Toyota Racing – Kyle Busch
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS)
Charlotte Motor Speedway – May 25, 2017
Joe Gibbs Racing driver Kyle Busch was made available to the media at Charlotte Motor Speedway:
KYLE BUSCH, No. 18 M&M’s Red, White & Blue Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
You could become the eighth driver to sweep the Charlotte race weekend. What would that mean to you?
“It would certainly mean a lot. That’s what we come to the race track to do is to try to win each and every weekend. But it’s been a long, long time since I won at Charlotte, which was never in a Cup car, so finally we got that out of the way, and now we look forward to hopefully being able to make it back‑to‑back. We’ll see how it goes. I thought we had some speed there to fire off with practice. A lot of guys kind of caught up to us and got a lot faster, so we’ve got to gain a little bit more in order to be where we need to.”
As part of the 600 Miles of Remembrance, you’re going to have Private First Class William Johnson displayed on your car. Can you just talk about that tribute a little bit?
“Yeah, it’s a really neat deal that NASCAR and all of us are doing for bringing the Troops to the Track program obviously that we have, but also the names on the cars, and my gentleman is from Oxford, North Carolina, so it’s kind of a home game for their family, and just paying remembrance to him and what all he sacrificed for us and being able to allow us to go out here and race each and every weekend and to have a lot of fun. So Memorial Day weekend is just that, to remember those men and women both that did so much for our country.”
Did you get much up into the traction compound when you were out practicing today? And what are your thoughts about this compound being put on an asphalt track?
“Yeah, I got into it a little bit there with (turns) 3 and 4, just kind of running up a little bit for coming to the green for some of our qualifying runs there. We were only making one‑lap runs so there wasn’t a whole lot going on, and the track was really, really light to begin with. They run the tire dragon around here and it doesn’t put the rubber down like it needs to, unfortunately. I don’t know why the track is so light. But they need to put more pressure on that thing or something, I don’t know, to get it blacker. It’s just not very black, and it seems very dusty when we all rolled off this morning. Interesting there, but other than that, you know, the cars were starting to put the rubber down and it was starting to get more black as practice progressed, but you get outside of that black just a little bit, and it seemed pretty slick. You know, we definitely just need to continue to make the track wider. I’m sure XFINITY cars will do that. I’m sure the XFINITY race will do that, and hopefully make for a really good Sunday. I’ve only ever used the traction compound. It’s probably not the same one, but years ago at my home track they put it down in the outside groove to try to make an outside groove there, and it didn’t really ‑‑ it wasn’t noticeable the first week that they did it, but it took a few weeks for it to kind of get wore in and kind of groomed a little bit, and then it was actually not bad. I don’t know if we can groom it that fast here in just one weekend, but we’ll see.”
Was there anything that you saw in the Aric Almirola accident at Kansas that you felt like NASCAR needs to look at?
“No, I don’t know what happened there. I did hear (Aric) Almirola, some of his comments that he felt the first knife in his back when he hit, so that was just ‑‑ that was a slide, and he just hit like you would a wall or anything else. It wasn’t like it was ‑‑ it didn’t seem like it was a blunt stop, but I don’t know, I don’t have the crash data, either. But I did see obviously how high the car got and how it slammed back down, and you could see the truck arm mounts really dig a chunk out of the racetrack, and I thought that that’s what hurt his back was just the slam back down. But it’s interesting that we’ve seen some back injuries. They’ve been in various ways and in various seats, I’m sure. But you know, I think that how to fix that, I’m no doctor or practitioner or anything else, so it’s going to be hard for me to distinguish how we fix that, but hopefully we can figure something out.”
What do you think about the 2018 schedule and the road course being added at Charlotte?
