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NASCAR MEDIA CONFERENCE
August 29, 2006
THE MODERATOR: Welcome to this week's NASCAR teleconference advancing Sunday's Sony HD500 at California Speedway, this Sunday's race, the ninth event in the Race to the Chase, those are the ten races that precede the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup. We have a great guest today in Kyle Busch driver of the No. 5 Kellogg Chevrolet. He comes off a second place finish at Bristol this past Saturday night, is now fourth in the series standings. He's also the defending champion of the race this weekend. Last year he got his first victory in the Sony HD500, first victory in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup series.
Kyle, you're fourth in the points, puts you in pretty good shape as the Chase approaches. On the other hand there's only 48 points separating you from the 18th place driver, Mark Martin. Maybe just talk about what the pressure is feeling like going into these next couple races with the Chase on the line and the points so close.
KYLE BUSCH: Well, there's definitely some pressure there, but there's probably not as much as maybe would have been in the past couple years. 2004 was the first year for the Chase and last year, 2005, there were more guys, more drivers eligible Chase contenders.
This year, we're only fighting Kasey Kahne, the only one out right now to get in for one of the ideal ten spots. That makes it a little easier that you only have to worry about one guy, so the pressure is there to try to get yourself into the Chase.
But I think more so right now what it is is about is positioning yourself. You never know how much those five points coming down Homestead will mean for and you what it will mean for your championship hopes coming out of Homestead.
Q. Just it seems like it was only two how one had you were kind of denied racing the trucks at Fontana. Does that seem like forever ago, and since, then how do you explain your success in Fontana?
KYLE BUSCH: It really has. It's kind of felt like forever ago. For some reason, we showed up out there in 2001, we were leading in practice and then we were not able to qualify for the race. It was a tough decision on changing the race requirements for all three -- inaudible -- the regional touring. It was tough for me to swallow that -- was able to get back into the NASCAR ranks.
Today I've become a better driver as well as more comfortable with my race cars and understanding and being able to communicate that to the crew chief and the engineers, as well as the whole team.
Q. How much do you enjoy going to southern California, and just being away from the racetrack, do you get much time outside the Speedway for doing all of the things that the area has to offer?
KYLE BUSCH: No, not really. When I get there on Thursday afternoon/eveningish, we're going straight to a Kellogg's appearance and that lasts straight until 8:00. And by that time I'll be heading back to the racetrack in order to go back to the motor home or whatever and get a night's rest before Friday's eventful day.
Friday we have practice and all that kind of stuff and I think the last practice is the NASCAR Busch Series practice which doesn't end until 7:20. So, you know, you're pretty much shut out, Friday and Saturday I'm racing in the Busch Series.
I'd like to be able to do something out there. It's the coast I grew up on, so I love the weather out there, it's great. I like just being able to -- inaudible -- and this weekend is perfect for it.
Q. In the past have you gotten a chance to maybe go to Los Angeles or Hollywood and sort of sight see or do touristy stuff?
KYLE BUSCH: I think it was 2004 when I went out there for the first Busch Series race. We went out and we visited L.A. and went through and drove through some of L.A., and of course we went to Hollywood and West Hollywood and stuff like that and we kind of checked out the scenery. It was kind of fun. My girlfriend and I, we went down there and went to some of the shops down there. She wanted to go down there and go shopping and see what it looks like and whatnot; it was neat. We also drove downtown and up and down the streets and looking at different areas.
Q. How much help and input have you received the last couple of seasons from Jimmie and the rest of the Hendrick team?
KYLE BUSCH: Some of the things that we've been talking about, just it's all about cars and setups and things like that and just being able to make our cars faster and trying to share information and that kind of stuff.
The biggest thing, of course, this year has been the coil bind and all that stuff, so everybody is trying to make sure they can get their cars the best they can make them. For us, being able to share information the way we do, I think the teams have become a lot closer than what they maybe have been over the past few years.
Q. And what do you think of the main thing that Jeff or Jimmie has taught you over the last couple of seasons?
KYLE BUSCH: I think the biggest thing is watching Jimmie and how he races. You know, he's always a very fast and particular racer, but he's always very smart and does good with the things that he knows how to do well with, like how to do adjust the car throughout race, what he needs in his car throughout the race, and how he goes about, you know, the beginning, towards the end and whatnot. I mean, you look at him, he's been successful for every season that he's been in the NEXTEL Cup series, he's finished in the Top-10 in points. So he definitely knows a little bit about how to race and how to go about and how the season plays out and how to work with it.
