KURT BUSCH (No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Dodge Charger R/T)
YOU HAVE A NEW CHASSIS THIS WEEKEND, HOW CHALLENGING IS THAT FOR A DRIVER? “We just have to continue to grow as a team and try new things. Whether it’s a small change like a spring or a sway bar or if it’s a big thing like a chassis design, we’re trying what we can to make our Dodges better. We know that that Fords are showing strength this year. They’ve definitely upped their game. The Hendrick guys are always tough; of course the Gibbs guys are running (well). RCR is very strong. We’re right in that mix, but we just need to find that edge, that little edge that’s going to get us on top to where we can run up front, lead laps and win races. New chassis designs come along and we just have to commit to them, go with it and see if we can make it the best effort we can when we do that.
“It’s chassis design; it’s the structural design so to speak. They take these cars to different rigs and twist them, turn them and pull them. We try to find the right combination to utilize the tires that we’re given and maintain the tire integrity and not burn the tires off too soon. I’ve noticed that our Penske cars seem to qualify well; we just seem to struggle halfway through the race with making good adjustments or finding that grip. It can be something simple as the chassis too stiff or too soft, so we’re trying new things.”
WHAT IS THE AREA MOST NEEDED TO IMPROVE YOUR CAR? “There are different areas all over the place that you always have to continue to look at and evaluate. If we don’t have an “A” or an “A-plus” in that category, we need to work on it. I would say with where we are in our chassis design and our front end, the ability to get our front end to turn is where we’re struggling the most. Whether it’s at a big track like Texas or a small track like Martinsville, we seem to have some common themes with getting the front end to turn and that’s what we’re fighting. That’s what we’re trying to do. Chassis design is one of the areas where we’re reaching out and trying to find something new.
“We’re looking for new things. With the way that Brad Keselowski ran in his Nationwide car last year, we’re trying to bridge over some of that success from that front end design into our Cup car. It’s just really different to do that because we’re on bump stops with the Cup car whereas you’re on springs over on the Nationwide tour. We’re trying to figure it out. We’re a competitive team, but you always have to keep looking for that edge. It’s an area where if you just don’t think that you have an “A-plus”, then you have to change it to be that “A”. It could be the engine department, guys jumping over the wall. It could be different rear end camber issues; lots of things.”
ARE THE CHARLOTTE RACES STILL THE DATES TO IDENTIFY WHAT TEAMS WILL BE VYING FOR THE CHASE? “You can say that. That would be 10 races in (the season) and then there are only 16 more to go to see if you’re going to make the Chase or not. I’ve always looked at how it works to get through Talladega. Right now, you’re looking at your top 10. Guys who have wins are almost locked into the Chase. A guy like Kevin Harvick with two wins, I would say pencil him in. He’s good to go for the Chase because he has those two wins. The way that the points structure themselves now, you either have to be in the top 10 or have wins.
“There’s guys like McMurray, he’s have terrible luck. (It’s) the same with a guy like Denny Hamlin. (Juan Pablo) Montoya can win at a couple of road course races and work himself into the Chase. So with the way that the wins work now, you can be in a panic in 18th, 20th in points, but gamble on fuel and that’s what’s going to make our summer stretch exciting – to see what guys are going to go for those wins. If you do, you’ve got a shot at the championship just 10 weeks later.”
WHERE HAVE YOU SEEN THE IMPROVEMENT IN YOU CAR THIS YEAR? HOW DO YOU KEEP YOU TEMPER IN CHECK AT A SMALL TRACK LIKE RICHMOND? “We find improvement all the time, especially these next few weeks with our testing schedule. We’re going to hit Indianapolis, Gresham Motorsports Park and Road Atlanta. We’ve got three tests in three weeks coming up. We’re just trying to move forward and not sit still. You always have to keep looking, whether it’s front end geometry, whether it’s a road course, getting that forward bite. You name it; we’re out there working hard for it.
We find improvement all the time, especially these next few weeks with our testing schedule.
“When you come to a short track, tempers are easier to flare at a short track compared to the big mile-and-a-halves. It’s Saturday night short-track racing. That’s what it’s all about. That’s what our sport is based off of. Guys who have conflicts with each other or (have) that genuine rivalry, these are great styles of tracks to let it rip and bang door-to-door and bumper-to-bumper.
“For us, we’ve just gained small things here and there. We just haven’t quite hit on any big categories. We could rank most of our equipment, personnel, everything in the “A” category. We have to get over that hump to make sure everything is an “A-plus”.
