NASCAR Media Conference
June 26, 2007
HERB BRANHAM: Thank you very much, thanks to all the media for joining us today. Welcome, everyone, to our weekly NASCAR teleconference.
It's in advance of Sunday's NASCAR Nextel Cup Series event at New Hampshire International Speedway. That is the Lenox Industrial Tools 300. The first event in the race to the chase. Race for the chase is the tenârace span that precedes the chase for the NASCAR Nextel Cup which consists of the season's final ten races and decides the Series champion.
Our guest for today's teleconference is the 2004 Series Champion, Kurt Busch. Kurt's currently 16th in the point standings. In '04, Kurt won both of that season's New Hampshire events. He also has a couple of runnerâup finishes among his 12 starts at New Hampshire.
Kurt, I guess, it's safe to say it's time to start a rally in the points for you with the Chase only ten races away. What is the outlook for doing just that, going into a track this weekend where you've had a lot of success?
KURT BUSCH: Well, I enjoy running at New Hampshire, and the racetrack there has been kind to me in the past. Especially, with the run that we do need to make, it's a great place to get things started. We just seemed to find little things there each week that's hampered our progress, but looking forward to great things with the new crew chief Pat Tryson.
We've got one race under our belt with the transition from Troy Raker, who was just filling in as an interim crew chief, knowing that he wasn't going to be there for the long haul. So it's been an interesting season thus far.
We've had some great success. Almost won a race at Texas, Phoenix, Daytona, led most laps at Charlotte, so good things all around. But we just need to start putting exclamation points on the end of these races, so we can come home in the Top 5 and gather the points that we think we deserve.
HERB BRANHAM: Very good. We're ready to go to questions from the media for Kurt Busch.
Q. Kurt, just wanted to ask you, and I know that you've had some success here in '04, winning the two races that you did in New Hampshire, kind of a springboard to the championship for you?
KURT BUSCH: It's definitely a great race that you need to run well in. Just because the first race at New Hampshire leads right into the second race at New Hampshire, which is the start of the Chase. So if you have success in July, it usually translates into a good race in September.
And the way that you have to look at all of the Chase races, is, hey, if we race in the spring time at Phoenix, you better be on your game to gather the notes that you can, because you've got to race at Phoenix during the Chase. So the first race, it's always an important race to start out strong. New Hampshire is definitely high up on the list of teams as far as the emphasis that they put on that race.
Q. In terms of this being a C.O.T. race, does that wipe away any advantage, you know, any of you who have had success here at this track, does that kind of neutralize that?
KURT BUSCH: Um, so far it's been 50â50 of the tracks where we've run the C.O.T. cars. As far as the way that some of your past leads right into the new car for the good and then it goes for the bad as well. So there's new things and new concerns that come up each and every week with the car.
And, so far, on the flat tracks like Richmond and Phoenix, we've done well at Penske Racing. So we feel like that can help us this weekend with starting off pretty good out of the gate with our C.O.T. Dodge Avenger.
Q. Did you test at Milwaukee, I mean, that kind of similar venue?
KURT BUSCH: We tested there last year, but we feel like the notes that we've gained from the most recent races will help us. And we just didn't have time to head up to Milwaukee these last couple of weeks with the grueling schedule that we're on.
Q. Is everyone kind of waiting to see what NASCAR does or how they react, in terms of the sanctions they take against the 24 and 48, you know, for their infraction in the Car of Tomorrow? Is everyone kind of expecting to see some, you know, particularly harsh reaction taken?
KURT BUSCH: From what I've gathered, is that they don't want to see any of the teams, whether it's a crew chief, crew members or engineering department, anybody at all, step out of the box with this race car. Whether we're at a track like Darlington, where there was a spoiler infraction earlier, or whether we're in the future at a track like Daytona with our new car. They don't want teams getting creative or getting out of the box and trying to create a distinct advantage where they're outside the lines.
So it will be interesting to see how they handle this situation. Personally, I think that the 24 and the 48 team didn't think they did anything wrong, but, yet, they were pushing the envelope too far. And that's where NASCAR's going to lay down the big hammer and say, Listen, guys, we want everybody to stay in the box, and we want the most even playing field we can have. Whether you're the points leader or you're the guy that barely made it in on time, everybody needs to have the same opportunity to win a race.
