An interview with: Kurt Busch and Steve Addington
KERRY THARP: We are going to roll into our race winner of today's 43nd annual AAA 400, and the winning team today was the number 22 of Shell Pennzoil Dodge with Kurt Busch behind the wheel, Steve Addington up in the pit box, and Penske Racing is the team owner. But congratulations to Kurt Busch. It's his second win in 2011. He won earlier this year at Infineon, and this is his 24th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory. Kurt moves up to fourth in points. You're only nine out of lead. This thing has really gotten tight. It's only like 15 points separates first and eighth. Your little brother is in eighth place at 15 out.
But congratulations, boy, the second half of that race, looks like that car just took on a new life and you got the lead on that last restart and you were off to the races. Congratulations. Tell us about that.
KURT BUSCH: It was a great race today for us for our Shell-Pennzoil Dodge. To just miss out on the pole was kind of a bummer, but to take the lead early on and to lead laps and set the tone.
We have been in that position before where we can lead early on and the car feels great with a fresh racetrack and as the race progresses, we start losing a little bit of the handle, but, today we fought hard. Found some things, and I've got to thank the guy to my left, Steve Addington, for the right changes, the right time, the right sequence of two tires versus four. He was in the zone today. It helped me stay in the zone out on the racetrack and when you can feed off each other, that's when wins can happen and it reminded me a lot of what we did at Sonoma earlier this year.
Late in the race today, the last hundred laps, our car was right there for us, right where we needed it to be, maybe a little on the tight side. But restarts, with two restarts to go, I was on the outside of the 48 car. We had great position from pit road.
My guys on pit road did a phenomenal job to be consistent, to be smooth, and to put us out there where we needed to be. And I was able to wrestle the lead away from the 48 car and got to his high side and took the lead. And then with the final pit stop, Steve was thinking four, I was thinking four, but we switched to two tires, and that was the perfect call.
We beat Johnson out of the pits, had the inside lane on the final restart and we just took it to him. I knew we needed to get that jump on the restart and we never looked back.
So a great day for our Shell-Pennzoil Dodge. Wednesday, it's called Wednesdays, everybody gets 22 cents a gallon off on fuel if they have a Shell Saver card.
KERRY THARP: Your first win at Dover, too. Talk about a special win here at the Monster Mile, winning at a track like that.
KURT BUSCH: Well, it's such an intense place. It's hard to get the perfect handle on the race car. A driver has to compensate quite a bit here, especially with the racetrack rubbering in. To be able to conquer the Monster Mile, to now have that monstrous trophy now on the trophy shelf, I felt like I was missing something over the years.
And to make my first start here ten years ago or 11 years ago in 2000, it's been an amazing journey. I didn't think it would take this long to get to victory lane, especially when I won my first-ever Truck race here. But this is a tough racetrack. And when you're racing the best of the best, you have to be perfect, you have to have a good team, and I've just got to thank Penske Racing for continuing to provide us with the top-quality cars it takes.
KERRY THARP: Steve Addington, congratulations today on this win, team win, pit crew was exceptional; and as Kurt alluded to, you guys made the right calls at the right time. Talk about how that all just unfolded here today for you.
STEVE ADDINGTON: I feel like from the past races -- watching Kurt over the years here, he's been really fast and I felt pretty good going in here the way that we went through practice and the adjustments we made from practice to qualifying, and to go out and qualify second, so close to the pole, and then to make the adjustments to go in the race that we did.
I felt like that we learned a lot from practice this week, and that was the big key. But we knew he could come in here and win at Dover; it was just us giving him the pieces to do it.
Q. Were those last two restarts, how much of your drag racing -- because your reaction time was so good, and you just pulled away from him so quickly, and it was the difference. How much did you kind of rely on your instincts that you've picked up through your drag racing?
KURT BUSCH: You know, the drag racing is a lot of fun, and there's a lot of technique in what you have to do to get your tires warm and to feel the traction when you're coming up through the gears.
And it's important. I love racing, no matter what it is, and the way that you can get an advantage on guys on restarts is to feel the rear traction, and if it's slip to go not be full throttle and to really baby that throttle pedal perfectly; and I felt like that was the difference maker today. I was able to wrestle the lead away from Johnson on the outside and then on the final restart when we had the inside lane, pull away off of a great launch right out of the hole.
So pro stock racing, I have to thank all of those guys for having fun and doing that. But it's all a matter of how the setups up is for your oval car, but you have to get that throttle pedal just right on restarts, and I've always tried to pride myself on trying to get good restarts and not lose spots.
Q. Can you just talk a little about, you mentioned making the changes, especially at this place, how difficult that is to make the changes during the race, to make the correct ones. Other teams obviously, like Stewart, couldn't do it.
KURT BUSCH: For us, we almost had the perfect pole position on Saturday, we just missed it by three-thousandths of a second. The way we were communicating in our team debriefing sessions we knew we were close. We knew we needed to fine tune a couple of things, whether it was qualifying trim or race trim; and the car had a good feel all weekend long. Last week, just working out the new car brews and it bit us. This week, a solid car.
