An interview with Kurt Busch
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everybody. Today's NASCAR cam teleconference features Kurt Busch, in advance of Sunday's race at Talladega Superspeedway. Kurt drives the No. 32 Shell- Pennzoil Dodge. He is seventh in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points standings. He owns an average finish at Talladega of 13.9, that's the best among drivers in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Kurt, welcome. Thanks for joining us. How about giving us your thoughts about Sunday's upcoming race at Talladega.
There's much more comfort when you've done it year after year after year and you trust the 43 guys that are out there.
KURT BUSCH: Thanks for having me on. It's a pleasure to talk with you and everybody, to get everybody excited about the final five races.
We're halfway through the Chase. We find ourselves in a decent position, yet we know we have to work harder to get back up there in the points lead where we want to be.
Talladega is a great weekend for us to hopefully find our way up to the top and not get caught up in the big wreck that can happen.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up for questions for Kurt Busch.
Q. I wanted to get your reaction to what Jimmie Johnson said yesterday about how he didn't think IndyCars should race on ovals anymore. Part two of that would be, when you come to Talladega, in your mind, how fast is too fast?
KURT BUSCH: Well, it's tough to say IndyCars shouldn't race on ovals. They have so much downforce, they reach speeds that are much greater than what stock cars can. The problem is they just don't have the roll cage, they don't have the safety design that a stockcar has.
I mean, there's changes that are going to come about. I look to the leaders of IRL to be proactive in this, to understand what they can do to make their sport safer.
Right now NASCAR is a place that has learned on what to do for safety over the last 10 years. I feel very safe driving in the cars that we have.
Q. Kurt, some drivers have talked that they won't take too many laps in practice on Friday, know who their drafting partners are, others think you'll have to do some laps to get a feel for the new rules. Do you have any idea how much you'll end up practicing on Friday?
KURT BUSCH: I know we'll team up with our teammate Brad Keselowski and probably my buddy Regan Smith. He and I have done really well teaming up in this two-car draft. We need to understand the restrictor plate change and the cooling system change. I think guys will limit their practice and save things for Sunday. But Friday is a very important day this week.
Q. In light of the Wheldon crash, a lot of talk there about speeds too fast in pack racing. Now you go to Talladega, a place where there's always talk about pack racing and the high speeds. Not that that accident makes you think twice, but how do you feel in general about racing at Talladega in this situation? Do you feel comfortable and safe doing it?
KURT BUSCH: Well, I feel very safe, especially in a stockcar with the roll cage. The speeds we run aren't as great as the IndyCars. Talladega is Talladega. Everybody knows it going in. There's much more comfort when you've done it year after year after year and you trust the 43 guys that are out there.
It was tough what happened out in Las Vegas. A lot of new guys were racing in a pack that they weren't necessarily familiar with. So when you throw so many new variables in, that's the risk that happens.
Q. Kurt, do you think sometimes your team and maybe yourself are undervalued when it comes to the ability you would have to win the Chase and that you guys really are much more positioned than maybe you get credit for?
KURT BUSCH: Well, we always have that battle of being just two Dodges in the field, have to answer those questions. But it's like family with those guys. We're pushing hard to be comparable to the big teams that are out there.
I don't think we're undervalued. I think we are legitimate championship contenders. Whether people give it to us or not, it doesn't matter. We know where we stand as a team. We won a couple weeks ago. We've had a very successful season. But there's still five races to go and anything can happen. You never know, we can be the ones on top of the stage in Vegas.
Q. What is your mindset heading into the race this weekend on the Chase side?
KURT BUSCH: We're halfway through the Chase. We have an average finish of 11th. That's not getting it done. We have to bump that up.
Talladega is a place where you can have a good day and it can turn sour pretty quick. We just hope to make the right moves strategy-wise, make the right moves out on the track as far as drafting. If we can get a nice top five, and others find trouble, then we're right back in this Chase.
Q. Kurt, as you mentioned, clearly you go in with a plan and guys you prefer to draft with. How choosy can you really be when it comes to hooking up with other drivers in traffic at Talladega?
KURT BUSCH: You find a new best friend every restart (laughter). You have your game plan going in. That's to draft with a teammate, of course. I always have my little brother to count on. There's a couple other guys I've buddy'd up with on restrictor plate tracks.
When it comes down to the end, you're fighting to find a partner because of the a restart scramble. Your new best friend is a guy that wants to push you.
Q. How much of it comes down to how much you trust other drivers?
KURT BUSCH: Everybody trusts each other at great lengths. We all want to be safe while we're doing it as well as feel comfort in the guy that you're drafting with. Most importantly, though, you want that genuine buddy at the end that's going to stick with you.
Q. Kurt, at Charlotte there was a lot of talk about horsepower between manufacturers. Toyotas were saying they were down, Ford has more power, some people say Dodges have more power than other manufacturers. Do you see that on the racetrack? Do you think there's any difference between the horsepower these cars have?
KURT BUSCH: I would say there's a small difference. Some programs have a little bit more torque or some programs have a little bit more top-end speed. A big thing as of late has been how much tape can you put on the grill and not overheat. A lot of it has to do with cooling. Then there's the actual weight of the motor.
I'd say right now the Fords have an advantage in most areas. But that's the work they've done behind the scenes. That's the work that Yates has put together. It's just how it works.
This is a cycle, and I know our guys at Penske are pushing hard to make our Dodge engines stronger, faster, lighter, everything else.
