Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 97 IRWIN/Sharpie Taurus, has had a short off-season after winning the inaugural NASCAR Nextel Cup Series championship. He spoke about the last few weeks and his hopes for 2005 during media day...
Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 97 IRWIN/Sharpie Taurus, has had a short off-season after winning the inaugural NASCAR Nextel Cup Series championship. He spoke about the last few weeks and his hopes for 2005 during media day Thursday.
KURT BUSCH - No. 97 IRWIN/Sharpie Taurus
IT'S A SHORT OFF-SEASON ANYWAY. WHEN YOU WIN A TITLE IT MUST GET EVEN SHORTER. "It definitely shortens it up and you have to know what you're gonna be doing each day to stay ahead of the game - working with NASCAR one day, going on a show the next, helping get back with the team and helping them go through the test cycles we had at Daytona, Vegas and California. You just have to stay on top of the game that much more and it seems like the off-season goes that much quicker when you are a champion."
WHAT MAKES DAYTONA SO SPECIAL? "It's Daytona. It's the prestige, it's the history. It's building such as this that are created within the infield at Daytona to make you realize that this place is the birthplace of stock car racing. It's very special to all of us."
WHAT HAS THE REACTION OF HAVING CROWN ROYAL ON THE CAR BEEN? "The reaction with us is something that we're following through from what NASCAR has done as far as being a leader in this sport of marketing. The way that they're gonna be on our car is a perfect opportunity to use their tagline of 'Be a champion, drink responsibly.' That came from the IROC series. We were able to win the 2004 Nextel Cup Series championship, so with them wanting to come to us it fit perfectly. They'll be on our car a handful of times this year. The driver's suit makes me look like Barney, but we're gonna have some fun with the Crown Royal group this year."
THOUGHTS ON THE POINT SYSTEM. "We think we know what to expect. We definitely had a superior group of 10 races versus the other competitors and one thing I think we can do better is to test maybe once or twice in the summer run just so that we don't go into the final chase seventh in points. I think we got behind a little bit, so if we can adjust to that and make sure that it comes into play, that would be great if we think we know what we need to do. Otherwise, you just have to adjust for what each track gives you each day and get the best points finish you can. We definitely set the template or the outline of what it takes to win the new points format, but I think we can adjust on it to make it better."
WHAT WILL IT BE LIKE HAVING KYLE OUT THERE? "Having Kyle out there, it's not a stat or a special number that you can have. It's something very special between brothers and, of course, with the history of NASCAR and the group of legendary brothers that have come out of this sport is phenomenal. To have that stat and just to be out there competing against him - I can't wait to hang him out to dry in the draft at Daytona (laughing), but yet to help him out at a short track or something."
HOW DO YOU VIEW DAYTONA? "It's by far the most important race that we run next to the Homestead finale with the way the new point system is. We have 10 races in the chase. We have our Daytona race. We've got Indianapolis and now we've got Charlotte and Bristol, so there are marquee events that we run throughout the year and this is the largest. It's the birthplace of NASCAR racing as well as the Daytona 500."
HOW CONFIDENT ARE YOU OF WINNING ANOTHER TITLE? "If I trade the championship for the 500, Junior might not go for that (laughing). The way that we're gonna look at this season is it's definitely an opportunity to go against the odds. A champion hasn't repeated since 1998 due to the demands and the extra curricular things you do off the track, so the focus is Sunday and what we have to do to make the race car work on the race track and to get into Victory Lane every week that we can."
IS IT A DIFFERENT APPROACH TO THE SEASON? "Our team can walk a little lighter with their footsteps knowing that we've won the championship, but knowing there is going to be a heavy weight on their shoulders because we are the defending champions, so we have to balance that out. Right now, the best way to do it is to stay ahead of the game and to have cars already built. Right now, we've got our cars built for Bristol, so we're ahead of the game so far and now it's a matter of staying there."
WHAT HAS SURPRISED YOU ABOUT THE DEMANDS ON A CHAMPION? "It's not necessarily a demand, it's a perk. NASCAR has completely spoiled me. It's an honor and privilege to be such and the way a champion helps NASCAR and the cross references with the way you hold up your sponsors to NASCAR and vice versa, it's wonderful. It was amazing on Monday going to the White House, all the things we did in New York with the big TV production shows. It's been a great perk and I think that's the most unexpected thing about being a champion."
HAS IT BEEN TIRING AT ALL? "It hasn't been tiring. It's been fun. I can't wait to get into the car, but yet there is still stuff to do off the track."
HAVE YOU RE-CHARGED A LITTLE BIT? "I had a chance to re-charge when I did the Rolex 24 Hour race. I think I got a little sick from it - jumping out of the car at two in the morning and not keeping up with the dietary and nutritional part of it. And then with the temperatures being so cold, so right now, physically, no. Tonight we'll have a great rest and then jump into the weekend. We'll be driving normal stock cars so that'll be a good feeling once I finally get into my comfortable car."
