BUSCH: Phoenix: Kurt Busch - Dodge interview

KURT BUSCH (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge Charger) "To be back at Phoenix, defending race champion, this place has always had a special place in my heart just because it's so close to Vegas. Coming down here to race Southwest Series, truck series ...

KURT BUSCH (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge Charger)

"To be back at Phoenix, defending race champion, this place has always had a special place in my heart just because it's so close to Vegas. Coming down here to race Southwest Series, truck series races and then to have that going into the Cup level... I've completed all but one lap in my eight races here in the Cup series. It's special to come back here to Phoenix because I enjoy this racetrack and of course everything that has gone on in the past six months. To have my 50 hours complete, that definitely is a breath of fresh air to have that completed and done it such a short amount of time. I was able to do that with support from my Penske teammates. Many people were involved in this and many great sponsors within the Penske organization. We did 100 percent of the effort here in the Phoenix community to make a huge impact with the children in this community and some of the sponsors and mainly just the overall atmosphere with Kurt Busch in this community is definitely all buttoned up.

"For us to run our first Penske chassis that's brand new. This is Penske chassis 103. It just seems fitting to end 102 with Rusty's rank at Penske. This is a brand new chassis with a low center of gravity. It's good for the flat mile and flat mile and a half tracks as well as Martinsville if we need to use it there later.

"We have so many things going on this week. (Roy McCauley) was a big surprise to me and the team. He's suffering from an illness. He'll be in the hospital the next couple of days recovering and he'll be back at Talladega next week. My crew chief Matt Gimble from the Busch Series program will run both (series at Phoenix). Him and I are going to get to know each other quick being attached at the hip the next three days. A lot's going on. Just wanted to get that out and make that clear to everybody."

COMMENT ON THE COMMUNITY SERVICE "We had an off week leading into the Phoenix week, so that helped looking at the schedule. We planned things around that. When there's an off week, usually it means testing or it means relaxation and then there can be come extra curricular things as well. We did Richmond testing last week. Since last December we've been putting this together to make an impact in children's youth sports which happened with the Westside Recreational Program. Two hundred or 300 kids involved in little league baseball, we supplied them with Rawlings gloves, bats, shin guards, baseballs, helmets, you name it. A large donation, over $10,000 worth to their youth program. They're going to spread it all over the west side of Phoenix, which is Peoria, Sunrise, Sun City, here in Goodyear, Avondale with youth Little League baseball. The Diamondbacks were instrumental in putting things together here in the community. A large sports franchise such as the Arizona Cardinals, we got together with them and Kodak. We had cars in the midway where people could go and take pictures with the Penske Truck Rental car, with the Miller Lite car. We donate that money toward the charity of Kurt Busch, Inc., as well as the Westside Recreational Program. We did a PSA, a public service announcement, with Sherif Joe Arpaio about safe driving in the community. That was fun to meet with him. He was very surprised with my demeanor and how open I was to him and some of his sarcastic jokes about last year. We definitely had a great time meeting one another and going through the personal service announcement as well as looking to the future when I come back here in November."

HAVE YOU THOUGHT ABOUT THE OBLIGATIONS OF BEING A CELEBRITY? "When I came in to Nextel Cup racing I came in just after six months of racing late models at the short track and bull ring in Las Vegas. Six months after being taken out of what was just a hobby and now is a profession, my first approach was to absorb it as I just wanted to be a regular guy hanging out, a small fish in a big pond. I took that approach as just a regular American Dream kind of guy. As a plumber working on mane breaks, I made it big. Then I won a race. Then I won another race and things escalated, but I still wanted to be just a regular guy. I never really adapted to being a race winner or multiple race winner or a guy who could lead the points or a guy who could be in the top five all the time. I've now adjusted to that obviously with the (2004) championship. Kids recognize me when I'm out. If I could just have that one kid who says 'that's my guy.' To be able to represent him going, 'I've always wanted to race cars. I've always looked up to Kurt. He's the guy I want to follow.' If I could just have one kid root for me then that's the motive to go out there and do these types of things."

