Continued from part 1 KURT BUSCH: WHAT'S THE MOST SIGNIFICANT THING TO BEING CALLED SERIES CHAMP? "This one has its first. This is a tag that Nextel came into our sport to create a new identity around NASCAR racing, to create a...
Continued from part 1
WHAT'S THE MOST SIGNIFICANT THING TO BEING CALLED SERIES CHAMP?
"This one has its first. This is a tag that Nextel came into our sport to create a new identity around NASCAR racing, to create a playoff system to where you have to be a driver and a team to persevere over anything that happens in a 10-race playoff. If one or two bad things happen and your finish isn't that great, it somewhat takes your chances away, but if you're able to go for the win in every race and beat the best of the best - 10 guys for 10 races - and to be put up with the likeliness of other names that have come up through our sport as champions, it means so much to me and to give Jack his first Nextel Cup championship, to win the first one for Nextel.
"I know there's gonna be so much work ahead of me that will create a stronger identity for the 97 team and what Jimmy Fennig has put together. I look at it as a team effort, but in the history book it's my name. I know Jimmy looks at that. I know that Jack looks at that and I look at the others that have come through our ranks - to be a champion and to put together races and to put together an effort, it was all different in the past. This was the first one in the new era of Nextel as our series sponsor. To win this championship, it's unparalleled to anything that's ever happened in motorsports because of what it took as far as an approach to win this."
CAN YOU ADDRESS THE MATURITY IT TOOK TO RE-FOCUS AFTER THE WHEEL FELL OFF?
"I believe at that point in the race it was time to either shape up or ship out, and I wanted the team to rally behind everyone of themselves and to know that we had no more room for mistakes. And to have that circumstance of the wheel falling off, something that I've never had before, to have the miscommunication on what we were going to do as far as our pit stop, it was so early enough in the race, even if we have that towards the latter part of the race and didn't have the outcome that we would've had, it's a team effort. We got to this point because we're a team, and we were going to win this thing or lose this thing because we were a team. There wasn't going to be any finger pointing. I would take all responsibility because the media would've been on my shoulders afterwards. It is a great thing that our team pulled together today, and what I learned from these individuals sitting to my right that I've been able to piece things together to know what it takes to be a champion."
IS IT TRUE THAT KURT COMPLETELY MAINTAIN HIS COMPOSURE?
"Yeah. Kurt has been doing an awesome job on these last 10 races. We ended up spinning out a couple, he kept his cool, come back and we got a nice top-five finish. He just calmed down, everything's been cool. We have a long way to go, and at the end the results show it. So, he's been doing an awesome job at that. I think I probably get a little bit madder on the box - you can ask Jack about last week at Darlington. It's a big team effort. One guy makes a mistake, we go help that guy, and we all stand behind, nobody points fingers like Kurt says."
ONLY DRIVERS GET ASKED ABOUT PRESSURE. GIVEN EVERYTHING THAT WAS AT STAKE TODAY, DID YOU FEEL ANY ADDITIONAL PRESSURE FOR YOU AND THE CREW?
"I kind of had meetings every Sunday with the crew guys and the pit-crew guys, and we go over what needs to be done, and we kind of just say do like we've been doing to get us to this point. I kind of joke around a little bit, keep 'em relaxed, but there is pressure on them guys. They gotta perform, they know they have to perform, but throughout our meetings we just say do what you did to get this points, and that's what those guys do."
AFTER TAKING SO MANY YEARS TO WIN YOUR FIRST CHAMPIONSHIP, YOU'VE NOW WON TWO IN A ROW. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR EMOTIONS?
"Well, we're two for 18, that's 11 percent, that's not very high. I did a little better than that before I started stock-car racing, and I expected to. But, we are on our way. That's two out of 18, and it's not zero for 18. With what Kurt's able to do now, what Jimmy's able to do - you are going to give me some more years, aren't you Jimmy?"
"Yeah, I'm not done yet."
"Jimmy built a new house. I've been waiting for the letter. He says he was going to go the way of the dodo bird. Anyway, we've got a long time with Kurt here. I'm sure he's going to go at least 20, 30 years longer. I hope that I'll be around to see most of that, and we expect to win lots of championships with Kurt.
"Of course, Greg's still got his championship in front of him, Mark has got one more shot at it, Matt Kenseth's got his teeth whetted on it, and Carl Edwards, what can you say about Carl? So, we're real excited to go compete for a championship every year, and with the way NASCAR has got the thing for the 10-race deal, if you can salt the field with two or three strong horses like we had this year, you've got a better chance to win a championship than you really did under the old scenario. The thing that I'm sure will be talked about and lamented over is the fact that Jimmie Johnson had this organized - it was a cakewalk for him if it had been under the old situation. But, putting them all together 50 points apart is like throwing 'em under a blanket and we just want to have all of our guys in there, if we can."
HOW DOES IT FEEL TO WIN YOUR FIRST CHAMPIONSHIP AFTER SO MANY YEARS IN THE SPORT?
"It feels good. I always say it don't really matter because I've enjoyed myself over these years, I've won races, but today is a special day. Winning the championship, my very first championship, with Kurt Busch and Jack Roush and the Sharpie team, it'll sink in pretty hard tomorrow, but I feel good about it."
MORE ON THE CHAMPIONSHIP.
"The reason I say that is because I'm fortunate enough to be doing what I love to do, and that's go racin'. That's all I did all my life, and I've been pretty successful at it. So if I didn't win the championship, I was going to walk away with a smile anyway. But, like I say, this one is going to be special to me, and hopefully I can keep doing this another 10 years, keep following Jack."
