Ford Performance NASCAR: Kurt Busch Transcript

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Food City 500 Advance – Bristol Motor Speedway

Friday, April 21, 2017

Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Ford Fusion, has five career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victories at Bristol Motor Speedway, tying him with brother Kyle for most among active drivers.  He visited the infield media center this morning to talk about his BMS success and hopes for this weekend.

KURT BUSCH – No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Ford Fusion – HOW DOES IT FEEL COMING BACK HERE?  “I always look forward to coming to Bristol with the atmosphere, the way that the track is designed, the way that the intimate setting is so cool for the fans, the fact that there’s no garage area here, we work out on pit road.  There are so many little small things that are small and unique about Bristol and the race itself with the pit strategy and how the tires play out and the low lane versus the high lane.  There are so many different things you always have to adjust to, and then roll with how things are unfolding throughtout the race.  I think we finished third here last spring.  We had a shot to win in the fall race and I tried to hook the VHT a little too aggressive on the bottom lane on one of the later restarts around lap 400 and actually spun out while leading.  I felt pretty low after that moment and that’s the thing that you have to learn from and adjust to and come back the next time around and apply a strategy that will help us get to victory lane.  With everybody on the team on the 41 car we couldn’t wait to get to this portion of the season.  The way that Daytona turned out with the win everything is so exciting, it’s so big, it’s winning a championship in reverse and we had a fog around us for a little bit, and then it was nice to have an off weekend to reset and to get to the short track portion of the season as well as mix in Talladega coming up in three weeks, where we won the last restrictor plate race earlier this year.  It’s looking good on this part of the season and everything that’s ahead of us immediately.”

WITH RAIN LIKELY MOST OF THE WEEKEND HOW DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH TO TRUST THE VHT?  ANY CONCEPT OF HOW MUCH GRIP IT WILL RETAIN WHEN IT’S WET?  “As far as the VHT, Bristol is a perfect place to apply it to because of the concrete and the fact that they have the drag strip out in the back yard here, and the way VHT works it has to be dry.  If it’s applied properly, which I assume it will be, water won’t get underneath it or there won’t be any type of moisture issues with it, but, yes, it’s tough to trust, it’s tough to predict because we don’t run on it all that much, and a track like Bristol you need to rub it in, it needs to get groomed in and with the lack of practice time we might have, it might not be as consistent as we want it to be, so you’ve got to just ease into it.  You can’t quite trust it right away.  It’s the same thing as the outside groove.  When you’re right up against the wall you can’t go there right away, you have to have some of the XFINITY rubber lay down and groom in the outside as well.  This is a perfect style of track to think about when you’re a dirt racer.  It’s not ready to go right away.  You’ve got to pack the track a little bit.  You’ve got to groom in the different grooves and then it’s gonna change once you get into the race and go into its optimum performance level.  Dirt track racers will love this type of weekend and then the track can dry so quickly here that you’ve got to be ready when there is a practice session that might have rain go through it and then it can dry and you can be right back out there.”

IS THAT AT ALL SIMILAR TO HOW THE REPAVE AT TEXAS WORKED?  “Texas much more treacherous on a repave and a conservative tire from Goodyear, and for here we all have laps, we have experience, so it will come in quicker, but, yes, it’s the same mentality.  You can’t just go 100 percent after it right away.”

HOW MUCH DOES A SHORT TRACK MOVE LIKE WHAT RICKY STENHOUSE DID DO KYLE BUSCH — PUSHING HIM OUT OF THE WAY AT THE END OF THE STAGE – OPEN EVERYBODY’S EYES?  “I think that moment at Martinsville is a perfect definition to the stage racing.  It creates opportunities for many different things to happen, whether you’re a lapped car or you’re the leader.  Short tracks, superspeedways, road courses, those are the three types of tracks that I thought would be impacted the most by stage racing.  The mile-and-a-halves we get a little bit spread out, but yet there are still certain things that you do because certain mile-and-a-halves chew up the tires big-time, compared to other mile-and-a-half tracks so the pit strategy still gets sprinkled in.  I think what happened at Martinsville is a perfect definition of what the stage racing was meant to do.”

DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR FERNANDO ALONSO AND WAS THERE ANYTHING THE ANDRETTI’S DID THAT HELPED YOU ACCLIMATE TO THAT RACE QUICKLY?  “I don’t have much advice for a Formula 1 world champion.  I think he’ll be perfect for the situation.  I think he’ll do really well.  He’s a racer.  He gets it.  It’s a perfect time in his career to make the attempt at the Indy 500 without having any other oval type experience that we know of.  He’ll prepare well.  I saw that there was a test session for May 3, which is more like a rookie orientation, and the Andretti group will do a fantastic job for him.  They treated me really well with a respect of my background.  They’ll do that with his and the thing that blew me away still, and I guess that would be my advice to Alonso, it’s hard to prepare but for the month of May and the amount of times you’re on track, grandstands are empty, and then you come out there Sunday morning and you feel the Indiana natives respect for their track and it’s their world stage that they’re standing on for the day, it’s impressive to be there on Memorial Day Sunday at Indianapolis.  That would be my advice.  It’s hard to get used to that amount of people and the amount of pageantry and the celebration that’s going on Sunday morning.