And from Jeff, you know, kind of the same thing. He's been a very smart racer over the years. He's won four championships himself. You know, he's always been probably one of the best overall racers that I've ever seen as far as his adaptability to all of the different racetracks.
Q. It seems like in the last several races that you've avoided the controversies that you were involved with, say, early in the year with a couple of drivers. In the meantime you've moved up solidly in the points. Was that a conscious effort on your part to just keep your head down and worry about the car and the Chase and try and avoid some of the controversy you had earlier?
KYLE BUSCH: I think it just somehow, some way makes it's rounds. You know, really, I didn't look for it in the beginning of the year. I didn't want to get involved in any of that because you don't want to have to deal with all of the pressures of media and everything in answering all of the questions and stuff. It was something I got into and I found on my own.
But I haven't really done anything different. I might have become a bit smarter racer which put me in some different situations throughout the year. You know, we've just kind of been going along and finding our own way and finding our own peace with the series. Of course, being able to learn more about what NASCAR is all about and Mr. Helton and I we sat down and had lunch and I've been getting a closer relationship with him as well as John Gansky (ph) and Roger Pepperson (ph) and some of the other NASCAR officials. Everything is going pretty well. It's all about trying to come into the sport and realize it's not all about you, and that, you know, even though NASCAR grew up with who all made the sport what it is today such as the Rusty Wallaces, the Terry Labontes, the Richard Pettys, the sport is going on and they are not here racing. So you have to understand that fact, as well, too; it's not all about you.
Q. Moving on towards the Chase, should we count you as one of favorites to make a run at the title, and why? What are your strengths going into the Chase?
KYLE BUSCH: Heck, yeah, you better. No, just kidding.
I think we've got a legitimate shot at it. We've got a very strong team. I'm very confident with my guys that they can prepare good enough race cars where we can head into the racetrack with a solid Top-10 car. And, you know, it just comes down to these final two races to solidify ourselves in there. California, we ran well last year. We finished 10th there this spring. Richmond, I don't think we've had a finish worse than 5th, so hopefully we can keep that trend going.
Overall it's just getting down into the Chase. I think there's only two tracks that we haven't -- well, I shouldn't say that. There's more tracks that we haven't had a Top-10 finish at. The biggest tracks for me that we need to work on is Texas and Atlanta. For some reason we run so well at Charlotte and we can run pretty well at the two-mile places like Michigan and California, but Atlanta, we can run well through the middle part of the race, but by the time we get to the end we're not going so well, we finish 12th; three times in a row we've finished 12th.
Texas is one of those places that for some reason I just can't get a hold of. I've run well there in the Truck and Busch car but the Cup car, I can't figure it out for some reason. Those two places are the main two places that we definitely need to get better race cars for. And Talladega is one of those crapshoot races where you never really know what's going to happen.
Q. California has been called one of those cookie cutter-type racetracks that were built, and as I talk to drivers, each track does have its own personality. The fact that you have run well there so well, what is it about that track, does it have its own personality and what is it and how do you overcome it?
KYLE BUSCH: Every track does have its personality. Sometimes there's a certain line during a certain point in the race that you just have to run, and that's the fastest way to get around that place. Other tracks you can run anywhere you want to, such as Las Vegas for me. Any time I get off that white line, my car pushes; if I run that white line my car will be tight but it will still be fast.
You go to Michigan you run on the bottom of the racetrack, your car will be nice and secure and pretty good. You go to the topside, you'll either be loose or tighter. You can kind of play with Michigan a little bit.
California, sort of the same way as Michigan. You can move around, you can play around, and yet there's a certain point in the race there like the beginning, you'll see everybody just running the bottom. And then as it spreads out a little bit, everybody will kind of go to the top, and then as the race plays on through the middle and two thirds of the way through the race some guys are running the middle, some guys are more so running the top. And for me, it's just, you know, back to the bottom by the time you get to the end of the race.
So it's a finicky place sometimes but you know, for some reason, I've just been successful there. I'm not sure what it is.
