Winston: Kurt Busch press conference

This Week in Ford Racing May 14, 2002 NASCAR Winston Cup Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 97 Rubbermaid Taurus, will be making his debut in The Winston this weekend by virtue of his win at Bristol in March. Busch and Roush Racing President Geoff...

This Week in Ford Racing
May 14, 2002

NASCAR Winston Cup

Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 97 Rubbermaid Taurus, will be making his debut in The Winston this weekend by virtue of his win at Bristol in March. Busch and Roush Racing President Geoff Smith were this week's guests on the NASCAR Winston Cup teleconference.

KURT BUSCH --97-- Rubbermaid Taurus

YOU'RE THINKING ABOUT THIS RACE ALREADY AREN'T YOU? "Yes, sir. It's time to get back to work. We've had a wonderful off weekend. Many of those we don't get to see around here in the Winston Cup Series, but there are a lot of stats and a lot of numbers that are behind The Winston this year and I've got a great opportunity with Jimmy Fennig. He's won this Winston in the past and it's my first trip into the event, so there is a lot of things to be learned and a lot of money at stake."

WHAT ABOUT THIS SURVIVAL OF THE FASTEST? "It reminds me of a Saturday night short-track type of race, where they put on a special event with the street stocks or mini-stockers. If you're the last car on the track, you're sent home. That happens every two laps. They send the slowest car on the race track to the pits and that's what's gonna happen. You've got 27 cars starting, going down to 20 and then down to 10 for the final segment. That's our goal -- to be in that final segment and give the Rubbermaid Ford a ride right there at the end."

RICKY RUDD MADE SOME COMMENTS ABOUT TV GIVING EXTRA COVERAGE TO THE YOUNGER DRIVERS AT THE EXPENSE OF THE VETERANS. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THAT? "Personally, I didn't hear those comments, but I have heard comments about his words and it seemed a bit harsh on what he had stated. Whether it was an interview right after the Richmond race, where he was leading and should have won the race, he was the outright fastest car at the point where in the race you should be competing for the win, or if it was the race right after California where you had a couple young guns going for the win. You had Jimmie Johnson and myself, where I thought we were the fastest car but we didn't pull off the victory that day. It seems like the young guns are getting a lot of coverage this year, but you look at the win column and that's where it's at. A lot of teams have put younger drivers in their cars. A lot of owners have put the faith in those young drivers and the sponsors want to win right away. That was a main reason for the Lowe's change and that was the reason why I got brought to Winston Cup. John Deere wanted to get to victory lane and they wanted to see the number 97 program turned around. So it seems as if a lot of attention has been thrown towards the young guys, but that's where the wins have been coming from. I didn't know when Ricky made those statements. It may have been after that Richmond race, which anybody can understand."

THEY WERE PUBLISHED ON MAY 7. "So that's right after the Richmond race and he still would have been hot from that event where he should have won the race. He may have spoke a bit too soon as far as what he's seen on TV so far this year as far as the way that the young guns have raced, or he was running his emotions from that Sunday race. So it seems like we are getting a lot of attention, but we are the ones putting up some results and it doesn't necessarily come at the veterans' expense, so to speak. It's just a change in the racing world, where the late Davey Allison created this young, energetic, youthful driver to the scene. Jeff Gordon followed suit, Tony Stewart, Dale, Jr., Matt Kenseth, of course with their rookie battle last year, and then with Kevin Harvick winning two races in his rookie year and us coming on strong in our sophomore season."

HOW DO YOU THINK DALE, JR. HANDLES BEING THE NAMESAKE OF ONE OF THE MOST FAMOUS GUYS OUT THERE AND SINCE HIS DAD'S DEATH, DO YOU NOTICE AN INCREASE IN MATURITY OR DEDICATION ON HIS PART TO CARRY ON THE FAMILY NAME? "He's done a tremendous job since that day in February as far as carrying on the family name and as far as the sponsorship role that he's taken with Budweiser and the whole theme of Dale Earnhardt Incorporated. >From what I've seen from him, he's done a very good at being himself still -- being the kid that wants to go out there to win races. He wants to be the gentleman out there that creates the mindset for many racers to look up to and he's just taken on so many different roles and had to create so many images, but, yet, he's still the same Dale, Jr. that wants to go out there and win races. It's been almost pleasing to watch and to see what he's done with himself and that corporation to win races and capitalize on all the superspeedway events just like his father did and to portray the image of the Earnhardt name."