WHEN THE WHEEL CAME OFF, WERE YOU CONCERNED ABOUT DAMAGE TO THE BRAKES, OR SOMETHING LIKE THAT?
"Number one, you want to make sure the sheet metal is okay because we're playing in a very aerodynamic day now. The next thing that came to my mind was why it came off, because I've got to fix why it came off so we can continue on. That's all I thought about was, why? Kurt said he had brakes so I knew we were going to be alright there, but really concerned me and we kept kicking the spacer around, and I showed Jack and everything else, and we still couldn't figure out why, and to this time right now, I still can figure out why. No, I wasn't concerned about the camber or nothing else, because the wheel just came off. It ended up landing on the sway bar. We have little short pieces on the sway bar for flat tires, for rubbing, to handle that problem."
YOUR BROTHER KYLE WAS PRETTY DISTRAUGHT AT ATLANTA, PHOENIX AND LAST WEEK AT DARLINGTON. HOW MUCH WERE YOU THERE TO HELP BOOST HIM UP, AFTER HE CAME CLOSE TO WINNING A CHAMPIONSHIP?
"One thing that we have done as brothers is we have stuck together no matter what we get involved in. It was evident to me that he thought that blood was thicker than business when the championship form started, and he was torn in so many different directions when this race finally came down to the end. And, of course, what he went through after Martinsville, to have Ricky Hendrick so close to him as a car owner. I went up to him - I'm not much of a mentor just yet as far as at looking at different types of life scenarios, but as far as race car and focus of what you have to do in a car, I tried to give him as much advice as I could and tried to calm his nerves and to ease his pain. And just as all the racing community was down, and felt the effects of what happened to Hendrick Motorsports. If there was any piece we could get from our championship to help sooth their needs over at Hendrick Motorsports then I'd like to do so. And Kyle was one that branched me to them, and knowing how tough this was to go through as a racing community."
DO YOU STILL HAVE A HOLE IN YOUR HEART FOR MARK MARTIN, WHO IS STILL SEEKING HIS CHAMPIONSHIP?
"Mark is a true champion, and Mark and I were holding hands, saying it would be fine for either one of us or for us together not to win a championship. We thought we'd been doing the right thing, and we were happy with the success we had, and it was enough. But, Mark, based on the way he raced the IROC cars and all the championships he had there and the Busch cars and all the races he won there, he deserves a championship in NASCAR's top series. It's one of the things I feel bad about when I go to bed every night that with another owner he probably would've had a couple of 'em by now, and I've held him back and that really bothers me. But we'll do our best effort to put him in a car that can win next year and then we'll go look for trucks and whatever's left."
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR PERSONALITY, AND WHAT KIND OF CHAMPION WILL YOU BE?
"This is a new look and a new face for NASCAR, and I'm a driver that that likes to go back to tradition and go to the heritage of our sport, and I hope I'm able to link the two together to create an identity of new fans as well as keep the old fans interested in what we've done as a new format. To be a leader in what we can do in NEXTEL, the possibilities are endless and I am more ambitious and willing to do anything for them to help create what they want out of this program. And to be a champion, the first of NEXTEL, the second in a row for Jack Roush, the first for Jimmy Fenning, and the first for the 97 Sharpie/IRWIN racing team, there are so many people that I represent that any time that I speak or anytime that I show up for a type of appearance there will be people affected, and hopefully people that are turned on to our sport more so than what they were before as well as follow our team in more depth."
DO YOU THINK YOU WON SOME FANS OVER WITH THE CHAMPIONSHIP, AND COULD YOU TALK ABOUT THE REACTION OF THE FANS DURING DRIVER INTRODUCTIONS?
"That's what's great about our sport. The fans are entitled to root and to pull against anybody they want to, and to be in a situation such as mine, the underdog, somebody that came up in this new format, new system, to be able to come up to the top, maybe too quickly, through my career as well, relatively unknown, just a different look, I guess, from the West Coast, and to race too hard too early, wrinkle those fenders and to crumble the spirits of some of those fans, this is definitely a bullet point in my career that will help some of them realize that I'm not such a bad guy, I guess. It's been fun to go up against the likes of Dale Earnhardt, Jr., to against the favorites of Jeff Gordon, and of course the favorite, Jimmie Johnson, with so many wins in these final 10 races as well as what they had as a racing family to go through. I always look back to these two individuals to my side, and they're the ones that pull me through any circumstance that I see, and the way the fans react, I hope that it's more of a positive outcome because I need to do my job as a champion to lead NEXTEL into their second year."
HOW IS YOUR BACKGROUND HELPFUL OR URTFUL TO YOUR CAREER?
"It was the rise to come up from one series to the next, with not spending a certain amount of time, learning the bad habits of what that series had within it or not developing the rapport with the drivers. Jack moved me straight into Cup, with only one year, six months, of truck experience, and to go from the bullrings and the Saturday short tracks out in Las Vegas and relatively unknown to the truck world, then completely unknown to the Cup world, every single of my mistakes were up at this elite level, and that's one thing that I did wrong. Maybe I should've waited another year in truck, maybe I should've done a year in Busch, but one thing I'm able to say and it's because I'm in this position today is that we continued to race hard, we continued to learn hard lessons, and the knowledge that I have about race cars is fed from my father, it translated right into Jack's frame of mind, the way that he approaches race cars and the way that he builds his teams. I was a racer at heart, that's all I wanted to do was race, and I didn't understand the bigger picture, so the results came quick, but the rough edges of the other things were a bit more magnified."