And the Cup series, the Busch Series, that's another story there. I haven't finished better than 7th in a Busch car. I'm looking forward to being able to get back out there with the Cup car and see what we can do in the Busch car as well.
Q. At what point during this season did you become mindful of the points, because it's now all three cars that are together, was there a certain point in the year when you said: "Hey, wait a minute, I've got a shot to be in this thing, I need to watch points?"
KYLE BUSCH: More so towards the beginning of the year. I mean, coming out of Daytona, we finished 23rd there, we had a great race car in the beginning of the race and got tossed up with Tony Stewart somehow and we were running 5th or something when we got our penalty and finished 23rd.
We came into Phoenix with a very strong race car, we sat on the pole and led the beginning part of the race and we had a pit road mishap and got tangled with Casey Mears and wrecked there. Talladega we got taken out of that race and we finished -- inaudible -- a couple weeks later we were on to Charlotte and got tangled up there and had a terrible effort there and we had, you know, 25 points taken away from us.
So probably after Charlotte was really when it all came to me and hit me that we've had very fast race cars this year. I just keep making the mental mistakes and putting ourselves in wrong positions that took us out of the running, you know, the previous year in my rookie season. I just kept overdriving the car sometimes and not putting it in the right position and understanding where I should be at that time. So I just kind of settled back and thought about racing and not trying to lead every lap and winning the thing.
Q. Is there pressure to be the car or not to be the car in the Hendrick organization, not to make the Chase?
KYLE BUSCH: Well, I don't think so, maybe there's a little pressure added, but of course you want to make it in if three others are in or whatever, but the sponsors, they want to see you in as well, too. You know, Rick, he's understanding enough that the series is tough as it is; that you can't always be that lucky, you can't always be that good.
So there's going to be times where, you know, who is to say that, you know, Jeff Gordon missing it next year, we only ad one car in it last year with Jimmie Johnson. So either before that there were two in it, almost three. So it's just tough. For 11 cars this year instead of maybe 16 or 18 past two years, to be fighting for it, it just shows you the competition is strong and points are valuable everywhere you go.
Q. Being on the cups of your first Chase, what did you learn from watching last year's Chase and how it kind of played out?
KYLE BUSCH: You know, I didn't really pay attention a whole lot through the whole race. Trying to be busy and work on my stuff.
I do remember that Jimmie, he can go in there leading the points but however big of a margin, and then it get shrunk down to five points at start of the deal. You have a couple bad races in the beginning and everybody feels like you don't have a shot for it.
I think that's how my brother was. You know, he was strong if the beginning of the year, he won the championship, he was very strong and had that DMF in Atlanta, and everybody said that's it, he was done and he was able to rebound and win the championship. There's times, you may have one mulligan race. But for as tough as competition has been this year, I'm not so sure that's going to be the case. You're going to have to be on top of it in the final ten every race.
Q. You could be one of several guys that would be in the Chase for the first time, or even guys that were not in the Chase last year, so certainly the Chase could have a different personality. How might you have to change during the Chase, whether it's driving, approach, strategy, or what have you from maybe what you've done the first 26 races, have you thought that far ahead?
KYLE BUSCH: No, not really. Haven't thought that far ahead. But the first thing that comes to mind is, hey, you're going to race everybody. You're going to have to be conscious of what's going on around you and who you're racing around and things like that. Will the guys that are not in the Chase give a break to some of the guys that are out of the Chase? You don't know that. You can go up and ask them and they wouldn't give you probably a square answer.
But, you know, it will be tough. You just have to understand that fact. The other thing you'll have to realize is exactly how good your race car is. If you've got a 12th place car, you're probably better off finishing 14th than finishing 12th because you want to make sure you don't do anything too crazy or too out of line to take yourself out of the chance for running for the championship. So the biggest thing is just to go out there and be a smart racer more so than probably through the year.
Q. You mentioned just being aware of guys around you, and understanding what your car can do, but those are things that most guys are doing anyway at this point. How much more different is it, might it be in the Chase? It sounds like that's pretty much the same thing as you would be doing in the first 26?
KYLE BUSCH: Well, it would be, but you're not sure how some guys are going to race you. Like I said, you're not sure -- you're careful of who you're around and stuff like that, but when you get into the Chase, those guys that are out of it, are they going to trick you -- inaudible -- or are they still going to race you as hard as they have been all year long trying to position themselves better in their points race. There are points races all the way throughout. You have the top 25 who make NASCAR money. You have the 11th place battle that will go on after the Top-10 is secured and then you have the 35th place for Daytona 500. So there's always points races.