WHAT IS YOUR GOAL FROM NOW TO THE END OF THE YEAR? "Jimmy Fennig came to me at the beginning of the year when things got moved around and said, 'We're gonna go and win this championship.' It was tough to see that right away. I'm one that thinks realistically about goals and goals that we set out to do were what we set out to do our rookie year and that was to win a few races, to be in contention at 90 percent of these races. So far we've had 11 races and we were in contention at 10 of those 11 to win the race. It seems like we've made a complete 180-degree turn on where we were last year. That was obviously the immediate objective and as the season progresses through the summer months, we're gonna be hitting the Dovers, the Poconos, the Michigans, Daytona for a second time, Chicago -- I'd like to see a win in that group and I'd like to see at least two more in the final quarter. I think we're capable of making that four-win mark, which puts you in contention for a championship effort. When you put together 20 top-10 efforts, that will guarantee you in the top 10 in Winston Cup points. That won't guarantee, but it will give you a pretty good estimate on where you're gonna end up at the end of the year. So those are the objectives for the Rubbermaid team -- to go out and win four races. You can't necessarily pick a number on how many races you're gonna win, but we know how competitive we were in the first segment of this year and we know what we can do to capitalize on some of these races down the road now."

JACK SAID LAST YEAR THAT HE FELT HE LET YOU DOWN LAST YEAR. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THAT COMMENT? "It just seemed like nothing went our way in 2001. What you can refer to is when we had great finishes put together -- let's say at a Martinsville, running in the top three with 100 laps to go and getting in an altercation with Ricky Rudd. That was an accident on my part. That was where I raced a veteran the wrong way and we ended up with a flat tire. When we came into the pits to change that flat tire, we ended up having a brake line snap from that flat tire and we went 22 laps down. So, the luck that we had last year things just multiplied when we had one bad thing go wrong. Let's say at Rockingham with three races left to go in the season. We're leading with 100 laps to go, five cars on the lead lap, you never think you've got it in the bag but we had a pretty good shot at the win and our motor overheats and, more or less, implodes itself. That was a tough way to lose a race there. Same at Darlington, we had an alternator fail on us there, so we had a lot of mechanical issues that may have been caught by an experience team, so to speak, and it just never seemed to go our way. Whether it was the team -- I know I made a few mistakes -- or whether it was working with three different crew chiefs through my rookie year. I don't think any of those things helped us elevate ourselves to the top of our game and to run for rookie of the year. We flat out got beat for it by Kevin Harvick winning two races and for us to not even be able to compete for wins. So it was a year where luck just didn't go our way and it may have been preparation within the team, the depth of the team. Obviously, things have changed around to more like my Craftsman Truck Series year, when I came into the series and we won four races, finished second in points and ended up with rookie of the year honors in 2000. This year has been more like that year -- being competitive every race and learning from subtle mistakes not huge mistakes. So far our worst finish has been 28th when we got caught up in a wreck at Darlington, so it's been a season where things have gone our way, but, yet, we've thrown away probably about 150 points by mistakes. Whether it was getting caught up in a wreck. We had an alternator issue at Las Vegas. We had a top-three finish at Atlanta and had a pit crew mistake and we ended up 11th. Finally, the last race that we just had at Richmond, I was running in the top 10 with about 15 laps to go and tried to push the car too hard. I slipped up and ended up bouncing off the wall a little bit, which checked up the field behind me, and we got a flat tire from somebody rubbing into us. That was a mistake I made, trying to hold onto the top 10, whereas if I would have faded, we probably would have finished 18th because Richmond was a one-groove track that day. So, instead of finishing 10th, we could have finished 18th, but yet we finished 27th, so those are the mistakes I've learned. The team has made a lot of improvements to bring more out of me to the table and I think it's just all worked all around on having more chemistry between Jimmy Fennig and myself."

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE SACRIFICES YOU MADE EARLY IN YOUR CAREER? "That's exactly what happened, it was a great audition. Now, leading up to that, it was somewhat of a struggle as far as which organization I would work with -- whether it was working for the Las Vegas Valley Water District, whether it was working for college credits or whether it was working for my dad's race team. There were many decisions that were made that led up to meeting the right people, to being in the right place at the right time -- running for the Southwest Tour championship back in 1999. I probably did over 300 races within three years and it was a hectic schedule. There was a lot of sacrifice on my parents' part, that I thank them everyday for, to give me the opportunity to run race cars. From day one it was natural for me to go out there and to have fun with it. We won right away with our local type racing, we had success and one thing led to another -- to great situations, to meeting great people along the way. To have Jack Roush come to me halfway through my truck season, I hadn't even won a truck race yet, and he said, 'I want you to go drive the number 97 car.' That was an unbelievable opportunity for me to take a step back and look at where the 97 was and to make it my responsibility to create an identity for the 97 car and make it a successful race program. That's something that's been a project for me and I've been willing to work on it everyday and we're gonna continue to work on great success. To have people like Jimmy Fennig come over and Shawn Parker and to have the whole crew as fired up as they were after the decision was made -- to come out right away and to be competitive -- to almost win Las Vegas and Atlanta and to put it together at Bristol, and to dominate at Fontana, so far it's been a great year and we're just looking forward to more continued success with the Rubbermaid Ford."