Q. How does it hurt a team when a crew chief is suspended?
KURT BUSCH: Well, you hope you have the depth behind the crew chief, as far as somebody to step up on to the box and make those calls out on Sunday. But as far as everyday operation, it seems as if the team pulls together stronger. And teams are so well equipped these days with people behind the scenes that things don't miss a beat at all through the week. It's just the Sunday savvy, so to speak, of being able to make the right pit calls and making the right decisions and changes to make on the car that is the tough spot for crew chiefs being gone.
Q. With all the technology, with cell phones, and, you know, the TrackPass, and internet and all that, are crew chiefs able to still be in contact with the guys at the track on race day?
KURT BUSCH: Oh, absolutely. There's no reason at all for the crew chief that's been suspended to not be able to communicate with the team. You use your Nextel phone and call them up, and there he is.
So there's things that he can do away from the track, but, yet, being there in person. And being able to react within tenths of a second is the most important part of the crew chief.
Q. Last question, any updates on your foundation?
KURT BUSCH: We actually just had a large event up in Reno, Nevada, on our way out to Sonoma. I was with an Ace Charter School. It's a high school that allows kids to learn in a unique fashion, with handsâon interaction. And it blended right into my old chemistry with the Las Vegas Valley Water District.
So I liked the school's intention. And I've been teamed up with Waterworks Industry Solutions this past couple of years, and we donated over $100,000 to this school to get them going in a stronger way and to be able to make an impact in more people's lives.
Q. I was wondering, your brother, he's a free agent after this season's over. Penske's only fielding two cars. Is your boss possibly looking at adding him to the Penske Organization, and, if so, how would you feel about that?
KURT BUSCH: First of all, when I heard your name I thought you were Patrick Kearney from the Atlanta Falcons, might be a different guy, I guess.
Q. My name's Patrick Karney, but...
KURT BUSCH: You know, close enough. Penske would be stupid not to look at Kyle, so that talk is underway. Just as Kyle's talking with all the other race teams out there, such as Ginn Motorsports, Yates, I'm sure he's talked with Gibbs. I would say he's talked with 99% of the garages, and that 1% is probably Roush Racing. He's talking with everybody that he can.
The kid is an ultimate talent. He's a proven race winner, 22 years old. He's going to find a good place to land, and he'll land on his feet.
Q. Yeah, it was kind of shocking that he was let go, but anyway. Who is better, you or him?
KURT BUSCH: I said all along that if you like my driving and you think I'm doing it okay, you should watch him. And he's doing a great job. I was using that as a sales pitch to make sure he got a job in this industry, and, so far, he hasn't let me down.
He's been doing great, and if you give us the same car on the same day, I wish we still had the IROC Series, that would have been a lot of fun.
Q. Back to last weekend, on a more serious question. Juan Pablo Montoya. Do you think he should have been black flagged for rough driving?
KURT BUSCH: I'm guessing you're pointing out my case in the runâin that he had with us. And you know, I've talked to his message, and he talked to me via message on the phone this morning. And it comes down to the point where we do need a little bit of help out on the track with the points that we've been docked and the finishes that we've had lately.
I'm not going to hold him accountable for what happened. He was racing hard with the 24 car, things happen, and we got spun. Usually, when you spin Kurt Busch, you gain an insurmountable amount of fans. So he's probably doing pretty good with what happened there and all the fans that he got from winning the race, so more power to him.
Q. You've got a lot of fans up here. This track, New Hampshire, it's really good for not only you, but for the Penske Team in general. It even has a couple of wins there. You swept in 2004. I primarily think of you as a short track driver. The fact of the matter is your numbers are better on the intermediate track. So my question is, is that 16th career win coming this weekend?
KURT BUSCH: Well, I definitely hope so. You're right in the history, that Penske does well there. And I enjoy racing at New Hampshire. It's been a special place to me ever since that battle with Ricky Craven at Darlington.
