KURT BUSCH - No. 97 Sharpie/IRWIN Taurus (Qualified 1st) WHAT STATEMENT DOES THIS MAKE? "First and foremost, is this Friday? I never knew we could do things like this on Friday. I'm somewhat puzzled at how we're able to do so well - just a ...
KURT BUSCH - No. 97 Sharpie/IRWIN Taurus (Qualified 1st)
WHAT STATEMENT DOES THIS MAKE?
"First and foremost, is this Friday? I never knew we could do things like this on Friday. I'm somewhat puzzled at how we're able to do so well - just a great balanced race car that we scienced out with what tires we needed to put on it as far as stickers or scuffs, and then as far as the tempo on what to push hard during qualifying. Everything fell into place for us. I knew I hit one and two perfectly on the second lap, I just threw away a little bit of time in three and four with sliding in and then getting on the gas and the car slid a little bit more. That was the information I relayed back to the crew, but when you slide with all four tires at the same time, there's not much you can do as far as adjustment to help the car. It's one of those laps. It's really been a storybook effort thus far for this chase and this is a great token and a nice piece of hardware to gain and, of course, to get into the Bud Shootout next year. I was just joking in the pre-qualifying interview that we need a pole to get into the shootout and now here we are."
WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES OF STARTING UP FRONT AND BEING IN CLEAN AIR?
"One thing we've noticed when we've qualified well this year is we'll run good early on in the race and then as we progress through the race, our car just doesn't seem to turn as well. The front end loses the full amount of air that's on it because you're normally up front, but then later in the race some people pass you with pit strategy - two tires versus no tires, just fuel - and once your car gets behind people it doesn't turn as well. So those are adjustments we have to look out for tomorrow in happy hour and not get ahead of ourselves. Yeah, we qualified well but this isn't Sunday. This is Friday, so we need to work towards our Sunday goal."
IS THERE A MENTAL ADVANTAGE WHERE YOU ARE RIGHT NOW?
"As far as the mental advantage, it is a tremendous plus for us to be in this position to start up on the pole and to have the other competitors behind us. Gordon is top five, I believe. Jimmie Johnson is much further back. Those are the two guys that we're first and foremost worried about. Then there's the 8 car and the 6, but normally on Friday after we qualify, we look at what we have as a car. How did it react to our changes during the day? Today is just a short two-hour session. Tomorrow, we'll now look into our process of what we're gonna change during happy hour and put our program together and that'll just allow us to move smoother through the weekend and to have that mindset. That's what it takes as a team to stick together. It's not to get wrapped up in, 'we're on the pole, they're too far behind us,' and then lose track of what adjustments you have to make on the race car for Saturday's practice to make it a well handling car on Sunday."
HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE TO SEE IF YOUR CAR MISBEHAVES ON SUNDAY?
"One question that I got last week was since you didn't have many laps here the year before, what's your mindset going into this race? Just to brush up, we were wrecked on lap four last year and didn't get many laps at all on this new surface, so I looked at it as we're almost a rookie coming to this race track. What better way than to have all this experience and all of this momentum and the knowledge and still be a rookie. We're a rookie at this race track and that's what's helped us today with not camoflauging the true qualities of the car. What's it handling like? In the past it did this, well today one change after the next helped us achieve what we needed to do. Once the race starts, we noticed in testing it's about lap 30 that good cars come forward and some cars drop off, so that's the focus we have to work on with our race trim. It's not to pressure the tires as hard as we can for one lap or two, it's to work on the setup so it lasts 45 to 50 laps. Lap 30 was when our car cycled over as far as when it began to slow up, which I thought was pretty good during testing. Some teams might slow up at lap 10, but they were much quicker than us during the first part of that run."
YOU CAN'T FEEL SECURE BECAUSE THOSE GUYS WILL STILL BE COMING AT YOU.
"They do have to chase us down, though. That's the aspect of the mental side of it, knowing that they're behind us. They've got to do the job to come up through the pack to pass cars. Whether it's to take risks during pit stops and taking two tires, or not making and taking the time to take out a spring rubber, which adds two or three seconds to a pit stop. We know have that advantage and we can roll forward. It's just the same as any other Sunday, though, you have to adjust to the changing track surface to win the race."
HOW MUCH WILL YOU WANT TO KNOW ABOUT THE OTHER CONTENDERS ON SUNDAY?