Q. You and Alex are pretty young, last year you were very impressive in your rookie year and you seemed to just have this knack and ability. I just wanted to know how much of your success can you attribute to having veterans like Jimmie Johnson and a Jeff Gordon on your team?
KYLE BUSCH: A lot of it. You know, the biggest thing is that they have been here for a few years and you're able to learn from them right off the bat. Terry Labonte, too, I was able to learn a tremendous amount of him in my rookie year in the Busch Series and just being able to talk with him. As soon as I found out I was going into that ride, I hung out with just around the garage area more to see how the team was to kind of see how Terry was and what the aspect of the NEXTEL Cup series was in general.
So, you know, the other thing is just, like I said, you know, learning from Jimmie and learning from Jeff and trying to figure out what kind of things you need to take in and what kind of things you want to recognize and reflect on yourself and try to do hands-on.
Q. Here in Dover, in June, you keep doing the triple threat with the Truck Series and the Busch Series.
KYLE BUSCH: Yes.
Q. And you've had a lot of success in each series, is it more of just keeping you in the car to learn the Monster Mile, or is that why you're so successful over there?
KYLE BUSCH: I'm not sure what Dover is for me. It's a cool place. I like it. I'm not sure why I run well there. It's just like anywhere else. I have something about California that I like. I have something about Dover I like. I have this year, I finished in the Top-10 in all three at Bristol this past weekend, so it's a cool place. I like running there.
For some reason, I try to always have fast race cars and trucks and whatnot, but I think we had a shot to win the Truck race and we had a shot to win the Busch race and we had a shot to win the Cup race. We just missed out on those, but overall, the Dover race for me, being in the car all three races -- the track changes every lap. The more the place rubbers up, the more the aspects of the car changes; the more, you know, you either want it to be looser or you want to have the front end turn better. We're always trying to adjust with air pressures and to figure out which one is the best way to go with, and that helps me out for the final race, which is the Cup race and how long that race is, that you can kind of put all that together.
Q. Do you ever have time to actually spend time in Dover?
KYLE BUSCH: No, I haven't really. I went out one time there a couple years ago and just ran the Busch race. I didn't have any Cup stuff to do. We just went out and had some dinner around and explored and went up and down the main drag there, I think what is it, Highway 1?
Q. Route 1 is the highway. Route 13 is where the stores are and everything.
KYLE BUSCH: I think it was 13 we went up and down.
Q. Where did you eat, do you remember?
KYLE BUSCH: We just went to T.G.I. Friday's .
Q. Take us back to last year, how vividly do you remember the experience of the first time?
KYLE BUSCH: The past couple weeks, I'm kind of getting more and more familiar with what went on. I remember starting and having a fast race car and driving it through the field. You know, being able to get up towards the front, and then my brother was up there and he was very fast. I knew we were going to race with him. We were going to race with Kenseth, and then we were going to race with Biffle. And coming down towards the ends of the race, my brother, he spun out in front of me, I believe it was or something like that, and then it was on between Kenseth and I, we were able to battle it out. We passed him and came to a caution with 12 to go and we could not decide whether or not we wanted to come for tires or not. And.
Then I was going to thank everybody on the pit road and they all followed me, so we came in and I got in the box too close to the pit wall so we could only change two tires. That ended up be the call that was able to win us the race. So we went on from there to pass, I think it was Robby Gordon and Jeff Green around the outside through turns 1 and 2 and lead the final 10 or 11 or whatever laps it was in order to win.
Q. And another Top-10 in the first race there, earlier this year, how different is the August race as compared to the one back in February?
KYLE BUSCH: Well, it was pretty different for me last year, the first race of the year last year, we sat on the pole and we had a terrible run. We just -- I think we hit the wall a couple times and scraped the tires and finished 25th or something. Then we qualified 25th and finished 10th or something, so we switched. Doesn't really matter where you qualify there because the place is sort of like Michigan there. The track has matured to where you can run three, four, five whatever times wide, and, you know, it's a neat place to race. The other cool thing about it is the night race, you know, just getting the track temperature down where you get more grip out of the place and the sun going down on the back straightaway. That's one of the aspects I remember was a little tough. But some guys, they tape their windshields up enough or they put some smudge (ph) on their visors where it doesn't bother you, too much but you definitely notice it, of course going down the back straightaway. So I think the night race is a little bit different than the day race and I hope we run just as well as we did there laughed year. If we finished 10th in the spring this year, hopefully we can get another one this fall.