Q. That was a great race.
KURT BUSCH: The fans really embraced Kurt Busch up in that area. So I'm like a second child, I guess, to Ricky Craven in that area. And the flat track, to me, suits my driving style, and I do consider myself a little better on the short tracks. And, even though it's a mile and they consider it a super speedway, every racer out there will tell you it races more like a short track. And that's why there are so many people in the New England area that buy tickets to this race.
Q. With some of your past problems, could you talk about the changes you made in yourself and your personality, and how that's effected you on and off the racetrack?
KURT BUSCH: Well, to me, I started racing and had it as a hobby, then it turned into a fullâtime job. But yet, I was trying to be a humble guy that was still grounded to his beginnings, and all of that changes when you win races. You still want to go out there and just have everything be the same, but it can't.
Things change when you win races and the stardom erupts around you. So I was slow to develop around that, just because I was still trying to be the humble person that I am. Very softâspoken, didn't reallyâ ââ I was the quiet guy in high school. But this job really makes you change the way that you have to lead a race team and to be the quarterback, so to speak. It definitely changes you in many ways, and the way that you have to adapt to things outside the racetrack has been interesting.
And for me, I just try to support myself with surrounding myself with good people and being able to lean on somebody else's shoulder when things are tough, or even share the good times when things are good. So it's just, it's a matter of maturing, so to speak. But, yet, I get to mature under the microscope of the media that watches NASCAR and all the fans that watch NASCAR.
Q. How much does your marriage with Eva have to do with a lot of that?
KURT BUSCH: Well, she's an incredible amount of support. Couldn't do it without her. And at this point, to have her in my life, it's very solidifying. And just the love that we share, she's the one that's right there letting me know how good the team did one day. And she's there just being that person sitting on the porch, watching all of it, as well.
Q. To go back to this Juan Pablo thing for a moment. Both of his victories had been marked by rough driving. His Busch win over Scott Pruitt in this weekend here with you. Where is his respect level in the garage area? He's got this great resume, but how good respect does he got that from guys like you, a champion?
KURT BUSCH: You know, he reminds me of myself, except I didn't quite have the hype when I first came in as a rookie. But as far as what you see on track from the driver's seat, that's where I can help everybody understand a little bit about him. And the fact that he's a hard charger, he has no fear, and he's quick to adapt. And you can do that when you're out on the track in practice sessions and qualifying, and you work through some of the traffic.
But then there's those times when you just win in the corner 1% too hard, and you run into guys. That's because of his passion, and his demeanor to drive hard. I'll defend a guy like him any day, because it reminds me a lot of myself in him.
And some of the drivers are saying, yeah, he's not quite given enough room out on the track. He's just a rookie and his 25th start or 20th start, who knows. The future will determine his destiny on how he'll be appreciated or not appreciated. But, you know, the fans are always reluctant to somebody who is a hard charger and comes in and steals the thunder away from the guy they're use d to rooting for.
Q. I just wanted to take you back a little bit. You described, you know, your successes and how you enjoy New Hampshire. This is a track that, you know, for a while it seemed like no drivers liked to drive here. Clearly, you're not one of them. But I just wondered if you could describe for us, you know, what it is like to race there now, and how that may haveâ ââ how that may have changed, you know, over the year that's you've been in this series?
KURT BUSCH: Well, New Hampshire has always been a great stop on the NASCAR Nextel Cup schedule, because of its location, and because of the great fans that are up there in New England. Very passionate about their sports. And the racetrack itself, was designed by Bob Bahre, who, I thought, put together a great layout, with a flat, oneâmile track that would allow for the modified tour to race there, the truck series, back in the days of the Busch North Series.
So it allows drivers a chance to go to the biggest racetrack that they can up there in the northeast, a chance to cut their teeth at the bigâtime level.
Then you have the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series that comes there, and he says well, we need to do this or we need to do that, because they're used to some different styles of track. But they made some big adjustments I think in the 2002â2003 season. Helped create a lower lane, as far as trying to be able to pass cars and race side by side.
