Continued from part 1 KURT BUSCH - No. 97 IRWIN/Sharpie Taurus WHAT ARE YOUR FEELINGS ON THE QUALITY OF RACING WITH THE NEW RULES PACKAGE? "There's definitely a sense of drivers that are out there to try to compete to win every race. ...
Continued from part 1
KURT BUSCH - No. 97 IRWIN/Sharpie Taurus
WHAT ARE YOUR FEELINGS ON THE QUALITY OF RACING WITH THE NEW RULES PACKAGE?
"There's definitely a sense of drivers that are out there to try to compete to win every race. That's gonna be 35 drivers out there out of the 43. I mean, there are a good group of competitive cars that challenge each and every team to go and do their best job. For the entertainment standpoint, it comes from the competition. It comes from drivers competing against one another. Right now, there's a big Hendrick-Roush rivalry developing from the media and that's just the fact of we've got a good group of drivers on our Roush side and there's a good group of drivers over at the Hendrick side and we want to go and beat each other. I don't think there's entertainment value on the racing side of it from a driver's standpoint, but there is definitely from a fan's aspect of when you're not in tune as directly as some of the old NASCAR fans and some of the veteran fans, you're gonna come for the entertainment value and learn about it, and then you get involved with it as you go."
DO CONSECUTIVE SHORT TRACK RACES HELP YOU AT ALL FOR TEXAS?
"We'll definitely be looking to Texas as a breath of fresh air to get away from the short tracks. I used to watch NASCAR races and I think the month of September was a month spent just at short tracks with Bristol and Martinsville and North Wilkesboro and Richmond. Now we've got some of that back with a little run at Bristol and Martinsville, so to have Texas right behind that, I'm gonna be coming out early for the Crown Royal IROC Series early in the week to do some practice, race that race on Friday, and get ready for the big 500-miler. It'll definitely be a different twist and a breath of fresh air for us."
WHAT ARE YOUR IMPRESSIONS OF THE SEASON SO FAR? ARE CARL EDWARDS AND DALE EARNHARDT, JR. THE BIGGEST SURPRISES? IS THERE ANY CONCERN THAT DEI AND EVERNHAM ISN'T PART OF THE MIX RIGHT NOW?
"What I've seen so far this year is with just the one restrictor-plate race, it seemed somewhat of the normal fashion with DEI running strong and with Hendrick there. I was the only Roush car that got up to the front, so we still have a little work to do on our restrictor-plate program. With the way that the other three race tracks race with California, Las Vegas, Atlanta, those are tracks that you could throw under the same blanket as far as setups and as far as you build a race car to go race those three tracks. So some of those teams might not have hit the combination as strongly as you saw the Roush contingent hit it. Right now with Carl Edwards running strong and Dale, Jr. running poorly, you just have to give it some time because it will definitely swap around. But don't get me wrong, I think Edwards has a very capable car of making the chase for the Nextel Cup when we get to September, but what has to develop is some of the short-track stretches, where you're gonna see the 8 car run well and the 99 - when you don't have experience, it's tough to run hard on short tracks."
SO YOU'RE SAYING IT'S STILL EARLY.
"It's very early. You have to give it a good 10 races to see who your characters are gonna be when it comes down to crunch time to get into the chase and then whose gonna run strong during that time."
WHAT WAS THAT EXPERIENCE LIKE BACK IN VEGAS AT YOUR MIDDLE SCHOOL?
"It was cool to go back to my middle school and look back at what I saw as a teenager growing up. I don't know, I'm not an adult. I'm still a kid (laughing), but to go back and just see it in a different view - going back and being a spokesman for a kid that was sitting in the grandstands. I remember sitting in those grandstands listening to speakers that came in to talk to us - to throw a pep rally that mainly got us out of class. To see the old faces of teachers that were around and then they had me sign some t-shirts that they're gonna put up in the glass case that's out front when you first walk in. It was something very special to me and it's something I'll remember for quite some time and then the impact that I made on the children there to get their signatures on my race car that will be racing this weekend. There are so many different events, but that one little few hours that I spent there, it was very uplifting for everybody involved."
