This Week in Ford Racing August 24, 2004 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 97 Sharpie/IRWIN Taurus, heads to Bristol Motor Speedway this weekend looking for his fourth straight victory and fifth in the last six at the ...
This Week in Ford Racing
August 24, 2004
NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series
Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 97 Sharpie/IRWIN Taurus, heads to Bristol Motor Speedway this weekend looking for his fourth straight victory and fifth in the last six at the half-mile bullring. Busch, who is sixth in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series point standings, was this week's guest on the national teleconference.
KURT BUSCH - No. 97 Sharpie/IRWIN Taurus
YOU MUST BE THRILLED GOING BACK TO BRISTOL.
"Things are going well in the Sharpie camp and every time we get a chance to look forward to Bristol, obviously, the team gets pumped up about the event and, of course our sponsor, Sharpie, always gets excited because they get to do extra things around that event. Again, it's that season where kids get to go back to school and the Sanford products are flying off the shelves. So it's a timely fashion for advertising and it's a timely fashion to try to pick up a win."
HOW DO YOU FEEL GOING INTO THIS RACE WITH THE POINTS SITUATION BEING WHAT IT IS?
"With the new chase for the cup, Nextel has brought in great excitement around this time in the season with the point situation. It normally never comes down to looking around at the 11th or 15th-place teams around a Bristol event and that's gonna make what we forecasted about this excitement on the new point system so strenuous about this race because anything can happen at Bristol. You can wind up in the inside fence with just one small little bump, or when somebody checks up in front of you and you pop a hole in the radiator. The mechanical side of things is gonna have to be the most important aspect of this event - just being able to finish. That's the mindset that I take into all the Bristol races - just trying to focus on making sure that I take care of the 97 Ford and dodge all the different wrecks out on the race track. If I'm in a position to win at the end, we'll go for it but I go there just to survive."
WHAT ABOUT YOUR PERSONAL COMFORT LEVEL WITH WHERE YOU ARE IN POINTS?
"Things right now, I look at the top five and I'd say they're locked in with their opportunities to gain points or to lose points. The guys that are sixth through tenth, obviously, have to race hard. And the guys that are 11th through 15th have to have everything go their way as well as somebody have a bad day in front of them. We're one of those teams that can't afford a bad day. We've got some cushion in case we miss the setup that we'll still run competitively to gain points, but Bristol is by no means a track that we're gonna miss the setup on as well as the California Speedway - the race after it - and then of course with preparations for Richmond. That's the final race where we get locked in for this Nextel chase for the cup. So things are good for us as far as the tracks we've got coming up, it's just a matter of dodging any of those unforeseen circumstances that come up."
YOU AND YOUR BROTHER COULD WIN TITLES THIS YEAR. HOW WOULD YOUR DAD REACT?
"That would be fantastic. He's a great mentor to both of us and he's been able to relish in our success just in the short amount of time thus far. He spends a good deal of time with Kyle helping his career - with Kyle being new to the whole professional program. My dad hangs out over there quite often, but he's still able to give me some insight on what he sees with my racing - just as a coach would throughout any player's career. My dad is an integral part of what I do on the race track as well as off the race track, and he's able to smile every day knowing that we're having fun enjoying our jobs and going out to race for a living. It's still a great relationship that the two of us share with my father."
ANY SPECIAL MEMORIES OF WATCHING YOUR DAD RACE?
"Definitely. He went to a division called Dwarf cars back in 1991, which are just little motorcycle-powered cars that you'd run on dirt tracks all around America. The series began to gain momentum in the early nineties and he went to Phoenix, Arizona. They had the national championship down there at Manzanita Speedway and it was the first race I ever got in the pits. I kind of hid in the hauler. I was 14 years old and I got to stand in the infield and watch him race and he became the national champion that year. I remember just sitting on the fence, the pit wall, watching the race. The preliminary races were going on and we sat there and my dad said, 'There is no way I can keep up with these guys.' And here I am just a kid saying, 'Dad, you're just as fast. You're just as fast.' And he was able to become the national champion that year, but that was the first-ever race I got to sneak into the pits."
HOW DO YOU ACCOUNT FOR THREE STRAIGHT WINS AT BRISTOL?
"It's a daunting task to say the least. Each time I go there I don't expect to win and I don't expect to run bad. It's just a matter of controlling the most that you can within your car. Yeah, it's difficult to forecast when somebody spins and wrecks in front of you which way to go because you have to make those split decisions so quickly. Just being able to absorb the information out in front of you is key at Bristol, whether it's a car you've got to pass or whether it's a different stage in the race. If it's early in the race, you're more conservative. If it's later in the race and somebody is faster than you, it is difficult to keep a car behind you because they can move you out of the way. So the philosophy for me is to do the best job that I can and by doing so it allows me to focus and stay ahead of the game."