So they've made improvements over the years just like all the other tracks have. And they deserve the two dates that they have there with the sellouts that I see from the driver's seat. So it's a great racetrack all around. And Bob Bahre has done a great job keeping up with the change of times.
Q. Just one other thing, you've mentioned, you know, that the Juan Pablo incident, maybe perhaps that wins him a lot of fans because you were involved in the spin. You know, do you think that, you know, over time that you will win over people or win back people? Or is that, you know, not a big thing on your agenda?
KURT BUSCH: Well, to me, it's about being myself and having the true colors shine through. And to have an opportunity to race at this level is something that I cherish very much, so I've got to be able to go out there and do my job and race to victory lane. And that's what fans like to see is that demeanor and that fire in the belly, so to speak. And fans have enjoyed that from me, and they haven't enjoyed it.
So over time, I think it will all even out. Guys like Rusty Wallace were a pretty heavy debate in the late '80s, early '90s, on who was he, and who is this young punk out here winning races?
Q. Could you talk a little bit about the advice you gave your brother about joining a new team?
KURT BUSCH: Well, for Kyle, it's an interesting situation to be released from a topâtier team such as that. You want to try to find a lateral movement. So there's quite a few teams that are comparable to Hendrick Motorsports, and he's looking around. But the biggest thing that he has to do is stay patient and be able to weigh out all his options.
There's going to be pros and cons to each team. Sometimes those pros are very valuable, but yet there's a plentiful amount of cons against it. So just trying to weigh it out and look far into the future is the best advice that I can give him on where you want to see yourself longâterm.
Q. Not everyone gets to mature in NASCAR. Can you talk a little bit about arriving young to the Cup level, and then to learn, grow, and triumph quickly?
KURT BUSCH: Well, I wouldn't say that I've got the exact template on how to do things, but I would agree that the way that I came in would be equivalent to saying that a basketball player just went straight from high school into the NBA.
So you're young, you're naive to business practices. All that you know is how to race a car, or in my metaphor with the basketball, is to how to dribble a ball and how to dunk it.
And, so, you learn that you've got other teammates that are out there, and you've got to work as a group to arrive at the success that you want to have, which is ultimately, a NASCAR Nextel Cup Championship.
So you've got to go through the ranks of making mistakes, enjoying the sweet success, if it's only for a week, and then just building longâterm over time. So it's definitely tough when you're a young kid and you're thrown in there with the sharks, and they tell you to sink or swim. We'll see if you make it out to the other end.
So I've definitely had some of my life vests taken away from me a few times. But just keep trying to keep my head above water and keep going
Q. That's a great analogy there. Do you think it's tougher now than when you moved up?
KURT BUSCH: It seems as if right now there's a lack of true young talent coming out of the Busch Series. And I think that's due to some of the sponsorship that teams have created. Where you get a Cup driver, but yet you're only spending Xâamount to race in the Busch Series, so those seats aren't available.
Case in point, this past weekend at Milwaukee, that would have been a great opportunity for that team to leave the young driver in there, and the other driver had to cross half the country just to get there late to race the race. Why not leave that young kid in there, see what he's got and make a name for himself?
Q. If you already addressed this, I apologize. Speak, if you would, upon your relationship with Pat Tryson, I know a couple of former Roush guys now together and working as a team. Tell me about your previous relationship, and what it's been like the last week or so?
KURT BUSCH: You know, it's been very exciting to talk to Pat, and to have his enthusiasm and his leadership come to this program. Most of all, his experience was definitely what I was looking for. A guy that has seen his share of, I guess, the right things to do and the wrong things to do on pit road as well as within building cars and advancing a program where we can make ourselves stronger over here at Penske Racing. And, of course, he carries the same chip on my shoulder as he has from Roush Racing, as Hey, let's go bury those guys in the ground.
So it's going to be a lot of fun to work with him and to move forward with Penske to building our cars here with the shortâterm, and getting ready for the C.O.T. for the future.
Q. Was it tough to convince Roger Penske that this is the guy?
KURT BUSCH: Well, we sat down and weighed quite a few options after Roy McCauley asked for his leave with his wife and having the problems. For the shortâterm, we brought in a guy that made excellent decisions and did the job better than anybody that could ever have done it, and I'm referring to Troy Raker in the interim position that he was in. But he let us know upfront that he wasn't longâterm.