“I think it’s great. I think it’s just a little bit of a mix‑up, something to change it around. Honestly, you’d like to see some different venues in there. I think all of us would. But it’s hard to get some of these venues that have been here in the past on the schedule or some of them that aren’t on the schedule that are still in operation on the schedule with the sanctioning body and the sanctioning agreements and everything else. There’s a lot of money involved in all that stuff. So there’s also the guarantee of the races and the racetracks that are already on the schedule that won’t take place until ’19 or ’20, I think. Overall, though, to kind of mix it up a little bit and not having us go and ‑‑ I can pretty much memorize the schedule where we’re at right now, so it’s definitely going to throw me for a loop next year not knowing where the hell we’re going the following week. But all in all, it’s going to be interesting to see the Brickyard being the cutoff race. I think that’s going to be fun. More times than not, the cutoff race isn’t a huge decider. It kind of was I feel like years ago, especially when (Jeremy) Mayfield was involved and he got that win at Richmond and some other stuff kind of happened the next couple years. But past that, you know, I like Richmond in the Chase. I think that’s a great place for us, so I’m partial to that. I think the Roval here at Charlotte is going to be interesting, and it’s going to be different. You know, it’s just a different take on Charlotte Motor Speedway. I’m not sure what to expect. I haven’t run it. I know AJ (Allmendinger) did. But the setup and what it’s going to take to get through the slow, small stuff that there’s not a lot of load, not a lot of downforce over here, and the short section is going to be entirely different than what you’re going to need entering Turn 3 at 165 miles an hour, you know. So it’s going to be interesting to see what all people do with their setups and how you work on that and what kind of things you’ll have to give up in order to be good in the infield section.”
With it being harder to pass, do you see an even greater emphasis on pit stop precision than in the past?
“Yeah, I think so. I mean, that’s kind of been the name of the game probably the last eight, nine years or so is pit stops have really taken focus and been the forefront. I know it has been for us at JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing). The guys at our place do an awesome job with training and the workout room as well as the guys doing their pit stops and practice and stuff like that. I know everybody takes a huge emphasis on that, but I feel like our guys have been one of the best. I know with some of the things that we’ve done with our tools that we use across the wall, obviously we’ve spent some resources on all that, and you know, we’ve kind of been the leader in development I feel like with pit stops for the last probably 15 years. But besides that, you know, it’s always an emphasis on restarts because that’s the time when you’re closest to all your competitors, as you start to kind of get single filed out, spread out, it’s harder to get our gain on the people in front of you, so you want to get all you can when you can and use the momentum sometimes to take that spot from the guy in front of you. Restarts have always been really, really important, probably even a little bit more so than pit stops.”
With the recent news about Red Horse Racing closing its doors, what are some challenges that you and Brad Keselowski face as owners in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series?
“I don’t know what Brad’s (Keselowski) scenario is. You’ll have to ask him. I do believe that I have heard that he puts money in himself. I know that I put money in myself. You know, I wouldn’t say that the model is working for us. I just think that we’re content with the amount of money that we are spending. That makes it worth our while. There just aren’t any big sponsors. There aren’t any Fortune 500 companies I think besides M&M’s, Mars, with Pedigree now that’s joining us with Todd Gilliland with Pedigree to be on our truck, and it’s just not ‑‑ there’s not enough people on TV, there’s not enough people in the stands. The sponsorship just doesn’t come. They just don’t care, and that’s the most frustrating part of it. Somehow we all have to continue as a group to lower our costs of racing. Our cost is 3.2. That’s how much it takes to run a full operation of a truck team, and that number should be around 2, and how to get it lower, there’s some engine talks I know and some body talks I know, but we’re hitting it, but we’re only hitting it about a half a million by doing that. Your biggest expense is your people, and that’s where it all comes from. But as far as our model goes, it does work right now thanks to the support of Toyota, thanks to the support of the (Noah) Gragsons with Switch, and the Myatt Sniders and the Bubba Wallace’s sponsors and Erik Jones’ sponsors and the people like that that we’ve had over the course of the years that were able to make it all work.”
With the recent news about Red Horse Racing closing its doors, what are some challenges that you and Brad Keselowski face as owners in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series? Cont.
“To really make it work and to drive your costs down, you have to have three teams, and even four teams makes it even better, but we’re not to the point yet where we’re ready to grow because we still need to develop our third team and make it a strong force to be reckoned with each and every week. But once we get to four teams, people are mad at us because then we’re too good, people can’t beat us, whatever you want to say, so people are mad that we’re overtaking the sport, which all we’re trying to do is continue to help and build it, but there’s a double‑edged sword in anything that I do anyways, so we just keep working on it, keep trying, and make it work as best we can for us.”
