2010 NASCAR Preseason Thunder Daytona Fan Fest: Saturday news conference
January 16, 2010
An Interview with Kurt Busch
DENISE MALOOF: Kurt Busch is in the house, ladies and gentlemen.
KURT BUSCH: Hello.
DENISE MALOOF: We're on the home stretch here of our conversations with you guys. Glad to see you. 2010, lots of stuff going on at Penske Racing, but coming back to the sport's biggest event.
KURT BUSCH: It's good to be back and good to answer questions and get back in the groove, so to speak, and talking with the fans earlier in the Fan Zone, it hit me stronger today than it had in the months past, which is that Penske Racing is the only Dodge team, and that there are a lot of people that are following us even more closely because they were Dodge supporters but now they're Penske Racing and Dodge supporters. So that will be an interesting banner to carry.
Sometimes when you put all your eggs in one basket, it can mean one of two things: Really good or mediocre, and we hope we're on the really good side of things. But to carry the Dodge banner, that's very important for us this year, and to continue to make our program stronger, I think we're making the right steps all throughout Penske Racing, but of course ultimately on the 2 car, we've got a new crew chief with Steve Addington, and it's been a great adjustment so far, just his change, the outside ideas, the ability to make power decisions is really coming into fold right away.
So I feel like we've got a great strong start to our season. We just have to build that chemistry between driver and crew chief. And the good part about the way that the Chase for the Sprint Cup is set up is that we have 26 races in the regular season and then we have to make the Chase obviously, and then we'll have a great shot at the championship because we'll be ready to go by then.
Q: You kind of addressed the question I was going to ask about how quickly you'd get up to speed with Addington. Brad came in and said that you had discovered some changes that needed to be done with the cars. Looking at your Dodges, as we come into Daytona and California, Vegas, what do you see being better about them, and how critical is that going to be to really achieving what you did last year or getting better?
KURT BUSCH: Well, for us on the 2 car, we're going to continue down the same road that we had success with towards the end of the season, and that led us to a win at Texas, it led us to a strong finish at Homestead, referring to the mile-and-a-halfs. And what we have to be smart about is Steve Addington has some brilliant ideas and some smart things that he's done with my little brother's team in the past. And so we have to merge those two together the proper way. And so that's the test that we have to give ourselves in the beginning part of the year, because what we ran in the fall might not be what we have to have this spring to be successful because the sport changes that fast.
So it's just great to have good, quality outside information, and we have to build a solid points base in the beginning of the year. That's always very important. So it's just -- there's no real timeline on when we have to have everything clicking on all eight cylinders, but we just can't beat ourselves while we're going through that process, but I think that there's no way we can beat ourselves with being this smart right now, and we'll see how the beginning of the season plays out.
Q: Last year you had a runaway win in Atlanta and then Kasey Kahne won in Atlanta and then you mentioned yourself on other mile and a half tracks. I know COT is supposed to be equal, but does Dodge have any competitive edge when you go to a mile and a half track?
KURT BUSCH: Did the Hendrick cars get omitted from the conversation? Those cars seem to be the biggest advantage, whether it's a Chevy, Dodge, Toyota or Ford. It gets back to the teams, I think, Hendrick Motorsports, Penske Racing, Gibbs finished third overall as far as teams last year when you just rank them as far as how they finished in the overall standings. No, we just hit the right setup that day. It didn't matter what manufacturer we were driving.
But we're proud to represent Dodge this year, and we hope that Brad Keselowski and Jay get up to speed quickly, and we know that Sam is going to do much better this year after having a nice solid outing all of 2009. We've got a big banner to carry, and we hope we give Ralph Giles, the new CEO, good support.
Q: Three-part question, if I may. First of all, you've said that you need to build that solid point base toward the Chase early in the season. Do you see a parallel between that and what you had to do a few years ago when you had to build the points to get into the Top 35 first of all? Secondly, you've got your younger brother's crew chief. Any dynamics there, anything coincidental, interesting about that? Thirdly, you and Roger did have a couple of rough spots last year; you talked about that and everything's cool, I assume.
