Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 97 Sharpie/IRWIN Taurus, qualified 22nd for tomorrow's Bass Pro Shops MBNA 500 and has a 96-point lead over second-place Jeff Gordon. Busch held a Q&A session at the track on Saturday prior to the IROC race. KURT ...
Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 97 Sharpie/IRWIN Taurus, qualified 22nd for tomorrow's Bass Pro Shops MBNA 500 and has a 96-point lead over second-place Jeff Gordon. Busch held a Q&A session at the track on Saturday prior to the IROC race.
KURT BUSCH - No. 97 Sharpie/IRWIN Taurus
DO YOU THINK JEFF GORDON HAS BECOME THE SENTIMENTAL FAVORITE?
"There's definitely incentive on their side to pull the strength from within to do better this weekend, and I think the whole NASCAR community is gonna do the same. Obviously, it's a tragedy and we all have our emotions with it. It is a tough time even for the 97 team, but we know the Hendrick guys are having more of a struggle this week to carry forward, but there is definitely something that they can bring from this and that's something that we know as a team. It's very similar to Dale Earnhardt, Sr's. accident on how the community pulled together and everyone is helping one another, and you can definitely feel the different persona in the garage area. So they've got that on their side and we know that, but we've got the advantage in the points right now and we don't expect to hang onto it, we expect to build to it."
DO YOU FEEL DESTINY IS ON YOUR SIDE NOW?
"I think we've raced hard enough to put ourselves in position for the playoffs. We've had a great regular season and thus far we've had an excellent playoff system with running the way we have, with leading laps -- last week we led the most laps - and putting together the solid finishes that it takes to win a championship. With this new Nextel Chase for the Cup program, it's a matter of doing it in the final 10 after you've positioned yourself in the first 26."
HOW WOULD YOU EVALUATE YOURSELF AS A DRIVER THIS YEAR?
"Each year you begin to settle into more of a routine and things are more comfortable - working with my crew chief now for the third year straight and pretty much the same guys as well, things are just comfortable. The education you learn on the race track is easier to see now and you're able to implement stronger ideas back to the program. That's where our team has been able to sit back and put together a testing formula and an outline that was gonna carry us towards this championship this year and we haven't burned ourselves out. We still have another test left and just seeing things in a bigger perspective has been the greatest adjustment I've made over these four years."
HOW IS IT TO BE RACING A GORDON AND EARNHARDT, JR. FOR THIS TITLE?
"They're definitely the two favorites and we've had consistent finishes to rival those favorites. They've had great finishes and it's a great combination of characters in these final 10 races, as well as the top 10 guys. Right now, we might not be the favorite. We might be somewhat of an underdog, but now it's changed because we have this points advantage with just four races to go. We know things can change quickly and we don't want to get ahead of ourselves. Looking back on what he's done in the past (Gordon), there are things you can learn but he's definitely got the upperhand as far as putting together championship efforts, so we've got a tough task at hand."
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE FINAL FOUR TRACKS?
"It's a great four tracks for us and that's what is somewhat deceiving. We didn't come to test at Atlanta because we've won here. Phoenix is a track where we finished fourth last year and a top five the year before that, I believe. It's been a great race track for me just because of the experience level that I have at Phoenix - racing Southwest Tour races and Trucks - and, of course, I enjoy the west coast - and the flat miles have been good to us this year with New Hampshire as the prime candidate. Darlington, that's a place where you race just the race track. You don't have to worry about your competition, it's just you and the race track and that leads us to Miami, where we had a horrible finish last year. We got limited track experience with the new banking, so that's where we're gonna use our final two-day test to prepare ourselves for the final event knowing that the final event is gonna be different anyhow with everybody's outlook - the final race - and all the marbles are out on the table for you to grab."
CAN YOU HAVE IT WRAPPED UP BY THEN?
