Transcript: 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Preseason Thunder Testing at Daytona
January 20, 2011
An Interview With:
THE MODERATOR: We continue with our driver press conferences here at the test session. We're pleased to be joined by Kurt Busch. He's driving the No. 22 Shell-Pennzoil Dodge for Penske, and Denny Hamlin, driving the No. 11 FedEx Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing. Kurt, I'll start with you. I saw that outfit on you in December, but how is the 22 team shaping up and how has the test session gone for you so far?
KURT BUSCH: It's just good to be back behind the wheel, and I've got a great crew and a great team with a new look. But we've definitely got a charged up attitude this year going out there to do the best we can and to be the best we can. Steve Addington is leading a great group of guys. We didn't have hardly any turnover. We actually added a new engineer position to our position, so we're a stronger team with more people coming to the track each week, and with the new look with Shell-Pennzoil, a great group of people, great sponsor. I'm very excited about the motor racing program and actually have a trip set up to go to Houston to the headquarters here shortly. It's just exciting to have a new look on the car and to have the new number, No. 22, that will take a little while for all of our fans and everybody to get adjusted to. And then when everybody stops calling me Kevin we'll be settled in.
It's just fun. It's a great group of people, and Roger Penske himself put together this program last year, and now it's come to reality, and it's just great to be at the track and underway.
THE MODERATOR: Denny Hamlin came ever so close to winning the coveted NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship last year. You're here at Daytona and I know you're excited and ready to roll. Talk about your mindset as you head into the 2011 season.
DENNY HAMLIN: I look forward to it obviously. This is the first time I've been in a car since Homestead, and obviously it feels pretty good. It's just everyone -- this is an exciting time for everyone from the media to the drivers to the teams, so we're looking forward to it, for a clean slate, and obviously getting some personal goals done this year.
Q: Kurt, the 500 this year will mark the 10th anniversary of Dale Earnhardt's passing. You've been in the sport now since 2000. Can you talk a little bit about that legacy and what it's meant and how you've seen things develop over the last ten years?
KURT BUSCH: Just his name and just the Earnhardt legacy and the Daytona mixed into the same sentence is so powerful. For him to have gone 20 years before he won his first time here in 1998, it was amazing to watch, the outpouring of support from all the teams, of course the fans, the other drivers.
He's always been the intimidator, and he's always been one that was an innovator out on the track with the draft, and when he passed away, we lost so much as far as our leadership in the garage area and how he could communicate with NASCAR and to develop rules or to explain to them how the cars needed to be changed or adjusted.
The one thing that came from his passing was the safety innovations in our sport, and that is what has continued on as his legacy, how we've kept so many drivers safe since that point.
It was a tough race. That was my first-ever Daytona 500, and to have that type of news and to have those feelings, like man, what am I getting into, we just lost the most iconic individual of our time, obviously other than Richard Petty, in this race, and here I am starting out my first race. It's been an amazing ten years since it's happened.
Q: Denny, in Vegas I think you'd probably agree you seemed a little frustrated by what had happened at Homestead. In the last month or so, what's kind of been percolating in your head? Has it been more frustration or you're just kind of trying to move on and focus on the season, or is there still a frustration factor that's kind of carried over from last season?
DENNY HAMLIN: I mean, to be honest with you, I haven't even thought about racing in the last month. I really haven't, not one bit. You've just got to move past it. There's nothing we can do about it. There was obviously several one laps in certain races that changed a lot of things that happened during the course of the year, but that's racing. Racing is about strategy, racing is about having the best team, best car, best driver and putting it all together.
So for me starting this year, obviously there's things that I've decided that I want to work on in the off-season to try to get better at the racetrack, and now is the time to try to work on those things.
Q: With the repave, it's going to be a new race. I know Kurt, you've kind of said that in December, but what can you guys take from past 500s that maybe you can still use going forward?
KURT BUSCH: It's somewhat of a learn as you go with restrictor plate size. It's just been adjusted with the way that we're not seeing much for tire wear. You want to try to improve on your fuel mileage because I think you're going to see a lot of fuel-only type pit stops. So you just have to try to bank as many thoughts as you can in your mind about how you're going to react and apply those.
Being in the Shootout Saturday night to start things off, that's going to be a wild start to things, then we'll see how -- shoot, we'll learn a lot in these three days on how drafting is going to settle in.
DENNY HAMLIN: I think it's just a really a whole new game. My mentality is almost like when they paved Talladega except subtract four lanes of traffic. It's just going to be that much more exciting.
Q: This is for both of you. You've heard, I guess, the proposed changes in the points from 43 to 1. What do you think of that? Does that reward consistency more than wins? Would you like to see something different?
KURT BUSCH: I thought it was good. I do think it's simpler for people to figure out. Obviously when you know you're 18 points behind someone, that's 18 spots without the bonus points and everything. From what I saw that they proposed, the one thing that they were open to is possibly giving a few more bonus points for the wins in the regular season to count towards the Chase, and I think because just maybe giving one point to someone who wins a race, putting that to your Chase points, that's only one spot, that's not equal to what we had before.
I definitely think that they're open to that change, but I'm definitely in favor of the 1 to 43. I think it's going to be easier for us to figure out to be honest with you.
