"The Ford Five" - Week 1 of the Chase for the Championship September 13, 2005 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Driver Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 97 IRWIN/Sharpie Taurus, will lead "The Ford Five" into this weekend's first race in the Chase for the...
"The Ford Five" - Week 1 of the Chase for the Championship
September 13, 2005
NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Driver
Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 97 IRWIN/Sharpie Taurus, will lead "The Ford Five" into this weekend's first race in the Chase for the Nextel Cup at New Hampshire International Speedway. The defending series champion is coming off his third victory of the season after Saturday night's win at Richmond and will be trying for his third win in four races at NHIS. Busch was this week's guest on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series teleconference.
KURT BUSCH - No. 97 IRWIN/Sharpie Taurus
WHAT IS SPECIAL ABOUT NHIS TO YOU?
"New Hampshire put down a new set of bankings and asphalt two or three years ago and it created the way you had to approach that flat race track. With the bottom groove being different from the main groove in the middle of the race track, it seemed as if it turned it into a one-lane race track, but what it did was create a challenge for drivers to put in a setup that could work in both lanes. Since then, the 97 car has had tremendous results. Our team has been able to do well with pit strategy and then to have the setup that can maneuver high, low and pass cars. So that's enabled us to win a couple of times and finish second in the last four out of six races. So it's a fun race track. The Magic Mile, Bob Bahre has done a tremendous job throughout the years to help with keeping it up to date and fan friendly as well as racer friendly."
WHAT CAN YOU TAKE FROM LAST YEAR TO THIS YEAR?
"Each of the races are different and we hope that we start off on a good foot, similar to what we did last year. Just to be able to run consistent and then not to get too far ahead of ourselves. If there's a bad finish, we can't stretch ourselves thin the next week trying to go for a win and gain points. And then as the leader in the last 10 races, being the points leader you go into the media center after every race and just being prepared for that - to be able to talk about the day's events and to not let it wear you down week after week. Last year, leading eight out of the 10 weeks, there was ample time to talk to the media. It can burn you out if you're not prepared for it."
DOES IT BURN YOU OUT DURING THE WEEK, NOT ONLY WITH THE MEDIA BUT WITH SPONSOR OBLIGATIONS?
"Definitely, and you're absolutely right with just the way that everything changes now with these final 10 races. One thing that I've done is put it into a schedule to where we're testing quite a bit this month. It's all race car and the media stuff we'll do and the sponsor things we'll try to keep around the race track and keep it to a limited number so that we're not stretched thin during the week. Let's just say going to Denver, Colorado, to do an appearance. We have to keep things in perspective and we know that we can't be running around the country. We have to stay focused on the race car because that will ultimately win the championship."
DO YOU DIVERT YOUR ATTENTION TO EVERYTHING THAT'S GOING AROUND ABOUT YOUR FUTURE RIDE WITH PENSKE?
"Right now it's a time for our team to shine. What we're gonna do this year is something very special and that is to hopefully back up our championship that we got last year. So it's fun to work with the team right now and to see everybody pulling together very strongly because we don't know what 2006 has in store."
HOW MUCH DID THE TRUCK SERIES HELP IN YOUR DEVELOPMENT?
"It's a great stepping stone to bridge the Southwest Series on up to the next competitive series, which is the Truck Series. Then to be able to show up at all these big race tracks for your first time - going to Daytona and then seeing tracks like Darlington and Miami. All of these big race tracks, it definitely bridges the short-track state of mind and where everybody begins. I mean, everybody has to go through the short-track ranks, so the Truck Series is perfect. I wish I spent more time there to make the mistakes and to come up through the ranks and then to move onto the Busch Series, which is the next logical step, but when you have a car owner that says, 'Let's go to the Cup level,' my short stint in the Truck Series, it helped me in many ways but yet I wish I would have spent more time there."
WITHOUT THE TRUCK SERIES, COULD YOU HAVE GOTTEN WHERE YOU ARE TODAY?
"There wouldn't be any way that I would have been able to jump into Cup with the success that I had without the Truck Series. I wish there was more time to spend there, again, but there are so many things that the trucks teach you about aerodynamics and just the professional ranks of racing - working with a professional team. It's a big step to come from a regional area - the Las Vegas area - to the Truck Series."
DO YOU FEEL YOU AND YOUR TEAM ARE COMING TOGETHER AT THE RIGHT TIME?
"We're hoping to pattern exactly what we did last year this year again, with the way that we saved some good cars to race immediately in the chase at New Hampshire and at Dover, and the way that we came in last year seventh in points. That's very similar to this year, now we're fifth, but we've been somewhat under the radar. That's a position the 97 team has been forced into, but yet it's better to have that when we go into the chase without those expectations because we can sneak up on them and gain those points when we need to."
HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO GET OFF TO A GOOD START IN THE CHASE?
"It's very solid and that's what you have to do. Last year we saw a guy - Tony Stewart had trouble as well as Mayfield - and they never seemed to rebound after that. It's just the pace. In a lot of ways it's like a golf tournament. If you start off and you're four- or five-under and the other guys are waffling around with a bogey and a par, they're not gonna catch you. It's up to the leader to make those mistakes and we did have a big mistake at Atlanta with the motor blowing up. That took away our solid advantage, so when you have a bad race early on it's just that much more difficult to overcome later on."
HOW HAS MARK MARTIN'S RELATIONSHIP BEEN WITH YOU SINCE JOINING ROUSH?
"Mark's been a great guy to me. He's like the old wise man who is off sitting in his chair. When you come up to speak to Mark you have to phrase your questions properly and he'll give you a great answer. He's more than willing to help out at any time and just his wisdom and veteran state in Nextel Cup racing, he's a guy that you can watch and learn just by keeping your mouth shut as well. He's definitely a great role model for any young driver to look up to and to have him here at Roush, to have a great start in Cup racing, it was the perfect guy to look up to."
HAVE YOU TALKED AS A GROUP ABOUT WHICH GUYS WILL TEST WHERE?
"I think the teams primarily start off with, I know that we do, with our objective. Where do we want to test? What do we want to accomplish during these final 10 races? Some of the teams have less tests to work with versus others, and then there's a guy like Carl Edwards that struggles on short tracks, so you have to let him use his tests at a Martinsville or a Phoenix, per se. So it's definitely an advantage to have five teams in the chase and we'll see as we go how we're able to work together and benefit from one another. Some teams might not make it all the way to the end and you can definitely use that type of a teammate down there at the Homestead-Miami Speedway."
CAN YOU BREAK DOWN YOUR OTHER TEAMMATES IN THE CHASE?
"It will be fun just to see the way that some of these teams will approach the final 10. With a guy like Mark Martin in there, he hasn't won a points race this year, but he's in this chase because he's been consistent and that's what it takes. He's gonna be above and beyond the other teams as far as being able to come up with a good finish when you have a bad race car. Then you look at some of the race tracks that are involved and you think of Greg Biffle because there are so many mile-and-a-halves that he's run very successful on this year -- tracks like Texas -- tracks like Kansas. Then you'll have Homestead that he won the finale there last year. Then a guy like Matt Kenseth, who came nowhere in points. I think he was 17th or 18th a few weeks ago in points and now he's into the chase, so he's put together a tremendous run to get in, but then you look and maybe they've stretched themselves thin with race cars, with testing, and just the team being worn out. Then you have a guy like Carl Edwards, who is not as strong as some of the other Roush cars on short tracks. That's just because he's new and it takes some time to develop those skills on a short track, so each one of them has their strong points and each one of them has their weak points. We hope that we utilize each one of their strong points at the 97."
IS YOUR TEAM STILL 100 PERCENT BEHIND YOU AS THEY WERE BEFORE THE ANNOUNCEMENT YOU WILL BE LEAVING ROUSH EVENTUALLY?
"I believe they're more behind me now than we were this time last year, knowing that this is a unique opportunity - A, to defend our championship and, B, to get the most out of 2005. I can just feel the team has a stronger intensity level. All of us went out to the start-finish line at Richmond and kissed that start-finish line and kissed that race track that had robbed us so many times of a good finish. We all felt very complete by that win and now we want some more."
WOULD YOU LIKE RICHMOND AS PART OF THE FINAL 10 AND WHAT OTHER TRACKS WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE?
"As time progresses I'm sure we'll see a few tracks get mixed in, a few tracks get taken out. We've already seen that change already with Darlington not in the final 10, now we have Texas. Richmond is a perfect race track to be part of the excitement of the chase and I believe it's in an even better position by being the final race of the 26-race regular season. It just seems to have the intensity now that's comparable to the Bristol night race. So Richmond has a perfect slot. I see tracks like Daytona getting involved in the final 10 in the future, and some of those tracks that maybe have one date during the season, like a Chicago possibly being mixed in. But you wouldn't want a track like Indianapolis in the final 10 because of how prestigious it is already on its own, so that would defeat the purpose. So there's definitely a good group of tracks that we have right now in the final 10 and there are some tracks that I'm sure they'll mix in over time."
Continued in part 2