down rig, just to see how they do their sequence of set-up. It is so refreshing to see that the steps they are taking are the same steps all the big teams are doing. You can say our pull down rig doesn’t cost as much as the ones the big time teams are using, but it is there; it’s efficient and it’s easy to use.”

HOW MUCH TESTING HAVE YOU DONE?: “ We were here in Daytona of course, then we went over to Nashville Superspeedway for a two-day test; burned-up a good ten sets of tires. Finch is like, come on tires really. I learned with Finch that he does not like the Goodyear tire bills. It is going to be fun all year long asking Finch for an extra set of tires.”

HAVE YOU BEEN ABLE TO GET SOME CHEMISTRY THROUGH TESTING WITH THE GROUP?: “Yes, I was getting off on too much of a sarcastic tone there. Nick Harrison is the crew chief he is a guy from Tennessee from the days of Sterling Marlin. Stedman Marlin was at the Nashville test hanging out with us, this grassroots racing. It’s not really grassroots it’s just old school and everybody knows everybody, they work really hard and at the end of the day they crack a beer and talk about what has to happen the next day.”

DO YOU PLAN TO STAY WITH THE TEAM NEXT YEAR AS WELL?: “There is that opportunity. I mean the future doesn’t have a definition for me other than 2012 is going to be a lot about fun. I’ve got Finch’s Phoenix Racing. I’ve also got Kyle’s KBM (Kyle Busch Motorsports) program to work with and Monster Energy group of guys and run probably half the Nationwide schedule over there. I said to the guys. I want to get kicked out of the garage. They said what the heck does that mean? I sad we’re going to win a race this year and I want to be sitting at the back of the hauler on top of our coolers, drinking beer and have NASCAR go, ‘Listen guys all the haulers have left, you guys have to go too now’. I hope we get kicked out of the garage that way.”

IN TERMS OF GOING BACK TO OLD SCHOOL RACING, I WOULD IMAGINE THAT CARS ARE MUCH MORE SCARCE NOW. DO YOU THINK ABOUT THAT MORE NOT WRECKING CARS? DOES IT GIVE YOU AN APPRECIATION THAT A LOT OF DRIVERS LOSE? “For sure that is what old school racing is about. It is about thrashing just to get your car built on time just to get to the race track. We have one really good down force car we are going to take it to Vegas. I have to protect it because we need it two weeks later at California. Then we will need it two weeks after that to go to Texas. So we have to protect our good cars. I was very impressed with this group of guys. I really thought we were going to bring two superspeedway cars down here to Daytona. We have four ready to go. We have our Shootout car and a back-up. We have our Daytona 500 car, which is our best car, and its back-up. So even in the Shootout we need to win or bust. We need to showcase ourselves for a new sponsor, which is Tag Heuer. We want them to come on board for more races later in the year. We have Hendrickcars.com on our car for the Daytona 500, this is that old school of race hard, race up front, be seen, get noticed and hopefully that sponsor will sign on for more races.”

HOW MANY CARS TOTAL DO YOU HAVE VERSUS HOW MANY YOU HAVE HAD IN THE PAST?: “There is the quantity of cars that are on the floor. The quality of cars, the Hendrick chassis’ that we have that we want to work with, those are limited. Over time we will get some more. I hope we win the Daytona 500 that means we will have more of a budget to buy more cars. It is that old school of you have to do well and protect the cars so you have it the next week.”

DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU’RE STARTING OVER?: “Not at all. I feel like this is a fun project for me to work on, for Finch to understand where his program is. To have Hendrick engines, chassis’ and bodies, it is not a start over, this is working with the New York Yankees of baseball and that is what Hendrick is of racing.”

WHAT WOULD IT MEAN TO YOU PERSONALLY TO WIN THE DAYTONA 500?: “It’s really the race that can define a driver’s career. It is a big priority, the prestigious value of winning at Daytona what it does for a driver’s career long term, what it can do for the immediate impact. This race is our spectacle. It is the most important stock car race of the year.”

DOES IT BOTHER YOU EVER THAT YOU HAVE BEEN SO CLOSE BUT HAVE NOT BEEN ABLE TO COLLECT A WIN?: “A little bit. I have finished second three times. I’ve pushed a teammate to win, Ryan Newman back in 2008. I remember back in 2005, when I had a move to make on Jeff Gordon on the outside going into turn three and I looked in the mirror and saw everybody cutting to the inside to go by me in the draft. I’m like man I just got to block to the inside and take this second-place finish. It kind of eats at me a little bit that I should have taken that risk to go to the high side and see what could have happened off turn-four.”

