Ford Performance NASCAR: Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski Talk Las Vegas

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Kobalt 400 Advance – Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Friday, March 10, 2017


Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Ford Fusion, is back in his hometown of Las Vegas for this weekend’s Kobalt 400.  The Daytona 500 champion stopped by the media center to talk about his desire to win on Sunday as well as Las Vegas adding a second Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series date next season.

KURT BUSCH — No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Ford Fusion – HOW HAS IT BEEN THIS WEEK?  “it’s always great to come back to Vegas and to see all the different people and place that are so familiar.  I’m actually headed to one of the local Star Nursery’s to do an autograph session on Saturday while the XFINITY race is going on, so it’s neat to call everybody and try to get dinners arranged and shows.  Don’t hold this against me, but my wife wanted to go to Backstreet Boys, so we went to go see them and she danced around like a 14-year-old on Wednesday night.  It’s been wonderful.  Vegas always has the entertainment value of the restaurants, the shows, the hotels, gambling, the Pac-12 Tournament is here, the Mountain West Tournament, and our big NASCAR weekend out here at the track, the announcement of the second date.  There’s tons of energy around Vegas and the excitement, and it’s fun to come back, along with the Harley J. Earl Trophy from Daytona.  I took it to my high school yesterday and it was great.  We did a spirit/pep rally day for all of the Durango High School Trailblazers, so that was a lot of fun to go and relive some of the memories from high school.”

FORD IS OFF TO A GOOD START THIS YEAR.  CAN YOU TALK ABOUT WHY FORD HAS BEEN SO FAST OUT OF THE GATE, AND ARE YOU CONCERNED ABOUT THE TIMING LINES ON PIT ROAD?  “When we made the announcement that we were switching to Ford last year, it came with extra meetings and longer driver debriefs because we were looking at blueprints and different front-end geometry changes because of Doug Yates’ engines and how they’re built slightly different with where the pulleys are and the way the belt serpentine system works, as well as the pressurized system versus unpressurized, so a lot of extra work had to go into switching our cars over to Ford.  When you roll up your sleeves with a group of racers like we have at Stewart-Haas Racing, it allowed us to go over the car with a finer tooth comb and we looked at every area.  When you’re changing suspension components around and you’ve got great Haas CNC machines to make these pieces, you can go through versions A, B, and C and get a lot of work done quickly.  I’ll tell you, though, it was a full-on effort to get these cars switched over, but I love the way we went over them in extra detail and Tony Gibson is a master at the restrictor-plate races, so his wisdom and expertise was distributed to the other teams.  Rodney Childers is great at the mile-and-a-half tracks, so his lead for Atlanta and Vegas really kicked in.  The way that the rest of the group chipped in to find all these areas, it’s like each team took care of one specific project and the four of us have worked together in a stronger fashion than we ever have before, but Doug Yates’ power, I want to say, is slightly better than where we were, it just feels that way.  The aerodynamic balance of the Ford has more distribution on one region of the car than another and it feels better.  Tony Stewart being a full-time owner.  Clint Bowyer coming in with his ideas.  We upgraded in all categories at Stewart-Haas, so it’s really neat to see everything come out of the box strong.  We still have to get through this west coast run and get to Martinsville, and once we get past Martinsville we’ll evaluate where things are.  You just can’t go off of two races.  Let’s give it five, six or seven.  And then with the speeding penalities, last week was the first time we’d been to Atlanta with the shorter timing zones.  Pit road timing zones used to be around 300 feet apart.  Now they’re 150 feet apart, so when you’re traveling at 45 miles per hour, 150 feet goes by really quick and you have no time to give back any extra speed that you might have carried through that segment, so I have my lights and the way they’re set up is if I flicker red, I should be OK, but you’re thinking in the back of your mind, ‘Oh no, I don’t need to have any red anymore because the segments are so close.’  This weekend will be brutal because we’ve never had these timing lines here at Vegas and Vegas is notoriously difficult on speeders, so it’s a matter of getting back to all of these tracks with this new timing system.  We haven’t been to Atlanta, we haven’t been to Vegas, we haven’t been to Fontana, but like Phoenix next week, we’ve been there in the fall last year, so we’ll have a better understanding this time around going back to Phoenix.  So it’s mainly the first time back at a track with the new timing segments.”

