2004 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Championship Winning Team Kurt Busch, Driver Jack Roush, Car Owner Jimmy Fennig, Crew Chief KURT BUSCH: YOUR THOUGHTS. "Just an unbelievable day - to be able to persevere such as we did again - to overcome all the ...
2004 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Championship Winning Team
Kurt Busch, Driver
Jack Roush, Car Owner
Jimmy Fennig, Crew Chief
"Just an unbelievable day - to be able to persevere such as we did again - to overcome all the different obstacles - to put together a great season such as we did. With the regular season, superb job, and then with the playoffs, outstanding. One little slip here or there, we were able to make up for it. We started off the chase with a win and we finished with a top five and a pole. It's just unbelievable the way that Jimmy Fennig executed the whole program to give me the best race cars that I could possible drive and to give me equipment that would give me the position like we had today. A top five finish, I was in stitches. I was just sick to my stomach the last few laps. I had been out there forever. I haven't had fresh water in a while.
"This is in parallel to the Super Bowl or to the World Series to snag this first championship that NASCAR put together with this new format and to be the first Nextel Cup champion, it took so much from within. It's like any other championship in the world. I felt like I had the whole world on my shoulders every lap today, but, yet, I felt like I was alone or I had my whole team behind me and I had the fan support and I knew that I had the equipment to do so. So many emotions today and to be able to pull through and finish like we did - to cap off a great season - it's an unbelievable feeling."
"It's just been great to be part of Jimmy Fennig's program. Jimmy organized this 97 team in his own light. It comes from all the good history that he had with Bobby Allison and Jimmy Fennig has only worked for two NASCAR team owners. It turns out Bobby Allison and myself and, of course, he spent so much time with Bobby and Bobby's been an inspiration to me as well. But, anyway, to be here with Jimmy and in the doldrums when we were just getting Kurt started and brought Jimmy into the program and had Jimmy take him as a son or as a driver that was incredibly talented, that was what he considered to be worth his energy and his commitment to hang in and bring us all along has been incredible.
"He's built the team and he's helped Kurt advance. I've had many questions. Kurt has had some lumps and bumps in his young career here. Kurt is an incredible quick study. Once he understands how something works, he never forgets it and he won't put it aside. If something happens that's not right for him or not good for him, then he makes the commitment to go forward and do it differently. If somebody had asked me what the thing is that's made the most difference as seen by me for Kurt this year is how close he's been to Mark and how close he's been to Matt and how close he's been to Greg Biffle and to watch him start to mentor, as he has, Carl Edwards who has come along behind on the same path that Kurt came through just a couple years ago."
TALK ABOUT THE SAVES YOU HAD TODAY.
"It's just a scenario to where I've seen things go wrong and tried to understand the best that I can and what I need to do as a driver to communicate to the team to be able to persevere and stay focused on the task at hand. Things are always magnified when you're in this position of driving for a championship. There are other teams that have bumps in the road as well and to be able to put forth an effort such as this in 10 races, I had one smooth race, I believe and that was New Hampshire - and maybe Martinsville a little bit, where we finished fifth. But to go to each of the race tracks and to attack the race track for a win and nothing less. One race track after the next. Five hundred miles one week, 400 the next. Go to a rough and tough race track like Martinsville, follow it up - the week preceding was a Talladega Superspeedway event.
"A driver has to adapt to so many changing circumstances at the race track. Every single one is different, even your competitors because you see different competitors at every race track who excel at one specific style of race track versus another. The final 10 races, the race tracks challenged every team to the testing ability, to the team's focus, to the motor tuning and development - you name it. It was a full team effort and the way that we were able to overcome all of those circumstances - there is positions in time to be lucky - there is positions in time to be able to make sure that you stay focused and put those thoughts at bay and put together the best effort. I'm overwhelmed. I'm completely exhausted about what these final 10 races meant, but it's a true testament to what a team has to do, to what a driver has to do, to what an owner sees as a leader and the way that you have to compete at your top level for 10 races against the 10 toughest competitors - that's what this season meant for us was these final 10 races because that's what the Nextel Chase for the Cup is now."
