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NASCAR MEDIA CONFERENCE
March 6, 2007
DENISE MALOOF: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the NASCAR NEXTEL teleconference. Our guest today is the 2004 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series champion and Las Vegas native Kurt Busch, who is the driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge. Kurt is 19th in the series standings after two events and he's coming off a seventh place finish two weeks ago at California Speedway. He also participated along with his peers in last week's Car of Tomorrow test at Bristol Motor Speedway, ahead of this Sunday's UAW-Daimler Chrysler 400 at his home town track, and he is actually testing today in North Carolina.
Kurt, I know it's always good to go home to Las Vegas. Do you think this is a breakout weekend for you guys?
KURT BUSCH: It's always great to go home and it's always great to have a fresh shot at winning at your hometown track. What I mean by that is with the new repaving job and the new banking, everybody has got a fresh and equal opportunity to see how they can showcase their skills up against the best of the best when it comes to stock car racing.
I'm happy about it. I think the track has done a great job getting prepared for this event. Bruton Smith has invested quite a bit of money into the Las Vegas Motor Speedway and the Neon Garage, the new Pit Road, the new banking.
It just seems like every year you go to Vegas, you can't get away from construction, but the city continues to get better and the racetrack continues to get better.
Q. This actually is kind of a question in regard to Mark Martin, but I kind of want to put yourself in his shoes. If you were leading the points but you were near the end of your career and didn't want to race a full season, how hard would it be for you as a driver to step out of the car if you were leading the points say after the fourth race of the season?
KURT BUSCH: Well, he's just done the best job out of all the competitors in the first two races. I've been the points leader after two races before, I've been 40th before.
You have to look at the points as a book of races, and after ten races if he's leading, definitely pull the trigger, jump on in and do what you can to run all the races. If he's not contractually prepared to run Las Vegas, yeah, it's definitely an interesting situation, but you have to look at the points in a broader scale and not just two races.
Q. You raced with him at Roush Racing years back so you know him a little bit. Do you think he's the kind of person that would change his mind and try to do a full schedule if he has the shot to make the Chase?
KURT BUSCH: I didn't quite get the first part of your question, but to be in Mark Martin's shoes with the team that he's with, you can tell that he's happier now, and he's got a new outlook on what he can do with the twilight of his career with racing Trucks, Busch Cars, Cup Cars, and to have an opportunity to be leading the points in Cup after never winning a championship, he definitely has a unique opportunity in front of him.
So it's just being in that situation, and I think that he's got a fresh outlook, and right now he's got that blend of chemistry that a lot of teams search for when they're trying to put a new driver in and a new crew chief in place, and right now they've been able to do a better job than most when you come together with a new team.
Q. Could you just talk about some of the changes that were made at the track that you've noticed during testing just in general?
KURT BUSCH: The general shape of Las Vegas now is all about speed and having multiple grooves of banking to run on. The old Las Vegas track was what most drivers considered a flat track, and it was tough to negotiate through the corners with any kind of speed.
Now we carry that speed to the corner, it definitely puts more emphasis on aerodynamics as well as engines, trying to build the appropriate power with the durability.
And they've moved Pit Road closer to the grandstands. It was very far away before, so now it gives a new perspective for those fans that are up close on the grandstand seating; probably the first 20 rows, they're going to be right on top of Pit Road.
They've got new garages, the Neon Garage, it creates an atmosphere where the fans can come inside the 1.5 mile oval and enjoy the garage atmosphere with windows and viewing areas for the drivers and the teams as well as the different Vegas shows that they'll put on in that Neon Garage center court.
So all around, it puts more excitement and more ticket value to the race fan that's going to show up and go to Las Vegas Motor Speedway, whether they're from Las Vegas, all my hometown fans, or if they're visiting and having a nice vacation in the early part of March, they're going to enjoy their time.
Q. Do you feel when you get to go home for this race, is it more pressure on you or does it put you at ease being around your friends and family?
KURT BUSCH: You know, it seems like I put more pressure on myself to do well and race hard and go for that win, but most teams do the same thing that I'm doing because Vegas is one of those prestigious events that we race each other. There's probably a handful, a top five, you could say, of tracks that teams look forward to, and just the value of winning seems to be more prestigious, and Vegas is one of those.
Everything is comfortable to me because I know the people and surroundings and have grown up there, but yet I want to bring it home for the hometown, so to speak.
Q. What are your thoughts on the new harder left-side tires that you're going to have to use out here this weekend?
KURT BUSCH: The immediate -- I guess the way that it's going to affect the race cars by having a harder left-side tire is it will slow the cars down and help hold the right side of the tires from not abusing themselves so much. But when you slow down, that's the only way not to abuse tires, and that's what the left-side tire will do is it'll slow the speeds down a little bit.
Is it the right thing to do? I hope it is. I definitely know that bringing a smaller fuel cell will help ease the pain that Goodyear officials think is coming our way. But with a harder tire and a smaller cell, we should have the right balance for the most racing action we can possibly find.
Q. And then the temperature is supposed to be in the high 70s, maybe even low 80s and sunny. How will that affect the asphalt, and is it a bigger factor because it's new asphalt?
KURT BUSCH: Well, it'll probably affect the beer sales in the grandstands, I know about that.
Q. The Miller Lite sales do you mean?
KURT BUSCH: Oh, for sure, I'll go for that. I didn't know it was going to be that warm. I think everybody is excited about that. Each year we've been out there, especially last year, we were fighting off flurries. It'll make the track a little warmer, it'll make the tires run a little warmer, but these Goodyear tires are as hard as they can be for the construction as well as the tread. It enables itself to breathe easier and not retain the temperature. So it should provide for grip and almost equal out the fact that we're running on these harder tires to slow us down. We may see the same speeds we saw in testing.