Q. At the two plate races we had a couple of Roush Yates Fords win, then Jimmie Johnson win at Talladega. Have you seen over the three plate races maybe one of them having a little more power than the other?
KURT BUSCH: It's a cycle. I would say the Fords, they have their advantage. The RCR cars are strong at certain tracks. You never know. Talladega, though, it comes down to that raw speed. You still, though, have to have a good drafting partner. It's not all about horsepower.
Q. A lot of people seem to say with the new rules that you're going to need to change positions more often in this two-car push. Can you talk about the ballet dance of exchanging positions as other guys are streaming along? Talk about that process as everything else is going on on the track.
KURT BUSCH: With the two-car draft, it's so important because you're four seconds faster a lap when you're teamed up. When you're taking the time to exchange, put the back car into the lead, you can lose that four seconds, of course, because you're not paired up, as well as additional time if you don't do it smoothly.
So when a car comes from behind, he's usually going to the outside. The lead car goes to the inside. The back car, sorry, comes up. When they swap, the lead car actually has to get on the brakes and has to ride smoothly backwards. The guy behind actually has his foot on the brake pedal trying to time it perfectly when you match up on his bumper to be off the brake pedal and to be full throttle, and that's how exchanges work. The faster and smoother you do it the time is saved with the lap time that you see.
Q. Certainly you've had a few plate races this year. The situation obviously at Talladega was a rough day for you. How challenging is it when you're pushing, whether it's you or anybody else, the challenges that you face not being able to see and just trying to stay stuck on the back bumper? From the outside, it looks like an easy thing, but I'm sure it's not from your seat.
KURT BUSCH: No, there's a great deal of responsibility for the back guy as far as managing the car that you're pushing, not being too erratic, as well as not overheating. You have to keep an eye on your gauges as well as drive off the guy's rear spoiler in front of you. You have to listen into the radio, have his spotter take care of you. So it's a foreign voice you hear sometimes. So there's a lot going on.
With this new rule, we'll see how the cars are paired up. I know once the white flag drops, you're going to see the two-car draft. No matter what it takes to win, you're going to be doing that. We'll see how the other 499 miles go.
Q. Kurt, how many guys do you think you're going to be listening to in your car on Sunday?
KURT BUSCH: I have about half a dozen that will be on our list.
Q. It appears NASCAR is trying to get away from this tandem racing. Do you think we'll see any other kind of racing other than tandem racing on Sunday?
KURT BUSCH: Friday is going to be a big day to understand what the new rule changes have done to the cars and how it will affect the draft.
I think if you want to be aggressive and work all day about doing the two-car draft, you still can. But at the same time I think you're going to see a group of guys doing the normal big-pack draft, try to get some laps led in to get those bonus points.
I think drivers might be more patient throughout the 500 miles so you won't see the two- car draft all the time.
At the end of the day, when it's the last lap, you're going to see those two cars pair up because they're so much faster when it's two cars together.
Q. Kurt, you mentioned the big win, an uncertainty, Talladega. Now they have changes in the rules. More uncertainty to deal with. How do you and your team develop a strategy for that?
KURT BUSCH: Well, a lot of our work will be done behind the scenes. You have to try to keep these cars as cool as you can with the new radiator package. We know we're going to be gaining speed by the restrictor plate side.
Handling might come back more into play. You'll have to adjust to that once we get to the track, see exactly what track conditions are, adjust from there. But a lot of it's going to be done on the fly. This really challenges the teams who can adapt the best in the heat of the moment.
Q. There was one small change some of the teams were applying some kind of additive or lubricant to the bumpers which helped. Now you can't do that. Do you think that will extra thing, the two-car thing may be more difficult than it was?
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, it's definitely going to make that more difficult. Yet I still think with the success and the speed that two cars have together, you're going to see that come up at the end. I think drivers might be more patient throughout the 500 miles so you won't see the two- car draft all the time. At the end of the day, that's what it's going to take to win.
Q. Kurt, during the Chase there's been some rumors swirling around your team and your crew chief. How do you stay focused on the prize and away from the rumors?
KURT BUSCH: I've been through it before with a crew chief that was leaving back in 2009, finished fourth overall in the standings, even had a shot to win it until the wreck at Talladega.
We stay focused on what we have to do. It doesn't matter what the outside world says. We have five very important weeks ahead of us. Each week is the most important week.
Right now Talladega, practice on Friday, qualify on Saturday, race on Sunday, that's the best part, is going out there and racing.
Q. Kurt, so many people say, You're in the Chase, so you've got it made. I think people forget the fact that there are still 43 cars out there going for the win and the purse. Can you explain that, yes, there is some bumping and grinding going on from people that are not in the Chase.
KURT BUSCH: Absolutely. I've been in the Chase five out of the seven years. Those two years that I wasn't in it, you're mindful of the Chase guys, but you are still in the mix. You can still get a win. You can still have a successful season if you don't make the Chase.
Those guys that didn't, they're pushing hard. Guys like Greg Biffle, Paul Menard. AJ Allmendinger is trying to cut in and get that first win. Those are the guys that are right in the mix that are hungry just because they just missed out on the Chase.
THE MODERATOR: Kurt, thanks very much for your time this afternoon. Appreciate that. We wish you all the best on Sunday.
KURT BUSCH: Thank you so much. Looking forward to it. Halfway through the Chase. We want some more with our Shell-Pennzoil Dodge.