Bristol: Ford - Kurt Busch interview

Bristol: Ford - Kurt Busch interview
Mar 29, 2004, 3:53 PM

Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 97 Sharpie/IRWIN Taurus, will be seeking his third consecutive NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series win at Bristol in tomorrow's Food City 500. Busch, who qualified 13th on Friday, held a Q&A session prior to Saturday's practice ...

Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 97 Sharpie/IRWIN Taurus, will be seeking his third consecutive NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series win at Bristol in tomorrow's Food City 500. Busch, who qualified 13th on Friday, held a Q&A session prior to Saturday's practice and happy hour sessions.

KURT BUSCH - No. 97 Sharpie/IRWIN Taurus

WHAT FACTORS MAKE YOU FEEL COMFORTABLE HERE? "I think the way you have to approach Bristol every time you show up is with the frame of mind to just survive. That's the key point at Bristol. With noses and doors and fenders attached the car, it helps your car turn a little bit at the end of the race. The guy that usually has the cleanest looking car has the best chance of going to victory lane. In the past, our team has done a great job of that. The spotter has helped me out quite a bit on top of the grandstands. The crew chief lets me know of all the different things changing on the track throughout the race and, of course, just driving through the windshield of the guy in front of you. I think that's probably another key that some of the drivers might miss here - just trying to stay ahead of the game. Whether somebody checks up in front of that guy or you see a spin and you're able to avoid it quickly, that's the key to success at Bristol. So things have been good in the past. I think we've got four top-10 finishes, but in my rookie year I probably made a total of 100 laps here. It's been the biggest up-and-down as far as most of the tracks we go to, but this place is very special to me and our sponsor, Sharpie, because of how involved they are with the race track. I knew right away that I'd have to bring my A-game to this race track because I'd have all the executives from Newell Rubbermaid up in the suite watching."

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR SEASON SO FAR? "That's a great thing to touch on is the way we were able to view our last three races. The fourth race with Daytona is a restrictor plate race and we just had an unscheduled pit stop there, but our team did a great job building that car. We thought we had a top five car but finished 16th. We went into Rockingham with a bunch of ideas to try and it seemed the new tire held us up a little bit. We ran fourth most of the day and then got shuffled back when we were on pit road and a late caution came out, so we finished eighth. At Vegas we qualified second, had a shot at the pole and didn't quite get it, but we didn't run all that well. We only led a few laps and finished ninth. And then at Atlanta, we wrecked our primary car in qualifying practice, brought out the backup and ran competitively all day and finished eighth, I believe. That just wasn't the way Jimmy Fennig and I knew that the 97 car could race. We both looked at one another and didn't point any fingers, but we both knew we were more of a competitive team. The engineer was in on the meeting as well, so we came to Darlington with a new plan, a new setup and a new way to look at things. How to absorb the new horsepower that Ford has been able to achieve, the new downforce and, of course, the new tire, so at Darlington we qualified fourth. We led the most laps and we had a decent finish at the end of the day. Our pit crew, I think, had a 13.5-second stop which is fantastic by our standards. The other teams just had a little bit quicker stop and a little bit quicker time down pit road, so we finished sixth. We come into this race with a fresh look on our setups and, hopefully, we can continue that down the road."

HOW DO YOU EXPLAIN WINNING STREAKS HERE LIKE WALTRIP, YARBOROUGH AND YOUR STREAK? "I'd rather be lucky than good any day and that's one key aspect of Nextel Cup racing that you have to have. On the other side of it, it's great to be able to win at one track but at Bristol you never really know what's gonna happen throughout the race. Things change so quickly here and I think having that open frame of mind and being able to adapt to any situation and just roll with it, whether it's a downpour and you have a bad pit stop and get shuffled to the back and then you get your fender wrinkled in a wreck and you've got to make unscheduled pit stops after that, that's what happened in 2002 for our first win. We were able to come from 27th starting position, go all the way to the back after all of that happened, and then just steadily pick one off at a time and got back to the front. The way we won in 2003 in the spring was a car that was mediocre in setup.

