Busch, Keselowski - Dodge Motorsports interview

Dodge Motorsports press release

Kurt Busch
Kurt Busch

Photo by: Adriano Manocchia

KURT BUSCH (No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Dodge Charger R/T) YOU ARE THE 2004 SPRINT CUP SERIES CHAMPION. TALK ABOUT WHAT THAT MEANS AND YOUR THOUGHTS HEADING INTO THE SIXTH CHASE OF YOUR CAREER. “Well, I feel like this is one of the best opportunities I’ve had to shoot at the championship again since 2004 with the strong runs that we’ve had recently and just the full year of success with our Shell/Pennzoil Dodge. We’ve put together a great regular season of 26 races. We have the one win out in Sonoma and most importantly we’ve had the consistency because we’ve been in the top-10 in points all season long. So it’s time to use some of those strengths for the next 10 weeks.”

BRAD KESELOWSKI (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge Charger R/T) YOU’RE THE NUMBER ONE WILD CARD HEADING INTO THE CHASE. IN YOUR LAST SEVEN RACES, YOU HAVE TWO WINS, FOUR TOP-FIVES AND SEVEN TOP-12 FINISHES. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS AS YOU PREPARE FOR YOUR FIRST-CAREER CHASE TO THE SPRINT CUP CHAMPIONSHIP? “Well, very similar to Kurt. I feel very lucky to have a fast race car and some consistency. I feel like this is, you know, obviously not just a privilege to be in our first Chase but a privilege to have a good team heading into it on my side. So I feel really fortunate to have both Penske Dodges up there and making a strong run for it. I really think both of us are somewhat the underdogs of this Chase coming in. I feel like we’ve got what it takes to collectively give ‘em a good run for their money for it and wouldn’t be surprised at all if one of us were able to pull it off.”

BUSCH: AS A FORMER CHAMPION, WHAT KIND OF ADVICE CAN YOU GIVE SOMEONE LIKE BRAD WHO IS GOING INTO HIS FIRST CHASE? “Well you just can’t get too excited. You just have to treat it like it’s a regular 10 races, like the first race when we were here in Chicago, this weekend. It’s like we’re heading to Daytona. It’s the first race of the year and you want to build off your solid points base and not get too excited. Treat it like a regular race. But Brad’s a champion; Brad’s won the Nationwide championship before. He knows how to run through a stretch of races that puts you up in the top spot.”

KESELOWSKI: HOW DO YOU THINK THAT CHAMPIONSHIP LAST YEAR IN THE NATIONWIDE SERIES WILL HELP PREPARE YOU GOING INTO THESE NEXT 10 RACES? “Well obviously you know when you can make a run for the championship in a previous setting it’s going to be helpful. I think the biggest thing that’s helped me is just the last 10 weeks. The last 10 weeks of having to fight hard just to make the Chase. I know some people think you might get drained while trying to do that but we would disagree. I think it’s been a good starting point or warming up point for the Chase and I’m super-excited about it. I think we’ve handled it very well and if we can just recreate the last 10 weeks that we’ve had we’ll be in the top two or three. I know that sounds really easy but that’s my mindset going into it.”

BUSCH: YOU HAD A COUPLE ONTRACK RUN-INS WITH JIMMIE JOHNSON SATURDAY NIGHT AT RICHMOND, SAID SOME THINGS ABOUT HIM AFTER THE RACE, BUT YOU AND HE SPOKE BRIEFLY ON THE STAGE. WHERE DO YOU AND JIMMIE STAND HEADING INTO THIS WEEKEND? “Well we talked about it afterwards and we don’t need to continue to wreck race cars but we do need to continue to put on a good show. I mean, that’s what our fans buy the tickets for and they want to see a genuine rivalry between drivers but we’ve got our work cut out for us in this Chase and the focus of 10 weeks. There’s 12 drivers in this Chase, not just one other guy and we just need to stick to our guns on what’s got us to this point and that’s consistency. So for him and I, we’re going to continue to race hard with each other but we know it’s championship time now.”

YOU’VE BEEN IN A CHASE WITH TEAMMATES AND WITHOUT TEAMMATES. HOW MUCH DOES THAT MATTER IF AT ALL? “I like it with teammates in the Chase because everybody is working hard together and you have somebody pushing you along that keeps you on your toes. When you’re out there on your own, you feel like you’re somewhat running around on an island trying to find the right way. With teammates in there though, you know, you want to push each other hard and you want to communicate the right way and so you have to look at it as working together six days out of the week and then you go race on the seventh.”

