KURT BUSCH - No. 97 Rubbermaid Taurus: "It's a wonderful feeling and a great template to go by. Being able to come here to Bristol and get off to a great start. We've been so close so many times this year, it's somewhat bittersweet, but I ...
KURT BUSCH - No. 97 Rubbermaid Taurus:
"It's a wonderful feeling and a great template to go by. Being able to come here to Bristol and get off to a great start. We've been so close so many times this year, it's somewhat bittersweet, but I knew we'd eventually piece things together and make sure that our car was competitive at the end of a run, and that's how we got beat at Rockingham and Darlington. And so we worked on it today and I'm real proud of the way the group pulled together. We were really loose early on just because of our effort, and make sure the car was good on the long run. So I'm real happy that we ended up making the right decision because we were the quickest in Happy Hour but the car would wear out too quickly. So Jimmy Fennig and I looked at things, the crew gave me great stops. I feel fortunate in a way that we're lucky with our special paint scheme cars. To bring this silver Sharpie to victory lane and just like last year, we had a million dollar offer to give away from Sharpie. So the Rubbermaid people might be fighting back a little bit and try to get into victory lane more because Sharpie ends up with all the press. But it's just wonderful, the whole Newell Rubbermaid Corp. and the way that our Ford is strong each week. And to have a Roush one, too, that hasn't been done in a while, so I'm real proud for the whole group effort."
THERE WERE MANY ROUSH CARS UP FRONT.
"It's things where you're trying as hard as you can each and every week and of course you're going to go through some bad times and if we can piece together more good times, obviously we're happy with where we're at right now. And where we're headed is a direction that I think is positive and to just get that Ford to victory lane each week is the objective. Each crew member within the team, the pit crew chief, I think, takes care of all the crew guys on pit road and the way the five drivers now with Greg Biffle, are able to communicate with the crew chiefs, the way that Jack has his hand into things, it's a nice fine balance and I'm very happy to be working with the organization I'm working for."
WERE YOU CLOSE TO PITTING UNDER GREEN WHEN THE CAUTION CAME?
"We actually cut that closer than you think. I was told to pit two laps before and I saw debris in turn two and I took it upon myself to stay out on the race track. The spotter said that there's debris and then he radioed that there was a caution out. And so Jimmy Fennig can't quite see things sometimes when he's sitting on his pit box on pit road, he just sees the computer, our tire wear and where our lap times are headed. And so it takes that team effort, it takes a guy that can see things on top of the spotter's stand. And sometimes it takes just that gut instinct behind the wheel to know when to stay out. And so that was a great turning point, that whole green flag session, where we came from 18th to the lead. And that put a lot of good cars up front and that took some cars and put them a lap down. And so I'm glad we came out on top of that. We were good enough in that section, proud of the team the way we did that and we were lucky that the yellow did come out when it did come out."
HOW TOUGH WAS IT TO STAY OUT OF TROUBLE AFTER YOU WENT TO THE BACK? "There's too many cars in one place at one time, actually. Tony Stewart got into Bobby Labonte, I checked up, Kenseth got into me. So teammates took one another out, but at that point in the race, we were a loose race car. We couldn't quite compete like we needed to, and you never want to sacrifice too much track position to work on your car at Bristol. And at that point, you might as well work on it because you're the last car on the lead lap now. I wouldn't call it a blessing in disguise, but we ended up falling back and now we took our time on pit road to work on the car, we got it tight enough, we put a lot of wedge in it, and that kept the left rear planted and we were able to come up through, we passed a bunch of cars, and Bobby Labonte was right there with us. He came right up through. Where he got passed by my teammate Matt Kenseth at the end, but that was a good turning point for us in the race, the way that that long green flag went and eliminated some of the cars that were slower."
COULD YOU HAVE HANDLED THE 24 AND THE 7 HAD THEY BEEN ABLE TO STAY OUT AND STAY ON THE LEAD LAP?
"There were cars yesterday in Happy Hour that we focused on and that we knew was going to be strong. The 24 was one of them, the 7 was another. The 17 seemed to be the best on the chart, and it's real solidifying now to look back and know we thought the 17 was going to be the car to beat today, and he ended up finishing in second place. It's a thing where the caution came out at a timely manner for us, not in a timely manner for them, but our car was good enough to maintain lap time out on the race track, so therefore we didn't need a short pit, we could stay out longer and we could maintain lap time, so we weren't forced into a position to pit. And we got lucky that the yellow came out, but yet we were good enough to be in that position."
THIS COMPLETES QUITE A YEAR FOR YOU. HAVE YOU HAD TIME TO GET YOUR MIND AROUND MUCH THINGS HAVE CHANGED FOR YOU?