HOW WILL THE CUBS BE THIS YEAR?
"I went down to a spring training game a couple of weeks ago and they were able to win that game that day. Right now, it's the big stretch of spring training. They put in all the top players and right now they look pretty good. I think Dusty Baker is gonna lead them to a pennant again, and if the pitching staff stays healthy, I'm excited about going to some games at Wrigley and watching them win, so we'll see how it shakes out."
ANY SIMILARITIES BETWEEN DUSTY BAKER AND JIMMY FENNIG?
"You're on to something there. There are many similarities. You have to have veteran experienced leaders to lead young groups of guys running around these days, whether it's athletes that jump over the pit wall and drive the car or whether it's athletes that come out of AAA baseball or college baseball and have to run around in the outfield and the infield. You have to have a strong leader and a good group of people behind you to be successful and those are two good comparisons."
WHO ARE SOME OF THE OTHER FRONTRUNNERS YOU'RE GOING TO HAVE TO CONTEND WITH AT BRISTOL?
"It's always a tough track to get around. When you catch a setup, it usually sticks with you for awhile and right now I've seen Jeff Gordon run competitively there. Dale, Jr. really put a hurt on the competition in the fall race with the way that he won the Sharpie 500, and then there are guys like Sterling Marlin, who is a sleeper kind of guy, but he's always competitive at Bristol. So we're definitely looking out for him. Ryan Newman has been getting quicker there and this time around might be one time where he runs in the top five competitively. Jamie McMurray has been consistent there, so there's a group of guys that you definitely watch in practice to see what their lap times look like for the long runs, and that gives us a better indication of who we're gonna be looking out for come lap 400."
WHAT ABOUT FRIDAY'S SCHEDULE? IS IT EVEN MORE IMPORTANT WITH NO SATURDAY TRACK TIME?
"That's one reason why we tested there. We looked ahead and saw that Bristol was only gonna give us two hours for race practice and qualifying practice and that's something they've haven't done yet before. Two hours straight through, you're gonna run out of time pretty quick so that's one reason why we tested there and we hope we found the right combination to stay ahead of the curve."
WHAT DOES IT MEAN WHEN DRIVERS SAY THEY NEED TO TAKE CARE OF THEIR FENDERS?
"You're onto it, but again you're off the path with taking care of your fenders. Actually, I'm talking in circles right now. Actually, it's just a figment of speech that drivers mention that when you take care of your fenders, that meant you took care of your car. You have to protect your race car. You can win there without fenders, but it's likely you're gonna damage the toe-in and the geometry on the front suspension if you don't have your fenders on because you hit somebody pretty hard. But if you keep your nose clean and stay out of trouble, that means you protected your fenders and that puts you in position to try to win at the end of the race."
WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER ABOUT YOUR FIRST WIN AND HAVE YOU TALKED TO CARL ABOUT WHAT TO EXPECT FROM HERE ON OUT?
"One thing that stands out in my mind that's very comparable to the way Carl Edwards won is that you have this drive within yourself to gain that first win. It's something that comes from within the body that you pull from within. You pass somebody on the outside or you make a move and you don't know how you passed him, but it stuck. The car's not supposed to stick, but it did and that's one thing that he did to pass Jimmie Johnson at the end of the race. It's that drive and that hunger to win your first one, and then you realize that you try to go pull those moves off again and you can't. It's really weird and you have to develop a new keen sense to try to win races differently and that comes with experience and comes with time. Edwards is definitely a fast race car driver that will figure out how to win. After you get the first one they say they come easier, and you still have to work just as hard but in a different fashion."
DO WINS COME EASIER AFTER THE FIRST ONE?