DENNY HAMLIN: I'd like to go back for myself and just do research and plug those numbers in to past years and to see who comes out on top or to see how things change around and to help fine-tune it a little bit more, because in the end you still want it to be about consistency, but you have to be consistent during those ten weeks. When you sit there and change around points 100 different ways, we still end up with the same champion nine times out of ten it seems like.
Q: Denny, during the off-season there were some columns and whatnot, it's almost as if Denny has given his all and it was so frustrating last year and then Mike Ford got stressed and then what is left. Can you sort of define what is left inside? We all know you have a lot more to give to get the championship. What are you thinking about what is left in you and your team?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, I mean, I've said it a thousand times, and every time that I come to the microphone and people ask me what's it going to take for this, what's it going to take for that, there's a lot of areas that I've got to improve on, that I know I can improve on. Qualifying is one. I can't start dead last every single week like we did last season. Those are things that are going to help us finish better and obviously give us better chances to win more races.
And so those are the things I need to work on. There's things that as a team we need to work on, and that's what's so encouraging for myself is being relatively new to the Cup Series and this being a relatively new race team, we've taken a lot of strides and really given it a heck of a shot last year.
But every year since my rookie season when we took a step back and finished 12th in the points in 2007, we've continually progressed and gotten higher and higher and higher every single year in the points standings.
Obviously there's only one more spot to go, but I feel like we've done a really, really good job over the last three or four years learning from the mistakes that we've made and not repeating them over again. Obviously there's some mistakes we made in the last Chase, and obviously we don't need to repeat that. We've got to get in the Chase first obviously, but I feel like everyone has done a good job of learning, and this team has obviously shown that it can be contenders week in and week out.
Q: For Kurt and for Denny, you guys get to do cool things off the track, on the track, off-season and even during the season. What's the most fun for you?
KURT BUSCH: The most fun on track is going to victory lane and celebrating with the team on the success we had in one afternoon. Doing things off the racetrack, you know, there's different sponsor events that are always fun, and you try to go out and meet different people, celebrities or get to a pro-am to play golf. For me doing some NHRA drag racing is probably my most unique challenge that's been the most fun for me, and I have a press announcement next week with some of my ambitions for next year with NHRA this year.
DENNY HAMLIN: For me I think it's just being in the position that we are, it opens up a lot of doors to meeting a lot of people that -- and a lot of opportunities for us to do things that we obviously wouldn't be able to do if we weren't in the position that we're in. That's what I love about my job the most is obviously being able to do some of the fun things, playing in pro-ams and playing -- doing whatever you want to do basically. You know, you want to go play around with a PGA pro, just call him up and do it. That's fun for us, and obviously got to meet a lot of cool people along the way these five years.
Q: Denny, can you talk about -- can we get your thoughts on the changes to the racetrack and the race cars and maybe how that changes your strategy and your approach to the race here from what it used to be?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, it changes a lot. I mean, this is a much more laid-back test session than what it would be with the old surface for the drivers. It's probably going to be a little bit easier for the crew chiefs, as well, because they don't have to deal with the balance of handling versus speed. I think they're going to just put the most optimal speed in the race car that they can possibly get. So really it's very laid back from my standpoint. There's not a whole lot -- you can turn this car around backwards and I'm going to say it drove the same as it did the last run. I don't know what to tell you.
There's very few things that we really can work on as far as drivability is concerned. I think everyone's car is going to drive good. But when it comes to speed weeks it's going to be very interesting because I think it's going to be survival.
Q: Now that you've been on the track a little bit, is it going to be more like Talladega or more like old Daytona? What sort of mix in terms of the characteristics?
KURT BUSCH: One thing that is of note that's fairly significant for us is we've got three restrictor plate cars built for the 22 Shell-Pennzoil team, and this is our B car. This isn't even our A car. We wanted to do that just in case there is trouble in some of these drafting sessions down here. There's five drafting sessions. There's ample opportunities for things to happen. We've still got to protect our best piece, and that is the utmost important thing throughout Speed Weeks is making sure we put the best possible product on the starting grid for the Daytona 500.
Like Denny said, it's going to be more about survival, which in a sense is going to make it more like Talladega instead of like the old Daytona.
DENNY HAMLIN: I'm looking forward to it to see how the draft works. I haven't been here until now obviously. I haven't been in a pack. I don't think we're going to today, either. But it's going to be interesting. Obviously the two-car draft is really big at Talladega. I'm not sure you can do that with how tight the radius of the corner is here, but we'll see how all that works out.
But I think it's definitely going to be very, very tight packed, and that's what's going to make it so intense for the drivers and spotters for 500 miles.
Q: Denny, your fans wanted to know, you took a break from Twitter, and when you came back you came back with a vengeance and gave away a vacation. What led you to do that, and were you prepared to send them wherever they picked?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, well, I prepared myself for it because you never know what they're going to say. But the winner was a true race fan. That was very cool. So she decided she wanted to go to the Brickyard, which is great that she could go anywhere and she decided she wanted to go to a NASCAR race.
For me that is very rewarding to see that happen. For me, I don't know, I just have moments where it's just like, you know, I look around and think about how fortunate I am and want to give back to the people that help in these stands and watch these races and buy our souvenirs.
THE MODERATOR: Kurt, Denny, thank you so much and good luck the rest of the test session and good luck in your quest to win the 53rd running of the Daytona 500.