Continued from part 1 MATT KENSETH CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE PRESSURE THAT KURT BUSCH IS UNDER RIGHT NOW? "I think the pressure that we had is probably a little bit different, although last year being a season-long battle, once we took the ...
Continued from part 1
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE PRESSURE THAT KURT BUSCH IS UNDER RIGHT NOW?
"I think the pressure that we had is probably a little bit different, although last year being a season-long battle, once we took the point lead in Atlanta or wherever it was, there was a certain amount of that feeling all year long, where this year you kind of got to reset after 26 races. So it's probably a little bit different. He's probably got a couple months of it, where we probably had six months of it, but being as far ahead as we were, we had a different kind of pressure. We had a pressure that we didn't want to make a mistake and we couldn't break parts and I couldn't drive into the wall or do something silly, were Kurt's pressure this weekend is he knows, to be a for-sure thing, he needs to run in the top three and he needs to lead laps and get bonus points, so that's probably a little bit different."
IT SEEMS LIKE KURT BUSCH HAS ICE WATER RUNNING THROUGH HIS VEINS. IS THAT THE WAY HE IS BEHIND THE SCENES?
"Kurt puts on a really brave face. Sometimes he's braver than he should be, obviously. He gives you the impression that he really understands everything he cares about understanding and he's doing exactly what he wants to. But the fact is he's a sponge. He picks all the cues that comes from his environment, he picks up the advice that comes from the people around him, and he's looking for approval from the folks who are helping him all the time behind the scenes. To speak of where he is for confidence and strength as it relates to the race car, I think he's qualifying lap yesterday speaks volumes. He certainly was one of the handful of people, and he was the only one who attracted my attention that's going faster, significantly faster on his second lap. Based on what everybody did, there wasn't as much tire left. So he reached down and grabbed a hold of something that most people wouldn't touch and went out and used it on the race track in a way that allowed him to get that pole."
AFTER WINNING YOUR FIRST CUP CHAMPIONSHIP LAST YEAR, CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE SENSE OF PERSONAL AND PROFESSIONAL FULFILLMENT?
"That was a question I hoped nobody would ask. I was so mad and so irritated with the 17 years that had gone with my chase for a championship in NASCAR, I honestly didn't care if I ever won one. I wanted one for Mark Martin and I wanted one for the team, but it was almost like that no matter what happened that there was a rule that somebody made that we were not going to be allowed to win one. And I wanted one for Mark, I wanted one for Matt, I wanted one for one of my drivers, to come back and say, the curse, like this Red Sox thing, this curse is broken, we've outlived it. I was really caught cross purposes because I was prepared to be angry, you know, as long as I did this for what they've done to me and for what my frustrations had been over a period of time.
"So, it took me a while to get detoxed from that, to get settled down, so my year in the first championship, Matt Kenseth year, my year has been coming back and getting a normal, even-keel toward the championship race. I've got a completely different mindset this year than I had last year and I am in agreement with what we've obviously done with the Chase for this year. It sure feels like it's going to be great for the fans and the media. I was apprehensive that in the first year that it would show the gains in ratings and in fan approval and all the things that it has because the sponsors are watching. You know, they want to know that this is really good for them, not just good for all the other people, all the other business interests. I'm much more at ease this year going forward. As a matter of fact, I haven't put one word together on a potential owner-acceptance speech; if I have one it'll be a last-minute scurry if I have to do that, and I'm prepared and at peace with myself that if we can't win this year that it's been a good fair chase and whoever the champion is that I'll celebrate it as much as I would if I was just a fan."
CARL EDWARDS HAS COME CLOSE TO WINNING A COUPLE OF RACES. WHAT IS THE UPDATE FOR THE 99 TEAM IN TERMS OF SPONSORSHIP AND WHAT YOU ANTICIPATE FOR HIM.
