Continued from part 1. KURT BUSCH DID YOU SPEND THE WHOLE WEEK HERE? "It was just a great vacation in New England. It's not often that you get an off-weekend with the Nextel Cup Series. We've now got 17 straight, 18 straight weeks where ...
Continued from part 1.
DID YOU SPEND THE WHOLE WEEK HERE?
"It was just a great vacation in New England. It's not often that you get an off-weekend with the Nextel Cup Series. We've now got 17 straight, 18 straight weeks where you're gonna be competing and it was good to take a break and to go back to what you would call your Saturday night roots of running a Late Model race. That's what I did. Kenseth and I both ran in that Oxford 250 and it's a great touch to do once a year - to get back to your roots and to sign millions of autographs with all the pit passes that people get and to pack the stands. They said they haven't had a grandstand sellout like that since the early eighties. That meant a lot to Kenseth and I - to be able to bring that much excitement to the New England area and that's a track Bob Bahre built such as New Hampshire International Speedway."
IS YOUR CONTROVERSIAL ASPECT GONE AND DO YOU THINK FANS ARE EMBRACING YOU MORE?
"Each race track is a different challenge and to be able to absorb the fans' reaction is another challenge. Being from the southwest, you see things that the southeast doesn't see or that the northeast wants to cheer for you in a different direction. It's a fun challenge at every race track that we go to, to try to win. Whether it's appreciated or not, it's competition. It's the value of this sport. It always starts off rough when you're a rookie, whether you wrinkle somebody's fender the wrong way. I picked the biggest guy to pick on and that probably wasn't the right thing to do, but you learn from those circumstances and it's fun to be able to come away with a win like today where you didn't expect anything to really happen. At Bristol, we might expect things to happen. I'd just expect to survive, but wins like today help the fans gain more knowledge about Irwin Industrial Tools - our sponsor - and the driver who was able to win on a short track or flat track or banked track and have some fun. I'm a guy that likes to go and compete hard. My tenacity might not match what is should have when I first came into the series and I've been able to make some changes to that and try to achieve success everywhere we go now."
CAN YOU COMPARE THE IMPORTANCE OF WINNING AGAINST THE IMPORTANCE OF SALVAGING A GOOD FINISH?
"Each race they give us an opportunity to pass cars or to have pitfalls in the pits. When there's a number of laps that you have to deal with, you learn to pace yourself, whether you're first and you lead each lap until somebody comes up and passes you. Then it's a whole different game than when you're coming from 32nd up to the lead. We continued to work on our car and make it better, whereas Newman may have thought he had a great car and didn't make adjustments. We were able to get by him. They usually hand out points right after the checkered flag falls and that's where you have to be competitive."
IT'S BEEN ROUGH SINCE BRISTOL. DID YOU FEEL SECURE IN THE TOP 10 OR THAT IT WAS SLIPPING AWAY?
"It was time to go. We looked at it as a position that we didn't necessarily deserve to be in or didn't want to be in. What better place than the track you're gonna start the chase for the cup than to get everybody kicked into high gear. It was just one circumstance after the next. We had a mechanical issue at Sonoma and then backed it up with a top-five at Daytona. Then we had a guy get a flat tire in front of us at Chicago. It's just the rollercoaster that this series provides for a driver to overcome, a crew chief, a crew member and an owner to deal with all the circumstances. We're a team that can run strong. We just have to make sure the bad days don't overcome the good days."
YOU CAME OUT 4TH AFTER TRUEX HIT THE WALL.
"Yeah, that's an opportunity to gain positions. Each time that there's a caution period where you know everybody has got to come in for four tires and you've got to excel on pit road - get the car in the pit box so the crew guys can jump on it quickly. The crew guys get pumped up when they know that they're running eighth or ninth and if they give a great stop, we'll come out fifth or sixth. That's just team morale and team chemistry. That's when a guy is on third base with two outs and you get a single and bring that guy home to score that run. It's a team effort. With being able to compete on pit road just as we were on the race track today, those things add up together for a victory."
"Unless I didn't use my stopwatch correctly, that was a 12-second-something stop. That was a pretty good stop for us."
