KYLE BUSCH, No. 18 M&M's Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing

Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota

Photo by: Alexander Trienitz

What would it mean to win the Daytona 500? "It means the world to anybody, I think. It's a huge race to win. It's something that we all hope to do and dream of doing. For me, I've been close a few years, I've been very far away in other years. It's exciting to get back down here again and get back after trying to win the (Daytona) 500 and hopefully having a great race car to do it with. I remember 2008 was just phenomenal. We were flying, me and Tony (Stewart) were nose-to-tail much of the race and got blown by on the last lap and missed the opportunity. I'm looking forward to much of the same success here this year, hopefully."

How much does luck and skill play into winning the Daytona 500? "I think it takes a lot of skill obviously, and I think it took a lot more skill with the old surface than it does now. I think anybody can run on this surface. But, it also takes a whole lot of luck, too. You have to be in the right place at the right time with the right moments and not get too anxious at times and not get yourself messed up by missing your pit box or something like that. When it comes down to the last five, four, three, two, one lap -- it's just craziness. There's cars that are trying to go everywhere and make moves that they probably shouldn't, including me. We have cautions and what have you, but that's what is exciting about it. That's what makes it the Daytona 500, that's what makes it the staple of our sport and that's the symbol of winning it."

How much of the race will be the pack and how much will be the two-car draft? "I'm going to say it's going to be a lot more pack. Certainly you're going to see two cars and they're going to push and go off in spurts. When you push, you can't push the whole day, so we're not going to have that, which is good. That's what I like. When you do push, you might get so far out front that you're going to get swallowed back up by the pack and get two laps. It's not necessarily going to be beneficial to get too far out there. What I am curious to see is how long guys can push for or are willing to push for coming down towards the end of the race. Is it going to be eight laps to go, five laps to go, three laps to go, two -- how many laps is somebody going to start pushing for and just not lifting and not giving up until something blows?"

Do you feel you need to win the Daytona 500 to round out your resume? "There's still a lot of races that I haven't won that I want to win to round that out. Whether it be the big four obviously -- I see it as the Daytona 500, All-Star race, Coke 600 and Brickyard. I haven't won any of those. I think the biggest race I have won is probably the inaugural race at Kentucky, just being an inaugural event. Then, my hometown track in Vegas was a big win for me, so that was special. Other than that, there's still a lot of ones out there that I want to win, including a championship."

Is the two-car draft swap dangerous? "If there's still a two-car tandem and yeah, we're going to be swapping. It's certainly dangerous, there's no doubt about it. For me last year, it's funny -- Denny (Hamlin) and I, we ran for a spell in the race when we restarted ninth, 10th, 11th, something like that and everybody doubled up and was going away and we started separate and we just started drafting off everybody that was going by us or what have you. We stayed single-file for 30-something laps just drafting off everybody else's wake and stayed apart from each other. I don't think you can push long enough to get far enough away and you can't swap quick enough to where cars running in single-file drafting off of you won't be able to keep up."

Why won't cars be able to two-car draft as long as they did last year? "Well, last year we could push a whole race. You can't do that now because of all the changes that NASCAR made. The restricted cooling system, moving the rear bumpers down lower so there's less air getting to the front bumper, the opening is smaller in the front bumper and moved up to the center of the front bumper from down below where you could get air from the car in front of you. All of that is coming into play. I don't foresee you being able to push for longer than two laps without overheating."

How can you overheat your car while pushing as two cars, but not overheat in a big pack? "When you're pushing somebody, you have to get so far off-set to have a clear opening to your grill to get air in to cool the radiator. When you're in a pack and you're off that car, you are getting air from underneath the car in front of you. There's that space. You're not touching. When you're touching, essentially you tape off that grill -- it's taped off. There's no difference than putting tape on it. But, when you're away from it, there is air that is able to get in there." Why can't a driver go out and win the Daytona 500 on his own? "It's been that way since they repaved this place. When they had it the old way, it was driver -- you had to get your car set up correctly to run well here. Since they repaved it, it's anybody's game."

How were drivers able to pass a two-car draft with just one car during the test? "It happened, but it's a particular situation that makes it happen. It won't happen in real racing instances. They were just swapped or got broken up and they were getting back together. When you get back together, the front car has to drag the brakes so much to get nose-to-tail that you can pass them."

Have you done any testing this year besides at Daytona? "We haven't done any. Denny (Hamlin) is the only one that went testing. He went to Texas last week, I think, for a tire test. That was it."

Were the issues Joe Gibbs Racing faced last season settled before the start of this year? "I know Denny (Hamlin) always had some reservations about engines or chassis or the way they were being made or what have you. I think for us, me and Dave (Rogers, crew chief), we build off what we have and we work with what we've got. I'm not sure exactly what Denny was looking for, but I'm hoping that Darian (Grubb, No. 11 crew chief) and Dave and Jason (Ratcliff, No. 20 crew chief) can all put that together for this year and make it to where we're all competitive and not just one of us is or none of us are, but we all are."

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DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing

Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota

Photo by: Alexander Trienitz

Do you ever let yourself think about winning the Daytona 500? "Not really because I feel like when you look forward too much at results or what the result will be then you won't do as good in that particular moment. Now I do find myself during some races with five laps to go and you're leading the race with a healthy lead and your mind gets to wandering about your emotions, about having a real shot at winning. Daytona -- the closest I really can say was last year during the (Daytona) 500. Me and Ryan Newman leading with two laps to go and we got stuck out. I never really think of it until those moments. I always try to block out that scoreboard as late as possible."