DOES THE SPOTTER AT BRISTOL BECOME MORE IMPORTANT THERE THAN ANY OTHER PLACE?
"The spotter is a key element that you have to have and everybody has to be flowing in the same direction. Everybody has to be clicking on the right moves with the spotter relaying information, but he can't be overriding the crew chief who is trying to give me setup information. Of course when a yellow comes out there, you've only got maybe 15 to 20 seconds to decide what to change on the car for a pit stop. So there's constant communication between the spotter and the driver, and then I've got to relay information back to the crew chief. All of us have to be on the same page so that we can stick together and pull the weight that we all need to pull."
HAS IT HELPED TO HAVE YOUR FAMILY LIVING IN NORTH CAROLINA?
"It's great that we're all close again. We all used to live in Las Vegas, but then I moved away to Michigan to run with the Craftsman Truck Series team for Jack Roush. They moved down to North Carolina with the Cup program. Kyle was given an opportunity in North Carolina, so it's great to have all of us back together and living fairly close. Out on some land, where dad gets to be a farmer every now and then, we get to smile and enjoy times outside the race track again. We haven't had that the past few years, so it may have eased my mind on a couple days of the week to have everybody close and to know that they're gonna be around. But it's this professional world of chasing a dream and having to travel around to all the different race tracks and to go and race against all of these different competitors, it's great to see a familiar face when you come home or when you have a chance to come out to the land."
DID YOU THROW OUT A FIRST PITCH FOR THE CUBS?
"Yes sir. I had that opportunity, I believe, back in 2002. I got the team together and after our race in Chicago we went down to a Monday night game. The Chicago Cubs invited me out. We had great tickets to sit out in the bleachers and I was able to throw out the first pitch. It was a cool team gathering to have everybody there and to have no worries about work for the day. We asked Jimmy Fennig if we could have the day off and it was great just to have everybody together and throw out the first pitch."
KYLE IS GOING TO DO THAT FOR THE BRAVES. ANY ADVICE?
"He played Little League baseball for a few years just as I did and it's almost as nerve-wracking as starting your first race at Daytona for the season so he's got his work cut out for him. But it's the Atlanta Braves, it's not the Chicago Cubs (laughing)."
HOW DID YOU LIKE THE PAINTING CALIFORNIA SPEEDWAY GAVE YOU?
"That was a fantastic piece of artwork and what he's referring to is a great artist rendition of the Sharpie car crossing the start-finish line with the checkers in hand in front of Wrigley Field. It was a great collage of the two passions in my life - racing and baseball. The two were combined into one little picture and it's just a fantastic piece that sits in a nice spot in my trophy room. It's just a great piece of artwork that I was given for winning at California Speedway. That speedway is first class with the way they handle different winners throughout the years. To be part of their walk of fame, as well as getting a nice piece of artwork, it worked out pretty good. Our chances of going to California to try and win this time around are high and, of course, I hope to do the best that I can to try to achieve more success at California Speedway because of the great people there."
TWO OF THE NEXT THREE RACES ARE SHORT TRACKS. HOW DO YOU SEE CALIFORNIA SHAPING UP?
"Fontana is one of those common style race tracks where we spend most of our time - the mile-and-a-half to two mile where aerodynamics are key as well as horsepower and the new wave of setups. So there is a lot of work to be done on our side of things to make sure that we're competitive. We have won there in the past, but setups continue to change so rapidly that we've got to stay on our game and make sure we get a good finish out of it. I believe our team is strong enough with the cars that we build and the pit stops on pit road to be able to lock ourselves into this chase for the cup and go after it at Loudon."
ARE THERE OTHER TRACKS YOU FEEL AS COMFORTABLE AS BRISTOL?
"There are quite a few tracks I feel comfortable enough to win such as Bristol, in that quantity, but there are some more tracks that I still believe I need to work on to obtain that type of success. The short-track program for the number 97 Ford has been great in the past few years. When I first started with the program we excelled on the mile-and-a-halves, and it's just the change in technology and the new way of setting cars up. I believe the road courses are tracks that we've done very well at lap time-wise and handling characteristic-wise, but haven't received the finishes that we thought we could have obtained. Sears Point is a track that I had a lot of starts on in the Featherlite Southwest Series and when I go there to qualify we've been top five the last three years, but with just one top-five finish and that's just due to unforeseen circumstances. The road courses and some of the mile race tracks. We did win at Loudon this summer, but in the past I thought we've done real well at Phoenix and Loudon, of course. With the mix of Dover in that mile those are some of the tracks that I feel very confident at every time we go."
Continued in part 2