This Week In Ford Racing - September 26, 2000 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Kurt Busch Roush Racing ...
This Week In Ford Racing - September 26, 2000
NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series
#99 Exide Ford F-150/ #97 John Deere Ford Taurus
Dearborn, MI (September 26, 2000)- Coming off of the longest racing week of his life, Kurt Busch has clearly made a name for himself in NASCAR history. With his third NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series win at Dover, he has tied his "Killer B's" teammate Greg Biffle for the most wins as a rookie. He is also very close to clinching the Rookie-of-the-Year award and is looking to surpass Mike Wallace to complete a 1-2 finish in the points championship for team owner Jack Roush. Notwithstanding, the weekend at Dover also included his Winston Cup debut in the #97 John Deere Ford Taurus, where he qualified tenth and finished eighteenth.
Give us your reflections on your long week at Dover?
"It was a tough and grueling weekend. I got there Tuesday night and didn't leave until Sunday night after driving a long 400 miles, it sure was a long week. The weekend started off well. We had a test day in the truck on Wednesday and then qualifying on Thursday and we were able to work on it ever so slightly. We really only had to make small adjustments because my crewchief Matt Chambers really put an awesome set-up under it to start with. It really made it easy on us. We were able to sit on the pole for the truck race and gave me the chance to concentrate a little bit on the Winston Cup car program on Friday morning. We were able to go there (Dover) and test, but other than laps around the track it really didn't help all that much because the tires were completely different. We were able to qualify that thing tenth and that was very surprising to the whole team. It was the best qualifying effort for the John Deere team all year. It was neat to put it in the top 25 and get qualifying out of the way on the first day so we could then concentrate on the race set-up for the later practice sessions. Then the truck race was after Winston Cup qualifying. We had our problems in happy hour the day before so we had to start in the back, but that's something that's not new to me at these inaugural events. We started in the back at Daytona and also again at Kentucky. In Chicago we were able to qualify third and run up front most of the day. So for the last inaugural event there at Dover Downs, we didn't necessarily set our goals to win the race, but I sure as heck wanted to win an inaugural event for the team, and I knew that this was my last shot at Dover. We were able to come away with a win after starting dead last and working our way through the field to the top. We just took our time working our way through the pack and had great pitstops by the guys; they were really able to put me out there quick. We didn't have to change much on the truck during the race. We just made a few minor air pressure adjustments here or there and it enabled us to have the best tire strategy there at the end and we were able to pull off a really hard fought victory over Mike Wallace."
Tell us about the last 45 laps or so racing with Mike Wallace?
"Where it all started was when we pitted at about lap 110, which gave us fresh left side tires. Then the caution came out again on lap 155 and gave us fresh right side tires. Mike Wallace had a different tire strategy than us and I knew we were going to have a better truck tire-wise for the last 40 laps or so. When the green flag fell for the last 40 laps he took off and we took off after him. The next thing I know is I look back in my mirror and it's just us two. It reminded me of what happened at the last race in Richmond between Carelli and myself. But this time I was ready just in case Biffle decided to try and sneak up from behind us. We were able to stay out in front of him and it was just a two-truck battle. Like you said, for the last 40 laps it was just a flat-out dogfight to the finish. I can tell you from a driver's standpoint, excuse my language; it was "balls-out" every lap. That was the toughest I have ever raced that truck and I guarantee you that Wallace was racing it just as tough. We came together a few times down the back straightaway. It was a little reminiscent of Michigan when he was pushing me down the front straightaway. You could say things were well between us. We were racing each other hard. I didn't look at it any different just because he was in the #2 truck. It wouldn't have mattered if it was the #24, #18, or #1 trucks. I was racing the truck in front of me to win the race and get the most points I could out of the deal. The situation played out where he made a few mistakes the enabled me to catch right back up with him. Then he made a big mistake coming off of turn four. He made a move low to block me and I was able to plug the hole up high. I didn't mean to rub him that way, it just played out that way. I hate for it to end with a truck spinning instead of two trucks racing for the checkered flag but that's the way NASCAR racing goes sometimes and we were able to come out on top that day. It was a little nerve racking to have Biffle behind me for the green-white-checker run. I know he is really aggressive on these finishes and he's also quick on cold tires. I knew that I had just cooked my tires off racing Wallace for those last 40 laps so I had to try and keep it on the bottom of the racetrack to come away with the victory, and we did."
What goes through your head when you think of moving up to Winston Cup from the trucks, is there a sense of trepidation there?