"It really wouldn't run good at the beginning and it really didn't fall off at the end of a run, it just stayed consistent throughout the day. We were able to pull it into victory lane just due to luck. That was probably the luckiest win that we had, but when we came here in the fall it was probably the best car I've ever had at Bristol. We were able to qualify fifth. I think we led the most laps and we pulled away at the end, so there were three uniquely different ways of winning, but they all end up looking the same as they're all just piled together I guess. There's no one way to win at Bristol. You have to come here looking to survive, whether you've got a fast car or whether you've got a slow car, if you're a car that has a decent look to it at the end of the race and you've got a 100 laps to go with a fresh set of tires, lay it out and see what you've got."

WHEN DID YOUR SPONSOR COME ON BOARD, WAS IT HERE A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO? "It was three years ago in 2001. We didn't win here that year in 2001, so it was the year after that. But we did announce the program in Texas that Newell Rubbermaid would sponsor our car and that weekend was the first top five ever for me in the 97 car."

YOU'VE BEEN IN THE POSITION BURTON IS NOW WITH A SPONSOR, SO THAT WAS A PIVOTAL MOMENT. "That was a tough aspect of my career, coming into what was then Winston Cup and not having a full-time sponsor, but having Jack Roush's word. So not knowing which direction was what as a rookie and what I needed to do out on the track to obtain a sponsorship or to look favorable in a positive situation for a sponsor to get involved with, it really kept the mind in so many different directions. But I knew I was somewhat at ease with Jack Roush's word. He's a very loyal guy to work for. Mark Martin's been there since the start of his career and a lot of drivers stick with Jack Roush. I think they had a plan to bring Newell Rubbermaid to the company, they just wanted to allow a white car out on the race track for them to look at - for me to have the pressure on my shoulders and to go out there to try to lure in a sponsorship, so to speak, or to expose what talents the 97 team had. It was a unique time. We were able to sign the deal and get a top five the first weekend with the contract and then to come to Bristol the race that they sponsor in the fall and to win, it really just put their marketing program into high gear and allowed them to market in so many different areas - to go into the Office Depot's or the Home Depot's with Sharpie displays, it went from zero to 100 percent just that quick."

IF YOU HAD TO PICK A TRACK TO DOMINATE YOU WOULDN'T HAVE NECESSARILY PICKED BRISTOL. HAVE YOU CHANGED YOUR VIEW ON THAT? "Just a humble guy that approaches each race with a fresh outlook, whether the past there has been successful or whether the past there has been a struggle. I'll go to Richmond and think that I can't ever finish in the top 10 and maybe we'll get a top 10 finish this time around. Or I'll go to Bristol knowing that we've got the last three out of four races and that throws in the pressure of 'let's get a fourth and four out of five.' Let's see what we can do to stay on top of our game. It's a humble approach - not one to be flamboyant about anything or be an arrogant, brash punk as Harvick would say. It's just a humble approach and I think that's really helped add success to our level at Bristol and to a bunch of other race tracks as well."

DO YOU HAVE TO BE MAD WHEN YOU'RE DRIVING OUT THERE TO KEEP THAT FIRE GOING? "I don't think I was ever an angry driver, more of a happy-go-lucky, fortunate to be in this situation, and with a humble approach you go to each track knowing what you have to do. With the way last summer went, I think at the end of last year the Fords weren't all that competitive. We were the last one to take a Ford to victory lane and it was at a short track. We somewhat have struggled with the new tire this year, so I think we're beginning to turn the corner and be more of a solid team that can compete week to week for wins - not just top 10 finishes or top fives. We can lead some laps and we can try to win and it's just a matter of having all of your elements working together. At the end of last year, Ford gave us a new nose and a new tail and that for surely helped the Ford with the downforce balance.