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, the first portion with points, it's always important to start off running consistent. If you have an 18th place day going or a 20th place car, you've got to slide on two tires possibly at the end and hold on to finish 10th, 11th or 12th in the beginning of the year. By doing that then you can have a couple of rough races during the summer and still feel comfortable about your chances of making the Chase. But working from behind, that's always tough. That year I gave all of my points to Sam Hornish, Jr. to guarantee him a starting spot, that put us on the outside looking in. There was times when I felt like I shouldn't make a move on the track just not to jeopardize anything and just get a decent finish when you don't have any points.
But moving into the second part of your question, working with Steve Addington, I'm sure he'll call me Kyle plenty of times, and I hope I don't call him Pat on the radio. It's just fun the whole time when you're merging a new relationship and keeping things honest, keeping things fun, and yet learning from each other. And this year going into it reminds me a little bit of the year when I got Jimmy Fennig as my crew chief back in 2002. I didn't know very much then; Fennig knew everything. I feel like I know enough now, but I feel like Steve Addington is going to add that much more to our program.
And getting into the third part of the question with Roger Penske, I have to applaud him and thank him for putting up with some of my stubborn moments and at the same time giving me a quality crew chief like Steve Addington to work with to continue our competitive efforts. If you find yourself with a weak link anywhere, which is the benchmark of the 48 car, and you don't compare in every area they're going to beat you. To fill this chew chief spot with somebody that's got as much power as Addington, this can only move us forward.
Q: Did you talk to Kyle at all about Addington? I mean, did you know -- did you guys ever hang out together with him before? And if you did talk to Kyle, what did he say about Addington?
KURT BUSCH: We really haven't spoken in detail about why he left Gibbs or what the whole scenario was on why there was that departure. But the funny story of it is the day that Kyle learned that Steve Addington was going to be making a change or Gibbs was going to be making a change, we were doing a family portrait for our Christmas cards, and he was like, wait a minute, what's going on, and I was like, what's going on. I asked him at the end of the conversation, I said, can you give me Steve's number? He told me to go find it on my own. So it was cute that I was there the day the news broke and I found out before anybody. Sometimes the world circles around, and that's the way that it works.
We really haven't spoke in detail. In this off-season, he's been very busy with his truck program, getting things up and going. And he now is the player of 50 employees, he's got a lot on his table. So I'll slide in once the season gets underway, talk with him about some of the good and the bad about Steve Addington. But hopefully it's all good.
Q: You mentioned Jimmy before. The question on everybody's mind, it's the million dollar question, how do you beat Jimmy after four years of winning? Have you found a chink in his armor to say this is how we've got to expose him and beat him this year?
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, I wish we all would have been smart enough to know they were going to be this tough every year, but it seems like they just never back down and they find new ways to win and new ways to stay on top. That forces everybody to play catch-up in a sense. But in my mind that they are very superior in versus other teams, one of those being in the engine department. I think that's a very strong area that we've put a lot of money into at Penske Racing to advance our program there.
Aerodynamics are always a question on how to advance the car. And with the question of are we going to this rear spoiler or are we staying with the rear wing, we have to be on the cutting edge to be able to balance out if there is a change and be the first team to figure it out.
That's where Chad Knaus, Rick Hendrick and Jimmie Johnson have been the last four years is they've just been ahead of the curve and they know what the next step is. And I think we're a smart enough team to figure out some of those things before the other teams do to give us that advantage.
Q: When Addington became available, was that kind of like an oh, my God, I can't believe this guy is available for us to look at situation? And another question is in working with him, have you seen anything that kind of makes you understand maybe why it didn't really work out with Kyle and him?
KURT BUSCH: On your first part of your question, I was ecstatic at the caliber of crew chief that he is became available. We had looked internally at promoting a couple of our key crew members, and the only reason why we wouldn't do that is if we found somebody of that high caliber to put in that position. Not knowing if we would get him or not we still had to move forward with our choices internally, and it all worked out. The guys that we have internally that were a bit disappointed not to get the position understand why they were beat out for that spot, and they'll still continue to give that good effort.
And the second part of your question, I think I forgot it, but it was -- go ahead and repeat that.
Q: Have you learned anything about Steve that makes you understand, yeah, I can see why him and Kyle weren't perfect together?