DOES THIS LET YOU EXHALE A LITTLE?
"We'll take this car and analyze it to a point to where we can make it better. Even when you win, you can do things better to win on your side of it. You can't control when yellows come out. You can't control when somebody has a flat tire, but we'll continue to improve this car. The weeks ahead we have Pocono and Indy - two tracks that are similar to one another - with a road course mixed in at Watkins Glen. We're gonna be running a special Superman paint scheme at Michigan, back to Bristol. We've got our tracks that are ahead of us with our cars prepared, now it's just a matter of having good days on the race track where preparation meets the opportunity."
WHO WERE THE NEW CREW GUYS AND DO YOU FORESEE MOVING SOME OF YOUR BETTER PEOPLE FROM OTHER TEAMS INTO THAT MIX?
"The fact is I can't name the two guys that stepped in. I know that one fella came from the shop, who is a guy that normally didn't travel, and the other guy came from the truck shop. Between now and then, Jimmy and Harry McMullen will review and peruse the applications we've got. We will look for people that might be ready for a promotion or an advancement from within. We're a promote from within company. We do that first before we look outside, but we've got to review who is ready to move and how we would fill in behind them. Then we would look at who is on the outside and what the opportunities are for somebody that could really help us down the stretch. But we're in no great hurry to do that. We've got a pool of 300 people to draw from and we'll have an adequate crew for the 97 team until we're able to find out what is exactly the right chemistry and right situation for people. We only have to fill one position. Hopefully we've got our baby born and we'll have that taken care of before we go to Pocono, but the tire guy is a guy that also had some other jobs that were important to us. Each position within the team and the company for that matter requires a certain skill set to be complimentary and to make us whole. We need to not only find that right skill set in a person, but the right motivation and the right compatibility with the other people that work in proximity to them. We'll get that done in good order."
IS THE 99 SPONSOR SEARCH OVER FOR THE YEAR?
"Absolutely not. We've got a number of new potentially positive discussions going on. I'm very hopeful based on some news I got today that we'll have full sponsorship - at the kind of numbers we're looking for - for next year for the 99 car. I'm very hopeful that we'll get the help we need to help us have reasonable finish with it this year. Understand that once Roush Racing decides to run a program with a car number and with a driver, there isn't an economic decision made about what the people will be paid, how many tires you'll buy, how many cars you'll build. I've raised myself and raised my company to ask the first question, 'What's the right thing to do?' And then to not ask as second question.
"The only way you can throttle that and manage that is not to let your eyes get bigger than your stomach and take on more than you can. We have got the resource to stay with the 99 program until we decide that there is no prospect for sponsorship for it and, to the contrary, it's very much alive today."
WHAT ABOUT THE SUCCESS YOU'VE HAD HERE AS A GROUP?
"First of all, when we won early with Jeff Burton here, it was because he was so good at flat tracks. We also won early at Las Vegas and at Texas. We didn't win early at Chicago, but a lot of the new places that have opened up we've had great success with because the guys are so quick to adapt and they've got such great notes on the things that historically worked at similar places and they're able to apply that so well. That got us started. People that are good at flat tracks are just good at flat tracks. I suspect that in their youth - maybe their misspent youth - they may have spent a lot of time sliding around on public highways and back roads and things. People like Mark Martin and Kurt for that matter - that like high-banked tracks - they really like to get in the gas hard. They enjoy rolling the car in a corner, feeling it take a set in the race track and get down in the race track as they say, and then bury the gas pedal in the floor. Mark, in particular, has trouble because he goes looking for that. It is at its best at Bristol and at Dover - and probably Dover more than Bristol - where you can really bury it in the corner. At a place like Phoenix, Jeff Burton and Kurt, for instance, have got more patience and they'll wait on the throttle if they have to at say a Phoenix. Mark won't hardly do that because he wants to remember Winchester when he was growing up and Dover and Bristol. So drivers have their own enthusiasm for and their preference for different race tracks and putting everybody down in the same car which could do the job, won't always get the job done. By the time they go looking for the shocks and the bars and the springs that make them feel good, then sometimes the cars are quite different."