WHAT MEMORIES CAME TO YOUR MIND AT THE HIGH SCHOOL?  “When the gymnasium was full the kids were screaming and yelling and chanting our fight song, and it brought me back to the days when our high school team was really good at basketball.  We won the state title in ’95 and ’96, the last two years I was there, and what’s even better is the high school principal, Nate Miller, he played on those teams so there was on the couple championship banners hanging on the gymnasium wall because our high school was new then.  Now you should see it.  There are banners of state championships in all categories in the high school gym.  Ryan Ludwick, a friend of mine who played baseball for the St. Louis Cardinals, his number is retired in the rafters up there.  It is so neat to see the sports side of Durango High School so strong and producing such good results.  I made a donation to the high school for their athletic department of $5000 to chip in and buy new things to keep their sports up to top levels.”

ANY OF YOUR OLD TEACHERS STILL AROUND?  “Yes, there were a few old teachers and a few students that I went to school with that became teachers, and it really hits you hard that teachers are really a group of heroes and they’re not talked about a lot on what they have to do every day to help deliver education to our youth and the commitment that it takes.  I was worn out yesterday after a pep rally of high school kids.  The energy that it takes to go and see all those kids and to shake hands, sign autographs and be around all that excitement, it literally wore me out yesterday.  I just want to give a shout out to our teachers and the education system.”

HOW BIG ARE THE POINTS IN THE DIFFERENT STAGES AND HOW MUCH OF A FOCUS ARE YOU PUTTING ON THEM?  “It’s very important. I think it will be a game-changer once the months show up for who is gonna get into the playoffs, and what I mean by that is those group of guys that haven’t won before and yet they’ve got those nice segment points that have helped them bump up in points.  Last week we finished seventh and I got 30 points.  The guy behind me got 43 points because he did better in the segments.  Kevin Harvick, he should have won, he was speeding on pit road, but he got 48 points and he finished ninth last week.  I finished seventh and got 30, so he got 18 more points because he ran up front all day.  That’s exactly what this point system is meant to do and when you get those stage wins, those carry with you all the way through the playoffs and so when you have a bad race in one of the early rounds of the playoffs, your bonus points will get you out of that hole.  So right now it’s doing everything that the point system was meant to do and that’s to make everybody run hard and up front and gain points.”

PHOENIX IS NEXT WEEK, SO ARE YOU GOING TO TRY AND TAKE IN ANY BASEBALL SPRING TRAINING, AND WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON PHOENIX AND THEIR UPGRADES?  “Phoenix has done a great job over the years of continuing to upgrade the facility and the racing there, I think, is great on that flat one-mile track.  With Spring Training in town, our race, I hope to match up and go out to Mesa, Arizona, where the Cubs play.  My assistant is trying to surprise me with a trip to go and meet up with the Cubs, so I hope that it all comes together.  They’re World Champions.  I’ve been a Cubs fan my whole life and it would be great to go and shake their hands and congratulate them on a job well done.  We’ll see if that matches up, but as far as the Phoenix race and the atmosphere there and the changes that they’re making, they’re going all in.  It gives you this impression that Sperber, the track president, is doing what he needs to do to position himself to be our year-end finale and to see his track host the final Cup points race.”