How special are Kentucky Speedway and Indianapolis Motor Speedway to you personally with the small amount of drivers who have won at both tracks?
“Yeah, I think once you kind of figure out a place, it seems to fit well with you, and if you can get everything figured out in practice and make your car strong there, then you’re good in the race. Some years you’re good and you’re on, and other years you mess it up and something happens. But I feel like Brad (Keselowski) and myself and (Martin) Truex (Jr.) last year was actually really fast, but we’ve kind of distanced ourselves a little bit at Kentucky, especially with the repave. I liked it before the repave. I thought it was great being able to move all over the racetrack and having it as bumpy as it was, and sometimes that jukes a driver out. It kind of scares a guy when the car bounces and gets sideways, where for me you just kind of drive through it and figure it out later. A place like Indy, thought, that’s really smooth, you’ve got to learn from the best at that place. I learned from Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Juan (Pablo) Montoya actually, and just being able to pick up the points of which make those guys good there and utilizing those to your advantage. Last couple years have been phenomenal for us there, and hopefully that continues and we can continue to bring home some Brickyard 400 wins because those are some cool ones to get.”
Is there something about Dover going into it next week versus the second race that’s different, or is it just bad luck for you?
“Well, the first race is typically just a race to go get it, get all you can get and don’t worry about what happens. The second race is a Chase race so you’ve got to be mindful of what happens. I feel like we can finish second, third or fourth there every time we go there, doesn’t matter. But you always have that Jimmie Johnson fellow that’s really, really fast there that is really hard to beat. So I have always tried to probably overextend my reach a little bit to try to compete with him or try to beat him, and it’s hard to do. I think the last time I did beat him there was just because he had a faster car but he sped on pit road in the final stop, so I got the win on that one. But (Kevin) Harvick has been really good there as of late, as well as (Martin) Truex (Jr.). Truex is fast. So that’s why I say we’re always second to fourth, somewhere in there, just depending on how pit road things go and what happens in the long run, but we just can’t over‑jump that hurdle of being better than the 48 (Jimmie Johnson) car there for some reason.”
Turn 2 caused some problems for drivers during practice today, is it extra tricky this weekend and does the VHT have anything to do with that?
“No, VHT didn’t have anything to do with it, actually just the sun popping for the little while that it did. When we fired off today for practice, the track was a little bit loose and you could rotate around there a little bit better, but as the rubber went down and as the track slickened up and got a little bit hotter, I got tighter, so I just washed up off the bottom really bad and was able to get it slowed down just in time. It did have a little bit of effect just where you get outside what rubber is laid down, and it’s just really sandy out there for some reason. I don’t know why, with as much rain as has been here, you wouldn’t think there would be anything there, but there’s just this little fine grit that’s out there, and when your tire hits it, it just takes off and slides worse. That’s why I mentioned earlier about getting the track to just get rubber down, burn off all that stuff, all that slickness in order to make it to where you have some sort of grip all the way across the track.”
Has Joe Gibbs Racing become faster at mile-and-a-half tracks and do you feel like you’ll be better going forward at these tracks?
“I wouldn’t say they’re solved. I feel like Kansas was a good run for us, for us, for the 78 (Martin Truex Jr.), but the 78 has been fast all year. Throw him to the side. It didn’t seem like Denny (Hamlin) or Matt (Kenseth) or myself ‑‑ I mean, I won a segment and I led some laps, but we were ‑‑ Denny and myself, we were like fourth to sixth. You could have flipped us either way, and that’s probably where we would have been. You know, Matt may be a little bit farther behind, but here at Charlotte it’s kind of early to tell. You know, this place has developed a lot of character and a lot more development needs to be in setup in the mechanical grip of the car, so we’re working on that right now. I feel like we all really worked hard and studied hard this week about what we learned from the All‑Star Race and we brought a better package here, so that all helped us right away, and we’ll see if that translates into race speed when we get back out there for race trim.”
What’s your opinion on segment racing and specifically with the 600 being such a mental grind, now dividing it into segments and what impact will that have on Sunday?