"It's a unique thing that has happened in the process of building the 97 program up to where it is today. John Deere left the organization just after making the call to have me come over and race in the 97 car. And so we started the 2001 season without a sponsor. Geoff Smith and the group were able to find great people at Newell Rubbermaid that have ideas and they've built a lot around our racing program that they structure within their advertising campaign. And so we've got the sponsor now. And then we worked and showed progress through my rookie year. I worked with a few different crew chiefs and Jack believed in me. We showed we could sit on the pole at Darlington. We almost won the fall Martinsville race and fall Rockingham race my rookie year, we just came up shy. And then to start the season off in 2002 with the veteran crew chief, it was just a slap upside the head of, wow, this is how our car's supposed to handle. This is how the communication is supposed to be between all crew members. So you can just see the step ladder that the 97 program took, and now I think it's in a competitive position to compete for the championship, and that's what Jack Roush saw when he invited me to the program, and that's what Geoff Smith believes within the Newell Rubbermaid group. And now this is a solidifying win to back up what we did a year ago to get into victory lane our first time. Each week there's new reasons why I pressure the car as hard as I do. And to finish second three times, I think that was more motivation than any this week, but again back up and defend a title, I've never been able to defend a race before and that was a unique feeling this weekend. And so we just want to continue to move forward."
AFTER THE RACE, MATT SAID THAT YOU AND GREG HAD THE MOST NATURAL TALENT OF ANYONE'S HE'S EVER SEEN. WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE BIGGEST THING YOU BRING TO THIS TEAM?
"Greg Biffle is a talent and I think when he gets things figured out with Randy Goss and they have cars built that are a secure stable, where he can have a competitive car at Texas, and, boom, can have something at Talladega to win, they're going to be a force to reckon with. I think the thing that I bring to the team is where I learned right away at Roush Racing in my first professional organization to work with was being a team leader and being a communicator between the crew members, and of course the car chiefs and of course the crew chiefs and just being a team player all around to anybody that was involved. If I saw somebody that was lacking a department, I've now learned the way to go about handling a situation with management and influencing people to work harder and work differently. I think that is something that I learned from Jeff Burton as well. Mark Martin's got that sheer determination to just drive the wheels off these cars, and then Matt Kenseth has unique setups and is the smoothest character that we have within our group. And I see a balance between all of us drivers on where we can better one another by racing and competing against one another because we know one another as individuals."
YOUR PEERS HAVE SAID YOU DRIVE A CAR AS HARD ANYBODY WHO'S EVER BEEN OUT HERE. DALE JARRETT SAID THAT, AND HE RACED AGAINST CALE YARBOROUGH. DO YOU THINK YOU COULD EVER BRING YOURSELF TO POINTS RACE?
"I think it's more exciting than last weekend. I still remember everything about that race, and the way that I approached it and the way I applied each lap and the way that I fought the car because of no power steering. There's times that you have to race your car and there's times that you have to follow and to understand what you're car is doing to make sure that you can win races. There's been times where I've stepped over the boundary of the car's limits and wrecked the race car. I think the first race I ever had here at Bristol I made 50, 60 laps because I wrecked coming out of turn two. So there's lesson that I learn each and every week and there's crew members that help me with different things that they see, and I think keeping an open mind and yet keeping a professional demeanor towards what I have to do as a driver is going to help me move forward and maintain focus on winning a championship or competing for a championship."
BECAUSE OF YOUR CONSISTENCY SINCE LAST YEAR, HOW OPTIMISTIC ARE YOU ABOUT A POSSIBLE CHAMPIONSHIP?
"We were very optimistic when the season ended last year, coming on strong and finishing off a season where we did have setback in the month of August. To be 12th in points and to apply pressure each week, and, yeah, we stepped out of line hear or there, but we ended up with a great finish and to continue that this year with the new downforce changes and being able to move forward it's just a testament to the technology we have and the group that we have to work with. I'm just real proud of my Rubbermaid team each and every week. It's anew challenge, it's something that's on the horizon for us. It's just a matter of not letting it get out of perspective and for us to understand what's important each week."
A COUPLE OF TIMES YOU WERE CLOSE TO JIMMY SPENCER. WERE YOU CONCERNED ABOUT THAT OR DID YOU FEEL THAT HE PAID YOU BACK AT INDIANAPOLIS?
"No real big issue on the track today, just we were able to move by him when we needed to. I gave him a spot when he was quicker than us. I was real happy when things came to a close at Watkins Glen, when he went home and missed the show at Watkins Glen. Indianapolis was a tough thing, I put myself in position to wreck and he wrecked me, and he missed the show at Watkins Glen, so I put a period on the end of the whole incident there."