"And then with this new tire, I think it really fell into my teammates hands, Matt Kenseth, and the way he likes to put springs underneath his car and the way that he runs his shocks and swaybars - all that NASCAR jargon talk about setups. He really likes the way that these new tires feel, whereas for me, I like a bigger spring in one area of the car and it really hurts our effort with this new tire. I think we're now beginning to climb up the ladder and maybe even get on top of the plateau and ride for a little bit and understand what we can do with this new tire. When we do make a change on the pit stop it's a positive change, whereas the first four races and maybe even the latter part of last year we weren't quite as focused as we needed to be. Anytime we made a change, it just didn't seem to help the car go forward."

WAS THE FALL BRISTOL WIN ESPECIALLY SWEET? "It will be over time with the way stats are compiled and being able to sweep at one specific track. It's a great feather in the cap, whether it's the team that helped you achieve that, whether it's the driver, whether it was the emotions outside of it that fueled that. It will go down as a sweep of 2003 at Bristol and the way that our team was able to rise above all the different circumstances that led up to that weekend and then to the end of the year. I think we did a great job with that weekend and over time that sweep will for surely add more importance to what we've done in the past."

DID YOU TAKE SOME LESSONS FROM THAT 10-DAY PERIOD? "I probably reacted to all of that 99 percent wrongly. That was a choice that I really didn't know that I was doing at the time, so to look back on it, there's the aspect of what you have to do in a race car and then there's the aspect of what is required of you as a race car driver. Then there's the sponsor and the media, so there are a lot of different avenues that I saw and that I approached in the incorrect way. I believe now with the way that my team has helped me and the way that our sponsor is still geared up to do things in a bold and aggressive way to advertise - because it's really unique with Sharpie the way that they're able to do things - and now they're on our car for 18 races this year. They came in and brought a relatively new company - Irwin Industrial Tools - and it's really helped me understand the bigger picture on what a driver has to do outside of the car. Irwin has a big impact with charity work with Rebuilding Together. It's a foundation that I worked on with the NFL at the Super Bowl and now at Las Vegas, and we're gonna do some other chapters later in the year. Just understanding things as a role model, whether it's young kids that are racers or underprivileged families or just anybody that wants to watch our sport, I can now understand the bigger picture. It's not just going to victory lane and knocking the doors off somebody to get there, it's the bigger picture. I think that's the biggest thing I took away from that."

IS THERE A CERTAIN AMOUNT OF TIME YOU WAIT FOR A SLOWER CAR TO GET OUT OF THE WAY BEFORE YOU PULL THE BUMP AND RUN? "That's just a move where you normally see the guy that's in second operate on the leader. Whether it's 15 laps or whether it's 50 laps or whether it's 15 laps from the end of a race, that's when you're likely to see a move like that. If you've got the first 100 laps or so, you're following somebody and you're 15th, you end up following them. There's not much you can do at a place like this unless you're that much quicker. You can set him up with a pass to cut underneath him coming out of turn four, but usually that's a circumstance where two cars are fairly identical with the racing line they're utilizing and then with the speeds that they're able to maintain. That second-place guy just has a little bit of an advantage or he has a little bit more of a stronger desire to win and that's usually when the bump-and-run comes into play. It's usually only for the lead and for the win at the end of a race."

FOLLOW UP. "Just to follow up on that, it's something where you try to be consciously aggressive at this race track, but as soon as you think you can be aggressive, somebody checks up in front of that guy you're focused on and you end up with your radiator smashed in because you didn't see the overall picture, you didn't look far enough ahead. So there's no real reason to get in a hurry at all. When you're the second-place guy working on the leader, there's usually only one guy in front of you and you don't have to worry about odd circumstances hurting or affecting your day."

