Continued from part 1 KURT BUSCH: HOW DO YOU APPROACH DEFENDING YOUR TITLE? "New Hampshire is key to getting a good start. You want that race to go smooth and to gain bonus points. Bonus points now can mean more than the top 10 positions...
Continued from part 1
HOW DO YOU APPROACH DEFENDING YOUR TITLE?
"New Hampshire is key to getting a good start. You want that race to go smooth and to gain bonus points. Bonus points now can mean more than the top 10 positions because you can gain 100 points in the final 10 races and that was key to our victory last year. So getting off to a good start. I'm looking forward to many tests at the mile-and-a-halves because those dominate the chase races this year. At New Hampshire, we went from seventh to first in points last year. We're gonna try to do that again. We're gonna come from fifth, hopefully."
ASIDE FROM CHANGING WHEEL SUPPLIERS WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED FROM LAST YEAR'S CHASE TO THIS YEAR?
"Actually, we didn't change wheel suppliers. We figured out that there was a technique that we had in our wheel that really contributed to our problem last year and we've understood that. Unlike several of the teams, we're still with the same wheel supplier that we had before we had problems."
WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED?
"We got all brand new wheels. Kurt gave me some advice in the middle of the race, suggesting that I probably needed new wheels, so I took that and starting at the chase they'll all have brand new wheels. We'll have next year's wheels starting then. The wheel thing, we think we've taken the risk out of it. We've got our best lineup of cars. We've got plenty of great engine parts and we've got plenty of gears that have got the right heat-treat for our transmission and things. We've got our best parts and our best cars laid back for these final 10 races. Everything that's gone wrong early in the year - we had one car before we went to Fontana that didn't have an electrical system component in it that helps fail safe for an alternator failure, and we understood that and got that corrected. So all of the cars have got everything we understand that is beneficial to them, that reduce the risk of falling out of a race for something we can predict, and we've just got to go see what happens - see if we can run over a piece of trash at the wrong time or somebody drops their oil in front of us - one of those things we can't control. That's what will get us. It won't be something we've overlooked."
ANY TREPIDATION ABOUT HAVING FIVE GUYS IN THE CHASE?
"The longer we go with this program, and I'm talking about this 18 years I've had in stock car racing with all these guys. The longer I go, the less they let me do. For some reason, they're becoming more capable on demonstrating the limits of my capability and they're protecting me from it. I'm not stressed at all with what I need to do today with what's going on. Doug Yates is doing a great job with the engines. Harry McMullen is doing a great job building the cars. We've got plenty of cars. We're consolidating on our construction of our cars. We've got backups for our backups for our backups. We're in really good shape. The thing that is not clear is whether we discover something with a shock absorber, or discovering something with a spring, or with an aero-balance issue that is outside the box of what's known. There's only one car and I'm not gonna say what we're concerned about out there, but there's one guy that's got one thing technically that we don't understand that has beat us a couple of times this year. That's the only thing I'm aware of that we lack. We're up on our cooling. We're up on our brakes. We're up on our shocks. We're ready to run for a championship if we ever were and it's just my good fortune we're sitting there with five teams ready to do it."
WHAT ABOUT THE PSYCHOLOGICAL ASPECT?
"At 63 years old and doing this for 40 years do you think I'm not smart enough to psych myself out of it. We won't be making a lunge for life. We won't be making a desperate attempt to find something new. We'll just hunker down and treat this thing - in the old days it was a 36-race schedule - it's gonna be a 10-race schedule where every race counts. You can't make high-risk decisions, low probability of success decisions for your hardware and the guys will have the good sense to do that on the race track. They'll race the same way we have to get us where we are."
YOU RACED HARD WITH HARVICK EARLY. WHEN DID YOU TAKE CONTROL?
"We raced real hard and that's what Richmond allows you to do. When get side-by-side with a guy, the inside car, his momentum is restricted a bit because that guy has the momentum on the outside and it's fun to race like that. There aren't many race tracks that allow you to do that and after a few pit cycles to notice that Harvick's car kept getting tighter and tighter. With this new format of impounding, you see guys sit on poles and you know they've got fast race cars, but you know they sat on a pole because it was comfortable in qualifying. So I looked at that. I said, 'Well, we were fifth and we were on the loose side. I think our car is gonna get better as we run.' And it did. Harvick's car got a bit tight, so we have to compromise between qualifying and race. So about halfway when we took the lead from Harvick, we were able to stretch it out. I was challenged by my little brother. He seemed very strong and very determined tonight to back up his win in California, and then to have Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle - a top three for Roush at the end. It was great racing. Just having a car that is capable of qualifying well and racing well is the key to winning with this new impound system."