TALK ABOUT YOUR RIDE TO GET HERE.
"One might argue that it hasn't been a long road. I've been very fortunate to slide into different rides. That was racer's call them and to be able to meet the right people and sponsors and car owners and crew chiefs, and to be able to do this in such a short timeframe, it's mind-boggling to me. I've had so many things fall into place in my life that I'm very fortunate for. To be able to work for such a caliber team at such a young age was overwhelming to me and all I knew at that level was to go to the front, race as hard as I can and wrinkle fenders along the way. That's how I thought I was supposed to race and that was the wrong mindset.
"When I raced with Jimmy Fennig my second year, he gave me great cars that would lead races and run up front. Now I'm an unpolished second-year driver that has equipment - look out, and I ran over people again. So it took some time for me to understand the bigger picture and to know that there was no real level higher than this and there never will be in my life. I'm fully committed to NASCAR and the Nextel Cup racing circuit and just to be able to understand the bigger ethic and the bigger picture about racing at this level is one thing that I misunderstood the first couple of years and now I've been able to put that in grasp and to learn from Jimmy Fennig, to learn from Jack Roush, and, of course, my father was always there. He was the first one that I'd go to after a race when I got home and ask him questions about what I did wrong and what I can do better. He's really helped me along to this point."
TALK ABOUT THE EMOTIONS WHEN YOU GRABBED THE TROPHY.
"I had the 48 in front of me, the 24 in front of that and I'm doing all these numbers in my head trying not to run into walls and I thought I did it. It took all the way to the back straightaway for them to communicate to me that we had done it and immediately the emotions overtook anything that I did all day today. When I got to the point of hoisting the trophy - the first Nextel Cup - it meant so much to me, it meant so much to NASCAR and I know that it means a tremendous amount to Nextel to savor those few moments and to act as if I had won something that has never been done before and I did that today. Those were the few thoughts that went through my mind as I hoisted up the trophy."
TALK ABOUT WINNING UNDER BOTH SYSTEMS.
"We'd been in the old system, competing in the old system, last year was our 17th year and, of course, we've been to the call four times with Mark he's finished second. I was surprised that we were able to win last year. Our 2003 Taurus was dated. We hadn't had a new set of templates for it since '97, so we had a nose that was behind and tail that was behind and an engine that was revised the last time in '92 and the Dodge and the Chevrolet have had numerous revisions since then, so I didn't think our engine was great and I knew our car wasn't great from an aero point of view. I was surprised that we were able to come up with the durability, the consistency that the 17 Dewalt team was able to do what they needed to do. I fully expected with the new engine program and with the new Ford this year to be a factor this year, since we kept most of our people in place and learned a lot through last year. I had hoped to be able to put all five in the top 10.
"I'm greedy that way and that certainly is our goal for next year, but if we come back and look at the chances we had to lose this championship in the last 10 - the times that Kurt got himself caught in a situation, where he had to spin the car to miss a wreck or he had a wheel fall off today. My heart stopped when I saw how close he was to pit wall and crashing that pit wall head on getting into the pits as the wheel came off. So there were many ways for us to lose this. We can't expect to win two championships in a row with all the hazards that are out there, so this is a feast or famine business. It's incredibly hard to do this and I'm just glad to have a chance to have won it twice with Kurt and with Matt and I look forward to repeats for Kurt or Matt and the other guys."
YOU'RE THE LAST NAME ON THE WINSTON CUP AND FIRST ON THE NEXTEL CUP.
"How about that."
WHAT HAPPENED WITH THE WHEEL AND SUBSEQUENT PIT STOPS?
