Continued from part 1 KURT BUSCH: DO YOU THINK THE SALE OF TEAM CALIBER WILL GIVE THE ROUSH DRIVERS MORE OF A PRESENCE IN THE SOUVENIR MARKET? "Yeah, I definitely can. There are pros and cons to each of the situations with Action and Team...
Continued from part 1
DO YOU THINK THE SALE OF TEAM CALIBER WILL GIVE THE ROUSH DRIVERS MORE OF A PRESENCE IN THE SOUVENIR MARKET?
"Yeah, I definitely can. There are pros and cons to each of the situations with Action and Team Caliber the way they've been involved in this sport before. It seems as if Action is more tailored to specific teams, where they have Dale Jr., they have Rusty Wallace, they have Tony Stewart, whereas Team Caliber, in the past, primarily had all of the Roush Racing cars. So now it's all mixed in together. It will be an opportunity to see how the sponsors react and how they want to advertise their marketing as well. The sponsors, anyhow, are the ones that are the stronghold and the ones that get involved and the ones that push the merchandise, so when you have that opportunity to start things new it's wide open."
DO YOU LOOK FORWARD TO THE END OF THE SEASON FOR RELIEF OR DO YOU ADJUST AS YOU GO AS FAR AS DEALING WITH PRESSURE?
"There's a 26-race regular season where you can bring the intensity of the final 10 into every week and that will burn you out pretty quick. That's something I tried to do last year and again modeled that pattern again this year - just to run each of the regular-season races as if they were important, and they are definitely, we've got three wins so far, but the final 10 and the intensity and pressure and anxiety to get to the race track and to have a solid finish and to check one off of your list, the final 10 is definitely so intense that you can wear yourself out before you even get there."
DOES COPING WITH PRESSURE GET TOUGHER EVERY YEAR?
"It gets tougher every year in some ways, but the closer you get to the end of the chase, the pressure builds and builds. When Miami rolled around, that week is just the longest week because you want to get the race over with and just get on with a regular life, but that's what the atmosphere has created and that's what the Chase for the Nextel Cup is. It's a 10-race playoff where you have to be on top of your game and there's the pressure-cooker of the playoff atmosphere."
HOW DIFFERENT DOES IT FEEL THIS TIME AROUND KNOWING YOU'RE THE DEFENDING CHAMP?
"It's been great. Each of the race tracks this year, being able to park our hauler first and getting to go through tech first, it just gives you a nice feeling when you show up at the race track. Then when the media rolls around at the track, sometimes when we go out to Kansas City or when we go to some of these tracks that just have one date, the champion gets more notoriety with the questioning to help just set a tone for the weekend or to answer questions about the state of NASCAR. So it's been great. I love the hat of wearing this championship role and then to be able to go out on the track and race the other competitors. It's been fun. Everybody wants to knock us off and here we go. It's 10 weeks and a fresh start."
HOW IS IT GOING TO SOME OF THESE TRACKS FOR THE SECOND TIME AS PART OF THE CHASE?
"You have to put more emphasis on the chase races when you see them earlier in the year. Tracks like Martinsville, Talladega, and then Atlanta. Those are all tracks you hit early in the season and you want to make sure you gather as many notes as you can so when you show up there in the fall, you've got your homework done and things are good to go. Tracks like Vegas, early in the year, California - you still race those races and you want to win them. That's what our team sets out to do every week, but they're not part of the chase races when we come back around in the fall."
WHAT ABOUT KYLE'S SUCCESS? DO YOU EXPECT TO SEE HIM IN THE CHASE SOON? "Oh, definitely. It's something that could happen as early as next season. He's done a great job as a rookie. He's got a great shot at winning the rookie of the year title, which is a coveted prize in this sport, and to have him now in the winner's column. It's very satisfying and it's very neat and it's special to have Kyle win out in California, which is close to our home in Vegas, especially since I helped a little bit, I want to say, to get him to this point and it's been great."
WHO DO YOU THINK WILL BE THE TOUGHEST COMPETITION IN THE CHASE?
"Outside of Roush Racing, we look at Tony Stewart, who has been competitive on all different types of race tracks this year. And the thing of it is he's done that recently. Early on, I believe up until the first Michigan, he was hanging out ninth, 10th in points. He had the look of his teammate, Bobby Labonte, who was struggling a little bit and, boom, he shows up and he's winning races. We couldn't even stop him. We won at Pocono, but he just carried that momentum right into Indianapolis and he's been fast. So he's the number-one target. And then we look at the guys like Matt Kenseth, who got into the chase by being very competitive at the perfect point in the season. They were so far behind in points that you never expected them to make it, so they definitely have a roll going right now. Then you have guys like Greg Biffle, who are competitive on all the mile-and-a-half tracks, which are the primary tracks in this chase."