So we kept our eyes peeled. And we feel like right now, the time is now, to find an experienced crew chief. And if you look at the availability in the garage area, Pat was that guy. And the more that he comes together with this team, the more that we feel like we've made the better decision because of his enthusiasm, his work ethic, and just his drive each and every day to come in here and be the best.
Q. I'd like you to talk on your young guns experience with the Fast Cars and Superstars, which everybody gets to see the finale this past weekend. But what it was like to have the experience of teaching some of these folks how to drive? And at the same time, it looked like it was all filmed in the same night, seeing somebody like John Elway come out on top.
KURT BUSCH: You know, it was an incredible experience, to be teamed up and to meet that many athletes and superstars, to use the name of the show in this. But those guys were so far out of their element, and to see the smile on their face and their eagerness, it reminded me of my first day at the world of NASCAR.
Yet, it also intrigued me to learn more about their worlds, and to talk with John Elway about football and what it was like for him to learn. And going through some of the steps that we want to take in NASCAR, I was trying to compare those to him in football.
To have Serena Williams, a girl that is notorious for her fast serves and competition, serving at 130 miles an hour, and she wasn't even driving over 130 miles an hour to start with. So I told her, you got to pick up the pace a little bit, just like your serves. A guy like Ty Murray, rodeo guy, bull riding champion, it almost intrigued me to jump on some bulls. So we'll see what happens in the future.
But it was great to take John Elway to victory in Fast Cars and Superstars. As successful as the show was with Gillette, they're talking about doing another series next year.
Q. Earlier you talked about the role that this race could have in a later race and gathering information and that sort of thing. But for you, specifically, this year, what does this race mean to you? Is this a point where you can jump off from and make a run at it here?
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, we definitely want this race to be a point to where we start getting some solid finishes. And this is the second opportunity for Pat Tryson, but yet it's just another week for him to feel more comfortable. So we feel good about everything that's leading into this weekend, with our Dodge Avenger. And, of course, racing up in the New England area for Miller Lite, we need to do the job in qualifying and out on the track. Hopefully, Sunday will be a good day for us.
Q. How do you look at the distance between yourself and the Chase right now? Do you look at it week by week or try to take a big chunk off here right away? Or how do you look at that?
KURT BUSCH: Right now, we just need to continue to chip away and let each race unfold as it will. Not take any risks as far as putting ourselves out there and having a chance to run out of fuel or taking two tires instead of when we should have took four. So just put it on a nice pace, and fast cars will always ultimately take you to the front.
Q. Couple of weeks ago you were talking about being under the microscope. A couple weeks ago, big headline on the "New York Post" with the paparazziâtype picture of Alex Rodriguez. If someone, a celebrity and professional athlete in the spotlight, what is your take on that?
KURT BUSCH: Well, it's just gone mainstream. A guy like myself or somebody else that does something outside of their normal racetrack or baseball park is, I guess, good, clean news. It's interesting, it's entertaining. People, the general public, gets a thrill out of the humiliation that they see from sports athletes or actors, actresses. And so, it's just part of the regular world.
It's not just racing cars and going fast around the racetrack, there's big dollars at stake, there's sponsorship investments that are out there. And, of course, there is the image that the players and the drivers, in this case, have. So it's tough some days that you're looked upon that way, but, yet, it's fun other days being able to represent such a great group of people that are behind me, such as Penske Racing and Miller Lite. Of course, Dodge, the auto manufacturer we race for, we want to influence people to buy Dodges, so we want to do good things when we're out there.
Q. Racers and the media have always had a handâinâhand relationship. We need you, you kind of need us in a lot of ways to do this promotionalâtype things. The stories like that, and you know, some people are saying the media's crossing the line. Do you think that could affect that relationship in our community, so to speak?