Why have you been so successful in the Shootout? "Last year, technically we won. We crossed the finish line first, but technically we didn't win. As far as crossing the finish line we won. It's just one of those things where we've had good success in the Shootout. It's my kind of race -- it's short, it's got a lot of excitement. Any kind of races like that, I think the fans have a ball with. It's going to be interesting to me just to see how it's going to play out simply because we don't know if it's going to be pack (racing), two-car tandem or things like that. People are going to be worried about blowing their engines like they were in the (Daytona) 500. I think you are probably going to see more two-car tandems during the Shootout than what you will during the 500. That was my biggest moment of my career was winning in 2006 and I remember that giving us huge confidence going into that season. I think at that point I said I was going to win Rookie of the Year and of course I was going against Clint (Bowyer) and Martin (Truex Jr.) and some of the best rookies that came in during that year. It was my moment where I felt like I belonged in the Cup Series."

How big will the Shootout be in predicting how the racing will be in the Daytona 500? "I think it will be big for everyone. Even the guys that are not involved -- they are going to see how it's going to play out. They're going to know -- what do they need to work on? Do they need to work on cooling for two-car tandems or do they need to work on just getting their cars to suck up good? That's what you used to work on all the time. For me, I think it's going to be big. I think it's going to come down to even practice -- what are guys going to work on? We don't know until they throw on the green light and tell us to go."

How long will it take to get used to a new spotter? "It will take a while -- no doubt about it. Hopefully, it's not wrecks that we have to go through to learn it. I've learned -- it was very tough splitting with Curtis (Markham) because Curtis was the guy that called J.D. Gibbs (president, Joe Gibbs Racing) and said, 'You need to sign this guy.' That was a very, very hard thing -- harder to me than what it was splitting with Mike Ford (former crew chief). That part is very, very tough. Dealing with someone new -- I've learned just through the test that we've had here that hearing someone with a total different way of looking at things and he's giving me so much information in a short amount of time because he knows I have to process it all before I make a decision. It's very, very hard so practice is going to be very, very critical for us to kind of get that lingo down and figuring out what I like and what I don't like. Our radio has a total different sound to it this year that's going to be a lot different than what I've ever been used to."

Have you spoken with Mike Ford since the split? "Yeah, we've had lunch and dinners and stuff like that together. Mike (Ford, former crew chief) reached out to me and said that there were no hard feelings, but he would like to get together with me so we have a clear understanding and no hard feelings going forward. So, we can look at each other in the garage and not have any resentment or anything like that. He knew that a change was needed for both parties. It was a relationship that had run its course and it was successful. To stay successful, eventually you have to make change. The 14 (Tony Stewart) did it after a championship. For us, I know personally that Mike Ford is a winning crew chief and I'm not saying this because I'm trying to endorse him in any way, but I feel like he is one of the top-five crew chiefs within this garage. For him and me to have to split -- you never know. We might see each other down the road and be working with each other down the road. It was just something that needed to be done and I just feel like we have a great understanding and he is close with my family as well as I'm close with his. He is a friend to me first and he was a co-worker second. Sometimes you just have to make that change as tough as it is."

How is the relationship going with Darian Grubb? "It's going really well and obviously we haven't got to spend as much time together as we would like, but we have been talking a lot through phone and things like that because I've been away. It's what I needed to do. I felt like I would perform better getting away and doing what I needed to do to get motivated again than to just saturate myself with racing in the offseason like I have been. He's (Darian Grubb, crew chief) got our team on a fast track and I feel like we've got some great things coming and he's really the backbone behind this race team. What I love about it is that all of our guys are buying into him. He's taking our guys out to dinner anytime that we're on the road and he's really showing how good of a leader he is."

Are you more motivated this year? "For sure, there was no doubt. Outlook and confidence is very underrated within our sport and I feel like as much as I had in 2010, I had that small amount in 2011 because we weren't as competitive. Our cars weren't as fast. Our cars weren't as reliable, but it forced me to work on things that I needed to work on so when we do have that package back together -- we're going to kick a lot of ass. I feel like we are and we have that going for us and I had to work on myself. I know that I took things for granted in 2010 of how good our cars were that I was lazy in the sense that I felt like I didn't need to work on my technique as much. Anyone will tell you that when you don't have the best stuff possible, it forces you to step up and now that I feel like I've gotten better, my cars have now gotten better and we're going to be a force to be reckoned with."

Why did you have a lack of confidence in 2011? "I felt like we were weak in some areas and it didn't give me the confidence. I got in my race car and I was like, 'If we can just finish 10th today,' because we sucked so bad during practice. I would screw around and be fastest in practice in 2010. I think I took things for granted in that sense of not realizing that, 'Hey, my cars were really, really good.' I wasn't disciplined in 2010, but we had a lot of fun and won a lot of races doing it that way. The more intense I was in 2011, it almost was a bad thing because my expectations were so high on myself after 2010 -- winning all those races. In 2011, next thing you know, you're struggling to run 15th and you lose all confidence. When I got in the race car and I knew that I was going to finish no better than 10th on that particular day -- there is no way you can be successful with that kind of an outlook."

Why did you perform so good following your knee surgery in 2010? "I think anytime you have something physically that's wrong with you -- I think it forces you to not have the excuse of why you're running bad. It forces you to be focused more on, 'What can I do to perfect my job?' The knee was my fault. I screwed up and I was playing sports a little too intense so I put us in a bad position. Now it was my responsibility to make sure that it wasn't my fault that we weren't successful. Then, you see the intensity level pick up because of that and you see results because of it."