YOU SAID THREE SECONDS, THEN A KID LIKE BAYNE COMES OUT AND WINS IN HIS FIRST RACE EVER. IS THAT JUST THE WAY RACING IS?: “That’s the Daytona 500 you have to be there at the end and every year you have to build the best car that you can. As an experienced driver you have to block out the past as far as finishes, but you have to use your experience to get to that last part of the race to be in position to win.”

EASIER SAID THAN DONE?: “Easier said than done, but last year I thought I was in the perfect spot. I was running as the lead of the two car draft of the cars that I was tied together win. I had the draft in front of me, like I did to win the Shootout and the 150 and I was in the same position in the Daytona 500. I almost got choked up that I positioned myself to get there and then it didn’t happen. My draft was broken apart by Carl Edwards, he came steaming through there and hooked up with Bayne off turn four but you’ve got to position yourself and you do that by protecting your car for 450 miles.”

WHAT DID YOU FEEL LIKE YOU SAW IN BAYNE LAST YEAR? WHAT DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU SAW IN HIM THROUGHOUT THE SEASON?: “That was a Cinderella story and I think that this team, Phoenix Racing, has that same opportunity to be the underdog going in and to have big things happen afterwards.”

DID YOU KNOW YOU WERE ON THE FORBES LIST OF DISLIKED ATHELES? DID YOU SEE IT? DO YOU CARE ABOUT IT?: “ Yeah I actually went from third to tenth so I actually think I improved. I made the top ten list of something. Two years in a row finishing 11th in points, then standing there trying to do an interview with Dr. Punch, having learned that my part went through Tony Stewarts grill and took away his championship hopes, that is what I was so upset about and of course it gets caught on You Tube, then they submit it to Forbes.com and then you are on a top ten list. It is what it is. Do you guys believe it?”

OBVIOUSLY ITS VERY HARD AT THIS LEVEL, WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT DANICA’S CHANCES AT BEING RESPECTABLE?: “She brings a lot to our sport. Just the sex appeal, the talent in the open wheel side, the ability to drive a car at this level competitively as a female it’s awesome. We will see how she does with everything. There is a lot of pressure she has to adapt to when you get into stock cars.”

HOW MUCH OF THE DAYTONA 500 IS LUCK VERSUS SKILL?: “It’s a spectacle. When you win the Super Bowl you have to have talent to win the Super Bowl, but that’s a spectacle. The Kentucky Derby is a spectacle but you have to have the right training, the right people in place and you have to keep your emotions in check, just as it is at the Indy 500. It is a spectacle that you have to be in position to win off talent, but then random things happen at these events that create the winners that we have. It has been a different winner for the last 11 years.”

DO YOU HAVE ANYONE THAT YOU HAVE PICKED TO WORK WITH IF YOU CAN?: “Anybody and everybody, but my primary guy is Regan Smith. I worked with Mark Martin during testing. A buddy of mine from 2008, Ryan Newman, he knows that we want to work together and there is the Hendrick crowd. They have four cars, I would be the fifth, but then there are the two Stewart-Haas cars and then they have Danica. There are plenty of opportunities to get out there with a Chevrolet.”

AS A TEAM DO YOU GUYS TALK ABOUT THE HALF-WAY MONEY?: “The GM sent me an email about it, so in my mind what he said is to go get that money. As a team if we got $200,000 that would mean we could rent two more engines.”

SUCH A SMALL TEAM ARE YOU MORE INVOLVED IN THE DAY TO DAY BUSINESS?: “Absolutely, there are many hats to wear. I go through emails from what we get from our technology support and being more in tune with the crew chief, Nick Harrison on how things have to go. I’m on the set-up plate with the guys taking out rounds and measuring things, just helping out as a hand, being a jack of all trades.”

ARE YOU HAVE A GREAT TIME WORKING WITH YOUR BROTHER?: “It’s been fun. With Kyle, I want to help that program grow. With KBM starting out, we want to buy everything in the world to help the team grow as quick as we can. I’m actually racing in his seat. We aren’t ordering any new seats or anything. We just want to make it work with a limited budget.”