KURT BUSCH: You never know what happened on that side of it, just because I don't know both sides of the story. But just working with Steve right away, the fun part about it is he would open his notebook and say, Kyle said the car was one out of ten and it was a six tight. I said, I'm the one that taught him how to relay that information to a crew chief, or in our case our father and when we spoke to him as our crew chief. So fun things like that are going to come up all year long, on how I liked my car at Daytona, and Steve Addington is going to say, Kyle liked that same type of thing.
Then there are going to be times where we're polar opposite, and that's where I'm going to have to take a step back and go really Kyle and I drive a lot alike, what is the reasoning for that. It's going to make me a better driver understanding those notes.
Q: Were you involved in the early development of the COT when you back to backed the wing and the spoiler? If you were, what did you think about the spoiler then, and what do you think this change is going to bring later this spring when it's brought in?
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, I had no contact with it early when they were talking about it. Just this week is the first time I've heard of the spoiler actually being attached to the current COT model that we drive. And from what I can gather, they're talking about trying to make a change with this rear spoiler that is very close to the rear wing in many ways as far as downforce. That's the big concern. If we're going to get a big shift in downforce, that's going to throw all the teams for a loop. I don't think NASCAR is looking for that. One thing I've always pushed for is to get the spoiler back on the car to get that side draft. That happens at mile-and-a-halfs, it happens a two-mile tracks, and it primarily happens at the restrictor plate tracks where two cars are side by side and they have a tough time breaking away from each other because you can side draft more prominently with a spoiler on the car than you can with a wing. Why is that? Cause the air can escape underneath the wing; whereas with a spoiler, it can't. It creates a bigger hole, other cars can stay closer together, creates tighter racing, bigger packs.
Q: Things have been pretty racy here the last three or four Februarys as you well now, and now they're talking about possibly abolishing the yellow-line rule, relaxing the restrictions on bump drafting, maybe even opening up the plates a little bit. Your thoughts on that?
KURT BUSCH: It's been wild no matter what set of rules they give us. I remember the days of watching Jeff Gordon slide up from the flat up onto the banking to make passes going into the Turn 1 without the double yellow line rule.
Then there's the side effect of this double yellow line rule, and that is you use it as a boundary line. You use it to force other drivers to maneuver in ways that they wouldn't normally maneuver. So there's always a Catch 22. We want to see the best racing action we can find, but we want to do it safely, and I applaud the bigger plates. What that'll do is it'll make the setup more important than it will overall raw speed. And when you're worried about your setup, that will help separate the men from the boys, so to speak, on who's got their setups just right.
Q: I wanted to ask you also about this guy Brad Keselowski. Just seems to be kind of a breath of fresh air, not intimidated by anything. What are your impressions of him?
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, he's an on-the-gas fellow. He likes to know what's going on with the team at all times. He's definitely driving the car to the best of his ability every lap. Sometimes when he steps over the boundary he learns pretty quick on what to do different next time. It's just great. It's always easier to rein somebody back when they're riding too hard than it is to smack them on the behind and tell them to go faster. So Brad is one of those guys where you want to rein him back, but not too often, because you've got to let him go out there, find success, find trouble, and you learn from it all in the end.
Q: I'm curious why you didn't talk to Kyle about Steve. Is it because you didn't want to have any sort of notion before talking to Steve himself? Or is that just something that drivers -- you wouldn't talk to no matter who he would have crew chiefed for or what?
KURT BUSCH: If Steve Addington came from Hendrick Motorsports or if he came from Richard Childress Racing, it didn't matter who the driver was, he was that caliber of a crew chief that you want on your team. To win 12 races in the last two years, that's solid. Nobody in the garage area has that type of track record other than Jimmie Johnson and a couple others. With him being connected to my little brother, it's going to make the transition easier. He's going to know the Busch wavelengths on what we're thinking sometimes. And what I enjoy about the situation already is just the camaraderie that we feel like we share already a great deal of experience together just because he's worked with Kyle and I've worked with Kyle.
Finding out from Kyle some of the key answers, that will come down the road, and that will only help our relationship develop. Right now we're just in 101 working to try to get to 102 and move on to further advancements after that.
DENISE MALOOF: Kurt, thank you very much. Good luck. We'll see you very, very soon.
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