Kurt Busch, Jeff Byrd - Dodge teleconference

Weekly Dodge Motorsports Teleconference Transcript August 19,2008 Kurt Busch, Driver, No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge Charger Jeff Byrd, President, Bristol Motor Speedway Denny Darnell: Thank you and we appreciate everyone joining us today. We...

Weekly Dodge Motorsports Teleconference Transcript
August 19,2008

Kurt Busch, Driver, No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge Charger
Jeff Byrd, President, Bristol Motor Speedway

Denny Darnell: Thank you and we appreciate everyone joining us today. We apologize for having to move our time slot, but NASCAR is making a major announcement today at the one o'clock hour- so we scooted up, and appreciate you joining us. Our guests today will be Jeff Byrd, president and general manager of Bristol Motor Speedway, and Kurt Busch, a five-time winner at Bristol -- first career victory there -- and one of the best on the .533-mile, high-banked oval at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Q: We've heard the term surfer's paradise; it's going to be a racers paradise at Bristol for the next five days with four great races on the schedule...it shapes up to be a great race week, as usual, at Bristol.

Jeff Byrd: That's not even counting the races in the camp ground Denny! We have a lot going on; we've got a great week. Campers have literally been here for two weeks. I'm looking out the window right now and can see some of the camp grounds and they are having a large time. We kick it off tomorrow night with the Hooters Cup race and then the O'Reilly 200 Craftsman Truck Series race. There is a lot of excitement around the truck race this year with the debut of the Randy Moss team and Jimmie Johnson racing in his first truck race, along with Kyle Busch which is always exciting. We've got a lot of tickets sold and expect to put a lot of people in the grandstands tomorrow night. It's truly one of the best days of the year to come to the races at Bristol. With 50 to 60-thousand people there, the traffic isn't too bad - you can get in and out and see two terrific races.

Q: And then Friday and Saturday night... those are the races people talk about all year.

Jeff Byrd: Well, we think the Food City 250 on Friday night is the most popular Nationwide race on the NASCAR schedule. We'll have in excess of 125,000 people here. Lots of Cup guys are crossing over to get some track time. And last year, on Saturday morning, after the first Nationwide race on the new surface, one really highly placed NASCAR official -- a really good friend of yours and mine -- came up to me at the track and said, "That was the best Nationwide Race I have ever seen in my life" - and I think it's going to be the same way this year. And then, follow it up on Saturday night by the Sharpie 500, which is arguably - with the Daytona 500 - the most popular race in NASCAR and will mark our 53rd straight sell-out at Bristol, so we will have 165,000 of my best friends over here for dinner that night.

But, before that gets going, we are going to try to set another Guinness World Record. You know, last year we did a card stunt and with 168,000 people participating this year - with help from TUMS - we are going to try to set a record for the world's largest wave. So that ought to be something to see, right before the drivers get the "gentlemen start your engines" command. We are looking forward to getting our names in the Guinness World Record book twice.

Q: That sounds great with 168,000 fans right before the command. Actually, the fans have been doing the wave for some time... they probably already have the record. We just needed the people from Guinness around to validate the record. It's a great pre-race opportunity for the fans and then, its 500 laps of excitement with the Sharpie 500.

Jeff Byrd: There is always something going on. And we got a lot of reaction from the fans, most of it positive, on the new surface and the drivers were unanimous with the job that our engineers did. When (the drivers) got here last year, nobody believed there was going to be two or three grooves at Bristol and it proved to be true. There is a lot of rubber on the track from the Saturday night spectaculars we ran all summer this year with UARA-Stars and ASA. I just think Kurt (Busch) and the guys are going to have a lot of fun here on Saturday night. Still beating and banging and still getting in each others way every once in awhile, but being able to race when they need to race and as tight as this Chase is right now between (positions) six and 14, we are going to see a lot of racing and then we've got a lot of guys up front in the Chase between (positions) one and five who are pretty comfortable, so they aren't worried about crashing out early. We've got another great Sharpie 500 shaping up for Saturday night. But for those people who have always wanted to come out to Bristol, we've still got tickets available for the Friday night race. It's going to be a great night you get to see the Cup guys qualify and practice and the best that Nationwide has to offer.

Denny Darnell: Jeff, thank you so much for joining us, it's a great segue into one of the most successful drivers in recent years at Bristol -- Kurt Busch -- with five wins and nine top-10 finishes. Kurt, going back to Bristol, would you say Bristol has produced your greatest moment including your first win?

Kurt Busch: It's definitely a highlight to be able to race at Bristol, and have it be my first win. It's a dream come true. You start out racing on the short tracks, and when you get to Bristol, it's not your normal, everyday short track, but it reminds you of the history of stock car racing and it's start on the short track. First win at Bristol...that was pretty special.

Q: Some drivers look like they are in a battle in the car with the steering wheel and others say you don't drive Bristol with the wheel, you drive with the throttle. How much of that is true, and especially with the new car?