WHAT’S IT LIKE WORKING FOR YOUR LITTLE BROTHER?: “We are great brothers; this has just made our relationship stronger. For us to do this deal, it’s more like a handshake deal, like a buddy system. I’ll probably run half the races; he will run half we will share the duties. Our objective is to go out there and win the owners title.”

EVERYTHING CONSIDERED WHAT WILL A SINGLE WIN THIS YEAR MEAN TO YOU AND PHOENIX RACING? “It would mean a ton, especially if it wasn’t a restrictor plate race. If we were able to establish ourselves on a mile and a half or even on a short track, where I think we are going to be equally prepared as other teams. Short track racing gets back to old school racing that is what Phoenix Racing is all about. For me to extend that streak to 11 seasons being a race winner at this top level that is important. If it doesn’t happen it doesn’t happen, but we are out there to do it.”

DO YOU THINK PEOPLE HAVE WRITTEN YOU OFF?: “It doesn’t matter if they have or if they are rooting for us. I feel like we are the genuine underdog and when you come to a restrictor plate race, underdogs have taken away the trophy here a few times.”

DO YOU SEE YOURSELF AT ALL AS PERHAPS A CAUTIONARY TALE FOR YOUNG DRIVERS?: “I feel like I have done my own PR or my own sponsor handling over the years. I would tell a guy like Trevor Bayne or a guy like Stenhouse or Logano, who had good support but could have had stronger support around being more prepared with media, being more prepared with sponsors. I would suggest they be a more well-rounded driver that handles all aspects of it, where I just worried about jumping in the car and taking care of the steering wheel.”

IN REGARDS TO HIS EXPECATIONS FOR 2012: “We have different expectations this year. For me that is what it’s about having the fun. Not having that big pressure. It’s working with Kyle, its working with Finch and when you don’t have the big sponsors breathing down your neck and the expectations to win at all costs, but knowing the car wasn’t capable of winning. We have all kinds of new expectations this year.”

IF SOME BIG SPONSOR STARTED BREATHING DOWN YOUR NECK YOU’D BE JUST FINE WITH IT WOULDN’T YOU?: “Oh sure we need our support, we need our help, we want to go out there and showcase the best that we can for guys like Tag Heuer who are on our Shootout car. One of the main guys from France is coming in for the Shootout. If we are upside down on our lid crossing the finish line or if we are winning, we need to be creating excitement and energy around this No. 51 Phoenix Racing team. We are just going to show up and have the extra attention and that’s good. That should help us land a couple of big opportunities.”

CHANGES THAT HAVE GONE ON THIS SEASON, IS IT GOING TO TAKE A ROSTER JUST TO FIGURE OUT WHO YOU ARE OUT THERE WITH?: “Every year after the first practice session, I just go get the print out and I find out the number and the sponsor and if I don’t recognize the sponsor and that number, I try to get a picture of the car to visually learn who is in that ride. You’ve got all kinds of changes, Clint Bowyer is in the No. 15 Five Hour Energy car and you just want to visually get your eyes and arms around that red and black and yellow trimmed car, just so you know. When you are out on track if you spend a second thinking about it that is nine tenths of a second that you spent too long.”

WILL IT BE WEIRD FOR YOU NOT TO BE IN THE NO. 22?: “It won’t be. I’m happy with the No. 51. In this suit I should be able to blend in a little better than I could in that yellow Ronald McDonald suit.”

YOU SAY 2012 YOUR ASPIRATIONS ARE TO HAVE FUN WHAT THEN WAS 2011?: “2011 was a great season. I felt proud to have the Speedweeks we did. To almost win the Daytona 500, I won at a road course for the first time in a Cup car. I won a Chase race, the third race into the Chase; we were nine points out of the lead. We were on the outside looking perfect, but on the inside crew chief is leaving, crew guys were disoriented, we didn’t really know the direction sometimes from the sponsor. I would win then there would be a phone call on Monday on what I did wrong in victory lane. Those were those kinds of moments”.

WHAT ELSE OTHER THAN SEX APPEAL DOES DANICA PATRICK BRING TO NASCAR?: “She’s got America’s heart. She’s captivated everybody with her freshness, newness. We have guys like Tim Tebow, we have guys like Jeremy Lin now on the Knicks that is everybody’s feel good story. She is going to have that no matter where she goes. She is going to have that criticism of do you have the talent behind the wheel time will give her that. I think running full Nationwide this year and then having 10 Sprint Cup starts will give her a taste of what she needs to do behind the wheel.”

