HERB BRANHAM: Thank you, and good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to today's NASCAR cam video teleconference. It's in advance of Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Michigan International Speedway, the LifeLock 400. Our guest today,...
HERB BRANHAM: Thank you, and good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to today's NASCAR cam video teleconference. It's in advance of Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Michigan International Speedway, the LifeLock 400.
Our guest today, joining us from Penske Racing headquarters in Morrisville, North Carolina, is the 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, Kurt Busch. He's the driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge. Current is currently 21st in points. He comes off a very solid eighth place finish this past Sunday at Pocono raceway. Kurt has won twice at Michigan, including last August. Kurt, things are obviously looking up after this past weekend. Michigan has been a good track for you in the past. What's the outlook going into this weekend?
KURT BUSCH: Well, we're excited about the run that we had last weekend at Pocono. It gives the team a boost of confidence to know that, hey, maybe we're just missing a couple small things. Pocono has been a great track as well as Michigan. We're really pumped up about this weekend. Hopefully last year, we won the last race there, and that will help us going into this weekend with just the knowledge that we have about the racetrack.
HERB BRANHAM: We'll be ready for media questions now for today's NASCAR cam guest, Kurt Busch.
Q: Thanks for joining us today. I just wanted to -- I know you've probably been asked this a million times this year, especially with Kyle's success this season, but was Kyle a hyperactive kid growing up? What kind of kid was he when you were growing up with him?
KURT BUSCH: He was just my little brother. You know, he was seven years younger than I was, and he was always trying to hang with the older crowd, with my friends and things that we were doing. So whether it was baseball or radio-controlled cars or racing in general, he was always with tougher competition, and so it made him better as a younger kid. He was a real quiet guy just like myself, and our work ethic is instilled from our father, and that is just to go out there and work hard and go for those race wins. Just a regular guy, and he's been thrown into the spotlight. I'm real happy for him.
Q: In terms of the spotlight he's gotten this year, are you at all surprised that he's done so well in his new team in a new ride?
KURT BUSCH: Well, I've said it all along with this new race car, once a team gets hot, they're going to be hot for some time because it's just the new technology of this race car. Sometimes when you catch a wave, you can ride it for a long time. And so Hendrick had it last year, and it looks like Gibbs Racing has it this year.
Q: Have you ever gone up to him and said, what are you doing this year, are you nuts trying to do all three series, especially with the weekend he had last week?
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, he's just a racer at heart, and he wants to race, race, race. You can't take that out of him, you can't take it away from him. So I'm happy that he's doing well. You know, it was a bummer weekend for him. He did stretch himself a little thin with racing in three different states, but hey, he's on the gas, he's young. You're only young once.
Q: Just following up on that, you went through some of these times with the fans and being booed and so forth, and came out of it and won a championship. Have you given Kyle any advice on how to handle what he's going through?
KURT BUSCH: He seems to be doing real well. He hasn't asked for any type of advice, and you know, the thing is that we're both racers and we both love to try to win. He's got everything going for him right now, so he's grabbing life by the horns, as you would say in Dodge Land, and he's going for it.
Q: One other question. Several of the drivers, regarding Pocono, the length of the race, a lot of them said they think it would be a more interesting race if it were 400 miles. What are your thoughts on that?
KURT BUSCH: That's been a debate ever since I can remember with the way that Pocono seems like it's drawn out forever. Even Matt Kenseth made the comparison, hey, you've got the 24 Hours of Daytona and you've got the 500 Miles of Pocono. So it could stand to be shortened.
But these race cars, these new ones, they're so much warmer inside and hotter inside, and then the demand put on the driver because you're driving twice as hard it seems like with this new car. So a 400-mile race might be more exciting.
Q: As you know, the media tends to focus on the guys who are running right up at the top, in maybe the top 10 or so, either on TV or things like here and now we're talking about it. When you're running 21st as you are now, what sort of pressure does that put on you outside of the racing stuff, but in terms of the media stuff?
KURT BUSCH: I'm not sure how to answer that. I mean, really it's business as usual. You know, when you're 21st you want to be 1st, and when you're 1st it can be real easy to get smacked down to 21st. So you have the good times and you have the bad, and you try to even them all out. We're working real hard to get ourselves back up in this points mix and see if we can't make the Chase. The media is what it is, and when you're hot, you're hot, and when you're not, you're not.
Q: Does it get frustrating to not be in the spotlight, though?
KURT BUSCH: Not at all. I'm not one to go out there and seek it and soak it up when I'm in it or not in it. For me it's my race team and the job that I have at hand here, which is to get the Miller Lite Dodge running better so we can be up there in points and have a shot at the championship.
Q: Since you and Ryan finished 1 and 2 at Daytona and until Kasey got hot, the Dodges kind of seemed to not be a threat. Has it been horsepower or aero or none of the above?
KURT BUSCH: You could really say it's a combination of things. Last year with our downforce car, Dodge had the most downforce in the garage area on the front end, so that made the cars turn really well. So this year with the new car, not as much downforce. Our cars are really struggling to turn with the front end. Like you said, Kasey Kahne has gotten hot recently, so whether it's a Dodge or a Ford, Toyota, Chevy, I don't think it matters with this new car.
But then it matters under the hood, and that's the engine, and I think that Dodge can do a better job at getting some more power. We've got a new engine that's certified, but we don't have enough time and development into it just yet to put it in the race car and race it for points.
Q: And then I've got to ask you about the Cubs, not too bad of a season. Do you have any plans on going to any games coming up?
KURT BUSCH: I love how hot the Cubs are. It's great and it's fun to watch them. It's been 100 years since they've been this hot and led this early in the standings with this record. So I've got a couple games slated. Hopefully around our Chicago race I'll have an opportunity to make it over to Wrigley Field. I'm just a lifelong Cubs fan, and this could be the year.