"We had a problem that in the car it felt as if we had a loose lugnut and when you have that type of problem it's hard to distinguish what exactly is wrong. Is it the wheel spacer the got caught up in the wheel wrong? Is it that there is something loose? You don't want to take and point your finger at somebody that did the wrong job. You have to analyze it the best way that you can and after the pit stop I still thought that the wheel vibrated loose and we had a flat tire due to a blister, not knowing that the center of the wheel came out. So I pointed at the front tire changer during that pit stop and he was like, 'What are you talking about? Do you need something?' And I'm like, 'No, this is a moment in my life and your life that we're not agreeing on.' (Laughter) And we were able to get back out on the track and to not have a vibration after that. That was the first time I've ever had a wheel that came apart. The center of it was tight against the hub, the wheel came apart from the outer ring. That's something Jimmy Fennig explained to me. We were able to learn something new today as well as finish well enough to win the first Nextel Cup championship. Just the way that our season has gone. There are so many lessons that you learn and you have to apply them quickly if you want to be competitive at this top level."
CAN YOU ADDRESS THE TIRE?
"The tire, it broke and the first reaction you do is you go to the tire changer and see if the holes were oblong. We brought the piece up on the pit box and looked at it and they weren't oblong. So then we're sitting there, are the wheel spacers backing off? We're trying to fix the problem or find the problem, but the wheel was actually tight. I was just by the car right now and everything was still tight after the race, so we'll take it back to the shop on Monday and look at it and see if we can find, maybe we had some bad wheel spacers or the metal was too soft or something like that that caused it. But the tire changer did have them pulled up tight. Why it broke, there's a torque ring that picks up the outside and inner part of the wheel and it just picked up the inner part and not the outer part, so we'll dig into it tomorrow morning and find out."
HAS THAT EVER HAPPENED TO YOU?
"With Mark Martin in '98 we had a wheel come loose, so I set a rule that the wheels get torqued when it leaves the garage and once it's on pit road before the race starts, so they're actually torqued twice. Since 1998 was the last time that happened - that was the very first time, but this time it appears the wheel wasn't loose, something else was the problem."
"To put that in perspective, that's a fatigue failure that you typically see on parts that have been used too long. We replace, for the Cup Series, our wheels every year and times when the truck wasn't as intense as it is today and Busch isn't as intense as it is today, you would expect wheels to be used two years in Busch and maybe a third year in Truck or ARCA, but that's the kind of a failure you typically see. We've got to go back and learn from this. Jimmy and I will put our heads together on it and look at some more parts, but, right now my shot from the hip is next year we'll run our wheels for 26 races and then for the last 10 we'll have another set of wheels. But in my 18 years, I've never had a wheel break that I felt broke because it was fatigued like this, but I've seen them on wheels that I knew were too old for what they were trying to do."
WHAT DID YOUR HEART DO WHEN THE WHEEL FELL OFF AND JUST MISSED PIT WALL?
"This is a good opportunity to throw Matt (Kenseth) under the bus. His nickname is Gravedigger after he ran into those tires and that was the last thing that I wanted to do (laughter). Matt is a guy that he's always a racer, he's always trying to do the best job that he can in the seat and that's somebody that I've looked up to. Even though he's only got a year's more experience, he was one that helped me in what we put together as a team. To have that feeling of knowing that the light at the end of the tunnel was very dim at that point and then to almost run into the tire barrier thinking about the light being too dim, I realized I was in the wrong frame of mind. The car wouldn't turn. I just had too much speed and when I applied the brake the car turned to the right even further. Because of the way that the caliper locked up so quickly, it turned the car to the right. I let go of the brake and turned the thing as hard as I could left and I missed it, and in doing all that, I came into pit road too hot. So my speed on entry was too fast and that penalty was to start at the tail-end of the longest line and that was that."
HOW DID YOU RE-FOCUS AFTER THE TIRE?
"Knowing early on that you have time to make up and be able to pull up through the field, you're able to smile still and know that you've got a shot because you can still work as hard as you can and pull your heart out because tomorrow is gonna be another day and you hope that you gave everything that you gave today. For us, to have those problems early it was good. To have smaller problems later, it was still chewing at me, but I knew if I could find the 24 and the 48 that we would have an opportunity to race those guys for this championship. Things at the end of the race came into play for us in a positive way."
Continued in part 2