"It's a different situation than you would think. It's a great operation that Jack Roush has with the farm system he has developed for the driver development program. My original program was to race in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck series for at least two years and possibly even three. Business deals come about, and the John Deere people wanted a change and they brought me along to help aid in the development of the Winston Cup program. The whole situation is great. There really hasn't been a whole lot of pressure put on me. Roush Racing has great people here in the marketing department, in the public relations department, and souvenir sales. That all makes my job of going out and racing the vehicles that much easier. Jack Roush is a great guy. He is acting more like a father figure than an owner/boss. This was a little tough to grasp, though. It began to sink in when they announced my name tenth on the starting grid and I realized that I was sitting in front of 140,000+ fans at Dover, which is something I had never seen before. It was also a little overwhelming to start the race next to Jeff Gordon and Dale Jarrett. These are guys I used to watch on TV as a kid. It was really a solidifying moment for me just to be sitting among that group and to know that I had made it to the pinnacle of the sport. But once I shoved that aside it was time to get racing. I worked my way back to where I was a little more comfortable and then moved towards the front racing the car to it's capable lap times." Now that you've had a successful debut in the Winston Cup car, will you step things up or are you still just looking to qualify in the top-25 and make laps for thee rest of the season?
"That's still what the program is with these next six races. We came up two laps shy at Dover, but we want to make as many laps as we can with our Winston Cup car. It always helps to qualify on the first day; it takes a big burden off of the crew. We are able to change motors and focus on raceday set-up, which is obviously most important. Also, to get a good finish out of it. Make sure that we don't run into any other drivers or run into the wall and take ourselves out of contention and that's bad. We want to make as many laps as we can and that's what the goal is going to be. If we are able to scrape up a top-10 or two that would just be icing on the cake."
Qualifying now seems to be a big part of the winning equation. What do you think makes you such a good qualifier?
"It's something that I was most concerned about when I came to the Craftsman Truck series. It is something that has now become a benefactor to the whole program. The one thing that I struggled with most in the Southwest series was qualifying. I only had one pole in tow and a half years there. Really it's just getting a comfortable feel with the crewchief and having him know what you want in the race vehicle. Being able to go out there and feel comfortable in that truck or car is really the key. We have been able to develop really effective practice qualifying runs. That's something that was real shaky at the beginning of the year. I didn't know what to ask for or what to expect. Now I am able to read the tires and figure out what they are going to do for a lap. We had problems earlier in the year figuring out whether to use stickers or scuffs. Now we have a better grip on the tires and have been able to use both stickers and scuffs and qualify on the pole. The good qualifying efforts have really helped the confidence of the team. It also helps to get a good pick for the pit stall to help your efforts during the race. In Winston Cup it could be good in some situations and not so important in others because the races are just so long. That was my first 400-mile race and I looked like a rag doll that got dragged through a river afterwards. It was tough and grueling but we were able to make every lap competitive and our lap times stayed consistent all day."
I'm sure that you are still looking to finish second in the points to make it a 1-2 Roush "Killer B's" finish which means that you will have be gunning to make up some points on Mike Wallace in the next two races at Texas and California?
"Oh yeah, it's going to be a shootout for sure. After the season started winding down we knew that we had a shot at finishing second in points, we really stepped up our goals. That's impressive considering that this was a team that at the beginning of the season was looking for a top-5 finish and maybe a couple of wins. We are really having a lot of fun with the truck program and it's turned into kind of a farewell tour and a rookie season all rolled into one. I'm really proud of the crew. They have already gotten the trucks for Texas and California prepared, but after Mike Wallace's statements we might have to prepare a few more trucks. It will definitely be a dogfight all the way to the end, racing Wallace for the second spot."
Is there something in the back of your mind that is disappointing not having the opportunity to win a NASCAR Craftsman Truck championship?
"Of course there is. That's something that fits into my goals category on my resume. My goals stated that I wanted to be in the top 1% of each racing division before I moved on. I made that goal before I even started racing. It didn't matter whether it was climbing up through the dwarf cars or the legend cars that I began in or through the late-models or the Southwest series. Once I got into the business world of the NASCAR Craftsman Truck series, the Busch Grand National series, or the Winston Cup series I realized that there are business decisions that need to be made. That's what came up with the decision to move to Winston Cup. It is lingering in the back of my mind but I feel like we have had a very successful rookie year in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck series. It would be interesting, though, to see if I could make a run at the championship title in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck series. We are really looking forward to the 2001 Winston Cup series and making a strong run for the rookie of the year title there next season."