KURT BUSCH (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge Charger)
ON RACING IN LAS VEGAS: “It’s been an exciting week already with people coming out of the woodwork with people requesting pit passes and grandstand tickets, so my poor buddy Jeff Motley, I’ve been wearing him thin. It’s always great to come back home and see familiar things and familiar people. Last night we had an appearance at PT’s Pub. There were more than 400 people there and we had to start turning them away because we had too many people trying to get in the door. It’s great to come back home and see that. Tonight we’re busy over at The Palms. Miller Lite is heavily involved over at The Palms. I’m sure maybe on Saturday night Roger (Penske) may want to go out to dinner somewhere. Maybe if we go to In-and-Out Burger that would be perfect. That’ll conclude our Vegas weekend.
“Hopefully everything goes great for us. We’re fourth in points, but we’re parked in the wee back area of the garage area, because we don’t have any of the points from last year. So, we’re just trying to chip away at our points and make sure that everything goes as smooth as it possibly can for us in the race. The tough trick for us this weekend will be the tire. This tire is very hard and it doesn’t grab the race track all that well, but yet if you hit it just right you can carry a ton of speed. There will be some very fast race cars and some very slow ones, so we hope that we’re on the other end. The 400 miles here will come down to a pit stop at the end that’ll challenge your fuel mileage, because the tires last for so long that they won’t be an issue.”
AT WHAT POINT DID YOU SEE THE POTENTIAL IN KYLE BUSCH TO RUN AT THIS LEVEL? “I think it’s that urban legend of the first time he ever beat me. I think that’s when I saw that he had the talent to do it, but I don’t know if he ever did beat me legitimately when we ran legend cars together. It was a fun time that my Dad and I both taught Kyle everything we knew. It was great to have him as a student, yet at the same time I was learning as much as I could, and when I’d go race modifieds or late models even when I got called up to go run the Southwest Tour, that’s when he was really starting to find his game so to speak. That was 1998, and so when I came back to my legend car we would just dust it off, where his was running every week. He was keeping track of how the track was changing through the spring to the summer months, and he flat out beat me one night. It was 25 laps straight through – it was all green flag laps, there were no yellows – so as the older bull I just let him go ahead. He was the younger bull charging straight ahead to the front and he was like, ‘I’m going to go get everybody.” And I’m like, ‘alright, I’ll just take my time.’ By the time I caught him there was two laps to go and I couldn’t pass him. At that time, that was 1998, he had been racing for a couple years, but it was like he was on his own. He was on his own and it was time for him to get more of an opportunity to try different rides.”
HOW DOES THE AIR RESPOND TO THE CAR OF TOMORROW: “It’s punching a bigger whole in the air, but that’s because the windshield is so tall. It’s almost like the truck series has a big greenhouse to it, and so the new Car of Tomorrow has a big greenhouse to it, but what it’s missing is that element of drag in the rear spoiler. It’s just got a rear wing on it, and so the air goes right over the windshield and clears that rear wing. Instead of having a spoiler on there with the drag built in to it you can actually get side by side with people and slow them down when you put air onto their rear spoiler, where you can’t really put air on a rear wing because it’ll just go under it or over it, and so that side by side thing is missing a little bit. Maybe at Talladega when we saw the cars run there last year in October, maybe at Daytona a little bit of the single file. At California it was interesting, when you tried to race someone side by side whoever had the outside lane seemed to have the momentum to drive right on by, because you couldn’t slow them down by putting air on their rear spoiler. That’s something interesting and we’ll see how that develops.”
ON QUALIFYING AT THE END OF THE SESSION BASED ON LAST YEAR’S POINTS: “It’s definitely time for all of that to come into play now with California having the qualifying session rained out, this will be the first real chance to go out late in the session. Usually when you go late the draw helps you because the track is starting to cool down and you’ll have a better chance than some of the other guys. At the same time – we’re locked in. We’re guaranteed to be in the show. It would be great to get a pole here in one of the first few qualifying runs, whether it’s Vegas, Atlanta or Bristol I think is the last opportunity where we’ll be going late. The draw can really help your weekend as far as when you go out and qualify. It’s the same at every race track, when you go out late in the session usually you’re going to have a better shot at running a faster lap time. The only exception is Indianapolis and that’s because we qualify Saturday morning at 10 a.m., so you want to go out first at Indy.”