KURT BUSCH: Well, it's difficult to say where the boundary line is. I've been involved in a case out in Phoenix that could have gone many different ways. Was the final outcome positive? I suppose so, with being an honorary deputy out in the state of Arizona, that was quite interesting. But yet, you see guys like Tank Johnson in trouble today or this week, and what happened with him. Who knows what the truth will ever be.
And then we saw just a case recently with the Duke Lacrosse players, that it's upsetting to me in the sports world. These kids are just in college. Somebody gets a little overzealous, and ends up losing their job in the final verdict. But those kids' lives have changed forever, and it's going to be tough for them to be able to blend in, so to speak.
Q. I want to go back to the C.O.T. cars. NASCAR said at the beginning of the season that they would come down hard, they've proven that they've come down hard. Why do you think with this car they are coming down so hard with the penalties that they are?
KURT BUSCH: Well, it's an opportunity to create a new face of NASCAR. Whether it's a race car itself, or whether it's the governing body deciding how to make decisions. So they've been very strict. Whether you're messing with the car externally or internally, or whether it was accidental or premeditated, they just don't like you messing with the car, period.
So it gives them a clean slate for all the teams to look at, and to, if you want to mess up, hey, you're going to be made an example of. So they're creating the best environment that they can for our sport, which is the most level playing field for any team to be involved.
Q. Do you think it's fair to take away the gray area and use just the black and white? Yet, if it's not black and white and there is a gray area, they lean towards the black and white?
KURT BUSCH: Well, they're just trying to create the most fair element they can. And so, when they see something that's gray, sometimes they help the teams understand what decision they need to make. Or when there's a team that's stepped out of the line, they're going to be hard on them because it's that blatant.
So it's their judgment, it's their rules. You know, it gets back to that old saying in a Bill France, Jr., always said, This is our sand box. If you want to play in it, you can play. But if you don't, there's other teams and drivers and people behind you that will.
Q. Does it make it more concerning for a guy like Pat Tryson to try to find that gray area that's not going to get him in trouble, not going to get you in trouble, yet give you the advantage that, for the life of NASCAR, that's what engineers have done is look for an advantage? Is it harder, that's my question, is it harder to find an advantage?
KURT BUSCH: Well, it gets tougher each and every year. The competition gets more fierce with younger drivers coming in. With crew chiefs gaining more experience. So, yes, it does make it tough to find a distinct advantage.
And that's what NASCAR wants to see. They want to see it tough for the teams, because that will help create more sideâbyâside racing, and noseâtoâtail racing which will inevitably make it better for the fans to enjoy when they see better racing action.
Q. I have a question following up on that last one. A lot of people wonder why anyone would bother to cheat the car on Jeff Gordon at a road course. Doesn't matter where it is, he would drive it to the front. The question is how much does the driver know about what the crew is doing? And is there ever any tensionâ ââ if your team got caught doing something, would that annoy you because it cost you a hundred points? Or is it a team effort?
KURT BUSCH: On the first portion of the question is, I would say that Jeff and Jimmie both knew what their teams had in store. But, yet, each team is always looking to create, in their case, the most down force that they can. So if the driver has too much going on in his life, like Jeff Gordon might have at this point with his new daughter and such, he might not have known. But yet, you've got to stay in touch with your team and know where you are at all times.
And it is a team effort, to get into your second portion of the question, you live as a team and you die as a team. So you only pull together stronger in circumstances such as this. And right now, he's the points leader. It won't effect the way that he's leading the points. It's hardly even going to effect Hendrick Motorsports, in general, because of the way the new championship point strategy is setâup.
The fact that as long as they get in the Top 10, they're locked in. And then it goes by wins, as far as how you create an advantage in the Chase. And right now, those two guys have the most wins.
HERB BRANHAM: All right, thank you. First of all, I want to thank, again, today's guest, Driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge, our 2004 Series Champion, Kurt Busch.
Kurt, thank you for taking time out to join us.
KURT BUSCH: Thank you, Herb, no problem at all.
And a shout out to all the great fans up in New Hampshire. We'll be pulling strong for you, and trying to put it into victory lane this weekend.
HERB BRANHAM: All right, very good. Thanks again. And most of all, thanks to the media for participating today.
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