WHAT'S THE MOST ODD THING TO HAPPEN TO YOU SINCE LAST YEAR? "I've gotten that question a lot and I haven't been able to answer it in the humoristic tone I'd like to answer it in. Just being able to go and do all the different things. Of course on the TV shows and feeling as nervous as I did before I got on Letterman. Going back to Las Vegas and having a parade with the hometown crowd. Those were all great things, so it's hard to find the one goofy thing that's happened. I think the goofiest thing was an autograph session broke out in Hallmark when I went to go get some Christmas cards after my vacation."
WHO HAVE YOU LEANED ON? JEFF GORDON SAID YOU TALKED TO HIM. "Yeah, those were a good few moments we had here during testing. I called him that night. To talk with Dale Jarrett. He was the guy that called me right away with some small things to do, and then Matt Kenseth - a champion that's right here at Roush Racing. He did it last year and he's a guy that's so easy to read for me. He might not be for some of the other drivers or some of the media, but with his dry, Midwestern sense of humor, he was a great guy to lean on for information. It's a learn as you go thing, but yet you're required to know quite a bit right out of the box."
WHAT DID THEY SHARE? "To know what to look for and to be patient, and to dress for the occasion, and to really embrace it because it might happen only once." KYLE SAID HE HAD A LOT OF DOORS OPEN BECAUSE OF YOU. DOES THAT END NOW? "Not really. I still believe that you can always lean on your brother for information when you're having a bad day. A sibling rivalry will develop from it, but yet it will be a friendly one because we both know and respect one another on what it takes to get to this point. The doors may have been opened, but it was a matter of him walking through it. He's definitely made a name for himself and he'll create an identity for himself. The doors that I opened will still continue to be opened for him. I don't try to burn the bridges when I go through there, so I hope that I'm still able to help him out. It doesn't end today just because he made it to the top."
JEFF GORDON TALKED ABOUT THE GRIND OF THIS SPORT. HAVE YOU GOTTEN A TASTE OF THAT AND HOW LONG MIGHT YOU DRIVE? "When you first jump in, and that happened five years ago for me, it looked like I could do 25 more years. That would get me into my late forties or early fifties. With the schedule and the demands and championships - hopefully more will come along - it's a matter of balancing it out to where you do take a day each week, where you get some time for yourself and make sure you're not in the hustle and bustle a full 36 weeks straight - that you maybe have a week here or two days there to not wear yourself out. For me, I'd say with what's happened with this new chase format and the years that it progresses on my body, maybe five years have been knocked off already. Forty-five years old might be the time when you call it quits, 40 years might be the time. I definitely don't see drivers going into their fifties like they do now."
WHAT ABOUT THIS RACE? "Daytona is by far the best place to kick off our season. We couldn't do it at a Martinsville. We could do it even at a prestigious place like Bristol or Charlotte. You've got to come to where the good weather is and Daytona has that normally. It's just the way Daytona creates an allure, a prestige and the history value here where buildings such as this to come and do our media days in, this is a great place to get started."
WITH A TITLE UNDER YOUR BELT, DO YOU TURN TO WINNING THE DAYTONA 500? "This year I can say we might not be disappointed if we don't win the 500, but we might be disappointed if we don't make the Brickyard 400 a competitive race for us. This is one of Jimmy Fennig's last two years and he doesn't have that on his resume, so that's one thing I'd like to give to him before he retires because he's given me so much. I'd love to get him the Brickyard 400 trophy. He's won the Daytona 500 before, so if we could do that for him, that would definitely be special to us this year."
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE SOME YOUNG DRIVERS THIS YEAR? "One thing is to be patient. One thing that I did wrong was to jump in too quickly and to try to learn too much too quick. Just pace yourself and to be able to be comfortable with your mistakes - to know that you're gonna make a few."
BUT THE TRUCK SERIES WAS A GOOD FOUNDATION FOR YOU? "It was. I wish I had more time. I wish I had two years in Busch to go through some of the pitfalls and, of course, to be able to see more before the intense focus of Nextel Cup racing was upon me."
WILL RACING BE BETTER WITH THE NEW QUALIFYING PROCEDURE? "It definitely will. With the impound we're going to have at later tracks, this track with the way they're splitting us up, I see two main reasons. One is to create two good shows in the 150s. You've got all the odd guys in points from the previous year and all the even guys in another. No matter where they qualify, that's the show. Then what you create is where you have the guys that are worse than 35th in points, they will be spread among the shows in the 150s. So you'll get two or you'll get three out of each of the races. Instead of having all six in one and none in the other, both shows will be identically prepared with quality cars as well as cars trying to make their first start."
WHAT ABOUT THE REGULAR SEASON? "What I noticed so far with our test in California, because that will be our first impound race, is that you can just make the adjustments you can make from your race setup and you just deal with it in qualifying. Now we'll see what happens two or three times in. Do guys just go for qualifying and track position early on in the race and try to hold that throughout the race, or will they try to completely work on their race setup, take a provisional to get in, and then work their way towards the front. Obviously, at the end of Sunday is when you gain your points and that's what's gonna weigh more heavily is your race setup."