WHAT ARE YOUR ASPIRATIONS? IS IT ULTIMATELY TO GET BACK TO ONE OF THE BIG TOP TIER TEAMS?: “Who knows? I think this is a week to week thing. Right now we are at Daytona, we are here to win or bust. Then we go to Phoenix, Vegas, Bristol, settle into the regular season. Finch and Phoenix Racing could be a place I stay forever. Now we just go to each race and settle in. Then my little brothers race team. With running almost half the schedule over there or what we have yet to determine the races, it is fun to have a big profile sponsor like Monster Energy taking me to new markets for them and who knows what that will branch out to turn into for sponsorship. Will that work for Finch’s program and just go from there. There is no real expectation for us expect to be a great story of working as an old school race team.”

ALMOST EVERY DRIVER HERE TODAY HAS SAID THE 2012 SEASON IS A SEASON ALL ABOUT FUN. “Well they are probably just taking a branch out of my book I guess. I have a legitimate reason to go have fun. For us it’s to work with a team that does not have the big budget like other teams do, but I think we can win just as easily as another big team.”

IF THERE COMES A POINT THAT YOU ARE STRUGGLING SIX OR SEVEN RACES INTO THE SEASON HOW ARE YOU GOING TO KEEP YOURSELF MOTIVATED TO HAVE FUN AT THAT POINT?: “There is not the fun that is going to go away, it’s going to be there. There is going to be small victories each and every week that we are going to work on. I mean we could go to Phoenix and be a lap down after lap 40 and finish 30th so is the car back on the trailer in one piece? That’s a victory. But we know we have to adjust things dramatically for Vegas. Vegas, we have one really good down force car. We have to protect it and get it to California two weeks later because it is the only car we have a few weeks after that Texas so those big mile and a half tracks we have one good bullet. We have a lot of short track cars we have some other back-up cars that are good, but this is that old school feel of protect the race car have fun with it. I told the media earlier, I want to get kicked out of the garage at the end of the day one day, because we won a race or we did really well and we are sitting on the beer cooler drinking beer and we are the last hauler to leave.”

WHY HAVEN’T YOU DONE A LOT OF NATIONWIDE RACES IN THE PAST?: “To go straight from Trucks to Cup, then to be overwhelmed by Cup early on, then to settle in to know that Cup is where the best of the best race, it just worked out that Cup is where I wanted to be and the opportunity for Nationwide didn’t come up. Now with Nationwide this is a great opportunity for me to win with Kyle’s race team and with Finch and to go out there and have more fun with it.”

WHAT LED YOU TO THE DECISION TO JOIN KBM JUST TO HELP OUT KYLE?: Yes, absolutely just to help out Kyle. I mean it’s great to have Monster Energy drink come in and except me as one of their extreme athletes, so the sponsorship side is very nice to have that as well.

IS THAT A PERFECT FIT FOR YOU EXTREME ATHELETE? “I would say edgy. I would say one that goes out there with his emotion on his sleeve, one that goes to try to get to victory lane every week no matter what the cost.”

HOW DO YOU HANDLE WINNING?: “ You have to enjoy wins when they come and you have to know that next week the transmission can break on lap two and you will be at the bottom of the barrel, there are the peaks and there are the valley’s. You hope to draw a line and stay close to it. You have to enjoy the good days when you have them.”

DO YOU FEEL THAT ADJUSTING TO EVERYTHING IS ONE OF YOUR STRONGEST SKILLS?: “That’s one of the skills I thought I have done well. Is to be a chameleon and to adapt to my surrounding around me. Whether it’s with Finch’s Nationwide deal this year and our full time Cup program and doing the drag racing that I’ve done, or the street stock race with Kimmel at the old rock a couple of years back. Just jumping in the race car and having fun that is what it is all about.”

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE MORE MEMORABLE PROJECTS YOU AND YOUR BROTHER HAVE DONE TOGETHER?: “We built a go-kart together. I would say that is the best bonding we ever did as brothers was when we raced RC cars together. Here I am, I’m 16 years old driving into the local RC track and he’s 7 and needs everything done for him. I’m his crew chief, I’m his coach telling him to do this or do that and he followed my lead on things and turned into a good RC racer himself. I remember doing that with him for probably a couple of years on Wednesday nights.”