STEVE ADDINGTON: The biggest thing is he was giving great feedback and we were just trying it figure out how to get our car going. It would take our car a good ten, 15 laps to even settle in to where we thought we needed it to be.
We started making some adjustments on it and brought it to life earlier in the runs and that was the key to it, getting on top of that and finding a direction. It was probably halfway through the race where we really got a hold of what direction we needed and we got the breaks of getting stops to make those adjustments.
Q. Given the fact that you got around Jimmie on the outside on the next to last restart, what were the criteria that went into your decision to take bottom for the last one?
KURT BUSCH: The way that today went, I felt like the bottom lane was the preferred lane, and you really had to hit it perfect on that topside.
So I was just with the percentages. I thought the bottom lane had the best chance of winning the race down into turn one and then clearing coming off turn two. So I'm glad I surprised Johnson by getting the lead on the outside, and then I chose the inside to -- what I thought was the preferred line.
So it was great that we were able to jump him on both restarts and pull away. I mean, to beat your arch nemesis, that's just icing on the cake and it's pretty sweet.
Q. I was going to ask you about the rubber, a lot of people had trouble with the rubber on the track -- is that something new? We had a lot of complaints, how it made the car seem squirrely. Is this something that's never happened before? Is this a new sensation? And secondly, after getting your car detained last week, do you feel vindication getting to victory lane today?
KURT BUSCH: You know, this tire with this car, the Car of Tomorrow, we have had to go through a lot of changes at Goodyear. I can make this story long; I can make it short.
What Goodyear has to do is they have to have a tire that rubbers in the racetrack so that we don't have blowouts with the right front tire. Concrete tracks have this rubber buildup, like Martinsville, Bristol, here at Dover, where it cakes up and makes it really squirrely. Could have been a lot worse today if the temperatures were in the 80s and the sunshine was out. It somewhat covered it today.
But Goodyear has done a great job but they keep bringing this tire that rubbers in the racetracks so that the tires don't have their issues. That's really the bottom line, and I felt like we have battled through it the best today. And it's not anything new, but today it just shows up if your car isn't exactly perfect.
And I just have got to thank Steve for helping me stay on top of the adjustments. And for us to win this weekend -- last week is last week, we don't need to worry about it. We knew we were having problems with the car trying to scale it, trying to measure, it trying to get the bump stops right. It just would not do anything for us.
So I would not be surprised if that car is not cut in half already.
Q. How critical is this race today as far as the points are concerned, because you were minus 28 coming in, now you're only minus nine?
KURT BUSCH: We have a long journey ahead of us. Today is just awesome. I mean, this is sweet. The guys are all pumped up. They know they know how to do their jobs. They are all tied together right at the belt loops. And everyone is so positive with the way they feel about their position and the way that Steve is leading these guys that we are not looking back, yet we are not looking too far ahead, because this is a long Chase.
STEVE ADDINGTON: I just think that look, we were 28 points back, right, but if we had took one race to do that, and we knew that it if there was three guys that got out there, 17 to 28 points ahead of us, if they had one race, they missed it a little bit; then we could be right back in this thing. But the thing about it is it brought a whole group of people back into it, not just us. It brought that whole bunch that was from fifth on back, it brought us all back into this thing, so it's pretty cool the way that's worked out.
We knew if we came in here and had a solid week -- Kurt preached it all week. We just need a smooth race here and that's what our game plan was, and that's to have a smooth race and race our own race. We did that and it worked out for us.
Q. I've got a silly question and a serious one. The silly one, something in that barbeque you had in Kansas City last week and do you think you'll go back to Jack's Stack when you get through this weekend?
KURT BUSCH: Definitely a good MoJo all the way around. I did a Kansas City winner's circle appearance this week and went to a Jack Stack's Barbeque 101, got my hands dirty, got the hair burned off my right arm grilling, and those guys are a lot of fun to work with; and that's just a good feeling when you're out there trying to promote a track and ticket sales, and hopefully it all comes around.
Q. You talked about good tracks coming up for you. Well, Dover and Kansas really have not been good tracks for you. Phoenix and Martinsville and Charlotte you have wins; Texas. How important was it to kind of get a monkey off your back here and now you're looking at another track where you average like 18th or something over the years?
KURT BUSCH: You know what's funny, I haven't told Steve this, he'll hear it for the first time right now. Tracks that we have notoriously struggled on, we've been doing really well. Tracks that we are expecting to do well on, we struggle. Kansas, I don't know, I usually struggle there, so that's the way we are going to look at it.
Q. Today, because you struggled here, does that add to that MoJo do you think?
KURT BUSCH: It's a good feel to conquer a track that I've had trouble sealing the deal be on. We have been fast, like Steve has said. We have been in the mix, and it's great to conquer a racetrack and to get a win at a place that I've never won before.
Q. Can you talk about the way you and Jimmie raced each other on the restarts and is that an example that you two have put the differences you had after Richmond behind you?
KURT BUSCH: You know, it was on my mind but it wasn't. Because I had tunnel vision for victory lane today, and it didn't matter who we had to driver around, through, and out-strategy.
