February 24, 2001 North Carolina Speedway RAYBESTOS ROOKIE KURT BUSCH PRESS CONFERENCE "It's just a great team effort. We were here last year in the fall. We qualified first round and that's always a goal, so now...
February 24, 2001 North Carolina Speedway
RAYBESTOS ROOKIE KURT BUSCH PRESS CONFERENCE "It's just a great team effort. We were here last year in the fall. We qualified first round and that's always a goal, so now this year with just one round of qualifying it puts a little bit more pressure on a rookie like myself. But with great teammates and great support from Frankie Stoddard in the 99 camp and Jimmy Fennig in the 6 camp, and of course Matt Kenseth, my teammate, that works in the same shop -- everybody has been able to help us out and this 97 team has got to get off to a quick start this year."
WHAT ABOUT THE SAFETY MEASURES?
"In 1996 my father had a big accident in Legends Car Racing. I was racing in the same race, very similar to Dale Earnhardt and Dale Earnhardt, Jrs. situation, except that my father broke his second vertebrae in his neck and was able to walk away from it. It's a very serious accident and it hit me hard. I was away at college at the time. I had left to go back to school and to hear on Monday morning that my dad had a broken neck and was in a halo for six months -- he wasn't gonna take a day off of work either. He was right back at work. Safety has always been a big concern for me. I went overkill on neck braces. I've always had gloves, some drivers didn't have gloves. Seat belts, of course, there's a new development with the six-point harness. And this HANS device is something I looking into late last year and implemented into my car. I've never been in one series for more than two or three years. I keep moving on and there's all type of change in my life, so this HANS device was nothing new to me as far as change and I've implemented it into my procedure."
IS THIS TEAM TURNING THE CORNER BECAUSE IT TOOK A LOT OF PROVISIONALS LAST YEAR.
"That's a big concern the team had going into the middle of last season and that's why the change came about from Jack Roush, to bring me from the trucks to Winston Cup. Bringing me forth with the intensity that I bring to the crew, it awakened them, but they've really done the job to adapt to me. It's something where I just enjoy racing race cars, whether it's a truck or a Winston Cup car. Today, we picked up three-tenths from what we practiced at and I can't really tell you how I did that. It's a relationship between the driver and the car, but the crew has really developed over the off-season and put together more well thought out setups. We've worked a lot closer with what the 99 has done. He's never been known as a qualifier, but working closer with the other Roush cars is what this 97 team has done over the off-season to prepare us for the beginning of 2001."
HAVE YOU TESTED THE HANS DEVICE AND WHAT ABOUT THE COMFORT ISSUE?
"When we got the device we had some trouble getting the helmets and everything else painted up, but I wanted to have it for the Daytona test in January. I didn't have it there, so I brought it out to Las Vegas for our test out there in early January. It didn't seem to bother me too much inside the race car. It does push a little bit harder on my chest area, where I'm not normally accustomed to having something pull on me. Where the seat belts pull on your shoulders, the HANS goes a little bit further down the chest. Being a smaller guy probably helps out. I'm able to get in and out of the car quickly. I've practiced getting in and out of the car with the HANS device on. That's probably the biggest drawback to the device, but being young and agile and being willing to work with anything because Jack is a hard guy to work with. You've got to put up with a lot with that guy. He says qualifying doesn't mean anything, but you'll have Jeff Gordon sit up here and say it's the lifeline of Winston Cup racing. I'm along with Jeff on that line."
ANY CONCERN ABOUT SEAT BELTS?
"It's a unique situation that's for sure. We don't know exactly how that belt was mounted. I know how my belts are mounted in our car. There could have been a little bit of chafing involved with his seat belt. We know that different situations come about when you're in mass production of different pieces, whether it be seat belts, radiator hoses, tires, and there could have been a malfunction associated with it. It's a concern all the time with every piece we bolt on the race car, but we've got great people -- car chiefs, crew chiefs, engineers and everybody trying to make that car the best it can be, whether it's safety, setup, body or engine. We're gonna look at every measure three or four times to make sure it's done correctly and that's what we're gonna continue to do."
CAN YOU ELABORATE ON YOUR DAD'S ACCIDENT?
"This was the last race of the racing season at Las Vegas Speedway Park. That's what it was known as then and then Las Vegas Motor Speedway incorporated the little race track with the big race track. It was a Legends Car event. I was running second in the race and he was running fifth. I had passed this lapped car and he had passed a lapped car and the lapped car gave him some trouble. At short tracks you see exits to the race track in odd places and in turn three at Las Vegas Speedway Park was the exit of the race track. That's where he hit the wall upside-down and the impact with the ground after the car landed was the deciding factor on how hurt he was gonna be. That impact is what broke his neck. He thought he had something wrong with his neck because he put his neck brace on after the wreck, walked around in the pit area and had no idea his neck was broken. He continued to complain about it and my mom, being the mom that she was, took him to the hospital that evening when I was flying back to go back to the University of Arizona. To find out on Monday morning that my dad was in a halo and still didn't miss a day of work, it was tough for me to go off to school that week. I had to immediately come back to the house and it was a tough time to get through -- seeing my dad in that type of situation -- and he still hasn't missed a day of work since."
WHAT'S THE FEELING IN THE GARAGE AREA?
"It began yesterday when I arrived to see the race track. With all of the dense fog, it seemed like the setting that everybody had in their minds. Everybody's heads were hanging low and tech went fairly slow compared to what it normally goes through. It was just a matter of working with everybody in the garage area, whether it be crew members working with crew members or crews working with the officials. It was a different situation. Everybody was on sharper edge, so to speak, and some of that has eased now that qualifying is over. It's a pressure-filled time for the crews and the drivers, but it is a different situation being here without -- as I grew up -- my hero. He was the one that I always watched on Sunday. When I started racing, which was in 1994, Jeff Gordon was new to the circuit so Jeff Gordon was a role model and mentor, so to speak, of mine. Those two were the two that I've carried with me and to sit here and talk after Jeff Gordon and to sit here and talk about Dale Earnhardt and the relationship I had built with him. Just a few short races, he was a guy that would go out of his way just to say hello to a rookie like myself."