This Week in Ford Racing November 9, 2004 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 97 Sharpie/IRWIN Taurus, holds a 41-point lead over second-place Jeff Gordon going into this weekend's Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. Busch,...
This Week in Ford Racing
November 9, 2004
NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series
Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 97 Sharpie/IRWIN Taurus, holds a 41-point lead over second-place Jeff Gordon going into this weekend's Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. Busch, who led the most laps during a sixth-place finish at Darlington in March, was this week's guest on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series teleconference.
KURT BUSCH - No. 97 Sharpie/IRWIN Taurus
ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO DARLINGTON?
"Darlington has always been a good track for me to enjoy the racing surface and just the overall atmosphere at that race track. What I mean by that is the chance to race the race track and try to tame the Lady in Black. It's been a great track for me qualifying and racing, it just hasn't produced the types of finishes that we're capable of and this time around is a good indication that it's time for one of those finishes because of, obviously, the points situation and just the way we've been running as of late."
DO YOU JUST GO IN AND RACE YOUR RACE?
"This race track is definitely different from the other race tracks in the final 10 races. It's a chance to isolate yourself from all the outside circumstances and just to allow yourself to invite your setup to the race track and make sure that you race just the race track and not the other race cars."
WHO IS IN THE DRIVER'S SEAT FOR THE TITLE WITH TWO RACES LEFT?
"I'd have to go with a vote towards the 97 team, obviously. With the way we've been competitive at some of the short tracks as well as the speedways and just being able to outrace the competitors, whether it's been the 48, the 24, the 8. Each week we look at the statistics at the end of the race to know who we outraced and we've done our job on the race track, except for that one hiccup at Atlanta. So with our hiccups out of the way, as well as everybody else's, it's now a fresh slate for these final two races because now it just seems like we've got less and less competitors to look at and less and less competitors to beat out on the race track. So it just makes our job easier with Darlington being this weekend - a track where we get to race the race track and not worry about our competition."
ARE YOU FOCUSING ON WHAT YOU NEED TO DO AND NOT WORRY ABOUT OTHER THINGS?
"You hope that each and every time you jump behind the wheel it's gonna be a smooth day with a qualifying effort that is top 10, with a race strategy that allows you to take four tires on each time and not have to worry about pit strategy. But when those kind of things happen it's a matter of a well-developed team to adjust to those and my team right now has been able to overcome quite a bit of different set of circumstances, whether it was last week or whether it was Charlotte, just being able to adapt to all of those changes is what it takes to win a championship of this caliber and our team has done that thus far."
CAN YOU COMPARE YOUR SITUATION TO MATT'S FROM LAST YEAR?
"It's definitely a different type of mentality and a different focus on what has to be done to win this championship, but, yet, you can take bullet points from what my teammate, Matt Kenseth, did last year and that's to race smart and to be consistent, and when you have an opportunity to turn a bad day back into a good day you have to overcome those. Kenseth is a very strong competitor and the way he approaches each of his races is something that we look forward to doing and the true competitor within me wants to go and win every race that I engage in, but with these final races setting up the way that they are it's gonna take that, it's not gonna take a conservative role. That's what Matt Kenseth was able to do last year. This time around you've got to be on your toes and you have to race each lap at your best ability and, of course, forecast what's coming up next. Just looking ahead trying to stay ahead of the chase and knowing what's coming up next and that's what it's gonna take - somebody that's able to have an advantage over the other competitors and see things that haven't quite come up just yet."
THERE'S NO SCENARIO FOR YOU TO CLINCH LIKE MATT HAD LAST YEAR.
"No, nothing at all like that. It's a great challenge to know that you have to come to the race track each week and try to win, and then if that isn't foreseeable, then you have to make the best finish that you possibly can. After Darlington, there will be statistics like that that come up as far as what we have to do to either add to our point tally or the finish that we have to obtain so that the others can't catch us. It's been a great battle thus far to be on top of our game in this playoff. It's been a fun and thrilling experience and we know that there's a little bit more work to be done."
HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH BOOING FROM THE CROWD?