Brad Keselowski, Penske Racing Dodge
Brad Keselowski, Penske Racing Dodge

Photo by: Ashley Dickerson, ASP Inc.

KESELOWSKI: WHEN YOU LOOK BACK AT THAT SHOT THAT YOU GOT IN DALE [EARNHARDT] JR.’S NAVY CAR, WHAT AMOUNTED TO LIKE A TRYOUT AT THAT POINT, HOW BIG OF AN OPPORTUNITY WAS THAT FOR YOU? HOW MUCH PRESSURE WAS THERE AT THAT TIME? “That’s a good question. There was a lot of pressure there. Quite honestly, I look back earlier at launching my career and think about how much harder they were than what this is. To me this is a cakewalk. I mean, I know it’s not going to be easy to win the Chase but from a pressure standpoint I really don’t feel any. I felt pressure when I got the opportunities to drive for Dale Jr., to drive for Rick [Hendrick], and drive for Roger Penske and Miller Lite. That was the pressure to me, was kind of proving that we belong. And I think of the last two weeks and hopefully the last two seasons that I’ve been able to somewhat prove that. And now it’s out there just doing what we do, trying to get a nice smooth rhythm just like Kurt talked about. I still have a lot to prove, don’t get me wrong, but the hardest pressure point was trying to prove that I even deserved a shot, so very thankful for the opportunities that I have now and hopefully, like you said, those moments are what will make me even more prepared for this moment here.”

BUSCH: CAN YOU TALK IN GENERAL ABOUT HANDLING THE PRESSURES OF THE CHASE? DOES A DRIVER FEEL MORE PRESSURE DURING THE CHASE THAN DURING THE REGULAR SEASON? “Well everything is amped up with these final 10 races. Just your focus, the intensity; every position on the track counts but at the same time you have to be more focused to be calm and to understand that this is a 10-week battle and that it can be lost at any moment but yet you’re trying to piece together the little things that make a difference to round up top-fives every week. We go to Chicago, which is a good track for us with the mile-and-a-half program that we’ve established this year and you take it one race at a time. All-in-all, it’s just a matter of just going with the breeze and making sure that you’re not thinking about it too much.”

DOES STARTING THE CHASE ON A MILE-AND-A-HALF TRACK COMPARED TO MAYBE A FLAT MILE TRACK AT NEW HAMPSHIRE LESSEN THE CHASE OF DRIVERS GETTING INTO EACH OTHER AND RETALEATING AND HAVING ALL THAT KIND OF STUFF? “Having a mile-and-a-half to start, yeah, it’s a high-speed track and you don’t have the short confines like you do at New Hampshire but week two, it’s New Hampshire. It doesn’t matter where the Chase starts, you just got to get out there and race.”

KESELOWSKI: THIS IS YOUR FIRST CHASE AND ALSO PAUL WOLFE’S [KESELOWSKI’S CREW CHIEF] FIRST CHASE. DO YOU THINK THAT PUTS YOU GUYS AT ANY DISADVANTAGE GOING UP AGAINST THE MORE EXPERIENCED DRIVERS AND CREW CHIEFS? “It’s definitely Paul Wolfe’s first shot at it. The experience is sort of going to be advantage; it’s just a matter of how much. But I think if you look at it over the last two years, what it takes to win the Chase over the last few years has changed dramatically each and every year, as far as what numbers you need to put up and so forth and how the car’s driving. Heck, even this year, just the points system itself. I think, you know, you just got to keep it simple in some ways. Sometimes it’s easier to keep it simple when you just don’t know any better. We don’t know any better which might just be an advantage.”

BUSCH: YOUR LITTLE BROTHER STARTS THE CHASE ON TOP OF THE STANDINGS. IN PAST YEARS THERE HAVE BEEN SOME MECHANICAL ISSUES HERE AND THERE, BUT WHAT IS YOUR PERSPECTIVE ON WHY KYLE HAS BEEN SO GOOD IN THE REGULAR SEASON AND HAD HIS PROBLEMS IN THE CHASE? “He’s poised this year to do really well with his stats. He’s got most laps led this season. When you’re leading laps that means you’re up front and you’re going to end up with a top-five type of day. You said it, mechanical issues or getting caught up in the wreck at Talladega, just off the wall things have happened to him in the Chase and I think this year is his best shot.”