Steve was on it on the pit box. It gave me great confidence grabbing gears and shifting up through on the restarts. We took him on the outside, we took him on the inside and we drove our Pennzoil Dodge to victory lane. It's sweet to beat your arch nemesis, but we have such a long way to go on this Chase, that's what we are really focused on.
Q. With the new points system, everything is bunched up so much more. In years past, everybody has talked about how pressure filled the Chase is, but when the points seem so much closer, how do you look at it, how do you gauge it, how do you get a mental release in between races?
KURT BUSCH: For me, it is still the same system. It's based off consistency. And you can look at nine points, with the old system; that would be right around 36 to 40 with the old system. So 36 points before felt just the same as what nine does now. That's the way I'm looking at it.
And yet, there's still just so many more weeks that you hope that there's not 12 guys that are mathematically eligible when they go to Homestead. In years past, the most we have ever had was five. So points are tight. Just still, though, we have only got three races out of ten. There's still a long way to go. That's the way I look at it.
Q. That said, you have that approach, but how do you keep your team like that, or is certainly everybody will probably be asking you questions, hey, you're only nine points out. They will see it as nine; not 36, 40, and look at the guys behind you three or four points and think it's so much closer than maybe it is. How do you maintain that with your team? Obviously you're going to face questions because you're that close to it.
KURT BUSCH: I've been in this position before, and there's still plenty of weeks left. I've gone into Atlanta with three races to go with a 90-point lead in the past, and you look at it as it's zero. You race every race to beat as many chasers as you can, and you can't get caught up if you're behind or ahead, until you go to Homestead. That's when they hand you your deck of cards at Homestead: All right, do I have a good hand, or am I working from behind? And then you react.
Q. You guys are obviously happy right now but around lap 190 you were very frustrated, talking on your radio about being a broken record and the car not handling; how do you keep it together, the emotional swing between then and now, and keeping the car focused to go to the front?
KURT BUSCH: If anybody knows me by now, talking on the radio is one thing and driving the race car is another. Staying focused, staying after it is what I ALWAYS do. You rely on your guys to bust out those great pit stops and make good adjustments.
Yes, halfway is a struggle for us with the track rubbered in. Today we came out on top, and maybe we'll find a pattern now.
Q. What would it mean not only to give Roger Penske his first championship in the Sprint Cup Series, and maybe Will Power wins the IRL, what would that mean for Penske, two championships in one season; have you thought about that?
KURT BUSCH: No, we are not going to think about it. But it would mean a tremendous amount.
One of the reasons why I came here to Penske Racing was to deliver the first championship on the NASCAR side in the Sprint Cup Series. But we are only three races in, we stay focused, each and every week like we have to, and with Will Power on the open-wheel side, we wish him the best; and it's because we have the best equipment. We have a great system and we all have to thank Roger Penske.
Q. Does this seem like a more competitive Chase than it has in years past?
KURT BUSCH: I tell you, it's hard to really put one word on it but I would say it's a slippery Chase, because you can slip just one little bit and next thing you know, you are fighting from behind. You just don't want those out-of-the-ordinary things to happen.
I heard a heartbreak with my teammates, Keselowski, losing his power steering. Those are those little moments that you hate throughout a Chase run, and this year, everybody is in the mix. It's still the same real points system. Consistency is going to win it, and we are only three weeks in.
Q. Earlier this season, you guys entered the Chase with one win, much like Jimmie Johnson. But you I think were the only team that remained in the Top-10 in points I think throughout the entire first 26 races. Entering the Chase, did you believe, even with one or zero wins, did you believe that you had a team that was capable of being in contention for the championship?
STEVE ADDINGTON: Oh, most definitely. It comes from having a group of guys that are willing to do anything, and anything you ask of them. And we do have that group.
Were we in this position at the first of the year, midway through the season? No. I think that we have made changes in our organization. I think we have made changes in our race cars. I think we have made changes all through to put us in a position; you see the results from the two car is the same.
The organization has changed a good bit. And you know, we made some changes, and you've got a group of guys back there in that shop that are willing to bust their tails for you and give you what you're asking for now, and I think that's maybe the biggest difference.
But the group of guys that work on this 22 car, like Kurt said earlier, they are joined at the hip. They are a good group and they work good together and they will do anything for you. All you have to is tell them and they get after it.
KURT BUSCH: Just to quickly add to that, all year long we have been a consistent team and we have found ourselves in the Top-10 in points. The quick analogy would be, we can go 12 rounds with anybody. We are going to go for that TKO at the end or the decision, so to speak. But today we threw down the knockdown. It's great to bring home a victory. This year, our model and our strengths have been good qualifying, and just running consistent.
Q. I guess you were not surprised, despite some of the talk, that Jimmie was out of it; did you find that kind of comical, and you weren't surprised to see your arch nemesis up there with you, and what did it mean to be able to get him on those final two restarts? Just because he's a defending champion?
KURT BUSCH: All the stories -- keep it going on the 48 being out of it, because it only motivates those guys. They are strong, and they always will be. A five-time champion just doesn't happen by accident. Chad Knaus is a great leader and Hendrick is a great program and Johnson is a very strong and true competitor. And to beat him today and to come out on top, this is a great victory here at Dover.
KERRY THARP: Thank you very much.