"The template has been set forth for us to look at with Dale Earnhardt, Sr., of course, being the number one recipient of the different views and personalities of the fans. Jeff Gordon came in as a young star and didn't necessarily turn the world of racing upside-down, but really posted results that rivaled those of great names that took 30 years to develop. So he's done that in such a short amount of time. We've had success on the track at Bristol - a track that the fans are very close to the heart of racing - and being able to win four out of the last five races there has proved that we've done our job as far as race results and being able to compete with the best of the group that's out there. But yet the fans want to see somebody else win and, of course, there are other circumstances that have come up but it's something we're not really worried about. It's great that we're acknowledged and that there are a ton of fans wearing the yellow and blue Irwin colors out in the grandstands as well as the 97 numbers on their hats. It's a great rivalry that NASCAR has that many sports don't and that's a chance for the fans to root for 43 guys instead of just two teams."
DO YOU FEEL YOU GET A FAIR SHAKE FROM THE FANS OR DO YOU FEEL LIKE JEFF GORDON - A YOUNG GUY WHO HAS COME IN AND WON A LOT OF RACES SO THERE'S RESENTMENT FROM THAT.
"Yeah, there is that background that most of our NASCAR fans have of the solid Southern roots. Even when we go out to the west coast tracks you see those fans come and travel out to those races and you see the west coast fans travel to the east coast races. It's a great blend. I really don't feel as if we've been pinpointed to be one of those representatives of they yea's or boo's, it's just a feeling that you get that people are recognizing you and that you've won races in the past and they think that you're a threat out on the track each week."
IS THE CHASE ON YOUR MIND ALL THE TIME?
"That's the challenge that I knew we would have to undertake with this playoff-type system. We've got a regular season now of 26 races, where some teams do better one set of race tracks versus another set of race tracks, but we knew that the final outcome of the championship this year was gonna rely heavily on these final 10 races, so we've saved our tests and saved all of our people. Everybody is fresh. We've got the best cars possibly built. We've tried to eliminate the outside elements so that we can be solely focused on this championship effort - 100 percent every day, every lap, every track. We've got to be on our game and make sure that we're able to achieve the success that we want to this year."
DURING THE WEEK DO YOU THINK ABOUT IT A LOT?
"It's in my answer from before - it's every day, every track, every lap - you have to stay focused on what's at hand. Today I'm meeting with Jack Roush and Jimmy Fennig and what we can do these next couple of weeks. Tomorrow is a day where I'll be spending time with the crew and working together with the shock guy or the tire guy going over our test notes from Miami - preparing for that race. There's a certain amount of hours each day that I spend on this task, and then there are a couple of other hours here or there where I'll go and indulge myself into something else just to relieve some of the tension and not to focus on it too much."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT DARLINGTON AND DO YOU THINK IT'S STRANGE HOW THE TRACK IS REFERRED TO AS A 'SHE'?
"That's the respect that Darlington has gained over the years. Throughout time people develop a rapport with certain race tracks and certain cars even. Darlington, being that it was the first superspeedway for cars back in the fifties with speeds of over 130 miles an hour, it was just unheard of for stock cars. Today, to generate 185 miles an hour around a race track that was configured back then is phenomenal, it's mind boggling to be able to do such a thing. What they mean by the Lady in Black is that the speeds just aren't comparable for that type of track. When you do step out of line just one little bit, the track bites you. It's a common, easy way to respect the race track and to know that you were bit by the race track because it's not meant for these type of speeds. It's a nice way to let the race track know that it definitely has earned its respect over the years."
HAVING TO BE ON THE TOP OF YOUR GAME, DOES THAT MAKE DARLINGTON THAT MUCH MORE DIFFICULT?
"That's one way you can look at it and then the other way to really approach this race is that it's a driver's race track and you are in control of your race car - knowing that you're the one that's taking care of your tires and you really don't have to race anybody individually. You're just there to race the Lady in Black."
HOW DIFFERENT WILL THE TRACK BE WITH THE RACE FINISHING UNDER THE LIGHTS?
"We know that normally when tracks go underneath a change such as that with cooler track conditions as well as the asphalt surface not being hit by the sun it provides for a greater amount of speed. That'll be another fun element to add into Darlington, knowing that you're always on the ragged edge already, and then we'll probably spend two or maybe three hours staring at the sun going down the back straightaway. That'll be another element that will be new and a change from what's been there in the past. It's a great race track. I know there are gonna be some lighting questions because we run right up against the wall and what types of shadows are we gonna see, whether it's in turn two or all the way through three and four when the sun sets. There are gonna be so many new and unique elements that I'm really looking forward to the race and being able to adapt to all of those changes and being the first guy that adapts to it the best."
Continued in part 2