YOU MUST BE HAPPY TO SEE VEGAS GET A SECOND RACE, BUT IT’S AT THE EXPENSE OF NEW HAMPSHIRE WHERE YOU HAVE THREE WINS.  HOW DO YOU VIEW THE TRADE-OFF?  “For the city, absolutely.  It’s a huge win and to listen to Chris Powell and to really digest what they have to go through to make it happen, we’re gonna have a triple-header here twice.  That’s big to have Trucks on Friday, XFINITY on Saturday, Monster Energy Cup Series on Sunday.  That’s big.  And then it’s a playoff atmosphere in September.  It will be a little warm, but we’ll see how that plays out, but the way this city continues to grow around sports, there is an NHL team that’s now here, the Raiders continue to flirt with coming down here.  With the way that this town evolves, you see it as a win-win with the entertainment side and the sporting side.  To lose a date at New Hampshire, I think that will really push the New Englanders out hard for their July race, and there will be much more support around their race then.  I haven’t won there in many years, so I’m OK with winning three times early in my career.  I haven’t won there as of late, so it doesn’t matter.  Wherever the date is, you have to be ready for it and now when you have a springtime race at a track such as Phoenix, Martinsville, Texas, Vegas now fits in this category, all those races are that much more important in the spring because they are playoff races in the fall.”

WHAT IS IT LIKE TO COME BACK TO YOUR HOMETOWN FOR A HEROE’S WELCOME?  “It’s humbling and it’s a time to reflect and thank those that have helped me over the years.  Even before the Daytona win I was coordinating an autograph session with my old car owner, my old sponsor here in Las Vegas at one of his Star Nursery’s.  The main reason being it’s gonna be 81 degrees on Saturday.  It’s a beautiful day.  It’s one of the first warm weekends that the community can count on to go out and buy plants and shrubbery and their bushes and re-do their yard.  I was like, ‘What the hell, let’s go to Star Nursery,’ and now I have the Harley J. Earl along with me to show to all of his customers.  It just makes you want to share because there has been so much given to me from this community I just want to keep giving back.”

ARE YOU AND TONY GIBSON STRATEGIZING THE STAGES DIFFERENTLY?  ARE YOU DOING A RACE WITHIN A RACE?  “The majority of the points are still handed out at the end.  Two-thirds of our points are available when the checkered flag drops, not the green-white checkered, but the second engineer, I saw him after the race and he just had his eyes wide open like, ‘Wow, we finished seventh, but we only got 30 points today,’ and we were racing those early stages differently than we would have normally raced.  Atlanta is different because it chews up the tires really bad.  Vegas doesn’t chew the tires up as much, but we’ll see.  It is a new, softer tire for this weekend.  The tracks that chew up tires are gonna be a lot of that movement like we saw at Atlanta.  It will be interesting.  Daytona, we all piled into each other after the second stage ended because a lot of guys stayed out on old tires and the guys that finished well, they needed to come in and get tires, so now you’ve got guys on old tires versus new tires.  That’s what these stages were meant to do was create the pit strategy movement and to create the ‘let’s gain points early in the race and it won’t be so bad at the end if we can’t quite finish as strong at the end,’ but, for me, I’m old school.  I’m about going for the trophy.  I want to stand there in victory lane and go, ‘Yep, I got the trophy even if I got less points than the guy that finished third.’”

WOULD YOU BE INTERESTED IN A TRUCK SERIES RIDE DURING ONE OF THE TRIPLE-HEADERS NEXT YEAR HERE?  “Yeah, possibly.  I haven’t driving in the Trucks in quite some time, even the XFINITY cars, but Vegas would do that for me.  I would do it for Vegas, to come out and try to run the triple-headers, so we’ll see how it pans out.  It might make more sense to do it next spring, and that way the focus once we come back for the playoffs in the fall of 2018 is just on the Cup car.”