***

REGAN SMITH, NO. 78 FURNITURE ROW CHEVROLET, met with members of the media at Daytona International Speedway and discussed the confidence a Cup win gives a driver, attending Daytona 500 races as a kid, not racing in the Budweiser Shootout and much more.

Regan Smith, Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet
Regan Smith, Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet

Photo by: Eric Gilbert

WHAT’S NEW WITH YOU? “Not too much. Just finishing up getting ready to start the season. I watched a big football game the other day that’s really the only other new thing. Same stuff every team is doing. Just getting ready to start the year and try to finish up all those little loose ends knowing that the chaos is getting ready to begin. I call it chaos, but its organized chaos. The season is here and we’re all pumped up about that.”

LOOKING AT THE 500 AS THE FIRST RACE, IS THAT ANY MORE DIFFICULT TO WIN? “I don’t think it’s necessarily because so much is made of it. We all know whether there is a big deal made about it or not, the guys have done all this work that are fans of it or have followed it which is pretty much everybody in this garage area, we know the importance of the 500. I think we make a big deal of it ourselves and amongst ourselves. I know for me in my head, I think about coming to Daytona this race here is a game changer. It’s the Daytona 500. I used to come down here and sit in between turns one and two and I can still point at my seats down there, the place has changed a lot since back then but I know right where I used to sit and I’d watch those guys race. I watched the 150’s and we would come to the Nationwide race or whatever it was back then the Busch race, we’d come to the Cup race and I’d watch that and I’d see that and I would just think man how cool is that. For me that was the first realization that number one I wanted to be a race car driver but number two how big this sport and how big this race is. It’s a tough race to win period; it’s a plate race which they are tough to win any way. There’s a lot that goes into winning them. Then you throw in the fact that everybody is a little more amped up for Daytona and maybe taking a little bit more risks than what they would at Phoenix the following week or something like that. I personally treat this race as a separate season. Come down here and whatever happens, happens. You forget about it when you leave here and you focus on Phoenix when you get to Phoenix and the rest of the season, the other 25 races that lead up to the Chase. But this one here, if you have an opportunity and it comes down to the white flag and you can see the front of the field or think you have a shot at winning it, you either do one of two things, you either win it or you bring it home in a box and that’s all there is to it. I think a lot of guys have that mentality at this race.”

HOW MANY TIMES HAD YOU COME TO THE 500 WHEN YOU WERE YOUNGER? “It was annual for a while and as I got older things got busier. Maybe our racing season started sooner and things like that. I can remember coming to five or six 500’s at least from the time I was seven to about 13 or 14. Then from the time I was 13 or 14 what happened was we would be getting ready for a race and we stopped coming because we had to get cars ready. We couldn’t come down here and take that time. My racing was more important at that point than what was going on here and we watched it on TV but I came to quite a few of them.”

ANY MEMORABLE ONES? “I remember seeing I think it was Rusty (Wallace) flipping down the backstretch one year. Might have been ’92 when he did that, I can’t remember. Don’t quote me on the date. That was pretty memorable. For me personally the most memorable was the year that Davey (Allison) won it because I was a Davey fan. That was the first guy that made me want to be a race car driver was Davey Allison. That was really special to see that happen. I won a bunch of money one year as a little kid in a little pool that was pretty memorable because back then 20 bucks was a big deal or however much it was that I won and I was pretty happy about that too.”

WHAT’S YOUR THOUGH ABOUT SOCIAL MEDIA AND YOUR APPROACH TO SOCIAL MEDIA, WHAT ROLE DO YOU THINK THAT PLAYS IN THE SPORT TODAY? “I think social media is great. It gives us an opportunity to connect with fans and connect with other people, other driver’s fans, other folks in the sport and the media whatever it might be in a way that we’ve never been able to before and in a way that’s instant. Hey I just went down the street and stopped at Furniture Row to go shopping. You can put that out there and people see that. If they choose to follow you they get to see that and I think that’s cool. Not only social media, just in general. The way technology is changing and the way things are going I don’t know what the next level is going to be because it’s getting pretty invasive now as it is. Yeah, I think it’s a good thing, I embrace it.”