ARE THERE GUYS YOU THINK THAT COULD MOVE THE NEEDLE IN NASCAR AND WHY IS IT SO DIFFICULT FOR THAT TRANSITION TO HAPPEN BECAUSE IT’S BEEN HIT OR MISS?  “I’d love to see a guy like Marco Andretti come and run Daytona.  I think that would be a huge event for him, for our sport.  It’s tough for our cars though because they’re so big and they’re so heavy.  They move around so much so go to a track that either A, what you’re used to, which is a road course, or, B, where the driver has the least amount to have to learn or to conquer or to – I guess the key word is master.  I can’t master and Indy car in one race.  Fernanado Alonso has a better chance of doing that.  Alexander Rossi, the kid won the Indy 500 last year.  Did he master the car?  No.  But he mastered enough of the certain sequences it takes, and I think Marco would do real well at a Daytona-style track because he loves the draft and he loves to be around other cars.  That’s what I would think would work the best.”

DO YOU FEEL THE BUMP-AND-RUN IS ACCEPTABLE OR NOT?  “You hit it on the head right there at the end when you said ‘as long as you don’t put him in the fence’ or he still continues on to finish second and doesn’t lose too many spots, so to speak.  It’s crazy.  We can all go to road courses, which are almost the hottest ticket to get right now – Sonoma and Watkins Glen – because there’s so much beating, banging, thrashing and the way I grew up watching races is that road courses had a little bit more of a gentleman’s agreement, so they flip-flopped.  And then to your point, a bump-and-run and then the chaos that ensued from everybody talking about was that proper or the etiquette and the way that all even turned out.  Just a simple bump-and-run at a short track.  I mean, we all grew up with that.  It’s just kind of funny how certain things flip-flop and how certain things are digested now.”

WHEN DO YOU THINK THAT CHANGED?  “I don’t know.  It’s been a fun journey on the road courses each year we go on how much is accepted and tolerated, and then as the short track racing has pretty much stayed the same.  As much as we’ve evolved, I like the short-track racing.  I don’t know when it changed or when that perception swapped around, but everybody’s got stronger opinions nowadays with chat boards and social media, so when you have a motorsports writer talking about a certain event, that’s great.  But when you have millions of people talking about it bantering back-and-forth, that’s great as well.”

HAVE YOU COME DOWN FROM THE HIGH OF WINNING THE 500?  “I definitely had to come back down off that high.  I’ve relished in that victory and the team.  Tony Gibson’s emotions from that, and everybody at Stewart-Haas with Tony Stewart winning his first 500 as an owner.  Gene Haas, that was one of the trophies he wanted to get the most because we still have so many more to get, and, yeah, the trophy.  I dropped it off with the crew guys before the off week started, so I’ve yet to check back in with where it is, who has it, and where it’s been.  It’s been a lot of fun to have the trophy and to take it all around and to do fun things with it.  I have to give an update on where’s Earl because I don’t even know where Earl is.”

ARE YOU SURPRISED YOU HAVEN’T WON EVEN MORE HERE?  “It’s definitely gotten tougher with the amount of options there are with the low lane, the high lane, the way that the tires have changed.  The races that I won had a nice, consistent pattern.  It was to be a bulldog on the bottom lane, move guys out of the way, and let the rough edges drag.  The new Bristol and where we are now it’s a little bit more finesse and you have to find the lane that works the best to be able to get by the guy that’s already in the best lane, and you can’t necessarily just move him because we’re all on that ragged edge that close, that high lane, we’re all up there running that 15-second lap time and you’re right on the edge of slipping already, so you’re trying to get to the guy and move him and yet if you do one little extra step, you’re gonna slide up into the fence.  It’s such a large consequence when that happens, so it’s just a different way of going about it and I haven’t quite mastered it like I did before, and, again, third last spring here and just trying to build off of that.”