A LOT WAS MADE ABOUT WHAT HAPPENED AFTER THE RACE WITH YOU CONFRONTING A COUPLE OF REPORTERS. HAVE YOU HAD TIME TO GO BACK AND LOOK AND REFLECT ON THAT AND WHAT EXACTLY HAPPENED? “Well I feel like with the great regular season like we had and to battle back to finish fifth at Richmond, knowing that we had a well documented type of issue from the Richmond race in May, I was ready to celebrate. And to come away with a top-five and then have to answer questions about being dumped deliberately, it was taking the focus away from where I thought the season should have been recognized for. So I’ve apologized to those two guys, the individuals, and the way that we do this moving forward is that we’re worried about racing and that’s what needs to be written about.”

KESELOWSKI: YOU’RE STARTING FURTHUR BACK IN THE CHASE BUT DO YOU FEEL LIKE NINE, 10, 11 OR 12 HAVE JUST AS GOOD OF A CHANCE TO WINNING THIS THING AS KYLE BUSCH AND THE GUYS UP FRONT? “I’m not sure that all of us have an equal shot. But I can’t speak for Dale and I guess it’d be Tony [Stewart] and I guess, was it [Denny] Hamlin that came in 12th? I can’t speak for all of them but I can speak for our team and I feel like we have a realistic shot. I know there’s never been a team that’s been in the back half of the points that’s really been a contender for it but we’ve been able to break conventional wisdom earlier this year and I see no reason why we can’t do the same this time around.”

KYLE BUSCH SAID YOU WERE HIS DARK HORSE PICK FOR THE CHASE. ARE YOU COMFORTABLE BEING THE DARK HORSE PICK FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP THIS YEAR? “I mean, more than comfortable. I think we’ve earned it with the last few weeks, at least what you would consider a dark horse. Again, this doesn’t give us anything. Nobody is going to give us anything. There’s still a lot to do and a lot to prove but, you know I don’t see any reason why we can’t be a contender, both of the Penske Dodges with Kurt and I. I feel really good about the direction we’re heading. That’ll be interesting to see, how we start the Chase, but I’m even more excited about the potential for how we’re going to finish the Chase with some of the things that we’re doing at Penske Racing. We’ve got to get off on the right foot and I think we can finish it even stronger.”

ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO THIS EXPERIENCE, YOUR FIRST CHASE? “Absolutely. It’s an honor just to be in the Chase. I’ll never forget being able to take that picture on the stage with all the guys that have made the Chase. Most of those guys have been in the Chase, I think all of ‘em have been in the Chase multiple times, so it’s quite an honor to be on that stage with them and to be sharing the spotlight. And again, that doesn’t mean that I’m not still hungry. I still got a lot more to prove and looking forward to the opportunity to prove it. I’m certainly honored to be in the Chase. It’s a huge accomplishment in this sport.”

BUSCH: BEFORE THE SEASON A LOT OF PEOPLE WERE KIND OF DISMISSING PENSKE’S CHANCES BECAUSE YOU WERE TWO TEAMS, DODGE DIDN’T HAVE A LOT OF TEAMS. HAVING PUT BOTH CARS IN THE CHASE, DO YOU OR THE TEAM OR THE GUYS AT THE SHOP TAKE A LITTLE EXTRA PRIDE IN HAVING PROVED SOME SKEPTICS WRONG THIS SEASON? “This is a fantastic season thus far and had our employee appreciation day on Monday this week. You really got to see the heart and soul of our team knowing that we are the only two Dodges out there and we put both of ‘em in the Chase. It’s a banner that we carry proudly and its nice that we’re being recognized for not necessarily being the underdogs to get two guys in but you know we are the only Dodge team out there. So we are ready to go. We’re poised with our cars and equipment, our crew guys. Everybody is pumped up to see that Brad has, you know, just lit the place up on this summer stretch. And for us with our consistency, we’ve shown that strength. So we look really good going into this Chase.”

