Kurt Busch: Just a hometown boy at heart

Kurt Busch: Just a hometown boy at heart

The 2004 NASCAR Nextel Cup champion Kurt Busch wasn't legally old enough to drive a passenger car when he started making a name for himself as a driver in his hometown of Las Vegas. At the age of 15, the youngster earned rookie of the year chops...

The 2004 NASCAR Nextel Cup champion Kurt Busch wasn't legally old enough to drive a passenger car when he started making a name for himself as a driver in his hometown of Las Vegas. At the age of 15, the youngster earned rookie of the year chops in the Dwarf Car Series and, one year later, the series title.

Kurt Busch.
Photo by Eric Gilbert.
His trophies mounted when he moved to the NASCAR Southwest touring series in 1998, garnering rookie honors and once again grabbing the series title the next season. That was when NASCAR team owner Jack Roush sat up and took notice.

Roush hand picked Busch to fill a seat for him in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. In 2000, his first year in trucks, Busch seized four wins and finished second in standings. The spectacular success led Roush to make an unmatched decision to move Busch directly from the Truck series to the NASCAR Cup series, without making the usual courtesy season run in the NASCAR Busch league.

Experts touted Roush's decision as foolhardy. They couldn't have been more wrong.

While going winless his first year in Cup, Busch did score six top-10 results and his first Budweiser pole award. In the second year, again, Busch proved he was a bona fide star, racking up four victories on a variety of different race tracks. He matched his efforts in 2003, adding four more wins to his NASCAR Cup resume.

But it was in 2004 that Busch's star shone the brightest. He quieted naysayers and stomped on the veterans on his way to the inaugural NEXTEL Cup series trophy. Now with sponsors like Crown Royal, Sharpie, Rubbermaid, Coca-Cola, Oscar Meyer, Gillette and others clamoring for a piece of him, Busch is certainly one of the biggest names in the business.

The Cup champion is one of the 12 competitors in the 2005 Royal Crown International Race of Champions.

Motorsport.com sat down with Busch to see how this year is unfolding and how it feels to be headed home to Las Vegas.

Motorsport.com: Even though you finished second at Daytona, do you think Ford still has some modifications they need to make for restrictor plate race tracks?

Kurt Busch.
Photo by Eric Gilbert.

Kurt Busch: The Fords are at an unfair advantage; it didn't seem like I could break through that threshold (from second to first). I mean we (Ford) got the pole for the Daytona 500. But it seems as if we are just outnumbered by the quantity of Chevrolets and Dodges out there. I think it's quantity because I was the only one in a Ford still running up front. Matt Kenseth blew a motor, Mark Martin was there and he moved up and finished sixth and then I don't know what happened to Elliott. Those were the only guys that I can mention that I remember from the first race. there are only nine of us (Fords) out there. There is not a lot of us, that is the real issue. We need to have a better balance with the Chevrolets and Dodges.

M.com: Elliott Sadler commented that he thought Fords and Chevys had a mechanical advantage, do you feel that way?

Busch: No I am not going to say that, I think that we are just outnumbered. My car handled, it could have worked better as far as handling. It just seems like there are those Hendrick cars and those DEI cars that have a distinct advantage. Those two teams spend more hours on their restrictor plate programs than some of the Ford teams do.

M.com: Is the lack of Ford teams in the series a hindrance sometimes?

Busch: We hope that it isn't, but I think if we had more teams; whether it is Ford's funding to back up the teams or if it is the choice that other teams want to go to Chevy and Dodge because of their aero package. We hope that it's not a problem and that our down force is comparable to what other teams have. I don't know what they are going to do when they go back to the wind tunnel this year I think they need to early on in the year to check where the manufacturers are.

It was such a big change over the off-season with the spoiler change and tightening up the templates. Our Ford is from 1999 and then we had a revision with the nose in 2004. Chevy has a brand new car from 2002 and Dodge got a brand new one this year.

M.com: Do you ever go to the Ford guys and say 'hey let's recruit some more teams to change to Ford'?

Busch: I will go up the totem pole as far as I can go. It's tough you don't want to tip over the apple cart. But it would be nice if we had more cars out there. But I know that they are working on a new car for us next year. We are going to use that next season in 2006 and that will be a completely revamped car.

M.com: Do the Ford teams share info?

Busch: At Roush we race together six days a week and race on the seventh. Now that we are leasing engines from Yates, there is a tie that we have to develop power together -- going into the wind tunnel -- all the Fords share I would say 10-20% of the information. And the high points of Ricky Rudd's car might not land on our car, but some of the lower values might land on our car. Because the teams still have to have their own identity and race their own cars.

M.com: Most people feel that California Speedway and Vegas would be when we will see the affect of the tire and spoiler change. You tested at Vegas, how did it feel?

Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson.
Photo by Eric Gilbert.

Busch: We had a great start to our year with testing in Daytona, California and Las Vegas -- in Daytona we put all that info in a pile and made all the changes that we could and ended up with a great race car. California and Las Vegas are a little different style of racetrack. They are not the core of what our season is going to be. You have to be good at these kind of tracks, good at plate tracks and then you have your short tracks such as Bristol and Martinsville -- you have to be good everywhere -- so these first few races paint a good picture; but, I think you have to get about ten races in and see who is on top then.

Then you will see who has done the best job in the off-season as well as to who will be the lead teams going into the later part of the season.

M.com: Vegas will be the normal schedule, but we are back to impounding cars and bizarre hours in Atlanta, how do you feel about the new schedule and is it working for the #97 team?

Busch: The impounding of race setup is very difficult. Some teams have hit on it and some teams haven't. On Friday at California, we weren't all that hot, and so we needed to make a bunch of changes to see if we can balance a better race setup as well as a qualifying setup.

M.com: You're headed home this weekend. How important is it for you to win at Vegas?

Busch: It always has been important to me; whether it is with the championship title or not. This is a regular race, but I keep getting involved with this race because this is Vegas; this is my hometown. I treat it like a Daytona 500. That pressure that you have when you sometimes miss the small things with the championship title and then there are all the things that have come up behind the scenes such as appearances and stuff. All that will help me balance out the prestige of what Vegas means to me and have this be our (his and the teams) best year yet.

M.com: I am sure this is trite, and a thousand people have asked you; but, how much would it mean to you to win?

Busch: It would mean as much as it would for anyone to win his or her hometown event or the Brickyard 400 or the Daytona 500. It is a checkmark on my list of something that I have to do I and if I don't succeed early in my career then I know I have got some more chances later on down the road in my career.

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Kurt Busch , Jimmie Johnson , Jack Roush , Eric Gilbert , Elliott Sadler , Mark Martin