DO YOU THINK TWICE BEFORE YOU POST A TWEET? “That depends. I thought twice last year before I posted tweets because I heard they were giving fines but now I’ve heard there’s not going to be fines so I might not think twice any more this year.”

AS FAR AS WINNING GOES, YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO BE GROUNDED AND HUMBLE AND THEN YOU WIN AND GET BRAGGING RIGHTS, YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO GO FROM THIS HIGH LEVEL TO BEING HUMBLE, CAN YOU DESCRIBE HOW YOU DO THAT? “Wow, I don’t know. I can’t tell you because I don’t know if I am humble or not but I like to think I’m a pretty humble person. There is a certain level you have to realize this isn’t owed to you. You don’t have to be here. You don’t have to be driving race cars for a living. This is a privilege. We’re lucky to be doing what we do. For me I always try to not forget that. I’ve got a good group of people around me that don’t let me forget that, that keep me pretty much grounded most of the time or at least I hope they do. If not, hopefully they are going to tell me differently and then I will get back to being grounded. I grew up watching this and I really appreciate and respect this sport and just want to be a part of it. I want to be a part of it but I also want to be good at it. I don’t know.”

DO YOU THINK YOUR ABILITY TO ADJUST AS NASCAR DRIVERS IN GENERAL IS PROBABLY ONE OF THE BEST SILLS YOU HAVE? “You guys can answer that question better than I can. I know there’s some stories about guys that maybe don’t adjust very good and that can be not pleasant to be around at times and that’s a whole other end of the spectrum. I think as a whole, our sport, we’re tied a lot closer to the fans and people we work with in the sport than other sports. The only thing I have to go off on that is other media members who cover other sports tell me outside of that I don’t know.”

ARE YOU FOLLOWING THE JEREMY LIN THING? “You know I’ve been paying attention to it. I don’t a lot about it. I will openly say that I don’t know basketball at all. I’ll watch college ball just because I’m a Syracuse fan but when it comes to pro basketball I’ve just never got into it for whatever reason but I have seen it on TV. I don’t think you can miss it because it’s been on every news channel. It’s been like Tim Tebow or Danica Patrick or whatever you want to call it, it’s been the story this week ultimately.”

WHAT’S IT SAY ABOUT THE STORY LINE OF JUST A GUY GETTING A CHANCE A MAKING THE MOST OF IT AND CAN YOU RELATE TO THAT? “I think everybody in America can relate to that. Everybody just wants an opportunity and that’s probably why he is such a big story. Here’s a guy that got thrown out from one team, he played in the developmental league and here he gets his opportunity and he’s lighting it up. People like stories like that, I like stories like that. I can openly tell you I know almost nothing about basketball and I watch Jeremy Lin and see him on TV. If I flip through and there’s a Knicks game I might actually stop now and say let’s see how he’s doing.”

YOU TALKED ON THE MEDIA TOUR ABOUT HOW YOU FELT AFTER WINNING DARLINGTON, ABOUT HOW PEOPLE WERE GIVING YOU MORE RESPECT ON THE RACE TRACK, WAS THERE A POINT WHERE YOU FIRST REALIZED MAYBE I’M GETTING TREATED A LITTLE DIFFERENTLY BECAUSE I HAVE A RACE WIN NOW? “I don’t know if it was necessarily they were giving me more respect on the race track, I think for me it was more I felt like I belonged and I felt like if a certain car comes up behind you sometimes you have t yield position to them at times and now I don’t feel like I have to do that anymore. I feel like I deserve to be here just as much as you do so if you want the spot come take it from me and if you can’t get it then you can get as mad as you want after the race but that’s how it’s going to be. So I think it just changed maybe my perception of how I belong a little bit differently.”

WAS THAT INSTANTANEOUS? “No, the next weekend you’re still on cloud nine from the win. You’re not feeling much of anything at that point. I would say it wasn’t necessarily instantaneous it was just more of a mentality and more of you kind of grow into feeling that way. The next weekend was really cool because all of the competitors are still coming up congratulating you and talking to you about it and saying different things. It was the weekend that followed that.”

