Homestead: This week in Ford Racing

This Week in Ford Racing November 16, 2004 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 97 Taurus, carries an 18-point lead in the inaugural Chase for the NEXTEL Cup into this Sunday's season-ending Ford 400 as part of Ford ...

This Week in Ford Racing
November 16, 2004

NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series

Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 97 Taurus, carries an 18-point lead in the inaugural Chase for the NEXTEL Cup into this Sunday's season-ending Ford 400 as part of Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Mark Martin, driver of the No. 6 Taurus and one of Busch's Roush Racing teammates, is in fifth place, 82 points off the pace. Both drivers are seeking their first championship, and spoke the points race on a teleconference Tuesday.

KURT BUSCH -97-Sharpie Ford Taurus

WITH THE POINTS RACE BEING SO NERVE-WRACKING AND INTENSE, HAS YOUR CREW CHIEF OR ANYONE ON YOUR CREW DONE ANYTHING TO EASE THE TENSION AND LIGHTEN UP THE MOOD?

"This is one line that I can take from Mark Martin's team, the fact that we've worked with Jimmy Fennig in the past we know what kind of competitor he is. We know how even-keeled and what type of leader he is and that's the inspiration that I want to have within every one of the crew members. Right now with this championship drive for Jimmy Fennig, it feels like we're doing it for Jimmy Fennig and we've got all of this inspiration to do it from him and that's where I bank all of my type of experience to and the veteran-type leader he is. He's the one that's got us in this position and he's the one we're looking up to."

MARK MARTIN -6-Viagra Ford Taurus

WITH THE POINTS RACE BEING SO NERVE-WRACKING AND INTENSE, HAS YOUR CREW CHIEF OR ANYONE ON YOUR CREW DONE ANYTHING TO EASE THE TENSION AND LIGHTEN UP THE MOOD?

"Kurt's in a little bit different position there, but I think he's right on target with his guys. This is Kurt's first time to race for a championship; this is just the first time maybe in Cup. Kurt's got a lot of experience at racing and racing for points and all of that stuff that dates way back before we knew him. For me, we're in really, really good position because we've had such a fantastic year after a disappointing year last year. For us, this is all a bonus to be part of it and to be running so well, I'm just tickled to death to be in this thing and be a contender and we're going to go to Homestead and race for a win and that's what we did last week in Darlington. It was a lot of pressure for us to get into the Chase from where we were, that's where the really, really high pressure was for us. The toughest part of the season was the first 26 races, especially leaving Daytona 43rd."

IN THIS CHASE, YOU SEEM TO BE THE GUY GOING AGAINST ALL OF THE YOUNG KIDS OUT THERE. HOW PLEASED ARE YOU TO RUN THIS WELL AT YOUR AGE AGAINST SOME OF THE YOUNGER COMPETITORS?

"It's incredible. I was afraid 2003 was going to set the tone for the twilight of my career and I was really sick about that. It took a lot of hard work by a Pat Tryson and everybody at Roush Racing to get me in a position where I could go out here and battle these guys. I've got 15 years on most of them and more. I think it's pretty cool. There are some things that I could 15 or 20 years ago that I probably can't do today, but there are some other things that I do pretty well and I'm really honored to be driving the kind of equipment that will put me in the position to be able to race with them."

WHAT COULDN'T YOU DO 15 YEARS AGO THAT YOU CAN DO NOW?

"Well, everyone learns from their experiences and I definitely learned a lot of things through my life's experiences as well as my racing experiences over the years. That sort of weighs in on your judgment."

KURT BUSCH

ARE YOU COMFORTABLE GIVEN HOW FEW COMPETITIVE LAPS YOU HAD AT HOMESTEAD LAST YEAR AND THE POSITON YOU'RE IN THIS YEAR RACING FOUR GUYS FOR THE TITLE?