DOES IT MAKE YOU MAD WHEN PEOPLE SAY, 'ANYBODY COULD DO THAT IF THEY WALKED INTO A JACK ROUSH RIDE'? "No, not necessarily. You have to know what you're up against as far as equipment and what you're up against with crew members. There is a fine balance of everything that's involved with a race team. You've got to have chemistry between the crew members. You've got to be yourself when it comes time to race in the car and not putting it in the position to have altered success. You have to make sure that you capitalize on every situation that you get involved with, and, whether somebody else could do the same job that I can, then so be it. I've had a great opportunity here and, so far, I've been able to take advantage of it and create a very good relationship at Roush Racing with Geoff Smith, with Jack Roush, and with the whole organization including Mark Martin, Jeff Burton and Matt Kenseth. It just seems like you had to go through that character-building year last year and everybody has been so much more willing to open up this year and it's created that much more of a better work environment at Roush Racing."

DO YOU FEEL YOU ARE A DIFFERENT DRIVER THAN LAST YEAR? "I would say that I've changed a little bit as a driver, one to absorb a little bit more from different avenues -- whether it's within the company, whether it's on the race track, with the media and with the sponsor. Having a great sponsor like Rubbermaid, there are 32 different companies involved and everybody wants a piece of you. There are different advertising campaigns we get involved with and different appearances we're making. For me as a driver on the race track, it hasn't changed that at all, but you learn so many different things when you bring in an experienced crew chief to bring more out of you. When you have somebody that you're working side-by-side with and has so much more of an education than you do and is willing to lend it to you -- one that will call you to make sure you think about something or one that goes out of his way, instead of just sitting there on that experience and making somebody dig around it and dig through it and find what you need out of it. He knows what situation is coming about and he's gonna prepare me for that, and that's helped me understand more about the race car, about drafting and about getting around the race track as fast as we can with setups and utilizing the garage time as best we can. We've only got two hours between qualifying and the race to get that car set up, so it helps a lot to do the homework at home, to develop the rapport in the shop and things have gone that much smoother. You learn quite a bit more running up front with the big dogs, so to speak. We were in that Bud Shootout at the beginning of the year and you can feel the difference in that shootout versus the 125s when you're out there drafting with the other drivers. So, as far as that side of it has gone, I've learned quite a bit. Really, I haven't changed much, but, yet, I've been able to make subtle changes to make a big impact."

DOES EXPERIENCE MATTER AS MUCH ANYMORE? "I believe the experience factor is, obviously, very important with the crew chief side of it, with the driver side of it, with the owner side of it. For us to win races these days, it comes with a whole different kind of strategy. Coming in and taking two tires, coming in and taking fuel only -- who would have thought that would have won a race at a two-mile race track? Then there are the different setups that are getting put underneath these cars. I've heard some different oddball type things. I know our setup at Bristol was very unique and I know that Sterling Marlin won with something at Darlington where somebody would have laughed at that a few years ago, as far as what to run with springs and bars. But the downforce that these cars are generating now are creating these new types of setups that are very different from a two-mile race track to a half-mile race track. When you're able to capitalize on it like we have so far at Roush, to have Matt Kenseth win at Texas and to have him win at that very slick Rockingham track, and for us to pull off that victory at the really tight Bristol Motor Speedway, and then we go to Fontana and dominate the race at a two-mile race track, it takes a lot of horsepower, it takes a lot of aerodynamics and it takes a lot of chemistry between the driver and the crew chief, and all your teammates, to understand what the track conditions are doing to capitalize on it. Experience comes through. You have Mark Martin with his experience and you have Jeff Burton, and Matt Kenseth is in his third year, so what I try to do is pull the best thing out of all of those and throw them into one and go out there and race my car. Whether it's the drafting experience of Burton or whether it's the short-track wisdom that Matt Kenseth has or the sure grit determination that Mark has on these speedways, it's a lot of experience that I see out there and you have to utilize it to your best ability when it comes time to use it."

-ford-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Kevin Harvick , Sterling Marlin , Kurt Busch , Jimmie Johnson , Shawn Parker , Jack Roush , Mark Martin
Teams Dale Earnhardt Incorporated