"It took me awhile to win another race, probably another 15 or 20 races down the road, but once I won a second won I noticed how I won it differently. That's one things that will come to Edwards as he matures as a driver - that you can only drive so long at 101 percent before you slip a tire and you end up losing a race because you were in the lead or trying to go for the lead, or not being able to get back in that position. You have to run at a pace that's comfortable for the driver and the car and that will put you back in Victory Lane."
WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER ABOUT THAT FIRST WIN?
"Just being able to go underneath Jimmy Spencer and make that pass on him. He raced me through three and four, I was up on the high side. We went down the front straightaway and I saw him push up a little bit, and I thought, 'This is my chance. This is my move.' It's something I could probably never pull off again, to cut underneath somebody like that, but it stuck and it worked and we went on to win the race."
DOES IT BOTHER YOU THAT BRIAN FRANCE MIGHT BE PLANNING AN EXIT STRATEGY TO LEAVE NASCAR AND JOIN THE NFL?
"I was off this week, so I didn't really keep up with what went on, but to touch on the subject it's a sport that has to continue to change to try to compete with other venues such as the NFL or Major League Baseball, which we might have already surpassed. But with Brian France's vision, that's what created the Nextel Chase for the Cup, a playoff atmosphere, a situation of where you have to have a regular season and then a playoff stretch where you can't make mistakes because somebody will jump on top of you if you do. That's one thing that you see in the NFL is a team that has a good regular season might get bumped off early by a team that's very competitive in the playoffs. The way that he looks at the sport and has created a great scenario for NASCAR right now, he's just got ideas and he's looking around at football as another thing to be involved with. But I know that NASCAR will stay strong and continue to move forward with his leadership."
YOU HAVEN'T QUALIFIED THAT WELL AT BRISTOL. WHY?
"It's very tough to qualify good there. Some guys go for the pole and they drag their right side along the fence. You end up with a strong run, but then you've got a bent race car that you have to worry about. For us, I think I've got one top-five start and that's one of our wins, and then we've qualified 25th, 27th and still been able to win. It's just very difficult to get those four tires to stick for that one lap at extra speed, where my focus at Bristol has always been 500 laps and be a good car on a long run. If you can run 100 laps at the same pace, you're gonna be the guy to beat."
HAVE YOU THOUGHT OF RUNNING A BUSCH RACE OR TWO?
"My sponsors have asked me to do such just for that one race at Bristol. It's like, 'Man, why don't we do a few more. Why don't we branch out and maybe race some race tracks I struggle on with the Busch car?' But the opportunities just haven't quite come together. I had the wonderful chance of going from the Truck Series straight to Cup and never have run a Busch race. If I don't run a Busch race in my career, that will be something that I can hold as a feather in my cap. But if the chance comes along, we'll definitely look at the package of putting it together."
HAS KYLE ASKED FOR SOME ADVICE AT BRISTOL EVEN THOUGH YOU JOKINGLY SAID YOU WERE DONE GIVING HIM ADVICE AFTER VEGAS?
"Yeah, he did before Vegas (laughing). I'll still try to be an avenue for him to go down and maybe not define things as clearly. Don't get me wrong, I'm still gonna help him out, but I just wanted to be sarcastic after that race in Vegas saying that he beat me. I said fair and square at the time, but it looks like it wasn't as fair and square as it turned out to be, but Kyle and I are definitely having fun in the Cup series. He's in Martinsville today testing and I think the phone was ringing earlier."
HOW MUCH DO FANS INFLUENCE YOUR DAY-TO-DAY EFFORTS?
"They definitely influence the way that our sponsors look at our racing program, whether it's from the souvenir standpoint or whether it's from the product standpoint. The fans are great everywhere we go and some of them are definitely in tune with the Sharpies. They have all their colors. They have the silver, the gold. They've got the big ones, the little fine points - you name it. The fans definitely create the reasoning for sponsorship in NASCAR, so if there's anything I can do to help them out, and when they have access to the garage, that's definitely the place to make an impact on them."