HOW DID IT GO WITH THE DIAMONDBACKS ON TUESDAY? "That was quite the experience to be able to drive the Miller Lite Dodge on the warning track, all the way around the field. When I was driving the car, people were taking pictures and the sound was echoing through the field. It reminded me of when I was a kid and went to the Monster Truck Challenge and the engines would roar and jump over the cars and cars were in a place racing where they shouldn't have been. I had a chance going around the warning track, jump out and when the announcer announced my name and affiliation there were cheers. When Barry Bonds came up to bat there were all the boos. Poor guy, I know what you're going through. I had an interview earlier in the day and I was asked if I expected to get booed louder than Barry Bonds? I said, 'there's no way dude.' It was well received. My pitch wasn't quite a strike, but we had fun with it."

HOW DO YOU HANDLE THE BOOS? "It's motivation to go win the race. There are guys in this sport and there's not much reaction. That's the guy I don't want to be. There's no way you can be the fan favorite around here with Dale Jr. and Jeff Gordon being the top two guys. There's only room at the top for so many. If I'm a guy who's going to run around and win races and be competitive and have a chance to win the championship each year, then that means I'm beating some of their favorites. I'm beating some of their heroes. I'm just right in there in the mix with guys like Jimmie Johnson or Tony Stewart or guys like Matt Kenseth or Biffle. They're winning races, they're competitive, they're right in there in the mix."

WHAT ARE YOUR CHALLENGES GOING INTO THIS WEEKEND? "We do have quite a bit of stats riding into this weekend with our Busch car winning at Texas. It's our second start with that car. We haven't necessarily rearranged the team, but people have stepped up. We've got people covering the Grand National program. Matt Gimble is going to be primarily with me on the Cup program. Winning last year's race, bringing over as much knowledge as I could bring in for the car setup, the car at Phoenix has run well in the past. Travis Kvapil got a top 10 here last year and Rusty is on the lap leaderboard here with so many competitive, so it's just a matter of doing our job. That's what I do best, get behind the wheel and race the car."

WILL ROY McCAULEY BE IN TOUCH WITH YOU THIS WEEKEND? "With as much coverage as there is in this sport now, I'm sure he could live to live coverage. We told him just to relax."

HAVE THE DODGES AND FORDS CLOSED THE GAP IN THE PLATE RACES? "Absolutely. With the way we came out of the box at Daytona so strong. That was my first race in a Dodge working with teammate Ryan Newman. We were poised for victory that day. We came up just a bit short. We worked together with him. He drafted to a third-place finish. If I could have been there we would definitely had a shot to run down Jimmie Johnson at the end and pushing a Dodge into victory lane. To be able to come back to Talladega and freshen up on our cars a little bit more and just get in that restrictor-plate mind, it's definitely something we're looking forward to and see if we can't break the Chevy stronghold on the restrictor-plate tracks."

COMMENT ON SOFT BUMPERS FOR TALLADEGA "I think it's a great change. Safety is something we're always concerned with. When we first went to bump drafting, I guess it was at the beginning of 2002, maybe a little in 2001 when I was a rookie, that's when I noticed it. We didn't have those big bumpers on the front end, and we had to come in and take tape off the radiator grille because they were overheating, because they squashed in their front bumper area. This will go back to some of that. If you bump draft too hard, you risk the chance of overheating. I think it's a great implement to throw into the mix and that will take away some of that hard, aggressive bump drafting."

COMMENT ON PROGRESS WITH THE CHARGER "When I first arrived at Penske we had the Charger built and Intrepid built. Roger was trying to help Dodge understand that the Intrepid had more rear downforce because of some of the templates that were out there. What we've learned over time is that the Charger has definitely taken some massaging and we've now gotten it to the point where it is equivalent to the Intrepid. I was right there to run along with Ryan Newman with what he thought about the '04 car. We've been able to polish on our Charger and make it a more competitive car. I think we've got closer to that. We won with it at Bristol. Kasey Kahne has won with it twice, so we've had seven races and three wins. Those three wins equal the number of wins Dodge had last year. We've definitely gotten things rolling forward, and we look forward to the mile and a half tracks where we can polish up on that program as well."

-dodge motorsports

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Drivers Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Kurt Busch , Ryan Newman , Jimmie Johnson , Kasey Kahne , Travis Kvapil