“Yeah, I mean, the 600 race is certainly a mental grind. It’s also a physical grind. You just get tired. I wouldn’t say you’re falling out of the seat, it’s just when you’re done, you’re done. For me, though, I think the segment racing this year has been pretty good. It kind of gives you a chance to take a breather, get a break a little bit. You know, sometimes I like the races to go into the long runs, though. I think that’s where I excel. I like green flag pit stops; that’s where I excel. You know, they’ve kind of taken some of those things away from what I enjoy doing, but it’s made for some exciting moments, you know, certainly there’s been a lot more restarts, less debris cautions. We have more standardized cautions. I feel like that’s a good thing. Anytime you throw a caution that we all don’t know is coming, that’s very aggravating, whether you’re about to go a lap down or whether you’re the leader. To have those things that are known before the race starts, it just makes our jobs not easier but less complicated.”
As an owner in the Truck Series, do you think the series needs to run at more grassroots tracks like it previously did in decades past?
“I would definitely enjoy that model of going back to those race tracks. Now again, how you accomplish that and how you get that done, that’s for people a hell of a lot smarter than me to figure out, but I would certainly enjoy seeing the Truck Series go back to Tucson, or even around here, go to Motor Mile, go to some of these short tracks that you can put 10, 15, 20,000 people in the stands for an exciting truck race because in all honesty, that’s the crowd count that you’re getting at a mile‑and‑a‑half anyways, so pack the place, make it look good, and put on a good show for the fans and go back to some of the roots of short track racing that these drivers are coming up from, that the trucks came from, and Friday night shows, Saturday night shows, whatever it might be at some of these cool short tracks, and I think you’ll put on a great show, you’ll have the fans come out and support that. It’s just how to make the model work. There’s TV money involved, there’s sanctioning agreements involved, there’s all kind of too much behind‑the‑scenes BS that I’m not smart enough to figure out, but hopefully somebody can be smart enough to figure it out. Maybe this guy can figure that out.”
Would it be cheaper to go to grassroots tracks for the trucks compared to Talladega, Daytona or Kentucky?
“Well, yeah, Talladega and Daytona you might as well write off a truck every time you go to one of those, so yeah, that expenses out. But you know, you go to a short track and you bump and bang and root and gouge and you beat the body up a little bit, you’re going to have to put a body on or a side on or something like that, but you go to a mile‑and‑a‑half, typically you don’t touch anything so you don’t have to do anything when you come back to the shop, you just get it ready, freshen it up and get it back ready to go for another mile‑and‑a‑half. But short track stuff, you’re going to have to fix more body work, so it might be an added cost on that front. You know, tire sets, how they determine that, things like that, are what’s going to make it interesting. I don’t know, for some reason we’ve stepped away and away and away from short track racing. Trucks used to go to south Boston when I was a kid. They used to go to more short tracks when I was even running some of the races, and we’ve gone to more mile‑and‑a‑halfs just to compare and be with the Cup Series more and more to get the fan count because I guess we weren’t getting the fan count then. I don’t know, it’s all about butts in the seats.”
If you go to smaller tracks, I’m guessing there’s smaller sanctioning fees and everything is probably cut back to some degree. How might it work or what would be some of the initial challenges for the Truck Series?
“Well, you just said it right there. If we make less money you’re digging our grave, so the sanctioning agreements can’t be for any less money, that’s for sure. We actually need them to be for more. In order to cut our costs, we need to be able to make more money or compete for more money to race for more winnings. If you cut our winnings out, you might as well just say goodbye. You know, there’s a problem in that fact right there, too. You know, it’s just ‑‑ it’s about trying to get the butts in the seats. That’s what matters most. If south Boston packed the place every single time and made money and NASCAR made money, the teams made money and all of us would still be going there, so there’s obviously something that was missing, and I don’t know what that was. But to figure that out and to be able to pack some of these short tracks and to put the trucks back on some of those standalone events, it’s all about exciting moments, exciting racing, having some rooting and gouging, and it’s probably worth having fights in the pits. That’s what it all comes down to, and you know, we’ll see if any of that happens.”