KURT BUSCH - No. 97 Rubbermaid Taurus (Qualified 1st) "It feels good to finally beat this character to my left (Newman). He's beat us a few times this year. Our Fords have been pretty good when it comes to qualifying on Fridays and we came here...
KURT BUSCH - No. 97 Rubbermaid Taurus (Qualified 1st)
"It feels good to finally beat this character to my left (Newman). He's beat us a few times this year. Our Fords have been pretty good when it comes to qualifying on Fridays and we came here to Homestead-Miami and tested two or three weeks ago. We performed some tests that would benefit us for qualifying. Obviously, we're focused on what Sunday has within it and where we're at in the points situation, Sunday is way more important but this is a great start. To know that we're headed in the right direction, it just feels great. I can't wait for 2003 to begin. Now we're in the Bud Shootout and that's a race where you get a lot of homework out of the way quickly. It's a very prestigious group of drivers, I'm glad to be part of it, and, of course with Jimmy Fennig's experience today and with what next year had within it, it's gonna be an awesome year."
WHAT ABOUT YOUR SEASON?
"I believe it was the dismal month of August that really kicked us down. You would have thought a lot of teams or drivers or crew members or anybody involved with three DNFs in a row would have let the season go at that point. We fell from fifth to 12th in points and that there has been my driving force - to get back to where I think the 97 Rubbermaid team belongs and to give back to Jack Roush for what he believed in me on what we could get done. So it's been a tribute to that. We've had a couple of pitfalls along the way with a motor at Charlotte and a motor at Kansas, but after that, it's been a dream season. The way that things have progressed and the way that I had to step up to Jimmy Fennig's level, and just the way so far today things have been executed. We were gonna drive this car at Phoenix and during the test here two or three weeks ago, we flip-flopped them. Both of them had to get the paint re-done on them and we brought this one here instead of to Phoenix because it just performed better down the straightaways versus what the other car had in the corners.
"Neither one of them had been to the wind tunnel, which, in turn, throws another wrench into it because we've been focused on 2002 and we haven't done much homework yet for 2003 whereas some of the other teams may have. But I believe we can catch up in the off-season with a Talladega test, with a Daytona test, Las Vegas. You name it, we've got to get on the ball for next year, but we still have Sunday to go."
WHAT HAS THIS YEAR BEEN LIKE?
"This year reminds me a lot of my rookie year in the Craftsman Truck Series, starting off fairly well and learning some highs and lows on what to expect emotionally through the mid-summer part. This being my second year it was easier to see things and not develop into a slump because there are so many good things that can happen and then there are so many bad things that can happen. You have to put it on a plateau to see things and you have to learn what the car does on a hot day versus a cold day. There are so many elements that go into it. I wouldn't call myself a championship contender right off the bat, but I believe halfway through next year with hitting the tracks again for the third and fourth times, knowing what we've done here in the fall of 2002, we could be first, second or third in points and we could make a run at the title. But we're in no position now because points haven't even begun."
ANY EXPLANATION FOR THE DIFFERENCE IN LAP TIMES BETWEEN YOU AND MARK?
"There's no real big explanation for different lap times that drivers create, except for the feel and how comfortable they are on this race track or with their car. I think the tribute to it is bringing this chassis number 52 in our stable to this race track. We were gonna bring it to Phoenix and neither one of the cars we ran the past two weeks have been to the tunnel since they've been re-bodied. We just made decisions upon the track tests and all the data recording systems that we have to bring this car. So this car might be a little bit better than Mark's in qualifying, but his might be better in race configuration. He brought back the same car he raced at Phoenix last week, so we've put forth 100 percent effort and it ended up coming out in our favor on the qualifying lap."
IS IT A SHAME THIS RALLY HAS COME SO LATE?
"It is somewhat of a shame to know that we've rallied and gained so many points in this last quarter, but all good things must come to an end. I wasn't in position to win a championship in February of 2002. February 2003 feels a heck of a lot better. I know Jimmy Fennig is ready to meet the challenge and I know a lot of our crew guys that have been in the shop for six, seven years that got their first win this year are that hungry for it. So it's a matter of everything falling into place and making sure that everybody is happy.
"What that means is you've got to have a great sponsor that wants to pull the rope in the same direction as the car, the same direction as the crew and, as long as everything is going smoothly and going in the right direction, I don't see why we can't start off next year right where we left off this year. Third in points is where we're at right now and that would be a great victory if we can keep that on Sunday. So we're not sad and we're not happy to see the end of the year, but the time has come."
WHY HAVE SO MANY DIFFERENT GUYS DONE SO WELL?