WHERE IS THE DAYTONA TROPHY GOING THIS WEEKEND IN LAS VEGAS?  “The trophy and the energy, the buzz and everything from victory lane at Daytona I learned that there’s only two trophies.  They only make two.  You can’t get replicas and Gene Haas took his to Oxnard, California, it’s at the CNC Headquarters, and mine, I wanted to give one to Monster, I wanted to buy one for Ford and give them one to put in their museum, but you can’t get replicas, so I just came up with the idea similar to the Stanley Cup.  We’re just gonna take it around to all these different places.  Earl is gonna have his own identity.  I think he’s probably gonna hit a blackjack table on Sunday night after the race.  Watch out, he’s gonna bet all 500s because he’s 500.  We’re just gonna have fun with it.  Go to the beach in L.A., go to the Walk of Fame in Hollywood.  Ideas keep coming up.  I’m gonna give it to Monster for a week or two.  They can take it to the headquarters and do what they want with it.  Ford has requested a day for me to go back to Dearborn, Michigan, along with the 24 Hours of Daytona winners from the sports car series and we’ll all do a nice day in Dearborn – bring the trophy up there so it can hang out in Dearborn for the day.  Whenever, however, whatever we’re just gonna take it all around.  Yes, it’s in my hotel room.  It’s about as easy as a stroller.  It’s got a carrying case.  It’s got wheels and you just throw it in the trunk and go.  I’ve got insurance on it, though (laughter).”

Brad Keselowski, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford Fusion, is coming off a win last weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway and is the defending race-winner of Sunday’s Kobalt 400.  Keselowski, who is seeking his third Cup win at LVMS in the last four seasons, spoke to reporters before today’s practice session.

BRAD KESELOWSKI — No. 2 Miller Lite Ford Fusion – WHAT IS YOUR OUTLOOK FOR THE WEEKEND?  “I’m looking forward to getting on track here.  Whenever you have a race win the week prior, you have a lot of momentum and a lot of confidence and that always seems to serve well, but coming to Las Vegas in general, Las Vegas is a track where we kind of hit on something the last few years and I’m looking forward to putting that into action, along with the confidence from last week, so early-season, things are off to a good start and we’re ready to keep on rolling.”

FORD IS OFF TO A GREAT START OVERALL.  CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THAT MOMENTUM AND ABOUT THE SPEEDING PENALITIES?  “It’s great for Ford.  They’re putting a lot of time and money into the sport of NASCAR, and to be rewarded is something you always want to see when someone makes an investment, so I’m happy for those guys.  They’ve really brought in a strong leadership group that embraces motorsports with a passion from the very top with Mark Fields and Joe Hinrichs and down the ladder with Raj Nair and Dave Pericak and Mark Rushbrook on the NASCAR side.  That has really showcased some results over the first two weeks of the year, but it’s a big ship and the investment was made probably a year or so prior with a lot of different things.  The most visible, of course, is bringing in Stewart-Haas Racing, but there’s more to it than that.  It’s good to see the results and it’s a sign of reward for the investment, but we can’t just take it for granted.  We’ve got to keep going and we’ve got to keep working and put in the effort to go with it.  I think that there is the right leadership team in place right now that really understands motorsports to continue to do so.  It’s a good time to be aligned with Ford, for sure.  As far as the pit road speeding and that kind of stuff last week, it’s gonna continue to play out as a storyline.  I think that’s one of those things where everybody kind of learns the new boundary and then they get settled in and it kind of goes away.”

HOW DO YOU VIEW PHOENIX NEXT WEEK WITH THIS PACKAGE AND MOVING THE START-FINISH LINE WHEN THEIR RENOVATION IS DONE?  “It will be really interesting to see the track when it’s re-done with the start-finish line.  I’m not sure how that’s gonna work, but I guess there are some smarter people than I that have been working on it.  But Phoenix in general has been a track that I’m happy we’re coming with a different car because we haven’t been very good there.  It’s been a track that we’ve struggled with and we’re hopeful that we’ll hit on something new and better, but my teammate, Joey Logano, obviously won there last fall.  He was really solid and had a great day, and that race is super, super critical specifically in the fall to having a shot to win the championship, so I think that going there we need to have a strong race, a strong showing.  We continue to run better as a team as NASCAR takes downforce off the cars, so I’m very optimistic we can do so, but that track has a lot of unique challenges that really makes it so much different than anyplace else we go with the doglegs and the flat banking in one end and the wide corner on the other, the asphalt there isn’t like any other track we go to, so it’s a pretty big challenge, but one that we’re gonna have to step up to and deliver a win at to make it to the next level.”