"If I were a sponsor out there wanting to sponsor a NEXTEL Cup team, you know, I'd sure look at that 99 and say, 'That's gotta be the one for me.' The blue sky on that program with Bob Osborne and what all the guys are doing, Harry McMullen, general managing the thing, and Geoff Smith's leading the charge for all the sponsors and all, put piecemeal we've got a half a season worth of sponsorship for the program right now, and as you said, he hasn't won his first race yet. It's incredible what's he's doing and what that young team is doing. I think it speaks volumes to what Mark Martin has done this year, too, because Mark has set out, he has been the maverick that would set out on a different tack technologically. We got five teams running along and one of them jumps out there and says, 'You know, we might not being doing the right thing here, I'm going to go off in a different direction,' there's a very good chance that there's going to be a failure associated with that - the one that's going one against four is not going to come out on top - but Mark decided early in the year, in fact really started working it last year, a different strategy as it relates to the aero and the chassis setups for our Fords. And he's provided the direction for the 99.
"The 99 car right now has got the identical car to what Mark has. You watch what happens today during practice. You'll find if Mark gets out of his car and goes in his trailer, that Carl Edwards will be right behind him, because he's going to go in and find out what he's doing on the spring, what's he's doing on the shock, what it felt like. Not just what the engineer said he did, but he wants to look Mark in the eye and see. And that reason as seen by me is art of the difficulty that we've had with the 17 and even the 16 for some of the important times when we've been off the mark there. Greg's done a nice job, Matt did a nice job coming off his year, Robbie and that team provided leadership for the whole group, and as Mark started making the turn and figuring out w hat we needed to do for Mark, and we were a little slower, and I would've been too if I would've been Robbie or been Matt, a little slower to say, 'Hey, we're going to give up on our championship stuff and, given the fact we're saving tests and things, we're going to give up on that and go follow Mark. I probably would've been a little slower to make my change as well."
DO YOU THINK CARL WILL RUN THE ENTIRE SEASON NEXT YEAR, OR WILL YOU WAIT AND SEE?
"It's my expectation that we'll run the full schedule with him. The position I had on the 99 as it related to Jeff Burton last year and I told Jeff and I told the whole team that we would run the 99 car until our marketing office, led by President Geoff Smith, said that we didn't have the prospect for a sponsor or until I couldn't afford it. Those were the two things. So, if they said they had no sponsor and I could still afford it, I'd run it. If they said we had no sponsor coming or no prospect of it and I saw jeopardy to the rest of the programs, I'd quit. And that's exactly where I am right now. Except that we've got much more blue sky. With the way that the 99 is running and with all the good feeling that the momentum that Carl is carrying and the blue sky that is anticipated for that program, I cannot imagine that we won't have a sponsor, not that we don't have a sponsor potential, but I expect that we will have a sponsor for the entire year, and I expect other things being equal that I'll still be able to afford it, if we don't."
WHAT WAS THE HIGHLIGHT OF YOUR CHAMPIONSHIP YEAR?
"I'm not sure what the highlight was, but the lowlight was not being able to defend it. I've really been agonizing over that, I think, the last eight weeks more so than I've been thinking about how cool it was to win it. We had a lot of cool stuff happen last winter. Probably one of the most fun days was the day that Robbie, Katie and Jack and I got to travel with Mike Helton up to Washington, D.C. and got to see some cool sights up there and then got to go to the White House and meet the President. The four of us went to dinner that night and stuff. That was probably the most fun day. We got to all get to talk and get to know each other better than just what we do at the race track and that was probably the most fun part."
HOW DID KURT GET TO BE WITH ROUSH?
"The deal with Kurt and how he got to be with Roush and what that meant to him, he's obviously given you some of his impressions on it, but my impression is that we had as hard a competition for our slot in the truck series for a rookie. Kurt went to the first track. We took 400 people a couple of weeks ago to North Wilkesboro and sorted it down to three that we actually signed coming out of that, but Kurt was probably in a group of about 25 or 50. We went to the first track with six or eight of his peers and wasn't spectacular the first time. The fact is that, and he probably knows this, but he didn't make the cut.