"It definitely is a disadvantage to have the laps that we made last year come into play this year, but as far as the outlook and the demeanor of our team is to approach this race like it's a brand-new race track, which some teams can do because of the limited history Homestead-Miami Speedway has. With the new banking, it only has one race under its belt, but yet it's changed dramatically from last year with the amount of grip and the level of intensity that this race track is going to have with these final competitors going after the few select amount of points that are available. It's a whole new outlook, the way that you can approach this race and the way that the past history comes into it and just the way that every team tested to their best possible fashion with the best car that they have. This is what NASCAR wanted with this new NEXTEL Chase for Cup, an opportunity for five competitors to come down to the final race and see who is the best man with the best possible finish is going to win the championship."

WHAT DO YOU FEEL MIGHT BE THE SINGLE-MIOST CRITICAL THING IN THIS RACE?

"This is race track that is definitely different from Darlington in the fact that you can race side by side and track position will be important, but it will be a matter of how you protect that track position. Towards the end of the race pit stops can have a heavy impact on how it changes the positions at the end of the race, so we're looking forward to having those consistent pit stops that we had from last week implemented into our program at the end of the day to see if we can come out on top. To gain bonus points throughout the race will be a key because of how tight the championship chased effort is and just being able to execute properly at the end of the race is what it's going to come down to."

HOW ARE YOU FEELING THIS WEEK? ARE YOU ABLE TO SLEEP OK, OR IS THIS STUFF CONSTANTLY ON YOUR MIND?

"It's definitely been a different feeling this week from the previous week and the week leading up to one that was before that one. It's been a great regular season for us to race 26 races somewhat under the radar. In the regular-season approach we did the best possible job I think our team could have done. Knowing that this playoff series was going to be as difficult as it's been to lead the points, to race each race as if it's the last one and the amount of pressure that's come our way and to be able to talk to the media for eight weeks straight by being the points leader is something we prepared ourselves for by just having a cool and relaxed regular season."

ARE YOU COOL AND RELAXED NOW?

"That's the focal point, to be able to balance out the regular stress of the regular season as well as the high-intensity pressure of this playoiff atmosphere. It's been fun to be part of no matter what the outcome is on Sunday, we've brought our team to this level and we've had a tremendous amount of fun to be able to compete like this. If we win the championship, that is the absolute optimum goal and if we come up just a bit short then it doesn't matter to us and we're having fun doing it."

WHAT WAS RACING LIKE IN VEGAS AND DEVELOPING THERE?

"It's definitely a unique opportunity to be able to have the chance to come from the west coast to the primary background of where all of our racing began. To grow up in Vegas, to race some of the dirt tacks in the area and to have the backing of the local track track -Las Vegas Motor Speedway - it was a great opportunity at the time and things fell into place to help my career prosper in the positive direction. The way that the town is a unique town to represent, there are so many things going on all of the time in Las Vegas, it doesn't have the solid following that you would have from being from a small town in North Carolina. I think if we were to obtain the championship and take the trophy back to Vegas, people would be more worried where the next buffet line was or where they could get some free slots than if I brought the championship trophy with me."

MARK MARTIN HAS SAID YOU HAVE TO LOSE A CHAMPIONSHIP AT THE TOP LEVEL BEFORE YOU CAN WIN ONE. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THAT?

"I think I got your question and it's to lose a championship at the top level before you're able to attain one. With our heavy hearts and with the way the NASCAR family has pulled together through this tragedy and the way that we've thrown away a 96-point lead after the Atlanta race, you have so many different emotions and your heart can go in so many different directions. Knowing that you've poured everything that you have in your life out to these race cars and out to the team that is does take years to build that stronger feeling about every situation and what positive experience you can take from anything. To have our motor fail us in Atlanta and to have the 8 car have a problem and the 24, and then to see the 48 come through, there were so many emotions in just that one race. I felt like we threw everything away, but yet some of it was given back to us. And just to have this opportunity again to be able to look at Homestead Speedway and know we have a slight advantage over the competition going into it, I don't feel that we lost it completely at Atlanta, but yet it definitely did feel like we let everything slip through and now we've given a second revival on things."

WITH THE POINTS SO CLOSE, HOW DO YOU EXPECT PEOPLE TO RACE AROUND YOU?