"It would be something to look forward to - to have a 160-point advantage going into Miami would definitely ease the tension and ease the pain because these final 10 have tested every crew member's mind and everybody's decision making. And with the way Jack has approached it in the past with his championship last year, it's completely different this year, it would be nice to have that type of cushion, but we know we're gonna have to race. We know we have to show up at each race track and race hard."
DO YOU FEEL THE PRESSURE?
"There's the pressure to perform each race and not get too far ahead of yourself and looking in the wrong direction, whether that's to gain speed or to calm your mind. There's that balance of stretching it out for so many days. I just saw the World Series end and it seemed like the Red Sox were just a wild car getting in and now they're already done with their playoffs, whereas ours is stretched out for 10 weeks, 70 days, and there's so much time in between each of our events that you want to get back in the car and focus on what's important."
DO YOU THINK YOU WOULD HAVE DRIVEN ANY DIFFERENTLY IN THE OLD SYSTEM?
"That's a great question and I believe that's what's given us the upperhand to have this points advantage and to not have any problems with our car mechanically is we have laid out everything on the table, we haven't left anything behind. If you try this type of pace, I believe, for 36 races, you'd burn yourself out. There would be people disgruntled with one another. Right now, with 10 races and six of them down right now, we feel like we've done the best job we possibly can with racing as hard as we can, with building cars as quick as we can, and testing as hard as we can with the people that we have. So we looked at a regular season of 26 races - pace yourself. We looked at 10 races as a playoff - pace yourself for that."
ARE YOU WORRIED THAT YOU'RE DUE A BAD RACE LIKE THE OTHER TOP 10 GUYS?
"It may come and I hope that we're able to rebound just as the 24 has each of his races. To be a lap down at Charlotte and to be a lap down at Martinsville and to come back and finish in the top 10 both of those times is not luck, it's competition that we have to race against. For us to finish in the top five almost every race but Kansas (sixth), it's what we're trying to put forth and that's our effort - trying to see if guys can keep up with us or if we're gonna break something in that session of running too hard. That's one thing Atlanta will test you is if you run too hard of a gear, too hard of a shock, you can get into trouble quickly and we're trying to stay away from that."
WHAT MAKES JIMMY FENNIG SO GOOD?
"His ability to adapt to a changing race track for the day. You show up with your notebook and it might say run x, and if he says the track is too hot and the aerodynamics have changed too greatly, he'll throw it away and adjust for that day. Years of experience will teach you that and that's one thing he definitely has on every other crew chief in this garage area."
YOU MENTIONED THE RED SOX. YOU CAN DRIVE FASTER THAN CURT SHILLING'S 94 MPH FASTBALL.
"There are so many similarities between all of our sports that we watch on TV and the sport that we're within. NASCAR racing is definitely one that challenges every crew member and every part of the team to bring up new ideas and to pull things in the same direction. It's not just one leader saying, 'this is our playbook.' Everybody gets to throw their insight in and you have to race hard in certain places, you have to race hard at certain times of the day. It's just like baseball in how you have to make sure you bring your best pitcher forward when it counts - whether it's Game 3 or Game 4 or Game 1. Right now, we've got 10 Game 1's that we have to race hard in."
HAVE YOU LOOKED AT VIDEO OF YOUR RUN THROUGH THE GRASS AT CHARLOTTE AND WONDERED HOW YOU MADE IT?
"I've looked at the infield at Atlanta and I don't want to do it because there's too big of a hole out there for the drainage ditch. Whether luck was there, I knew the Charlotte infield was somewhat flat, except for the Legends oval that's on the infield, but there are places I can draw a parallel to. I spun the car at California Speedway off of turn two. There was a lot of asphalt to the inside of the race track that gives you time to slow down. Kansas Speedway, I know that race track doesn't have that asphalt to the inside of the race track, it has grass. Once you get into the grass, it's very difficult to control your car and you can slide into the fence. At Kansas, I chose to spin the car on the race track and chance getting hit by other cars, whereas at California Speedway we had a loose condition there and I chose to get out of everybody's direction and use that asphalt to the inside to slow the car down. So there are things you have to look at at each race track and Atlanta is not one to drive through the front grass."