"It's been the same throughout the past three or four year with different teams, different drivers and a variety of circumstances getting cars to Victory Lane. There's no real one reason. Obviously, the evolution of technology has changed and the way that the sponsors and the owners and the crew members put pressure on drivers to win has changed. So now that these rookies have come in and shown that they can put it down when it comes to it, and we've seen Joe Nemechek step up to the challenge many of times. He won last year's Rockingham race and we beat him at Atlanta this fall. There are so many ways to win a race - tire strategy, fuel strategy - being the outright fastest car doesn't necessarily give you the right to win races anymore. There are so many guys that swap teams in the garage area. I haven't been around long enough to see it, but the two years that I've been here, I've seen many guys look for different positions and try to better themselves. You can't hold any crew member back for doing that, but what that does is it puts another team in position to win when you take them from a well-founded organization, a well-based organization such as mine - Roush Racing. We've lost a lot of crew members, but, yet, it's a matter of keeping 'em happy and I think I'm gonna have 100 percent return for next year so we can go and be the competitive one every week."
DO YOU START TO FEEL BULLETPROOF AFTER A RUN LIKE YOU'VE HAD?
"I approach each Friday with a new frame of mind of knowing that we could unload and be terrible. The term unload is what you develop at the shop as far as your setup and your approach for the weekend and how you're gonna utilize your practice time. It can go uphill, it can go downhill. I come from the desert where there are a lot of plateaus and that's what I try to ride on. It's good some weeks, it's bad others. Right now we've been on a plateau of very good things and we're just gonna keep rolling with it and carry it right into 2003."
HAS THERE BEEN ANY DISTRACTION WITH MARK RUNNING FOR THE TITLE?
"I'd have to say about a month ago, and two months before that, I felt the pressure of Jack Roush coming to me and Jimmy Fennig and lending a hand to Mark and helping Mark win this championship. And not know what to expect, he came to us about a month ago and said, 'Let's all go to a Kentucky test. Let's give Mark one of your cars, let's give Mark one of Matt Kenseth's cars, let him try different setups, let him try to do different things.' This was just before Kansas, so I spent the day with Mark Martin - a guy that was a mentor to me and one that I look up to in the racing world and within my organization, and here I am helping him. It felt great to have the camaraderie and go back and forth between the three of us because Matt Kenseth was there as well. Jeff Burton had some sponsor things to do, but Paul Andrews showed up and it was a Roush Racing day around Mark Martin - to get behind him and to help him win this championship this year. We've tried to do as many things as we could off the race track and on the race track. Mark's a great guy. He for surely deserves better and maybe next year we can all put races together to have Roush Racing up in the top three in points."
WHAT ABOUT THE PENALTY?
"Yeah, the penalty situation is tough. You look at it from many a different standpoints, at least I can because it hasn't happened to us directly, but it has happened to us as an organization. As a driver, I know it doesn't give you any benefit to have that coil missing. As an owner, I would be upset at the spring manufacturer because it came right out of the box. As a sanctioning body, you can be upset with it because it wasn't right. There's a rule and there are times you have to abide by them. So it's tough to take that 25-point hit. It isn't the first time for Roush Racing.
"He got hit a few years ago, but I know there have been many years where Mark Martin has been a championship contender and he hasn't quite sealed the deal, so to speak, and whatever I can do with the time he's gonna be here - for four or five more years - we'll for surely try to help."
CAN YOU RALLY AROUND MARK?
"Being 89 points back is somewhat of a deficit that is very difficult to overcome. He's gonna be the only one that carries his own destiny in his own hands. If it was a 25-point deal, I would still say that we'd all race our race cars as who we are and there wouldn't be much chatter, there wouldn't be much give or take. There's a situation of 35 other races where he could have done a little bit better at and it's gonna be tough to get him all of that back into one race. There are only 180 points for the first-place guy and there are 34 for the last place guy. That's the range we're working within and anything can happen either way. We're third in points, only nine out of sixth and we're gonna stay on the offensive side and do what we've got to do."
WHAT WILL THE MOOD BE LIKE IF HE DOESN'T WIN?
"It won't be terrible and it won't be a significant loss. The way that the year started with the flip-flop of the crews, nobody knew what to expect. Jack Roush's decision could have went 180 degrees of what it did, but, right now, he's got a great crew chief working with a great driver and then he's got a great crew chief working with a great driver on the other side. We're both second and third in points. The way that Ben Leslie has gone through lessons learned this year, it for surely helped him. Mark Martin has made him a better crew chief and Jimmy Fennig's made me a better driver. Once he did that, I had to go try to help Jimmy once again - make him a better crew chief because you don't want to get stale in this game. You want to continue looking forward. So they'll build on that. They'll build on their 2002 and head right off into 2003. The last year of their contract, try to get them to re-sign, so that he can continue racing on some more."