IS IT EASIER TO STAY OUT ON THE WEST COAST? AND HOW DO YOUR FRIENDS FROM OUT HERE REACT TO YOU WHEN YOU’RE HERE? “I think it’s an advantage to stay on the West Coast during these two weeks, just because for me I can park my plane and not have to fly it all the way back, so I save a lot of money that way. And then the other thing is yes, with the time zone I’m not waking up at 5:30 a.m. or 6 a.m. thinking it’s 8 a.m. or 7:30 a.m., so it’s easier and dinner reservations are at normal times instead of 10 p.m. East Coast time it’s 7 p.m. here. That’s nice. On the other side of that, catching up with all of my friends and it’s great that we’re able to still communicate and keep in touch. Texting is beautiful, because you can quick get to somebody and tell them where to meet you or where to grab the tickets, and so on and so forth. The tough part is I think the perception of me changing, just because now they are like, you’re some big time NASCAR guy and you’re still talking to me I feel nervous almost. I’m like no, just be cool. I’m Kurt – I’m the same guy that we used to race race cars together with or go to high school or play golf whatever it might have been.”
WHAT IS THIS CITY LIKE TO GROW UP IN? “As a local, as a kid, when you’re underage you don’t see The Strip that much. It was almost like when we packed the family car up to go down to The Strip for a prime rib dinner maybe once every six months. Maybe we did it three times a year – I don’t know. It was a special event to go down to The Strip as a family. As a kid growing up, once you get your drivers license that’s the first place you go. You’re there cruising The Strip, riding with the music as load as you can have it and just cruisin’ The Strip until the cops say, ‘okay, we’ve seen you too many times. Go somewhere else.’ And then when you become come of age it’s a brand new game, being able to come to the casinos and pop in a couple quarters and drink a Miller Lite and just have some fun. There is a life outside of The Strip. There is a great school system here with the Clarke County School District. My Mom worked there for 30 years, and the way that when you stay out of The Strip area it just feels like a regular community, almost like a Phoenix or a Palm Springs or something like that. It’s just a hot desert and you try to stay in the A/C.”
HOW WOULD YOU COMPARE THIS FACILITY TO SOME OF THE FACILITIES IN EUROPE? “I like to look at this place as one of the top five Cup tracks to win. When you do something special here it feels that way because Daytona is Daytona of course, Indy is history and allure, and then there is Charlotte where we’re based out of, and Bristol is exciting, but Vegas is right in that mix. To see everything that’s been done here with the media center, the garages – it’s first class, top notch. The way that fans can have such a great time in the neon garage and be so close to the racing action of it. There are not many tracks where there are 60,000 people for a qualifying day. This place does that. I don’t know what it is. I think everybody just comes out for a three or four day vacation. They come out and they hang out in the beautiful sunshine most weekends and they enjoy themselves. The facility here is comparable to what we see at Indianapolis with those Formula One garages right there on pit road. I’ve been to ING MAGYAR NAGYDIJ, I’ve been to Hungary for that race. Those tracks reminded me a little bit of what our history is, like Martinsville and Darlington when I went to those style tracks. Now I haven’t been to the new ones in Bahrain. I’m sure that’s cutting edge. I’m sure the track in Suzuka is something special and I’m sure the one in China. This is Vegas. This is top five in American racing history right here.”
WHAT ABOUT NASCAR MAKES IT SO POLARIZING TO THE FANS? “I think it’s just the fact that it’s not two teams playing each other. It’s not the Giants against the Patriots. It’s 43 groups, 43 drivers, 43 teams, and so when you’ve got one to root for you’ve got 42 to root against, not just one or two. You can absorb teams. You can pick Penske Racing in general, because maybe you work for Penske Truck Rental, or maybe you work for one of his 250 dealerships. And then there is the Hendrick Motorsports clan, and maybe you want Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Casey Mears or Dale Earnhardt, Jr. You can pick brands, for instance Dodge. You can root for a Dodge, but there is that many more guys to root against than it is to finding a combination of guys that you like. It’s great when households have a Tony Stewart shirt on the husband, a Kurt Busch shirt on the wife and the kids have the M&Ms stuff on because they love Kyle. It’s great.”