DO YOU APPROACH THE 33 CARS NOT IN THE CHASE DIFFERENTLY?
"They can definitely attack the race track with a more aggressive stance. Whether it's McMurray in 11th, who has to somewhat run like a top 10 guy to protect that position, or it's Dale Jarrett through Kasey Kahne. Those guys are competitive, they're gonna win races, and they can get away with running a bit more aggressive setup or an aggressive gear and chance a two-tire stop versus four. Whereas, the guys in the top 10 - especially the case that we're in - we have to do things on a conservative base but still run competitive and still put together a solid finish. Whether we have a chance to win with that setup, that's something we're gonna do. It's something that's a little bit easier for them to run those lap times than to run up front."
ARE YOU A FAN OF THE NEW SYSTEM AND WOULD YOU MAKE ANY CHANGES?
"That's something we looked at at the beginning of the year was how can we take advantage of this new system the best way? How can we run the best when it counts? Right now, with these 10 races, we've done that job and we need to continue to do that for four more. We know that some teams would have approached it differently. We definitely wouldn't have been in the state of mind we were in for the first 26 races, so we could have raced differently. Whether Johnson experimented or not, he had a couple of motor failures in there that took away his points advantage and he'd probably be leading right now, instead of just a couple points ahead of us in third. There are so many ways to look at it. If we implemented the top 10 a different type of point system for the final 10 races, that's something to where it would take away those bad finishes. You would give a guy 10 points for winning and one point for finishing 10th of those guys in the final 10. That's something that could be looked at, but, right now, the way they have things balanced out is you still have to run consistently, you still have to adapt to all different styles of race tracks, and one thing I think that's been overlooked is you still have to gain bonus points and that's one thing we've put a strong focus on. That could be our upperhand when the final points tally is added up."
HOW ARE YOU DOING FROM A STAMINA STANDPOINT?
"It's these final 10 and that's the focus of running hard all of these races whether you wear yourself out or not. Or you're trying to have an opinion of giving somebody a chance to have bad luck, you can't do that. You have to race your car and you have to work with your team to generate the finishes."
WHAT ABOUT DARLINGTON NOT BEING IN THE FINAL 10 NEXT YEAR?
"I'd love to see Darlington there. I'd love to see Rockingham back in it. There are different reasons why we position ourselves to go to different markets at certain times of the year and I believe once we get further into these playoff races, more tracks are gonna want a piece of the pie and you'll see a Bristol in there, you might see a road course in there, another short track, but that's the driver speaking in me, it's not the NASCAR official. We'll have to balance out wherever we go and race the best that we can."
HOW HAVE YOU MATURED OVER THE LAST YEAR OR TWO?
"It's been a great deal of change from the bigger perspective - an understanding of what I have to do as a driver outside the seat, as well as maintaining the focus in the seat and making changes to the car with the team. Working together better with people and understanding that their input is just as valuable as mine, where before I thought it was just the crew chief and I. On the outside perspective with the sponsors and doing more appearances, but more quality appearances and making sure that we impact more people and allow the fans to understand our position with Sharpie, our position with Irwin Industrial Tools and all of our great associate sponsors. There's that blend with it as well, but it gets down to the bottom line of competing and running top five each week and knowing how to overcome a problem during the race and not looking at that problem but knowing how to fix it, instead of worrying about the problem, fixing it right away and getting to move forward."
HAS THAT ALLOWED YOU TO BECOME MORE RELAXED?
"That's one thing you have to have no matter if you're running well or running poorly is the ability to adapt and to shrug things off and to look toward different people or to look for different circumstances to come up with a better result. So whether it's good or bad, you still have to have that mindset of 'you're living life, things are great, you're 26 years old and you're winning races.'"