WITH THE VHT RESTORING THE BOTTOM GROOVE HERE, WOULDN’T IT MAKE MORE SENSE TO DO AWAY WITH THE PROGRESSIVE BANKING AND RESTORE THE 36-DEGREE NON-VARIABLE BANKING LIKE WHEN YOU WERE DOMINATING HERE?  “We’re not just gonna go dig up Augusta, Georgia because the golfers didn’t like the new tee boxes.  You have to adjust to the millions of dollars that Bristol Motor Speedway invested into the track’s new surface and we’re trying to find that right combination.  I think it would be easier to work with lighter race cars – cars that didn’t have to carry as much weight that we do in them – and work with a tire that will give it the raw speed right away and then drop off and if a yellow comes out and the tires cool off, the tires shouldn’t grip as good as guys that pit and put on new tires.  That’s what we want to see.  We want to see a tire that will have a ton of speed when they’re fresh and drop off no matter what, and when you have that, that’s when you have the opportunity for guys to come in and pit, grab those fresh tires, and then charge back up through there and look at that cool racing of cars side-by-side and moving forward and moving backward.  I like the attempt with the VHT, but you can tell they’re in the direction of trying to find grip.  Well, what does that mean?  We should just have a tire that would have more grip.”

WHAT MAKES BRISTOL SO MUCH DIFFERENT THAN THE OTHER TRACKS ON THE CIRCUIT?  “Just look at it.  There’s no other track that is this size, that has this much banking, that holds this many people.  It’s something where you can look at the wall and see the picture of the track from the seventies and eighties and it already looked cool then on how different it was then, and now with the asphalt changing to concrete over the years, grandstands being built every year we came back here, it’s definitely one of the most unique places.  I always tell people, if you’ve never been to a NASCAR race, you don’t start out at the Daytona 500.  You don’t start out at Indianapolis.  Charlotte is a great place to come and see the heritage of our sport, and if you really want to see the true short track of how our sport found its way up, watching guys like Dale Sr. and Terry Labonte grind it out for wins and guys like Allison and Yarborough, Petty, they all came here to Bristol and if you conquered Bristol it was something special.”

IT SEEMED THE PATIENCE LEVEL AT MARTINSVILLE WAS GONE ON LAP ONE.  DO YOU EXPECT THE SAME THIS WEEKEND AND WOULD YOU SAY THAT’S A PRODUCT NOW OF STAGE RACING ON A SHORT TRACK?  “It’s funny how there are 500 laps that are posted for the total distance and yet with the stage racing we’ve all gone into the mindset of three separate races.  And, yes, I would assume that this would be more of the same.  We’ll see how the practice sessions go with the rain and the amount of consistency within the track, and if it’s ready to go hard right away, yeah, guys are gonna go hard and try to race for that stage win and get those points.  I don’t see anything different here than what we saw at Martinsville.”

YOU MENTIONED HOW YOU AND THE TEAM ARE EXCITED ABOUT THIS STRETCH OF RACES.  WAS THE OFF WEEKEND GOOD TO KIND OF SHAKE OFF THE LAST COUPLE OF WEEKS?  IT SEEMED YOU GUYS WERE FIGHTING SOME GREMLINS WITH ELECTRICAL ISSUES?  ARE YOU CONFIDENT THINGS WILL TREND BACK UP NOW?  “I’m confident.  We’ve got three top-10s so far this year out of seven races.  It’s not bad to finish in the top-10 half the time, but that’s not a championship effort.  We know we can do better and the alternator issues were a complete surprise to all of us, especially on the 41 we kept having them and it was a small little gremlin that we finally found that we did a little different than the other SHR cars, that did it different than some of the Yates-powered, Ford-powered cars.  Now that we’re to the short tracks aerodynamics go out the window for a few weeks.  Even Talladega we’ve built one of the best replicas we could build of our Daytona 500-winning car.  That’s one of the coolest things and one of the toughest things.  You win a race and then you don’t get the car back for a year.  It’s like it’s extinct, but yet it’s one of the coolest cars that you’ve ever had.  We’ve built a really good car for Talladega and here we are at the short track, and then we’ll go out to Kansas and double-check on the mile-and-a-half stuff we’ve worked on back at the shop here in a few weeks.”

DO YOU FEEL DALE JR. HAS GOTTEN BACK INTO THE GROOVE AFTER HIS LONG LAYOFF LAST YEAR?  “My little brother was out for 11 races I think in 2015 and you could see a little bit of the rust the first couple weeks, and I think we all saw that with Junior the first couple of weeks.  But by Vegas and especially with what he did at Texas last week, he’s back.  But, yes, there are things that you need to do personally and then there are things the sport has done while you were gone because there are notes that we have from nine months ago that we look at and kind of giggle like, ‘Oh, wow.  We ran that setup?  We haven’t done something like that in a long time.’  And for him to take off half a season, yes, there’s things he needed to do, but also the team was evolving and he needed to adapt to those setups as well as what he needed to do personally.  Yeah, you’re right.  We see things on track and he was making moves at Texas and I’m like, ‘Yeah, he’s back.’”



About Greg Engle 7420 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.