Q: Are you going to be in the bleachers or in the press box?
KURT BUSCH: It doesn't matter, wherever we can get tickets. If it's a group of guys, of course we'll be "bleacher creatures" out there.
Q: You said earlier that with this new technology, sometimes you catch a wave and ride it for a long time. So with this relatively new car, is true driver talent being displayed? And what I mean is are some guys successful only because their car is better, or is their true talent being shown because they're adjusting to what this new car has created?
KURT BUSCH: Well, it takes everything to be successful in this sport. You can't just have a good car and a poor driver and expect championship-type results. You have to have the full package. And with this new car, when you get hot, it seems like the team helped that driver get warm and catch on fire.
But Kyle Busch isn't doing it all by himself, but you can't take away credit from Kyle for not going out there and racing well and racing hard.
On the flipside of that, Ryan Newman, myself, we haven't forgotten how to race race cars, so why can't we find the success that some of the other teams are having?
Q: Going back to the older car, how is this different from what would happen with the older car? Would you see some guys up and down like what you're seeing at this point, or are things a little bit different with this car?
KURT BUSCH: Well, last year's car had the downforce qualities where you had to choose your setup around some of the downforce or aerodynamic changes, so it was a different balance.
With this here it seems more engineering-minded from the bump rubber technology on the front end, maybe even different front-end geometry that some regular racers don't know where the engineering department can help. So it just seems like when -- Kasey Kahne a few weeks ago, he wasn't even on the map, and here he is won the last two out of three races, so it can be just that quick or that easy when you find it.
Q: Thank you for joining our call and thank you for sharing your experiences this year.
KURT BUSCH: Not at all. It's great to be part of that as well as giving fans insight as to what's going on. There's so many interesting things and stories every week, no matter if you're winning races or if you're 21st in points.
Q: You're going to Michigan this weekend, and obviously that's a track that holds a special thought in Roger Penske's heart. What is it like for your team heading up there this weekend?
KURT BUSCH: Well, it's the manufacturer's backyard and everybody gets excited to carry their nameplate to victory lane at Michigan. I've had the chance to do it for Dodge, and of course Roger Penske's headquarters are up there. It seems like a second home race for everybody. You've got Charlotte, of course, and then you've got Michigan, which are two very pride-filled racetracks, and any driver that goes to victory lane at Michigan feels that for their manufacturer, it's a proud day and a proud moment for Dodge when we get to win there.
Q: You've been very busy the last couple weeks, you've been doing philanthropy, you've been doing a lot of testing. Is this week sort of a relaxing week or are you still working a lot?
KURT BUSCH: I've been heavy at it. We're here at the race shop. Roger Penske was here this morning. So we had about three hours' worth of meetings just trying to cover all bases and put together a plan for the next few weeks, whether it's engine development, whether it's testing, just trying to hit the racetrack and gather information.
Q: And finally, you were saying how if a driver can get hot, they can get hot. Is the Chase still realistic for you if you can get hot?
KURT BUSCH: I'm waiting for when it's my turn to get hot. We want something in our notebook to click and to turn our car into a top-5 car each week. Maybe it's just around the corner, and I hope that we have a chance to chip away at 12th place in points. We gained 70 over the last couple weeks, so that's what we need to keep doing.
Q: Just wondering, just curious about what kind of advice Sam Hornish has come to ask of you on his transition from open wheel to stock cars, and whether you have any theories in general as to why those guys have had a little bit of a struggle this year.
KURT BUSCH: Well, Sam has been a great teammate so far, and the information that he has from open wheel sometimes doesn't necessarily correlate with the stock car world. But he's a true champion and he's a fighter, and you know that he's going to give it his best each and every week.
The questions that he mainly has is about the specific racetracks because he's used to some of the open-wheel ovals or the street circuits that he's been on before, and nothing really compares. I mean, a driver goes to Pocono, and the first time you usually go there is in a Cup car if you're in the Sprint Cup Series. So this past week was a big learning curve for him. But he just came off a couple hot weeks at Charlotte, where he did well in the All-Star race as well as the Coca-Cola 600, so he's done a great job progressing through the year.
Q: Any remarks from him as far as NASCAR being maybe tougher competition than he was expecting or the level of competition in general?
KURT BUSCH: He hasn't said much about it. You know, I think that he knows that this is a challenge, and all the open-wheel drivers know that NASCAR is pretty darned tough. And it's just not 20 or 25 cars that are out there, it's 43, and legitimately 30 of them have a shot at winning each and every week. So the competition is the fiercest, and I think that NASCAR is definitely being recognized as being the toughest division in all of racing.
Q: I would like to know how fuel prices are affecting your team. Are you taking less airplane rides? Are you renting less cars for the team, anything along those lines?
KURT BUSCH: I haven't directly felt the pressure, other than I filled up my Dodge vehicle this morning at the Mobil station, and it took $73 to fill it up. I'm like, I used to put a $20 bill down to fill up my Volkswagen Bug in high school. So I'm feeling it that way. It's almost funny to look at it. And then to read in the papers that the oil companies are in 10 billions worth of profits, I'm kind of confused by it.
But it would hit Roger Penske's pocket more than mine, and I can tell you that we haven't done anything different. We're still trying to push hard to win races for our great sponsors
Q: What about some teams around you? Have you noticed some teams cutting back or anything?
KURT BUSCH: I haven't. You know, it's really a tough state to be in, of course, with fuel being the price that it is. But the show must go on, and I haven't seen anything different at the racetrack other than everybody is just trying to get a one-up on the competition.
Continued in part 2