HAS YOUR EQUIPMENT CHANGED THAT MUCH FROM THE FIRST RACE OF THE SEASON? “I don’t feel like we’re lacking that much. I just think that it’s finding that edge. When you find success in this garage, it’s because you know that you have a distinct advantage with something. The Fords can say that it’s their motors right now or the way that they’ve changed their front end geometry. They struggled for two years. Now they have that edge. They’re the tough guys to beat each and every week. What I’m looking for in my car is that feel that creates that wider zone for being tight or being loose. I’m just on a razor’s edge. When you’re on that edge, you have to wheel the car, there’s no way around it. You have to pull the old Fred Flintstone, stick your feet out the bottom and carry that thing around. To have teammates like Keselowski who’s a young and eager kid trying to push hard and learn new things about these Cup cars because he has the success on the Nationwide, it takes a little bit of time. I’ve raced with guys like David Stremme at Penske (and guys) like Ryan Newman. And to be the lead guy and to outrun those guys each and every week, we know we have to get the equipment better. We just can’t say that Kurt’s doing good, we’re satisfied. We need to have the 2 car in the top 10 in points with us knocking on the door for wins each week. Right now, we’re just piecing together top-10 runs, but we want to be better.
“When I was over there (Roush Racing), Jack (Roush) would come in and throw anvils around. The way that Roger Penske does things is use a feather and just polishes things here and there. When you commit to go a certain route with five teams, either the other teams that are supported by Roush’s chassis and Ford, you commit to go a long way. At Penske, it’s little changes here and there. I don’t’ think that we’re going to find ourselves in a deep hole anywhere, it’s just that we’re tying to uncover small rocks one at a time.”
IS THERE ANY EXTRA EMPHASIS ON LEARNING HERE AT RICHMOND BECAUSE IT’S THE LAST RACE BEFORE THE CHASE? “Every track that is part of the Chase, those 10 races that are a part of the Chase and of course this one – make this the 11th one – are very important in the spring time. You have to learn and be on top of your game. This is a new left-side tire, a tire from Phoenix. It’s almost like every week we’re playing Russian roulette with the tires with what we’re going to get. This is a new left-side. We’ll see how it shakes out. We had a top-10 run at Phoenix. You’ll use some of those notes and to try and blend in for this race. It’s very important to get all the information that you can from the tracks in the spring that are part of the Chase tracks in the fall.”
For our team, we need to go up there and help Goodyear pick the best tire that we possibly can...
WHAT DO YOU EXPECT FROM THE INDY TIRE TEST? “We’ve struggled at Indy over the years. I finished 10th there last fall, but that was my first top-10 in a few years. With that diamond –surface, whatever they’ve done to that surface to change it around, I’ve struggled with. I’m looking forward for a competitive tire that shows durability.
“For our team, we need to go up there and help Goodyear pick the best tire that we possibly can so that it’s a good show, a durable tire, and we can all be proud for what we did for the tire test. At the same time, I hope to make a lot of laps. I hope that I’m worn out after those two days of just making laps and setups that will help us.”
DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU’RE A TOP-FIVE TEAM OR CLINGING TO A CHASE SPOT? “With one top-five finish, that’s not enough. With five top-10s out of eight races, that’s pretty good. Our worse finish is Talladega and that’s 18th. I was running second with five laps to go, it’s crazy how that track can go either way. We survived Talladega. We had a competitive car to win, that’s that tough part. And then there’s other days where we’ve finished sixth or seventh and we’ll go, ‘wow, we had a 15th-place car’. We just need more top-fives to our statistics and we’ll feel better about our program.”
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST DARLINGTON EXPERIENCE LIKE? “Darlington, what an amazing track. How fast it is in (turns) one and two and how slow it is in (turns) three and four. My first time there, I actually slopped my way into the pole. I slopped into the pole because it was a 95-degree day, Labor Day weekend back then, and the way that the heat was, I didn’t understand that you needed to slow down when it’s hot out. I thought that you could still hold it wide open through Turn 2 and I accidentally did and beat Jeff Gordon for the pole. My first time, qualifying, Turn 2 at Darlington was one of the most exhilarating experiences because I was able to hold it wide open through there when you weren’t supposed to. It’s a sense of being young and dumb and not realizing the exact reality of how fast you can go through a corner. The exhilaration when I jumped on the back straightaway of, ‘wow, I am going so fast. I’m heading into Turn 3 and I just need to slow it down and not overdrive (Turns) 3 and 4.’ What was funny is that Jeff Gordon and I talked and he said, ‘here, I let you lead the first lap because we need to get single-file.’ Just yield and Jeff said he’d go right on by me. Well, I led the first 67 laps and he didn’t expect that. It was just one of those unique weekends, being a rookie and not understanding a lot about the track and just kind of going off of gut instinct.”
-source: dodge motorsports