HOW DO YOU KEEP GUYS WORKING TOGETHER IF THEY'RE ALL IN IT AT THE END?
"Mark Martin probably said it well in terms of the drivers. Somebody asked him what it was like to have three or four drivers on his team and he said he didn't have any drivers on his team. He said if they were on his team, they'd be trying to help him win races. I have the respect for each of them to pursue their careers and to make the most of the opportunities that we've given them with the hardware and things. To this point, they've had the respect for me to not take one another out by taking mindless chances around one another - where they could do damage or reduce the prospects of success through some misdeed of theirs. I expect to race clean. I often say when I'm faced with a contentious problem and I know the answer I put the protagonists in a room together. I turn off the light and throw something in there that would make somebody mad and then just wait to shake the hand of the one that comes out. That's the way I feel about it. I want to see the same race that the fans do and the same race that our sponsors do. I want to see the best of our drivers and the best of our programs win based on who has the most luck and who executed the best strategy on the race track with their crew chief and I don't care."
WHEN WERE YOU CONVINCED THE FENDER DAMAGE WASN'T GOING TO RUIN YOUR NIGHT?
"It doesn't seem like it hindered our chances that much when it happened. The car got a little bit tight, but this track is more about the car's handling and how you apply the four springs to the race track. It was a stupid mistake on my part. I got back in the groove and just waited for the next pit stop to pull out the fender and get four fresh tires and just have a clean slate again. So, no biggie. We used our right-front fender quite often tonight just because of how tough it is to pass when you get next to lapped cars that have fresh tires or when you have guys that are holding the top lane. It's just fun short-track racing."
THIS CHASE ISN'T A BAD DEAL IS IT?
"It is a great deal. The only caution that I gave the powers that be at NASCAR when they brought this up more than a year ago was that the sponsors and the teams that didn't make the top 10, that couldn't be running in the final stages for a championship, were gonna buy the same amount of tires, the hotel rooms are gonna cost the same. They were gonna have the same number of people at the race track. The payrolls would be the same and it was gonna be hard to justify the level of cost and the expenditure that the sponsors and the teams had to exert to be able to run these races when they were running for 11th place. What they said to me at that time was that there was gonna be enough energy brought to it that the folks that would race from 11th through 43 were gonna get their money's worth based on the fact there would be more attention brought to it. I think that's true. The other thing I told them at the time. I told them, 'You guys are concerned about the fact that my program is getting stronger and stronger,' and I said, 'if I do get five teams' and I predicted that before I knew Jeff Burton was gonna leave in the middle of last year based on his contract being up and him having a chance to move early and me making a decision to build with Carl Edwards towards 2005, I predicted, I said, 'If I put five in this first year's competition with the chase, you guys are gonna say I'm predatory.' They said, 'No.' But we weren't able to do that last year. We do have five great programs. We were very lucky this year and we're gonna compete under the rules that they've got. Whatever the rules they are, we'll take a look at them, try to figure out what we can do. The crew chiefs use their best strategies, the car builders do, and certainly I won't miss a trick if my experience tells me what I need to do. We're racing hard. Everybody races hard. Somebody that doesn't use their best effort given the rules in front of them and the resources they've got is not doing what they need to be doing for the representation they make to the sponsors and to the fans."
ARE YOU CERTAIN YOU AND KURT WILL BE TOGETHER NEXT YEAR?
"Kurt has made a commitment to me that we agreed to and I made a commitment to him that he agreed to two years ago, and there's one more year left in it. It's my expectation he'd be in the car, unless something happens that I'm unaware of sitting here. But I am open to consideration realizing that there are a lot of things in play here. I've got commitments to sponsors and my sponsors have got an expectation based on the way they're set up for their marketing programs. Of course, there's an expectation that Roger Penske has for what he wants to try to do in the post-Rusty era, so there are a lot of things in play. Kurt is certainly a pawn in that, but I didn't put Kurt in play. I've got commitments for him and I made commitments to other people with regards to that and we're talking about it. To answer your question, I'm as certain as I can be without being certain."