Bristol: Ford - Kurt Busch pre-race interview, Part I

Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 97 Rubbermaid Taurus, was the Breakfast Club guest Saturday morning at Bristol Motor Speedway, site of his first NASCAR Winston Cup victory one year ago. Busch, who is in sixth place in the standings, qualified ninth...

Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 97 Rubbermaid Taurus, was the Breakfast Club guest Saturday morning at Bristol Motor Speedway, site of his first NASCAR Winston Cup victory one year ago. Busch, who is in sixth place in the standings, qualified ninth for Sunday's Food City 500.

Part 1 of 2

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN KURT BUSCH NOW AND KURT BUSCH IN 2002 - BEFORE THE FIRST VICTORY? "There's been a lot of team morale since then that's been boosted up over a couple of wins, and the way we finished last year, it's easy to carry the momentum over. Yet, there's a lot of difficult things that you have to work through to make sure that that happens. We've been through the aerodynamic changes with the common bodies and the templates, making sure that our Ford still has its balance that it had from the year previous. So, there's been a lot of hard work with the aerodynamics, of course. We've still had our hardships in other places. And so it just takes the full, total team effort. And the way that I think the crew chief relays information back to the engineers, the engineers to the motor shop, the motor shop to the body shop - those are the big key points that we've been able to polish on from 2003 to 2002. Another big difference has probably been the way that I've been able to show up at some of these race tracks and have a good idea of where I need to be on the race track. And when it's time to lay down a lap, when it's time to learn, as far as our setup underneath the car, and so there's a lot of great things on Jimmy Fennig's side that he's taught me that I've been able to apply to the race track as well. And probably most importantly is now that we've been through a year of hardship with Roush Racing at 2001, went through a great year in 2002, this is now my third year within the organization in Winston Cup to understand how the process works within Mark Martin, Jeff Burton, Matt Kenseth, and our new addition, Greg Biffle this year, to the Winston Cup program. So it's great team combination with all the teams working together, having team meetings and being able to apply certain knowledge that other teams might miss. That's a perfect example of what happened last weekend, which is probably where we'll start our conversation, is I utilized a setup out of Mark Martin's car, out of Jeff Burton's car, and ideas from Matt Kenseth's car, as well as weighing the offerings from Biffle's car. And so I used their setups from Happy Hour to run real well at Darlington last week. So it's just a great testament to how great our teams are communicating to each other."

ON HIS FINISHES DRIVING WITH VETERANS AT ROCKINGHAM AND DARLINGTON AND HOW MUCH THEY MEAN TO HIM. "It's tough to lose races, but I think the biggest thing is there's always lessons learned when you do lose a race. And there haven't been many drivers to come in and just win when they show up at a race track. Examples are Dale Jarrett finished six times in the second-place position at Rockingham before he had won there. And at Darlington, there have been a lot of winners there, but winners that usually win in their seventh or eight races. I think Terry Labonte has the record there to win in his fifth start. And that was my fifth start there at Darlington last Sunday. So you have to go through hardships of losing very close races or going through lessons learned, and the way that both of those races went it looks like I pulled away a valuable lesson from each of those.

"And I'll carry those with me until we go back there in the fall and hopefully have more of a successful run and being able to pull away at the end of the races, instead of just being able to maintain. I think those are going to be the big keys for me when I go back to those two types of race tracks. But the battles that I had with Dale Jarrett was just something that you dream about as a kid, and again at Darlington with Ricky Craven. The way that it turns out is one car is a little bit faster than the other, one car maybe burned his tires off quicker, one car has less experience than the other, or one car has been knowing to running up front lately. So there's good things that came out of it and it's something I'll never forget, I'll cherish. We'll take those as lessons learned, and so that we can get into Victory Lane when it comes time to it next time."

DO YOU HAVE A SENSE OF HISTORY ABOUT RACING? "With the way that I grew up, it's a little bit different than most Winston Cup racers. I grew up on the West Coast, watching these races on TV, and the same with Ricky Craven. He grew up in Maine, watching these races on TV. And you grab at history, you get a sense for what these races mean by the way the media talks about it, by the way you read about it in the paper Monday morning. And for what that track is to me, it's probably the crown jewel of all race tracks for me. The way that they explain that place, the way it was built, back in the '40s, to only race, maybe, 100 miles an hour. And here we are qualifying at that race track in the 170 mile-an-hour range, and you can't race two-wide going into turn one. It's a place that's so abrasive on tires, the only place that can halfway compare to it is Rockingham, and that's in the same sand region in the country where the asphalt is very difficult to lay down. The history behind that place is one within itself, as afar as the Southern 500 - that would be the most prestigious race that Kurt Busch can win. For me, that is the most prestigious race. There's allure that drags everybody to Daytona. My hometown is Las Vegas. Those are probably the top-three race tracks, next to Indianapolis. And for me to be able to compete there and be in a position to win races early in my career, I think it is a little bit of a tribute to how much I respect the place, and how much you have to respect the race track before you even go there."

CAN DRIVERS FROM TODAY HAVE COMPETED 40 YEARS AGO, AND COULD DRIVERS FROM 40 YEARS AGO COMPETE TODAY? OR, CAN'T YOU MAKE THOSE COMPARISONS "I think you can. I think you can take a race car and make it competitive at specific race tracks, and drivers are always adaptive to new situations, and that's the way that I look at it anyhow. I don't have a set pattern on how I'm going to set a car up or how I'm going to drive it at a specific race track, because times change so quickly. Jimmy Fennig and I laughed at our setup that we won the spring race with here last year, because it's going to be that much different today when we start Happy Hour. And so the era of drivers that came before me and created the sport for what we have today. Obviously, we're a different type of breed, more of the southern crowd, and they were ones that, I guess, it's kind of like what Craven and I did last week, they'd bump and grind and do whatever it took to get the victory.

