KYLE BUSCH, No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
Are you happy to be back at Michigan this weekend? “Certainly looking forward to getting back to Michigan. We had a nice run here in the spring earlier this year -- not the springtime, but earlier this year. Finishing third, we didn’t qualify as good as we wanted to so we know that can be important today in trying to make sure that we get a good starting spot and good pit selection for the race. Overall, we feel pretty good with our program and how Denny’s (Hamlin) run here in the past. I think he’s won quite a few here recently and certainly has run up front. We did the same here last time and led a lot of laps and had a shot to win, but for a couple late cautions and run third. Nice opportunity to get back in the Interstate Batteries Camry and get Norm (Miller, president, Interstate Batteries) and the boys back into victory lane hopefully this weekend and see if we can’t have a good, clean and exciting race this weekend.”
What is the plan for Kimi Raikkonen in the future with Kyle Busch Motorsports? “With Kimi (Raikkonen)? There is no plan for the future with Kimi. Unfortunately, we haven’t heard from his people. We’re concentrating on what we know with what we’ve got to do, which is to try to go after our owner’s championship for the Truck Series and being able to win another one for Kyle Busch Motorsports. We’d love to have Kimi back. Certainly, it was fun to work with him. I know Ren (Rick Ren, general manager, Kyle Busch Motorsports) enjoyed it and the guys all put a lot of work into that truck. He did a nice job with it and if he wanted to come back and run a few races, we’d certainly help him out and put him in the right equipment to do so.”
What is your current engine situation? “I think it’s the same as I said last week. Denny’s (Hamlin) going to run this week with a TRD (Toyota Racing Development) engine. Why those guys decided to change, I don’t know. For us and the 18 team, we’re pretty confident in Mark Cronquist (Joe Gibbs Racing engine builder) and what he’s been able to do with his guys at Joe Gibbs Racing. We’re staying committed to our guys, our engine department for this year and Mark’s still there and all the same guys are still there. We’ve only had one engine failure this year in a race and it was at Vegas -- we blew up. We had another problem in practice somewhere, which was my fault and we caught it in time and we were able to make a change in practice. We had to start at the rear, but no big deal. We feel pretty confident with where we’re at and how we can finish out the year. The reason for the merger and everything for next year is primarily because of the fuel injection. We haven’t done any R&D work on fuel injection stuff yet, where TRD Costa Mesa (Calif.) -- they’ve done a lot of work in regards to that and preparing for next year, preparing for the future and what that entails. We’re going to merge our engine complexes together basically and we’re going to rely on TRD Costa Mesa a lot for next year. JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) is still going to do Nationwide stuff and if they do Truck stuff and what not, I haven’t been 100 percent certain to what their plans are, but as far as I know everybody’s got a job and that’s been the focus of the JGR family is making sure that we can keep as many people that are there employed because they’re great people.”
How does it affect the team to have Denny Hamlin running a TRD engine this weekend? “Setup-wise and everything like that, we’re still going to communicate for sure. An engine doesn’t make much difference. You’re just going to be able to tell whether it’s got better low end power or better high end power. We’ll see what Denny (Hamlin) likes about it this weekend and kind of get his feedback on it. He’s obviously going to be our test dummy, if you will, so we’ll get a good basis on what he feels with that. Whether it relates to any hard feelings or anything back at JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing), I’m not sure. That’s why we’re staying committed to the 18 -- the 18 team is staying committed to JGR engines. We feel like that’s our best opportunity to try to win a championship. We’ve run them for three years and certainly we’ve had some issues here or there, but we’d like to say that we can go the rest of the year without a problem. If we do have one, hopefully it’s in practice at least and not in the race.”
How do you approach this week after two missed opportunities at race wins? “Certainly we’ve got to look back and figure out why or how -- you can’t forget it and you have to learn from it and put the experience to work for yourself in the future. Certainly we feel like we missed out on two opportunities to win two races this year. We’ve also missed out on opportunities at Martinsville, at California. Where else were they? There’s like five of them that we’ve missed out on. If we go back and pinpoint those and fix them, we would have eight wins this year. We’ve already looked back on that. Certainly, that’s frustrating and we’d love to have the eight wins so we could have the bonus points and everything going into the Chase and still look forward to the opportunity of winning more races throughout the Chase. We’ve been competitive, we’ve been right there and we’re certainly finishing well, but the wins are what’s going to win this deal and when you come down to the final 10 races, you’re going to be battling for any single point you can get. When you get three added bonus points per win, there’s going to be 10 guys and there’s 10 races in the final 10 right, so there’s going to be 10 guys that win one of those 10 races. Whether there’s repeat winners or not. Those three points could be crucial come Homestead.
