Ford Daytona test - Kurt Busch interview

The Roush Racing trio of Jeff Burton, Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch represent three of the five Ford teams present during the first week of testing at Daytona International Speedway for next month's Daytona 500. All three visited the speedway's ...

The Roush Racing trio of Jeff Burton, Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch represent three of the five Ford teams present during the first week of testing at Daytona International Speedway for next month's Daytona 500. All three visited the speedway's infield media center to discuss the 2003 season.

KURT BUSCH - No. 97 Rubbermaid Taurus:

YOU SEEM TO BE THE FASTEST OF THE ROUSH CARS THIS WEEK. DOES THAT MEAN ANYTHING FOR SPEEDWEEKS? "It may translate into a more positive result, but we've still got a lot of work to do. The way our Talladega test went a month ago, Jimmy Fennig was almost suicidal. He was pretty apt at cutting the cars up and creating a new philosophy at building these new types of cars. The wheel base is still the same, but the way the body is mounted on the car surely affects the way the wheel loads are now, so he had a new idea and we've come back here. We're a little bit better than what we showed at Talladega. It's promising, but there's still a lot of work to do. The way that Daytona and Talladega go, it doesn't matter how fast you are, it just matters how you negotiate the draft and how good your pit stops are if you want to win the race, so we're not necessarily worried about overall speed."

PEOPLE ARE GOING TO BE TALKING ABOUT YOU AND THE CHAMPIONSHIP THIS YEAR. IS THAT SOMETHING YOU WELCOME? "It's gonna be a new element of challenge, so to speak. I've gone through a lot of things that weren't familiar to me the past three years with race tracks and cars and media and competition. By coming up so quickly it's been a lot to grasp, so this will be a new challenge. I'm excited for it and the way we finished so strong with our Ford last year, it was great to have the Rubbermaid people so pumped up about it. With them coming to me with great ideas about marketing and with everybody just pulling together, it's gonna be a lot of fun to be able to compete and then to have that role of being a championship contender, it feels real solid. It feels comforting and we for surely won't back down from the challenge, but we just can't say we're gonna go out there and get it. We'll probably know after the second Daytona trip where we stand in the points, how we've executed the first half of the season and then we'll make that run at the end of the year to gather up as many points as we can. Hopefully, we can get the same chemistry back that I had between the downforce, Jimmy Fennig and then with this new group of guys. We needed have that car balance and that's the key. Hopefully, we'll find that earlier in the season and make a run at it."

DO YOU FEEL WINNING BREEDS WINNING? "You never know when luck is gonna change or when things will fall into your place. I knew something was special when I showed up at Martinsville, a place I despise, and it continued to be the same effort I've always had. I qualified poorly and practice was mediocre at best. When we began the race, the car was so ill-handling that I thought it was gonna be the longest day of my life. We took a sarcastic role and changed things we normally wouldn't change. It was an approach that was somewhat careless, but it began to turn on us in the middle of the race and we actually won the race. When you do something on a day like that, where you don't even expect to finish in the top 20, and then you go out and win the race, your preparation is now starting to meet opportunity and that's luck. I learned that quote from Richard Childress and when you're able to compete at this level and have your cars prepared, we showed up at Atlanta the next week thinking we had a great shot to win and then we executed a win there. We had a great run at Phoenix, a great run at Rockingham and then won the last race of the year in Homestead, so I hope we can jump on that bandwagon again. I'd like to start off strong at Rockingham, go to my hometown of Las Vegas and then back to Atlanta and just begin the process again of trying to find that fine balance between the race track and the race car."

HOW HAS YOUR TEST GONE SO FAR AND WHAT OTHER TESTING WILL YOU DO BEFORE SPEEDWEEKS? "We had that Ford manufacturer's test at Talladega a month ago and that was terrible. The way we've bounced back and executed two days so far here at Daytona, we had one little engine problem that set one of the cars back, but we brought two cars that were so identical in the wind tunnel that we didn't know which one was gonna be better on the race track. That's a good feeling to decide at the race track which one is gonna be your primary car and which one is gonna be your Shootout car.

"They've each taken their own identity. We've been able to execute a lot of different tests on the outside of the car, in the engine compartment, and then underneath the car. Fennig has got such a superb way of testing. This Daytona stuff for a driver is kind of like watching paint dry - you don't get to do much. But when you have Fennig as your crew chief and there's a philosophy on what's next and program to work on, it's fun to stay up with him and to give him feedback. He just wants to make you work harder. It's great to be with Jimmy again and to have our third day here. Hopefully, we bang out a couple more ideas. We're gonna go to Las Vegas and test and try to get a downforce track with this new body configuration. We could go to Kentucky and burn a test there, but I believe it will be too cold and won't get the right feedback. We need to have actual data from a track we're gonna race at and that'll help us gauge what we need to look for in the wind tunnel for our other cars that we've built for Atlanta and Darlington. We just need to go to a track that we're gonna race on to get good data. After Vegas we'll come back here for Speedweeks. We may test Kentucky sometime in April when the weather is a little better and do a couple other short tracks here or there to get ready for Martinsville and Bristol."