Kurt Busch: It's very true and you've got to have the whole package if you want to win at Bristol. Whether it's the set up in the car, the crew, race strategy - you have to have a little bit of luck. The mindset for me at Bristol has always been to protect the racecar and get towards the end (of the race) and then you really start to race these guys. And sometimes you sneak up on them and don't press the 'go' pedal until its 200 laps to go.

Q: With all the success you've had at Bristol, have you had to change your driving style at all because of the new surface, the car or the multiple grooves?

Kurt Busch: Yeah, it seems like the new car is asked for most of the adjustment. The new surface provides a little bit more exciting opportunities to pass - whether it's a restart or a long tire run. You can get up into the outside groove or go in high and come across the middle and go low easier. You can change your line around and then - of course - the new car hereditarily is tight. So it's very difficult to get the car to turn, but you struggle with that all the time. You have to adjust and change your line, and with the five wins I have had there, it has been different every time - whether it was flat out speed or a little bit of strategy. Every time you have to adjust to the changing circumstances.

Q: Your Cubs are doing well this year -- is it safe to say this is the year for them?

Kurt Busch: Us loyal Cubs fans can't put the cart in front of or behind the horse too soon. You've got to just keep praying and wishing them luck. They're looking strong and have a tough schedule coming up, but hopefully we can get a few games up on the Brewers and keep going.

Q: People say how great the Nationwide race (at Bristol in the spring) was this year, but we hear from the fans that the Cup race wasn't as good. Have you heard complaints, and are you worried about that this year?

Jeff Byrd: We got feedback that it wasn't a typical Bristol race -- and Kurt can answer better than I can. I just don't think that a lot of the crew chiefs really trusted the concept of having two grooves at Bristol. It's so out of character with what the tracks given them in the past that they had to get here to see it. And I think as every race goes by, they learn more about the car that helps them and I think the Chase enters into it and with the way that its set up right now, those guys are going to have to race it. But I will remind you that one of the most historic races -- of many -- was the 1999 night race where (Dale Sr.) Earnhardt rattled (Terry) Labonte's cage on the last lap and that had the exact same amount of cautions as last year's Sharpie 500. I was talking to some other folks in the sport on the radio this morning and people come to expect so much out of a race at Bristol that sometimes we just can't live up to those expectations. And if we can't live up to the three wide, one upside down, helmet throwing finish, they feel like they've gotten cheated. But I thought the racing was pretty good and I know they want to see some beating and banging, but I'll defer to Kurt who is one of the all-time best on this surface to comment that the more they learn, the better the race is going to get, right Kurt?

Kurt Busch: Absolutely. The first time out in the new car, on the new surface, everyone is a bit tentative. But what I encourage the fans to look into is that the racing is as exciting as it has always been. And maybe there are not as many yellows and cars bumping and grinding and moving each other out of the way because that's the old surface. Now we've got a newer surface that allows us to race side-by-side and pass and it's not just the normal bump and grind that makes Bristol special, its pretty cool watching a stock car get around there in 15 seconds.

Q: Can you comment on Brian Vickers and what you've seen from him, and that race team, and how they have improved from a year ago?

Kurt Busch: Yeah, I would give them a definite award for the most improved -- which is a double edged sword -- it means you were doing something wrong before -- but they have really come into their own since May of this year. They have really turned it up. They had a great run at the Coke 600 and they are competitive week in and week out and getting stronger and stronger, advancing their Car of Tomorrow program. They are becoming a lot more competitive.

Q: You had to get away from (Jack) Roush, it seemed like, to kind of become your own guy and Brian had to get away from Hendrick to do that. Can you talk about that, and why you needed to do those things?

Kurt Busch: I don't think it had anything to do with being your own person. I'm not sure how, or what, led to his (Brian Vickers) departure over at Hendrick. For me, I wanted to work with different people that I thought ran the business a little differently and its always exciting when you can go to a program and get the things changed that you want and have it all come true. I think Brian (Vickers) had to go through thick woods going to a new team, but now that its developed they are definitely seeing the fruits of that.

Q: Kurt, you are so accustomed to winning and running up front year in and year out. Just wondering what you have done to cope with the stress of not running as you would have liked on a number of occasions this season.

Kurt Busch: Well, I attribute it all to the COT. One day I might call it a racecar, but I keep calling it a COT because we just haven't quite turned the corner - literally, with this new car and trying to get it to handle better. It's not due to lack of effort, at the same time, we finished second at Daytona 500 pushing a teammate to victory. We won a race at New Hampshire, we've led laps, gotten some top 10s, it's not the normal championship type effort, but you are going to have your good years, and your bad years, and you have to balance them all out.

Q: With you out of the Chase picture, or appearing that way, does your approach change at all, do you feel like you are more liberated or freed up as some of the Chase guys choose not to for the rest of the season?

Kurt Busch: Well, we shoot for race wins. That's what's important to us right now, we are trying different chassis set ups and different motor and engine configurations to try to get a leg up and get 2009 underway.

Q: With the question still up in the air as far as who is going to be your teammate in the 12 car next season, how does that affect things as far as your approach, as far as just not knowing what's going to happen there?