ANY THOUGHTS OF RUNNING THE INDY 500 SOME DAY WHEN YOU GO TO PENSKE?
"I've never had the itch to run the Indianapolis 500 in an open-wheel car, but I do have the itch to go see the race - maybe even before I retire as a driver. That's something that will be in the future. I'll work it out, but right now the focus is obviously on our chase races, on what we have to do this year, and I've found a good home with stock cars."
CAN YOU IMAGINE WHAT MARK HAS GONE THROUGH COMING UP SHORT FOR THE TITLE SO MANY TIMES?
"Mark is a true champion in everybody's mind. He's been a guy that you can count on every season to win races, to be there for his fans, and his tenacity, his workout ethic, his wisdom around his crew chief and his team. He's a leader in every which way and to see him run so successful with the IROC cars. He's gonna probably be a five-time champion at the end of the year with the IROC Series, and he's got as good a shot as anybody right now to win the second Nextel Cup. He's got it going right now."
IS THERE ONE THING THAT STANDS OUT ABOUT HIM THAT YOU'VE LEARNED?
"I would say the patience factor and working with a team and understanding that you have to have the right people in place, and the way that he's been able to surround himself with good people throughout his career. Mark is a leader in many ways and to see him and the way that he conducts himself as a leader behind the wheel of the race car as well as walking on foot across the shop floor, he's a guy you can look up to in that respect."
IS THERE MORE PRESSURE BEING THE DEFENDING CHAMP GOING INTO THE CHASE THAN LOOKING FOR YOUR FIRST TITLE?
"Yes, there is a definitely a bit more pressure just because now this team is on the map and what Kurt Busch has done to win races. I like to go and try to win every race and if you can't, you look for those consistent finishes. When you're a team that's won a championship, people look at you and how you did it and what your approach could be. So this team has to still continue to look for new ways to create avenues to win as well as to build competitive race cars. There's definitely more pressure that comes in many different ways, whether it's on track with other drivers, whether it's with the roll of helping NASCAR continue to grow with the media, and then the sponsors. They'll definitely have a great time advertising the championship, so there are more things and more aggressive things that they do."
IS THERE SOMETHING SPECIAL ABOUT WINNING THAT SEEMS TO RUN IN YOUR FAMILY?
"It's at a level that we start out on that anybody can start out on, which is family racing. It starts out as fun. Everybody gears up as a family and goes out to the race track not expecting to win, but expecting to bring the car home in one piece, so you can go and do it again next week. That's something that our father has instilled in Kyle and I about taking care of our equipment, racing it competitively and trying to create the best result. So it's been fun. It's been a humbling experience to come up through the ranks such as I have and such as Kyle has, and then to be able to win, that's obviously the objective at the end of the day."
NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Crew Chief
Veteran Roush Racing crew chief Jimmy Fennig is the leader of the No. 97 IRWIN/Sharpie Taurus team, part of "The Ford Five;" one of the five Ford teams competing in the 2005 NASCAR Chase for the Nextel Cup Championship.
Fennig, a crew chief in NASCAR's premier division since the 1980s, won his first Cup championship last year with driver Kurt Busch, and he offers these five keys to winning a title in the Chase format:
Jimmy Fennig's Five Keys to Winning a Championship:
"Make sure the cars are prepared properly at the shop and make sure that a back-up car is ready in case something happens at practice. Make sure nothing falls off that race car. Stay focused on the changes that need to be made at the track."
You need luck:
"Make sure the wheels don't fall off. For example, if somebody loses a motor and you get in their oil, that's something you can't prepare for. Something like a cut tire is just bad luck."
Have a talented driver:
"All of these drivers in the top 10 have talent and that's why they've gotten into the chase."
"Jack Roush lets us do what we have to do to build competitive cars. Through wind-tunnel tests, we can prepare the cars properly and make sure they're the best we can put on the track."
"Having everybody pulling in the same direction and making sure nobody is pointing fingers. My focus right now is making sure this team is pumped up and ready to go."
"THE FORD FIVE" QUICK FACT:
Ford has won FIVE Nextel Cup championships with FIVE different drivers in the modern era. Ford champions in the post-1972 era include Bill Elliott (1987), Alan Kuwicki (1992), Dale Jarrett (1999), Matt Kenseth (2003) and Kurt Busch (2004).