WHAT ELSE DOES THAT FIRST WIN DO FOR YOU WITH CONFIDENCE THAT YOU CAN TAKE INTO THIS YEAR? “It does a lot. I think from a confidence and mental standpoint, number one I’ve got the confidence I can win a race. From a mental standpoint you understand what it takes to win a race, you know how good it feels to win that race. As you are in the lower levels you win all the time, you get up to these upper levels and it’s tougher to win and you don’t win as much. It had been a little while since I’d won something and you get that feeling back in you and it puts that driver back in your gut again. This is a bad comparison but it’s kind of like someone who is on drugs, you get that feel of how good it is to win and you just want it more and it makes you work harder to keep wanting to get more wins.”

HAVE YOU THOUGHT ABOUT THE POSSIBILITY OF HAVING YOUR LIFE’S TWO GREATEST MILESTONES HAPPEN 30 MILES APART AND LIKE THREE MONTHS APART? YOU GOT MARRIED LESS THAN THREE MONTHS AGO? “November 26th.”

THE DAYTONA 500 IS ON THE 26TH. “Wow, its exactly three months to the day.”

HAVE YOU LET YOURSELF CONSIDER THAT? “Well I didn’t until now. Thanks for putting more pressure on me. I appreciate that. I haven’t thought about it but it is a good point. We got married not far from here and this is obviously a huge deal, huge event. Life-changing event if you win this race. If you don’t believe that just ask Trevor Bayne. It’s definitely been a life-changer for him. I haven’t thought about it yet but I will now.”

WHAT DO YOU THINK YOUR CHANCES ARE? “I think our chances are good. We had a strong car here last year up until five to go. I legitimately thought we were going to be one of those cars that came to the stripe and battle for it and we had the incident with five to go. Still we were able to go from 20th to seventh in two laps which is just how strong my race car was and had good partners to work with too in the process of that. I think this year we’ve got better cars. I feel better about where our speedway program is right now than I did maybe last year at this point. We tested last year and we weren’t that quick. Coming into media day here I was I don’t know how good we’re going to be and then it turned out our car was really good pushing other cars and it kind of changed the whole event for us. I was fortunate that Kurt (Busch) took the time to teach me the type of drafting we were doing last year and it obviously worked out good for us. But this year I feel even more confident about where our car is. There’s going to be some new stuff to learn. The race is going to have a different feel than last year. It’s going to have a different feel than two years ago but with that being said I think we have a great shot.”

HOW DO YOU PREPARE FOR RACES? “I’m very routine if you want to call it that. So if I do one thing that works I stick with that routine constantly. I go with that routine from start to stop. So let’s say I eat something and it worked for me that day and I felt good in the car then I stick with that until it doesn’t work and if it doesn’t work then I’ll change it up and try something different. My routine is the same thing. I go to bed pretty much the same time the night before races. I get up and eat the same thing in the morning, I eat the same thing before I go to bed for dinner the night before and race and I try to eat the same stuff the day of the race just to keep things simple and keep it within elements that I know. That takes one thing out of the pie. We’ve got a lot that we don’t know when we start the race and I don’t want other stuff that I don’t know out there.”

WHAT SORT OF THINGS DO YOU EAT? “Simple stuff like cereal, turkey sandwiches, just really simple stuff that is not going to upset my stomach I don’t want to have that happen when I get out on the race track. That would be bad.”

HOW IS THE SHOOTOUT GOING TO HELP YOU SET UP FOR THE DAYTONA 500? “It’s not going to help me at all because I don’t get to race it this year.”

YOU’RE NOT IN IT? “I’ve gotten asked that a lot. I think everybody else is in it but us and Bobby Labonte just about. I’m still going to take as much as I can out of it whether it’s going up on the roof to watch the race or watch it with the scanner on listening to all the other guys. There’s still something to be learned. When that race is over we’re all going to understand how the race is going to play out on Thursday when we get to the 150’s. Until then we are kind of a little bit of an unknown there.”

IS IT A DISADVANTAGE NOT BEING IN IT? “This year I don’t think it’s a much of a disadvantage. The only reason I say that is if I had to pick this year or last year to be in it I would have picked last year. Reason being is we were doing the two-car tandem stuff and we didn’t know much about it at that point. It was new and we just started doing it at testing the first time. We didn’t understand what we could do with the cars and what our capabilities were. Now we know how to two-car tandem, we understand it. Now it’s just going to be a matter of seeing how the race plays out differently.”