Kurt Busch: I've been in the mix with Roger (Penske) and Tim Cindric interviewing drivers and who is the best fit short term, long term, a veteran or an up-and-comer. And of course what I don't know is what's on the sponsor's side with Alltel and Verizon merging and the series sponsor being Sprint which is always interesting. But I've been in the mix trying to get the best candidate possible.

Q: Bristol takes a lot of driver effort -- do you believe it takes top athletic ability to be a champion in the car, and on pit road?

Kurt Busch: Absolutely. I think it's important to be at a fitness level that lets you wrestle a stock car for 500 miles. Bristol is a track that definitely puts a demand on the body -- it tests your physical strength, mental strength and your endurance. One of the most underrated things NASCAR guys compete with is the 125 degree heat for 500 miles, laps, four hours sitting in the car and you definitely have a challenge out there. Anytime I talk to race fans or media members or anybody who doesn't think it's a tough sport, and they get out of the car after the Richard Petty Racing Experience after eight laps and they are winded, they have a better appreciation for it.

Q: Do you have a work out routine and do you believe the seat time throughout the year is exercise too?

Kurt Busch: Absolutely. You feel like you have to keep up with a workout regimen and I work out with a trainer three or four times a week. I try to get on the treadmill or the elliptical or stair stepper, even into a pool for the cardiovascular workout. It all comes into play as each race wears on you over the season. It's a long season, but week in and week out it keeps you in tip-top shape.

Q: As far as the fan/non-fans that really doesn't understand what it's like to go though that, do you have a comment for them?

Kurt Busch: Its just like any sport, you have to put in the commitment and the time to personally train yourself and anytime you lose five or six pounds of water weight, its comparable to a football player or a baseball player. It's a tough sport and it's very comparable to others.

Q: Have you changed your schedule being so focused on things going on at the track, or is it a regular week with sponsor commitments, etc?

Kurt Busch: It's just a regular week except for the excitement of going to Bristol and my success there. It's the Bristol night race; it's one of the marquee events of the year. You've got the Daytona 500, Coke 600, Brickyard 400 and I put pressure on myself in Las Vegas because its home town, but Bristol is up there in the top five as far as exciting races.

Q: Anything going on special this week, testing, or just stick to the track?

Kurt Busch: Just team meetings. Sponsors are in over at Penske Racing - Roger is in town so we will get some business talked about.

Q: Looking ahead to Fontana, are you looking at that race to gain some momentum?

Kurt Busch: Yeah, we are looking at any opportunity to knock on our door to turn it around and California Speedway, just like any other track, is a great place to do that. Having won there and sat on a couple of poles there, it's very comfortable for me at that track. Anytime you've had success at a track gives you hope for a better race weekend.

Q: Do you kind of marvel at what your brother has been able to do this year? Do you have any advice about how to approach the Chase?

Kurt Busch: I am really happy and excited for his success. Watching him come up through the racing ranks, I knew that he was a wheel man and I always tried to sell him as better than I thought he was, but man he's on fire. I always said, "Hey, you think I am doing good, you should see my little brother"... so its great to see him do well. It's surprising, but you can see it coming and I am glad he's transitioned well into his new race team. The next thing I am waiting for is for him to remember who helped him get to this point and give some of that information my way.

Q: He drives so aggressively -- when the points get bunched up, when they reset it -- do you need a mentality or does your approach change when you get in the Chase, or do you think he can scale back, if he has to?

Kurt Busch: He is going to be able to digest what needs to happen in the final 10 (races) -- it's different from the first 26. My approach was simple when we won the championship. It was consistency -- we had nine finishes in the top 10 in the last 10 races. And even though it's a shorter, quick run in the last 10 races, it's the same mentality and philosophy for 36 races - and that is to go out there and get the best finish that you can. And yeah, you might take a few less risks, but that's tough for a 24-year-old to digest.

Q: Do you talk to him about enjoying it?

Kurt Busch: It's tough balance of go-getter attitude and focus as deeply as he is and not necessarily look around or take the blinders off, just stay committed, stay focused, and don't change your routine too much and when the season ends, you hope you come out on top, and that's when you reflect.

Q: As far as your season goes, you mentioned your struggles with the car, are you making progress? Or is it something where you are just experimenting, wanting to head to Daytona with a better idea of what's going on?

Kurt Busch: It's a continued effort to find little things here and there - I don't think its going to be one little thing that puts us back in the mix. It's hard work, commitment and the belief that we can get it done and get back to the top.

Q: How close do you think you guys are to finding it, or have you been frustrated by the combination, are you close?

Kurt Busch: If I knew we were close, I would pull the trigger and do it. It's hard to say... we've got new chassis being built to try and new engine development for more horsepower. Once everyone admitted it to themselves that we needed to try a bit harder, that was the first step. There is a lot going on behind the scenes now.

-credit: dodge motorsports

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Kurt Busch , Richard Petty , Brian Vickers , Kyle Busch
Teams Team Penske