JACK ROUSH SAID YESTERDAY THAT SOMETIMES WHEN YOUR PASSION TURNS TO FRUSTRATION IT CAN GET WILD. WHAT DOES HE MEAN BY THAT? "There's this drive that I have within and I've begun to polish on it and work on it a little bit. That might be taking it from 20 sand grip to about 1,000 sand grip paper - just polishing it up and maybe we'll use some wet sandpaper and be able to put some paint on it later on so we'll be a smooth character when things go wrong. I've been brought up so quickly with the racing program. I hadn't even won a race yet in the Truck Series when Jack came to me and said we were gonna go Winston Cup racing. I was like, 'Well, this is my rookie year in trucks, I guess this is my farewell tour as well.' So I wanted to win and I wanted to win as bad as I could. I thought I could come into the Cup program and win and get the 97 program turned around. Obviously, Winston Cup is a little bit different so it's taken a lot of my head running up against a brick wall and trying to understand what's right at a specific time and then what you can do to learn from that situation. So now, going through all of that, I guess I could have had two or three years in the Busch Series to understand good times and bad. So the bad times were just that much harder for me to understand because I've come up so quick. I need to continue that process, but there's no other place to go than Winston Cup racing, so I've got to understand that you can have bad days and still be competitive at the end of the year. It's been a time to work on all of that and to polish it up. It came out at Indianapolis when somebody deliberately tried to kill me and I was able to survive. The emotions ran over, but I've learned from that lesson. There are other things I can do in that situation, so you just keep learning from your mistakes."

WHAT ABOUT YOUR BROTHER COMING UP NOW. WILL HE BENEFIT FROM WHAT YOU'VE GONE THROUGH? "For sure. I've created a little bit of a pathway for him, with race cars left behind, and then with trying to keep bridges built and not burn them. Being able to give him advice will be a new role for me - just a little mentor cap. He'll still have my father real close and Jack and the whole Roush organization, but it will be great to give a little bit of insider information to him. I'm sure I'll learn what type of distance I need to keep so that he can make mistakes and learn for himself on what he needs to do."

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT JIMMY AND HOW HE HAS HELPED YOU OFF THE TRACK? "I worked with Ben Leslie for half a year and then my crew chief from the Truck Series, Matt Chambers. Each one of them was in a different stage in their life with age and marriage and race cars. To have Jimmy as a second father figure to me, he's really helped me understand more about life instead of just race cars. The others were my age or just a step above and there's no substitute for experience whether it's on the race track or off."

DOES HE EVER CHANGE HIS TONE OF VOICE? "No, he has just one. It's kind of like, 'The sun is up. We've got some work to do and we'll go do it.' Yet that means 20 different things for Jimmy Fennig. He's a great guy to learn from. Whether we're gonna go to a race track that we know we can win at or we're gonna go to a race track that we're gonna struggle at, we're gonna do the best that we can and finish 10th. That's what Jimmy likes to do."

WHY DO YOU THINK LAST YEAR'S CREW CHANGED WORKED SO WELL FOR YOU AND MARK? "It's something that we don't really know exactly how it benefited both teams so superbly. I don't think Jack expected it to work as well as it did. He looked like the mastermind behind all of it and Jeff Burton was a big influence to make that decision happen because Jeff is able to see people in a way where you can't have a pair of jacks working together. I mean a deck of cards. You've got that whole ace, king, queen, jack, 10 to make it work. So when you've got two spades working together that might help you, but you need five. If you're gonna make a good hand out of it, you've got to put your people in the right places. You've got to find chemistry between just two people talking. Ben Leslie and I were doing a fair job of that, but it wasn't fun and it seemed like we were both stale with some of our ideas. Whereas, Jimmy Fennig has been around forever and I've only been around a short time. I've got all these ideas and he's got all those. Just the way that the age bracket of experience fit together for both teams. Ben and Mark with Mark having his ideas, and just being able to put people together. That's what Jimmy has excelled at and Jeff Burton helped with the whole situation. So I think it was just having different people working with different people and it really set off a lot of fireworks."

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Matt Kenseth , Kurt Busch