DO YOU ALLOW YOURSELF TO THINK ABOUT WHAT THE EXPERIENCE WOULD BE LIKE TO WIN THE DAYTONA 500? “Absolutely.”

WHEN YOU THINK OF IT HOW DOES IT PLAY OUT IN YOUR MIND? “Well the parts I think about is getting to be in Victory Lane and holding the trophy over your head. Getting to be a part of that and having your name stamped on it. I see McMurray walking through right now and I remember hearing some of his stories when he won it and seeing some of the things that were posted on the internet and it was such a special day and such a special moment. That’s the stuff I think about. The stuff that comes after that is the stuff that comes after that. It is what it is but certainly just being able to win at this place. To me a win at Daytona is huge no matter what, but in the 500 is even bigger.”

HAVING BEEN A WINNER LAST YEAR, DO YOU THINK IT’S TIME TO INCLUDE RACE WINNERS INTO THE SHOOTOUT FIELD? “I’ve got a different opinion on the Shootout. I really enjoyed it when it was pole winners and I know there are some changes that have kept that from being what they do as the criteria to get in. With that being said I wouldn’t be in it anyway because we didn’t get a pole last year but I guess the only part that I was a little surprised about with us having a win last year and not being included in it is that there were so many cars that were in it and a lot of cars that are behind us in points that are included in it. You look at that and it’s almost like a penalty sort of. It felt pretty weird that we weren’t included in it but at the same time I’m a little more of a purest. I liked it when it was more of a 15 or 16 car race and you had to do something to get into that race, something special. That’s a tough question to answer because I see both sides of it.”

YOU WERE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR LAST YEAR, BUT YOU WON SOMETHING. “Yeah.”

I THINK THEY SHOULD MAYBE GRANDFATHER THAT IN. IF THEY MOVE FORWARD WOULDN’T IT BE RIGHT? “Well they need to decide if it’s going to be a race that we’re going to let pretty much open entry to get in because a lot of cars still wouldn’t come. I think we saw some of the guys that were entered into it that just opted to not come. It’s not one of our highest paying races. It’s more or less a test session is what it’s turned into. But with that being said it’s a special event too. It’s a test session that guys are going to try to win. If it’s going to be one way it should be one way. If it’s going to be the other way it should be the other way but don’t exclude one or two cars and let everybody else in. That feels a little bit weird to me.”

IS IT A MISS NUMBER TO THINK OF IT AS A PRIMER TO THE 500 BECAUSE I THINK OF THE DUELS AS MORE OF A PRIMER? “I think the duels are more of a primer. I think we see more of what is going to happen in the 500 in the duels just because guys have a little different attitude in the shootout. It’s usually their third or fourth car. They’re not as worried about tearing it up. They might take chances they won’t take in the duels. The duels you are going to see guys racing they’re cars that they’re going to be racing on Sunday. If you have a guy that is strong in the duels he’s probably going to be strong on Sunday. Whereas if you have a guys that is strong in the shootout he might not be that strong come duel time.”

TALKED ABOUT BEING IN THE LEAD WITH FIVE LAPS TO GO, HOW TIGHT DID YOU GRIP THE WHEEL AT THAT POINT? “I didn’t grip it any tighter until I saw the run they had coming up behind me and I said oh this isn’t going to work, and then I gripped it pretty tight at that point. There wasn’t anything I could do to make it go faster at that point, it was what it was. It was certainly cross that stripe. I’ll be honest I think about that constantly. Ok such a big race, five laps to go and you’re in the lead you might not ever be in a position like that again with five laps to go. I think I saw a stat the other day where Jimmie Johnson hasn’t had a top-five since the last time he won it. I think he won it in ’06. That just shows you how hit or miss this race can be and how tough this race can be to win. I think you have to cease every opportunity you have when it comes down to it.”

YOU’VE HAD A GREAT RECORD HERE IN TERMS OF THIS RACE AND OTHER RACES, IS THERE SOME TOTAL OF THOSE EXPERIENCES THAT YOU BRING TO THIS RACE? “Yes and no just because this race plays out so differently. It’s such a long race. For whatever reason it does seem like one of the longer races of the year to me. What you can bring is the mentality of okay I’ve got to be calm, cool and collective at this point. I’ve got to really go at this point. You can bring some of that with you. It’s its own different beast down here.”

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Series NASCAR-CUP
Tags busch, chevrolet, smith