HAVE THE POINTS TAKEN ON MORE IMPORTANCE NOW THAT WE HAVE TWO RACES BEHIND US TO GAUGE THE FORMAT?  “Points are always gonna be important.  It’s our own measuring stick as a team.  We measure ourselves by how we’re sitting in the points, so we’re always gonna put a lot of emphasis on just that, but what I see personally right now is collecting these playoff bonus points is super, super critical for the back half of the season, and I think that kind of dominates a lot of team’s thinking at these races, at least the really strong teams.  But I also see opportunities, looking at a race this weekend where tire wear perhaps won’t be nearly as significant as it was last week.  I think you’re gonna see more strategy cards played.  I think you’re gonna see the field mixed up a little bit more, and I think you’re gonna see guys you haven’t seen in a little while up towards the front at different points and times during the races.  I think that makes it fun and interesting for all of us.”

DO YOU BELIEVE THE STAGES WILL CHANGE THE OVERALL COMPLEXION OF THE INTERMEDIATE TRACKS?  “Absolutely, the tracks are just as important as anything.  When we race, what time, the grip levels, the tire combinations, the car sensitivities are all huge as to the excitement level I think you’re gonna feel in a race, but I think looking at the stages in general it’s an enhancement, but it’s not a cure all for everything that we want to make better in our sport.  I sense at least that a lot of people within the garage understand that, that there are other areas that we can continue to work on, but I think this is the right step in general for all the tracks to make the racing more compelling and to make more moments matter for our fans.  But I think we have to be careful labeling it as kind of the end-all, be-all because I think there is still more work to do.”

DO YOU THINK SOMETHING LIKE THE ROVAL AT CHARLOTTE WOULD GIVE US AN ALTERNATIVE TO ANOTHER 1.5-MILE TRACK IN THE PLAYOFFS?  “It’s interesting because 10-15 years ago road course racing was some of the least liked racing by the fans and the competitors in this sport, and now it’s turned in to some of the most appreciated racing.  I think that’s part of the ebbs and flows of the sport over time.  I think if we go down the path of more rovals and things like that, or road courses I should say that turn into rovals, I think 10-20 years from now we’ll look back and say, ‘Oh, I miss all of those mile-and-a-half races.’  So I just think it’s part of how this sport flows.  I like outside the box opportunities.  I think it’s very critical for us that the schedule be freshened up and those type of ideas accomplish that, so I’m supportive to ideas that freshen up the schedule and keep it new and exciting every year for tracks and for fans.  But I’m a little careful to say that there’s one specific idea that’s gonna be the answer because I think it’s more of a culture and mindset.”

ARE YOU HAPPY WITH THE MOVE FROM NEW HAMPSHIRE TO LAS VEGAS FROM A TRUCK SERIES OWNER STANDPOINT?  “Yes and no.  It’s cheaper for us as a Truck Series team for triple-headers, so whatever cost there is to go out west compared to going up to Loudon will easily be offset by the personnel and other costs that we’re able to shed when we race out here on the west coast by being able to run as a triple-header.  I think it’s kind of a net even in that way, but at the end of the day if more fans attend and it’s a bigger spotlight for the sport, then that’s an overall gain that would offset any loss there would be financially.  The most important thing that we can have for this sport is to have communities that embrace us both with funding and with attendance, and this community has shown that it feels that way and it wants us.  I think we have to embrace that.”



Greg Engle
About Greg Engle 7421 Articles
Greg is a published award winning sportswriter who spent 23 years combined active and active reserve military service, much of that in and around the Special Operations community. Greg is the author of "The Nuts and Bolts of NASCAR: The Definitive Viewers' Guide to Big-Time Stock Car Auto Racing" and has been published in major publications across the country including the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He was also a contributor to Chicken Soup for the NASCAR Soul, published in 2010, and the Christmas edition in 2016. He wrote as the NASCAR, Formula 1, Auto Reviews and National Veterans Affairs Examiner for and has appeared on Fox News. He holds a BS degree in communications, a Masters degree in psychology and is currently a PhD candidate majoring in psychology. He is currently the weekend Motorsports Editor for Autoweek.