"And so there's signs of that now, in the present, and then of course there's a new era of the sponsorship type roles and being able to be media savvy and do a lot of different outside things than just drive, where some of those southern boys might've just flung the camera out of the way because they were too upset to talk to them. But, you know, if they had to do it, like what we have to do, they would end up adapting to the situation. So there's a lot of great things that you can take from them, but yet you have to mold to the new situation that is through the present."

ON THE ENGINE PROGRAM, ITS PROBLEMS AT ATLANTA AND WHETHER HE CAUGHT GRIEF ABOUT HIS COMMENTS. "It's difficult. When you start off a season you want to get a solid footing as far as points, and make sure that when you do have trouble midseason or you have a mechanical DNF that it doesn't hurt you too terribly bad. And it's tough to swallow those early on in a season. And it's tough we had to use two DNF's already towards what we're trying to accumulate by the end of the year. And with the way our lulls have been, it hasn't been the same problem underneath the hood, it's been something here or something there. And obviously there's a lot of effort that's being put into it and I respect the work that gets done up in Michigan, it's just difficult to deal with sometimes, and I did flip up at Atlanta, I was a bit upset, and any driver is going to be upset when they're standing in the pit area while there's a race going around them. So I didn't deal with it the right way, and Jack let me know about it, and we're going to move forward, obviously, because that's what we're supposed to do. This is a short-track weekend, next weekend we go to Texas, a track very similar to Atlanta in motors, and I hope that it can stay together and that we can have a competitive finish."

ON THE COMPETITION AT BRISTOL. "That's probably the best question about Bristol Motor Speedway, is the competition on how it's been raced. I looked at the time sheet yesterday. Last place to make it into the show was Robbie Gordon with a 15.36. Well, that 15.36 would sit on the pole for the fall race by a tenth of a second. Whether the temperatures are warmer when we come here in the fall, yeah, they are. But I think it's been the evolution of short track racing within the garage area to step up the competition by that much. You exclude Ryan Newman, which we all try to do on Fridays, he's unbelievable, I can tell you that, and an .06 is what Jeff Gordon ran to a .36, so it's three-tenths from first to last to making the race. And that's the competition that we through here at Bristol. It's similar at Martinsville, it's similar at Richmond. The smaller the race track, the tighter the competition, the more difficult it is to pass somebody. Bristol, when you're on, you're on. You can hit your marks, you can be right on the bottom of the track, you can leave the corner with forward bite. Nobody's going to get by you. I had that experience here last spring. We ended up staying out a little longer with our tires and made sure that our track position was the most important value to our win. And when somebody gets in behind you, I mean, like last week, I had to have power-steering problems for Ricky Craven to catch us. Here, you're not likely to have a problem, and there's going to be a green-flag re-start, somebody's going to be right on him, and if they're better with cold tires, they're going to try the best that they can to get by him.

"And usually the only way here is to sweat 'em so hard that you slip 'em into a mistake, or if you're racing somebody that really isn't intimidated by anybody behind you, then you've got to be able to utilize some of the fenders and noses and tails on these cars to move your way around. There's repercussions that come with that, there's the value that you hold within yourself when you do that. And then of course there's different things that you have to do when it's a certain driver in front of you. So you have to weight out a lot of different options."

SOME DRIVERS HAVE SAID THAT WHAT THEY WANT TO SAY THEY CAN'T BECAUSE THEY HAVE TO BE CAREFUL. DO YOU FEEL THAT YOU CAN STILL SPEAK YOUR MIND? "She's asking am I going to fall into the cereal box type mode of drivers. I think that the way I've been able to work different situations, and I've been real happy with the way Rubbermaid has opened up to me, and it's primarily about your sponsor and knowing what their objective is. And within our unique operation, we've got 32 different companies at Newell Rubbermaid, and so I'm a representative of 32 different media outlets, I guess we could call it, to try to sell consumer products to America. And so it's something where you have to be a bit out of the ordinary to try push that type of product. And so they've helped me to understand different situations better. And of course there's the owner's side of things where it's not necessarily a positive thing to say sometimes, but yet the sponsor the agrees with it. So there's a unique balance that is I see within my organization and then with the way that our other Roush drivers handle it, it might not be the template that Roush has set forth, and so I've got to do a better job fitting into the Roush template and not necessarily our primary sponsor's way of trying to do things. It's been fun, it's a challenge and it's something where you try to spend too much time outside the race track, but there is good things that can happen outside the race track."

MORE ON THE MOTORS. "There's so many races. I can start this year with 2003. I may have jumped the gun and been too abrasive with the situation. We're sixth in points right now, after a motor failure. We've still got 30 races to go. No real big issue. You're allowed to have one or two type of failures. Last year we just didn't have two failures in August, things added up. Both Charlotte races we were leading and we dropped a cylinder. There is an occasion of 12 motors that failed me, whether it was in Happy Hour or in race conditions that took away from our practice time or away from our finish. And so that is a big hurdle that we have to overcome. And the way that this year started, it didn't seem like there was any light at the end of the tunnel. And so I have to very hopeful that we can cure the problem. We go into Texas obviously with a whole new revamped process because Atlanta failed us. We've got new crankshafts, we've got new rods, there's a new process behind everything, whereas Jack's trying to catch up and make sure that he does the right things within the motor program. And then yet he might hold on too strongly because that is his baby. He needs to let his engineers and his motor development department in Michigan take over the primary role."

Part II

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Matt Kenseth , Terry Labonte , Greg Biffle , Kurt Busch , Ryan Newman , Ricky Craven , Mark Martin