DO YOU SEE THE NEW POINTS SYSTEM HAVING ANY SORT OF IMPACT ON THE CHASE THAN THE OLD POINTS SYSTEM HAD? “It can and yet I still think, though, that it’ll be about the same. I believe if you have a bad day, it’s really going to hurt ya with this new system. The other thing that’s obvious to me is if you’re trying to go and get those bonus points for leading laps, before you’d lead a lap and get five points and if you did that at each race that would add up to 50 points. Now if you go push hard and try to lead a lap at every race, that’s only 10 points. Ten positions can be lost on pit road at one any given moment. And so it doesn’t pay well to try to push hard and lead laps. I think it’s just going to be a matter of finishing strong each week and not to have those bad races.”

AWAY FROM THE CAR YOU’RE A VERY MILD MANNERED GUY, NICE TO TALK TO AND EASY GOING. IT’S INTERESTING TO SEE RACE CAR DRIVERS WHO HAVE THAT BLOOD BOILING WHICH IS PART OF RACING UP ON THE WHEEL. WHERE IS THE PART WHERE IF YOU TAKE THAT DOWN YOU SORT OF LOSE WHAT YOU COULD DO BEHIND THE WHEEL BY NOT HAVING YOUR BLOOD BOIL AT THE WRONG TIME? SOME DRIVERS FEEL IF YOU TAKE THAT AWAY YOU LOSE WHAT YOU WERE GOOD AT BEHIND THE WHEEL? “I would say that my tenacity on the track is definitely one that matches having that desire and that fire in the belly to be the best and to go out there and to race to win and to get the best finish each day. That drive from within has drivers seeing red sometimes and I’m one that’s guilty of that but I think I race better when I have anger. It just drives me to be my best and then you just have to snap out of it right after the race because you’re coming back into the regular world. A lot of people don’t see what drivers see through the windshield and what it takes to be successful.”

HOW MUCH ARE YOU GOING TO HAVE TO TAKE THAT DOWN OR LEARN HOW TO DO THAT? “Well you can’t drive the car at a hundred and one percent every lap. You’ll end up busting your rear end. You’re going to drive at a nice pace that the car will give you the best results and at the end of the day you’ve got to bring home that trophy or get the best finish that you can no matter what goes against you.”

HOW HARD IS THAT TO LEARN TO DO? “It’s something that’s an on going battle for me. I just go out there and try to do my job to get the best finish and my team knows that I’m never going to lay down behind the wheel.”

KESELOWSKI: THERE WAS A REALLY NICE STORY IN [TUESDAY’S EDITION] OF USA TODAY. DID YOU LOOK AT IT? WHAT IS YOUR PERSPECTIVE ON THAT ATTENTION? “It was amazing. I think those that know me very well know that I love following that kind of stuff, whether it’s not just myself, obviously, but I love following sport and love reading the news and so forth and being a part of things like the USA Today and felt very honored to have an opportunity to be a part of it and to be on the front page. That’s really cool. I’m sure my Mom will send me a copy of it framed or something cool like that. She’s all about that kind of stuff. It’s very cool. I feel very lucky and very humbled and honored at the same time. Now I just got to keep it up, gotta keep digging hard and prove that we deserve it, prove that we can make something of the opportunity that we have and the recognition that we’ve been getting.”

WE KEEP HEARING UNDERDOG, WE KEEP HEARING DARK HORSE BUT YOU’RE CARRYING A LOT OF MOMENTUM GOING INTO THE CHASE. DO YOU KIND OF PRIVATELY THINK THAT MAYBE THE OTHERS MIGHT SEE YOU AS A DRIVER TO BEAT IN THE CHASE? “I’m sure that there are probably a few that are a little more nervous about us than what they are willing to let on but that’s okay. I don’t mind, like I say, going into this somewhat quiet but I haven’t done a good job of keeping quiet about it, but I don’t mind going into it with somewhat of a quiet demeanor with low expectations because, you know, it just takes the pressure off my whole team. I’m kind of glad, to be honest, that we’re not getting a lot of push for a lot of credit, in some ways. You know, I want my guys to get credit, don’t get me wrong, but I want to get credit for doing the job in the Chase, not before it ever starts and being under pressure. I enjoy not having the pressure and I think it’s good for my whole team. It makes it a lot easier for everybody.”

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Series NASCAR-CUP
Tags busch, dodge, keselowski, sprint cup