"I expect the racing to stay the same. I believe everybody at this level is very professional and will conduct themselves in that manner. We can't worry about what another driver thinks versus another guy being in a better position. I do have a better position, I could say, with having teammates out on the race track with some of them being in the Chase as well as a couple that aren't in the Chase. Just being able to race your car at the best of your ability and not worry about your competition is the focus, and you have to protect your car. That's what a driver has to do in these final 10 races to obtain the most points at the end of the day is to protect his race car and try to avoid conflicts out on the race track."

Can you talk about the top two or three qualities that make a champion? "I would say that you have to be well-balanced to compete at this level, and if you feel as if you're weak in one area, you look at other drivers and how they handle certain situations or how they've been able to do it in the past. Having such a great teammate as Mark Martin to look up to, it's help me to polish off some of my rough edges and balancing different areas, whether it's communication with the team, the competitiveness of the race track. The other qualities to be able to obtain a championship is to have that drive from within and to have that focus set forth by a leader, and in believe I have that with Jimmy Fennig, and, of course, with Roush Racing. Knowing what they did last year to win the championship, it's just so close to us this year that you have to have another ingredient. I don't know what's more important next, but to be on top going into the final race and to have a controlling position I think is an element that you don't necessarily have from a key player, but it's just a stat. It's something the team arrived at and we have that advantage going into the final race and I believe that's another key ingredient for a championship."

WHAT'S BEEN YOUR MOST MEMOMORABLE CHAMPIONSHIP IN YOU R RACING CAREER AND WHY?

"I'd have to back up to 1999 and it was an opportunity to race in my second year in the Southwest Series with a car owner who embraced me as his son, similar to the way I feel with Jack Roush and Jimmy Fennig, putting together an effort that we go out to win races, to do our best no matter what the outcome is, we get to learn something from it. To have a point in the season that was a turning point, it was very pivotal to where we were second in the championship effort, to win a race out at Sears Point in California, it was just one of those races that you put up on a different stage. You have TV there, you're running a regional series, you've got the Cup owners and drivers watching the race and that changed the way that our team viewed each individual member after that just because we had come up to a different level. It was fun to compete at that level and finish in the top three most of the rest of the year. To win four races in a row at the end of the year, I feel like that's what I'm up against right now with Jimmie Johnson. Just putting together a championship effort is something that is very memorable and to have all of the key ingredients fall into one place and at the right time is what it takes to win one of those. It's something I've done in the past, but, of course, not at this level."

MARK MARTIN

PUT INTO PERSPECTIVE WHAT JIMMIE JOHSNON HAS DONE WITH FOUR WINS IN FIVE RACES.

"It's pretty incredible, considering the competition today. There's just so many teams out there that are capable of winning. Those guys have done it all and they've done it based on performance. There are factors in every race that weigh on who wins the race, but those guys have been incredible. They have been really fast at the beginning of the year and they went through the summer and had a spell where they weren't quite as incredible, but they were still really strong. Then, once the Chase got started, they managed to get really back on a roll. I'm like everybody else in the sport, very impressed with what they've been able to do."

IS HOMESTEAD THE PERFECT NEUTRAL SETTING FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP GIVEN ITS NEWNESS?

"Well, in my opinion it is. Not because we haven't' raced there forever, though, I just think it's the appropriate place for the time of the year. It's a good geographic location for mid-November. It gives you some kind of feel for the start of the season in Daytona and finishing in Homestead somehow or another just feels right. It's really a cool race track. It's really awesome to go race, and I think it's fantastic to end the season up there."

KURT BUSCH

TALK ABOUT YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH JACK ROUSH.

"It's definitely a unique opportunity that doesn't come along very often and for Jack to be in this position for two years in a row is a testament to what he's out together, the effort of the drivers and crew chiefs and the people that he has put behind him to develop that name. It's an awesome program to be part of, and I'm privileged to be in this opportunity. He's given me a chance at a young at to drive competitive NEXTEL Cup cars, and to go forth for this final race, he has his views and his method of how he would approach this race. I have nowhere to look but to his direction, so this is the best possible car and we've got the best possible people and this right now is our finest hour. Whether the outcome is positive or negative, we've definitely been through a lot together and he's taught me everything I know about the professional levels of race cars."

-ford racing-

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Kurt Busch , Jimmie Johnson , Jack Roush , Mark Martin