What is the dynamic with the three drivers at Joe Gibbs Racing right now? “We’ve had a better year than the other two guys and it’s been a trying year for Denny (Hamlin) and Joey (Logano). Joey, at the beginning of the year, he couldn’t do anything right. Not him, but he just didn’t have any luck. We turn around and it’s like, flat tire or loose wheel or something was happening to Joey and he was running well. It’s just a matter of being able to put all that together and they’ve done a really good job at that here recently. I’m proud of the kid last week especially for finishing as well as he did in both races -- Nationwide and Cup races. He did a really good job at the road course with the help of Max (Papis). Certainly, we’re all a little shook up by where Denny’s at in points and especially his hard hit last week. That certainly threw us all a little bit and making sure that he was okay and that he could still contend for the rest of the year, which he’s fine. I’ve talked to him this week. We’re just trying to put all the pieces together to get Denny in the Chase and get him locked in. He’s got a win, but we’d like to see him in the top-10 at least or at least get another win. It kind of saves him a little bit. It’s certainly tough and it’s been a trying year, but we’re trying to put all the pieces to where we can win a championship with at least the 18 team because we feel like we’re pretty much locked in. We’re trying to get the 11 (Denny Hamlin) in there as well too so he can help us.”
Which driver could surprise people in the Chase? “I think we’ve seen that here the last couple weeks and that’s the 2 (Brad Keselowski) car. He come out of nowhere, winning that race at Pocono and surprising us all and getting two wins on the year and now getting himself as a wild card berth and then backing it up with a strong run this past week. He’s certainly had some flashes of brilliance this year where he’s run well. He can be a guy that if he comes out here and runs well again this weekend, he’s going to be a guy that’s probably going to be on everybody’s mind.”
How much pressure will Brad Keselowski feel in the Chase? “He (Brad Keselowski) probably learned a lot last year from winning the Nationwide championship. Still, I think the Cup level, there’s something different about the Cup level that’s just a lot more than you expect and so to come out here and to think that you’re going to be able to contend for a championship right out of the bat -- I’ve been slapped in the face with that before --about four times. It can certainly change your opinion of the Chase right out of the gate. You have to be ready for it and you have to play it as you have the first 26 races. You just have to do what you can do and control what you can control and try to minimize your damages on bad days.”
What is the difference between winning and not winning? “Well, certainly, getting to victory lane and going ‘woo hoo’ versus sitting on pit road and going ‘damn.’ There’s a difference. I don’t know. There’s a lot of differences to it. On the race track -- what could we have done differently? First thing I can think of is Pocono and Watkins Glen -- I didn’t need those last two cautions. Those certainly would have been nice. There’s just things that you try to work through and try to think differently of. Pocono, I restarted on the bottom thinking that would give me my best chance to win because my car was better on the bottom through turn one than being on the top. So, maybe restarting on the top and having my brother behind me and having Kurt (Busch) push me down the straightaway to kind of get me out a little bit and still use turn one -- the bottom lane of turn one -- just be able to clear those guys and make the 2 (Brad Keselowski) and the 48 (Jimmie Johnson) fend for themselves. That certainly could have been something different. And looking back on Watkins Glen, try to back the corner up some more and run a little bit wider. I ran real shallow trying to make sure that nobody would dive bomb me from behind -- like the 2 (Brad Keselowski) or somebody else. I had enough room where I could have ran a little bit wider to give myself a better trajectory of getting in to the turn. Those are all things that you look at and try to work on the next time around.”TOYOTA NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS)
Do you feel the impact of the economy and recession? “Certainly, Kyle Busch Motorsports feels it with the Truck team and with trying to start up a Nationwide team. You got to have money in order to move forward and it’s hard to get people to commit to this and understand that you’re trying to employ 40 people. I’m only 40 people. JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing), shoot, they’re 400 people. Hendrick Motorsports is 450, or something like that. You know, we’re trying to get as much as we can. Everybody’s fighting for the same thing. Whether or not, for instance the 18 team has M&M’s and Interstate Batteries signed up for the next few years -- we’re still looking for associate partners and stuff like that just to try to help us be able to go out there and buy some cool brakes or to buy this tricked-out air box or to buy something -- it takes money to buy things. The more you have, the more you can spend obviously. Being able to try to work ourselves or hire new people. We’ve gotten a new engineer this year because we felt like we had room in our budget. There’s certain things that you have to work through as a race team. I think J.D. (Gibbs, president, Joe Gibbs Racing) and those guys are going through trying to re-up the FedEx guys -- I think Home Depot is set. Certainly with Jim Sexton at Z-Line -- those guys didn’t feel the hurt for awhile in the economy and now they are, so we’re not sure how many they’re going to return and do for us next year in the Nationwide Series. We’d like to have them back for as many as they’ve done this year, at least, which would be great.”
Will you have an advantage taking part in the Phoenix tire test before the race weekend? “From my understanding, I think there’s an open test first. So, everybody -- anybody that can go or wants to go -- gets a chance to go to Phoenix. Actually, I think it’s right after Bristol. And, then there will be a final tire test sometime in October or something like that. There’s certainly going to be an advantage to being able to go to get your data and everything that you want to go back to the shop to work on the seven-post and kind of figure out some ideas and other things you want to try and then go back and do the tire test. Goodyear keeps us on a pretty tight leash anyway. So, when we go to do a tire test certainly we’re getting track time, but you’re only allowed to get your car comfortable and then you go through all their changes, all their tire compounds and all their tire things that they want to do. And, they may give you one extra set of tires at the end of the thing in order to go ‘play’ on -- that you’ll have to do whatever you want to do. That’s not for certain that that’s going to be the same tire you’re going to go back and race on. There are certain advantages to it. Certainly it’s not a disadvantage I feel. Any more laps you can get on a race track that’s freshly paved is going to be beneficial.