Q. On the personal front, your brother officially eliminated from Chase contention. Is it weird for you to more than likely make the Chase and have Kurt not make it?
KYLE BUSCH: No, it's not weird at all. Talking with him, he's had a tough season. You know, it's been a lot of a learning curve for him this year trying to understand the Penske chassis and Penske bodies and Penske race cars that they have over there. You know, the team itself, the team is relatively new. There's a new crew chief and a new engineer and a couple new crew guys, as well.
So you know, it's kind of like a rookie season, if you will, all over again for Kurt, having to go through all the learning curves that you have to when you join a new team. It was not crazy that he didn't make the Chase. I was hoping he would so he could stay in there and have the two Busch brothers in, but it wasn't meant to be here in 2006, so maybe we'll see it in 2007.
Q. The question I have for you, every time I talk to your crew chief, I'm just so blown away by how smart he is, and then you think about you guys being in the Chase and you kind of shake your head and you think, you know, could you guys compete with guys that have the veteran experience. You talk about making mistakes, that you're a young guy, don't be too hard on yourself; can you guys compete at that level in the Chase being so young?
KYLE BUSCH: I hope we can. You know, otherwise I don't think we would be where we are today. If we didn't feel like we would have a chance in the race, then we probably wouldn't be doing as well as we are. We would probably be stumbling along 18th, 20th in points or something like that.
Like I said before the team is very strong. Alan is very strong, he knows what he's doing, he knows what he needs in his race cars, and I feel like I know what to tell him and what I want to feel in the race car so he can help me out and get that feel. The biggest thing is just trying make sure we play out Saturday nights or Sundays right. You want to make sure you are in the right position and making the right pit calls and doing right strategies you need to be doing.
Throughout the Chase, you know, if there's aspects that are thrown at you, like Watkins Glen you have to go in the pits and change out some stuff, and if you come out and get five lucky dogs, so be it, you take advantage of it when you can and hopefully have a good day with it. Otherwise, you'll be disappointed in the end result, but you'll just have to keep digging along. There's always next week.
Q. Last year when you were pretending you were in the Chase just to have the practice of being in it, what did you learn doing that?
KYLE BUSCH: Well, we learned that there was sometimes that I made the rookie mistake, I tried overdriving my car too much. We were running third or fourth at Homestead and came out of the pits on the second pit stop and got hit by somebody, and knocked the front -- right where the headlight was, we knocked it down a little bit and it was rubbing the tire and made the car very, very loose. So instead of just following back a little bit and going back to 20th or 25th and struggling along until the next pit stop to fix it, I just overdrove the car and ended up spinning out and hitting the fence. So it wasn't a good day for us.
Those are the kind of things you want to watch out for and make sure don't happen. You take it easy on pit road more than maybe what you would throughout the season, and you want to make sure that if you do have problems, like we did at Michigan, instead of running around there with a bent in fender and knocking the wall down, we probably should have just came in right away like Jimmie Johnson did and fixed it and tried to salvage a 12th or 14th place finish.
Q. You had many learning curves thrown at you early in life and you learned well, can you comment on how that might affect your future?
KYLE BUSCH: I hope it's going to be a long future. I know some day hopefully there won't be as much during a year that I'll have to learn, but you're very right in saying that I've had plenty to learn and being at such a young age. But the career I chose, that's what I wanted to do, I wanted to become a race car driver, and that's what I love to do best is drive race cars as fast as I can make them go. The big thing is just trying to go out there and get the best result you possibly can, and yet try to learn the best things -- inaudible -- and I don't know what that might entail for me, we'll find out, I guess.
THE MODERATOR: Kyle, thanks for joining us. Best of luck this weekend at California Speedway, and then again at Richmond as you try to keep that fourth place standing and get into the Chase.
KYLE BUSCH: I appreciate it. Thank you and I appreciate everybody who called in today, and see y'all in California hopefully.
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