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON YOUR BROTHERS TRANSITION FROM LAST YEAR TO THIS YEAR? “I was really impressed with how he and his team handled the departure. They did really well with staying on the same page, competing to win races and it was very professional. I like to see that. The decision to go to Toyota, I think you can look at it with the new Car of Tomorrow is almost a wash. There’s still manufacturer support, yes, they’re still helping us understand Goodyear Tires and develop shocks that have more grip. Then engines are probably the biggest key with the manufacturer right now. The Toyotas love the high RPMs, the Chevorlets, Dodges and the Fords are a little different. Right now at Dodge we’re working on a new cylinder head and a new block. We’ve almost got what we had last year with the cars with running a regular car and a new car. At Dodge we’ve got the old engine and the new engine that we’re trying to faze in. it’s just a matter of going and racing your car. I don’t think that the brand matters in the long run, but it matters to the fans that want to see that American emblem out there, but I’m looking at more and more Toyota plants pop up in the U.S.”
TALKING TO YOU A COUPLE YEARS AGO YOU SAID, ‘IF YOU THINK I’M GOOD YOU SHOULD SEE MY BROTHER.’ HE SAID PEOPLE ARE COMPARING HIM TO TIM RICHMOND, WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE MOST LIKE? “Wow, I was trying to sell him into the sport. I was like, ‘Okay, you think I’m good you should try him out.’ I was just trying to get him a ride. I think that worked. He’s doing okay. I think that having my father and myself helping him out, it’s definitely more than what I had. I just had my father. Don’t get me wrong, my Mom was there too. She was there cracking the whip on us and running the stop watches, but I just felt all along that he was going to have a great opportunity in this sport, and he has fallen into a category like Tim Richmond. I like his tenacity, his aggressiveness, his belief of, ‘hey man, I’m just here to win. I don’t care about anything else.’ And then the fact that he’s driving trucks, he’s driving Busch, he’s driving Cup – he’s driving anything he can get his hands on.
“The second part of your question – I don’t know who I would compare to. I’ve always looked up to guys like Mark Martin when I raced at Roush. Of course, Rusty Wallace, we know he had some rough beginnings, and then he was able to setting in and find his groove and people rooted for him. He’s a champion. He’s a 55 race winner. And then there are guys like Bobby Labonte. I always wished I could be quieter when I’m out on the track and kind of fly just below the radar, but yet still produce good results. I’ve always looked up to the Labonte brothers in a sense because Kyle and I almost fit that. I don’t know if the Labonte’s would appreciate being compared to the Busch brothers – I don’t know. It’s hard to really find a spot.”
HOW WOULD YOU RACE YOUR BROTHER IF IT CAME DOWN TO THE LAST LAPS HERE? “I think we would go back to our roots like when we were in Legend cars with each other, and that is to give each other room, race each other hard and to get into the element of trying to outsmart the other guy. The momentum on the top groove, whether it’s a slide job where you slid into turn one and slid up in front of him in Turn Two. I think that we would race each other to the bone – it’d be clean, it’d be fun and it would be something that people would talk about.”
WHAT DO YOU SAY TO PEOPLE WHO SAY THAT NASCAR DRIVERS ARE NOT ATHLETES? “It’s a tough sport, and it’s continuing to gain its flair and its color and to be compared to the NFL and baseball. It’s a sport that’s a little bit easier to get around. I don’t think that there is anyone in the garage area that’s on steroids, so we don’t have that issue around here. You want to go out there and prove to people that it’s a tough sport, because it is tough. You sit in a race car for four hours, it’s 130 degrees in there on those hot summer days, your body is dehydrated, you get cramped up, especially when it gets down to the end of the race. You’re nervous. You’re pushing the gas pedal through the floor board, but the biggest thing is wrestling that wheel all day long. You’re staying focused and committed with your team and what changes you need to make on the car, how many laps are on your tires, how many laps until you have to pit and you’re pushing yourself every lap to run the best lap time that you can. That would be the same as in any sport. Grabbing your glove and heading out to the field after the inning is over or when the defense has to take the field and put up a stand on the goal line. There are many comparable things, and yet at the same time we’ve got your team around you. You’ve got your pit crew which is very athletic and they can jump over the wall and you’ve got your crew chief who acts as the coach. There are those same elements that are there in any sport.”