Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 97 Sharpie/Irwin Taurus, has won eight races the past two seasons and ranked second behind Ryan Newman with four series victories in 2003. Busch, who finished 11th in the point standings, spoke about the many...
Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 97 Sharpie/Irwin Taurus, has won eight races the past two seasons and ranked second behind Ryan Newman with four series victories in 2003. Busch, who finished 11th in the point standings, spoke about the many changes taking place in the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series.
KURT BUSCH - No. 97 Sharpie/Rubbermaid Taurus
THERE SEEMS TO BE A LOT OF CHANGE TAKING PLACE THIS SEASON. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT SOME OF THE RECENT POLICY CHANGES? "It seems like the more things change, the more they stay the same. It's just a matter of adapting to the new times, whether it's the points system, whether it's provisionals or whether it's testing. It seems they always find the right direction to head down and I have to agree 100 percent with every one of them as far as change. Nextel is not necessarily enforcing anything, it's something where they're very comfortable with the way NASCAR runs things and we're just trying to appeal to a marketing point or to a fans aspect of a fresher look."
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE TESTING CHANGE? "I'm all for it. It's gonna be great. I wouldn't have minded if they would have made a third day down here optional, where we could have taken that day and gone somewhere else with it. One day tests are gonna be fantastic. You'll roll in there and thrash right through it and then you're out of there that same day. We utilize those quite a bit for race tracks that are close to the Charlotte area and it just depends where we need to go and brush up our skills. I think it's great we'll be able to do one day tests."
WHAT ABOUT THE PROVISIONAL CHANGE? "I think that's more of a political move to have more cars participate in every event, instead of having the two or three cars that come in just for specific races."
HOW ABOUT THE PROPOSED POINT SYSTEM CHANGE? "I'm on both sides of the fence. It's difficult to change it that dramatically because you'll have sponsors that will come in and sign you up for two-thirds of the year and then if you do get into the top 10, they'll give you an additional bonus for the final third of the season. That's the sponsor side of things. As far as the drivers are concerned, it seems as if you get locked out of the top 10 - say you're 11th - and you go and win three races and have a great finish to the year like I did in 2002, I could have won the championship. But you never know what they're gonna decide as far as the break point."
HOW DO YOU SEE 2004? "We've come to this Daytona test to prepare and we have yet to have our big sit down meetings as far as what we think we need to accomplish this year. But, obviously, every year that you go in you have a fresh start, a fresh look and you're building new cars because you want to go as fast as you can each week."
ANY MAJOR CHANGES? "None at all, really. We only changed our front tire changer because he wasn't producing adequate pit stops. Other than that, it's 100 percent return from guys at the shop and guys that are building the cars, including engineers. It's great to see that, especially with all the turmoil we went through last year with not really living up to the expectations we thought we could have. But with four wins and finishing up in the points, we still did all right."
DO YOU LOOK AT THIS YEAR AS A FRESH START? "Every year you have a fresh start whether it's a bad year or a good year."
DO YOU FEEL MORE COMFORTABLE ABOUT WHAT YOU DO AND WHERE YOU'RE AT IN YOUR CAREER GOING INTO THIS SEASON? "Feeling comfortable is a big aspect of this sport. When you're a rookie nothing is familiar and you don't know which direction to go. You're asking so many questions all the time and it's hard to digest it all. I suppose going into my fourth Nextel Cup season it'll be a little more of a familiar situation and being comfortable is something you can't grade. Just being able to have another year where we can go out and try to win races and already have a successful outlook before we even sit down to try to sit down and understand our goals gives me a positive feeling."
HAVING THE SAME PERSONNEL IS KEY. "Yeah, those are little things you get used to and now it's a matter of understanding those test reports and understanding those engineers and being able to develop a car to help you go and win races. Now it's just to another level. Instead of just shooting free throws for practice, now you're designing plays."
WHAT OTHER ASPECTS DO YOU FEEL THE TEAM HAS TO IMPROVE AND HOW IMPORTANT IS A QUICK START? "Really, it's just a matter of focusing and putting the blinders on like we've been real successful at doing. We just try to move forward with every day methods and not try to overstep any boundary. We're building great cars already. We're gonna go and test out in Las Vegas and it's just a matter of being consistent. We had a motor failure early last year and a wreck and that knocked us back in points. It took a while to build back up, but we did achieve second place in points after California when we won there, so we just need to be a bit more consistent, whether it's at a short track like Richmond and then the next week when you go to a Texas-type track you've got to be solid."
HOW IMPORTANT IS THE DAYTONA 500 IN YOUR MIND? "It is the most prestigious race. It's odd that our season starts with the Super Bowl, but our sport isn't like any other sport. It's not the NFL. It's not the NBA. There are 43 teams trying to vie for one victory. It's not just two teams and that's why a playoff-type system would be somewhat out of the ordinary for any type of racing series because they pay you to be consistent point-wise everywhere we go. There are fans that have tickets on the West coast. There are fans that have tickets in the Northeast, in the Southeast and in the Midwest and you have to go and showcase your talent in each part of the country and that's being consistent."
HOW BIG WOULD IT BE FOR YOU TO WIN THE DAYTONA 500? "It's difficult to put it in perspective. I watched Dale Earnhardt so many years be the best car on the race track and go through so much turmoil. So many different things kept him away from Victory Lane and when he finally did achieve that it was a situation where nobody knew how to feel, except to come out on to pit road and everybody wanted to congratulate him. You have to go through many years of suffering to understand how important this race is. Just my first time here, I was on the bubble in the 125 and barely got into the race. That was probably the most nerve-wracking feeling I've ever had with the Daytona 500."
WHAT OTHER DRIVERS AND TEAMS DO YOU SEE AS FAVORITES THIS YEAR? "I almost see a carbon copy of the top 10 finishers last year in the top 10 again. The Gibbs teams will be competitive even though the coach is moving back to the Skins. It'll be cool. I think NASCAR will embrace the Washington Redskins as their team, and you'll see the Roush cars competitive again. Matt Kenseth isn't gonna lay down, but I think Hendrick will have a good year as well as DEI. So there are a lot of good teams and, of course, we're somewhat married with Yates. Now it's gonna be more teammates working together, and I think that can only benefit our situation."
THAT SOUNDS LIKE A NEAT RELATIONSHIP. "It'll be unique in the fashion of building cars and building motors and, of course, being able to work with another veteran-style driver like Dale Jarrett and then having a younger characteristic in Elliott Sadler who is like myself. You have both so that should balance out pretty smoothly. Whether it's a Texas-style track where Elliott Sadler is real fast or whether it's a Bristol-type track where we've done well, the wealth will now be shared amongst more teams."