"I don't really want to know anything. I don't care to know and don't really need to know as far as just different thoughts in my own mind. I need to stay focused on my race car and know what I've got to do to adjust on my race car. When you start to begin to look in different areas as far as where your competition is running, you lose focus to the attention to detail. Last week at Darlington, I noticed the 24 went backwards at the beginning and the 48 went forward, and we were going backwards during the middle stages of the race and then they were the cars that ran up front all race long. The 24 made adjustments, the 48 made the right corrections on their car to keep it at top-notch form, so you don't want to pay attention to where they are, except for maybe the last final pit stop, or maybe the pit stop just before that so you can position yourself more aggressively if you need to. So towards the end of the race is when it all comes down to who is running where, what do I need to do? A unique opportunity that I have to pull back as far as experience from is in 2002, I came into the final race and I could have finished third in points or I could have finished eighth. That's a lot more cars than what are involved with this championship chase. Obviously, it's at a smaller level, but we had to do our job that day to the best of our ability and not worry about anybody else and adjust our car, and that's what we did for that day, except for that last pit stop. I wanted to know who was running there and what kind of advantage I had or disadvantage I had to overcome."
WHAT DO YOU MEAN EN YOU SAY YOU HAVE TO PREPARE TO LOSE THIS TITLE?
"It's a matter of learning at this rate that I have in NASCAR Nextel Cup racing that I was overwhelmed when I first got here on what to do, what to look at, and who to go for for experience. Jack Roush is that lead guy for me. He's an engineer, he's a racer guy and he's a numbers guy. That's what his backbone is and that's who I am. I like to race hard. I like to know where I stand. I do look up to Jack Roush as my mentor on how to approach things. Jimmy Fennig is there with me by my side I would say 360 days out of the year and those other five I try to go somewhere else. So it's Jimmy Fennig who I model myself after and what he's done to bring me to this position and, so far, we've had so much fun together that I wouldn't know what other way to do it."
SO YOU TRY NOT TO GET TOO EXCITED ABOUT THINGS?
"Yes, and if we do have that chance on Sunday to win, I'm probably gonna wreck a lot of things and blow off a lot of champagne bottles and do all the wrong things that a champion is not supposed to do because I'll let it all pour out on Sunday, but, until then, we've got some work to do."
DOES THIS ENERGY CARRY OVER TO NEXT YEAR REGARDLESS OF THE OUTCOME?
"We hope that it does and, of course, you want it to. You want to always end something on a high note to know that there's so much blue sky to look forward to. Next year, it'll be the regular season when we start, it won't be the 10-race playoff, and what I hope we're able to achieve out of this successful run is somewhat of our secretive notes on what we did to approach this championship and I hope that we keep everything in place and that we go into the second Loudon next year on a high note and that we can go through those final 10 races with just as competitive a streak as what we've put together through these final 10."
HOW DO YOU THINK YOU'LL FEEL ON SUNDAY WHEN IT'S OVER?
"The approach that I've taken already is to take some time off and reflect on what this season has brought me and what it's brought our team, our sponsors, and just the infrastructure of Roush Racing. What we can do better, we'll think about shortly afterwards and what we can do to approach the 2005 season with a positive outlook and what we need to do to implement things into place, and I hope we're able to do that. But these final 10 have definitely added a different burden than what most seasons have. This is only my fourth year. Mark has been through so many more seasons and been close to a championship and when you're in this position, it weighs heavily on you, but it's something you dream about as a kid and when you're a kid, you're always having fun. This has definitely been a fun experience - to be able to compete at this level and have this opportunity on Sunday."
WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED FROM THE 17 AND THEIR STRUGGLES TO TRY TO REPEAT?
"They're a team that's always looking on the cutting edge of technology on what to change and what to do and the success that they have is they do it at the right times. At the end of last season, that wasn't the correct time for them to implement any new ideas. It was their time to run consistently and do the job they had to do. They had some bad races - Kansas and a couple others mixed in - then there was the race, Dover, at the end of his season last year, I saw him go backwards as fast as anybody and at the end of the race he finished fourth. I was like, 'Wait a minute. That wasn't supposed to happen. How did they do that?' Those are the days that I've tried to piece into my knowledge and to what we need to do as a team. Those are the days that are quiet, though, on Matt Kenseth's radar for his championship effort."