NASCAR IS SO BIG IN THE U.S. AND NOT AS BIG OUTSIDE. DO YOU HAVE AN IDEA WHY? "It's a huge phenomenon in the states. With all the different race tracks we go to, we don't really go to different venues that are popular outside the U.S., which would be road courses. We only go to two a year. There aren't many ovals that have been built overseas or in different countries, it's primarily road racing and for us to compete, we would bring in so much technology for road racing that it really wouldn't appeal because it would end up looking like Formula One, where one driver would just get an advantage and stretch his lead out to 15 seconds and you wouldn't have that side-by-side camaraderie or the bumper-to-bumper racing that you see. We race anywhere between a half-mile race track and a two-and-a-half-mile and usually we're side-by-side and you don't know who is gonna win. You don't even know who is gonna win until after the last pit stop and you see who has the better tires. It's really a phenomenon that the fans want to see stock cars compete and it seems like the drivers are what lures our fans to the race track. They want to come and see the Jeff Gordons, the Dale Earnhardt, Jrs., the Kurt Buschs. They want to see Ryan Newman on Friday and they just want to see the things that go on because it's so intense and it's a competition side-by-side, more or less."

DO YOU THINK THEY'RE ALSO INTERESTED IN SEEING CARS WRECK? "I think at this track you always want to see some cars slide and spin. The sparks usually fly here, whether you want it or not. Martinsville is another track where cars end up spinning around because it's more like parking lot racing there, but I don't think fans want to see wrecks at the bigger tracks. They don't want to see wrecks with any type of speed involved because usually it leads to other circumstances."

HOW DOES THE CONCRETE AFFECT THE TIRE AND WHAT WOULD YOUR RESULTS HAVE BEEN ON ASPHALT? "I never did race here when it was asphalt, but I did see some video and the way that races used to conduct themselves in the past. You'd have a lot of green flag runs because there would be so many grooves and cars could go anywhere on the race track, but the problem with that led to the track deteriorating and ripping up over time because of a 3,600-pound stock car throwing its pressure onto the asphalt. That ripped it up. The concrete made it stable for the drivers and the track now doesn't have a deteriorating problem and it does have two grooves if you utilize it the right way, but it's very difficult to do that. It's usually a matter of who has the best setup and who is gonna go to the front. But asphalt to concrete, concrete is a very predictable surface. We race on it three times a year at Martinsville, Dover and Bristol."

IS POPULARITY IMPORTANT TO YOU IN THIS SPORT? "Not really. It's something that comes with victory lane or it comes with different types of marketing. It's something where I came into the sport just trying to win races. I was able to win four in my second year and four in my third year, and I probably didn't prepare the proper way for when you do win races different things happen and that was probably where I was a bit behind. It's no real thing that I need. It's nothing that I strive for. I think the team and I have a great relationship with one another on when we win, we get to celebrate but usually it's 9 o'clock on Monday morning and we're working on how we're gonna win the next one."


 FORD RACING NOTES AND QUOTES Food City 500 Advance, Page 5 March 27, 2004 Bristol Motor Speedway 

KURT BUSCH CONTINUED -- DARRELL WALTRIP SAID ON TV YESTERDAY THAT NOBODY HAS BEEN BOOED BY MORE PEOPLE THAT YOU WERE AFTER WINNING LAST AUGUST. DID THAT REACTION MAKE YOU THINK ABOUT HOW YOU WERE DEALING WITH YOUR IMAGE IN THIS SPORT? "That's what led me to believe that I handled everything 99 percent wrong for that 12 to 14 day period that followed that event. An unbelievable outpouring of boos is one thing in this sport and for some people might have thought it was because of the way I handled the whole situation or that I accidentally ran into Sterling Marlin or the fact of winning three out of the last four races. Maybe they're upset because they want to see somebody else win. I went through that as a kid watching my dad race all the time. He would win 15 out of 16 races in his division and nobody liked him. They all booed him because he won too much. And then there was the aspect of the hometown guy that I accidentally ran in to. He was trying to allow me to pass to the inside. He didn't give me any signals to allow me to go to the inside. I was too busy looking ahead to turn two to try to cut underneath him and I ran into him, so there were probably those three events that led up to all of that, and 35,000 that Bristol used to seat and that DW used to make mad is for surely different than 160,000."


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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Matt Kenseth , Kurt Busch , Ryan Newman , Jack Roush , Mark Martin