"He was the first alternate, but his experience level was so much less than anybody else's, that at that time - I won't say that I stood in judgment over that, I didn't - but the people who made the judgment didn't assess where he had come from and how little experience he had, so he didn't make the cut, but one of the guys who did make the cut, based on the fact he was making the cut for us had somebody else watching him and they immediately signed him. So we wound up with a vacancy - one of the four or five people we were gonna take to our second test didn't go. He decided that he would go sign with somebody else, rather than go take a chance of surviving the next round. So as an afterthought, Kurt got the call. 'Hey, if you still have time and are interested, come to Toledo,' or wherever it was they went for the second test and he was spectacular. The second chance he had to be in one of our trucks. The second time around working with the crew and he was spectacular. He was the hands-down favorite. That little bit of experience he had with it and the way he assimilated the rights and the wrongs and the positives and the negatives, it was clear that there was no choice to make. He was the one."
WHERE WERE THE TESTS AT?
"I'm not sure. One of them was at Flat Rock, Michigan and the other one may have been at Rockingham. If I had to guess, I would guess the first one was Flat Rock and the second was Rockingham. The fact is I didn't go to either test and I don't recall."
WHAT DO YOU THINK THE TEMPLATE IS FOR QUALIFYING FOR THE CHASE?
"The qualifying for the chase is 26 races and, it's seen by me, the same as the old strategy was for the 36-race championship under the old scenario. You've got to be consistent. You've got to recover from bad days. You have to take what the race track and the competition will give you and the yellow flags will give you on a given day and only make your charge to win a race and to realize the ultimate prize when it's obviously within reach. I was wrong and I was doing it as much tongue-in-cheek, but when people ask me what the strategy was going to be for the second 10 races, I was the guy that raised my hand and said, 'This has got to be a sprint. Go out there and go as hard as you can 10 times with as much timing and as much gear as you can.' I figured that everybody would do that and the one that had the halo or the golden horseshoe in his pocket, he would be the guy that didn't have a problem and based on that intensity and throwing caution to the wind, he would win. But in fact, it feels like as it's worked out that it's still about durability, consistency and the second 10 now is not different than it would have been under the old regime of racing for 36 times. Consistency and being wiser with what you try to do on the race track and keeping your car out of harm's way and not making enemies on the race track, I think those things are as important as they ever were."
HAVE YOU HAD THE CHANCE TO RIDE YOUR SPECIAL EDITION HARLEY DAVIDSON?
"Not very much. I just probably rode it a couple hundred miles. We built a new fan club/museum-type store up in my hometown of Cambridge, Wisconsin, so when we got that done, I put that bike up in that store and that's where it's sitting right now."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE OTHER TWO GUYS YOU HAVE SIGNED FROM THE GONG SHOW?
"I'm not prepared to give you the names. We haven't decided to make an announcement of that yet, but we're looking for sponsorship and we'll put them in series that suits our purpose whenever we can find sponsors. In the meantime, we will support them in the other things that they're trying to do - at 19 and 20 years old the other options that they have will provide support for them - either small amounts of sponsorship or hardware or other tangible means of support as well as the money to maintain for us the option of placing them. The fact is of the last 10 that went to Darlington, there were at least eight that you could throw a blanket over. It was the toughest thing my guys have done to make a decision for one of those eight."
CAN YOU HARACTERIZE YOUR CONVERSATION WITH ROBBIE?
"He just said the stuff piled up on him. He said that we broke two engines as we tried to make our engines better. We've been melding an engine program together this year and we broke two engines in the final 10 races here, which is uncharacteristic, and we had a caution fall wrong. Matt had his issue at Dover, where he missed pit road there, and those things just don't happen in a year when it's going for you and when you can do it. So it piled up. We've got to re-fit and reload and regain our focus on this thing."