Q. You were out there testing the new COTs. Do you think fans are going to embrace these new cars, and what's your personal reaction? Do you like it? Do you think it's a good-looking car, good-handling car?
KURT BUSCH: I think the general concept of the Car of Tomorrow is a fantastic idea, and the development has gone straight through the roof recently with getting these cars up to speed and all the teams comfortable, especially with just the recent test at Bristol Motor Speedway.
So the car in general I think has quite a few safety implements that have been added that will help drivers feel safer in the cars, as well as when there is an accident or a crash that these cars will help provide better support for the driver.
Secondly, these cars are bigger and boxier and made to create a bigger hole in the air to allow side-by-side racing or nose-to-tail racing, similar to what we see in the Truck Series, except it's 43 cars.
So the car all around has a positive influence on our sport, and I believe the fans will observe it over time. Time is the best medicine for anything new or for anything that changes place. So it definitely will create a big buzz the next few weeks, and then after Martinsville, two races under its belt, everybody will evaluate the car then. I think you need to give it a fair shake before you evaluate it.
Q. In testing do you notice any differences? Is it harder to handle, easier to handle, or is it about the same?
KURT BUSCH: It's more of an old-school feel, so I don't know if guys like Mark Martin will just take off and run circles around us, or if the car is just lending itself to some of the older technology that we're used to with cambers and springs, so we'll see how it shapes up.
We've got two unique race tracks with Bristol and Martinsville. The only thick they are share is about the same size. We'll see how it suits up after that, but it's more of an old-school thought process when you're setting the car up.
Q. I've just been sitting here thinking about hometowns and home race tracks, and for decades in NASCAR, when we talk about hometowns, home tracks, we talk about Tony Stewart from sleepy Columbus, Indiana, and staid and stately Indianapolis Motor Speedway, or the Burtons from South Boston, Virginia, rustic Martinsville. Can you kind of talk about Las Vegas as a hometown? This ain't exactly Mayberry you grew up in, and you're going to a track that's got Vegas shows in it now.
Can you talk about when you come home -- like Tony Stewart might see the courthouse and be nostalgic. Do you say, okay, I see Caesar's Palace on the skyline and the Luxor beacon, and gosh, it's down home, and I go out to that racetrack and Vegas shows and it's just really homeboy stuff? Could you talk about from that context of the very unusual hometown and home track you've got?
KURT BUSCH: Well, it definitely is a unique city to represent as my hometown. My family is from the city of Chicago, the suburbs, and when they moved out there in the early '70s, there was nothing there. It was a small gas stop between Salt Lake City and LA, and to see the town grow, to see the town develop and turn into the gaming mecca that it is and the entertainment capital of the world, I never knew anything different.
I thought Columbus, Ohio, was the same thing, or I thought that Oxford, Maine, was the same, as well. So to go around and travel now, to see more of the country obviously and to be on the road as much as I am, it definitely makes me miss Vegas because of how upbeat it is or how 24/7 you could say that the town is and just the general demeanor that when you grow up there, you're on the go. You're either swallowed or you keep digging hard because you're going to get swallowed up.
So that was the mentality I brought to the racetrack when I first started because of trying to stay afloat, so to speak, in a big city?
Q. Could you talk a little bit about the childhood years? Tony used to tell about the people he knocked a baseball through their window, and I recall a magazine story of one time you said something about you guys used to hang out at Caesar's and the rollerskating waitresses, sometimes you'd toss M & M's out on the floor and see if you could spin them out. Could you talk about formative years, teen years in Las Vegas?
KURT BUSCH: Well, I had a normal childhood with breaking out windows of cars or the next-door neighbor's window from playing baseball. We always thought hardball was better than tennis balls for some reason.
To have ten years of little league baseball as an experience as a kid and riding my bike to school just like anybody else would, it wasn't uphill in the snow both ways, but I was riding my bike to school. Just to go to my prom and to have a normal childhood, so to speak, there was a city outside of Las Vegas, and everybody just thinks of Vegas as the strip and the glitter and the glamour.
But there is a decent school system there, the Clark County School District, went to school, graduated from high school with honors, and as I was doing that I was probably rolling around in my Volkswagen Bug up and down the strip because that's what there was to do. That might be Main Street USA to anybody else, but it was the Las Vegas strip with my buddies hanging out the windows and out the sunroof. So we did the normal things, as well, it just seemed like there was a lot more neon around us than on a normal city.
Q. You were out there for the test in January and saw that moonscape construction site. I wonder, did you think to yourself how in the world are they going to get all this done before the race weekend?
KURT BUSCH: Not anymore. I've now realized after building a house, a race shop and a condo that they can get stuff done in the last minute. To procrastinators, the last minute is the most motivating thing in the world.
I have full assurance that everybody out at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with Chris Powell and Bruton Smith, my buddy the PR guy Jeff Motley, they're all getting it put together and we'll have the best third race of the year that we could ever have.
Q. Can you just talk about the fact that you came out of the gate this year, you have great car at Daytona and had the unfortunate incident, then a solid seventh at California. Matt Kenseth was talking about the apprehension of a new season and how you just don't know for sure until you get on the racetrack in race conditions how you're going to be. After having a somewhat difficult season last year, how encouraged are you with the way your cars have run the first two races of the year?
KURT BUSCH: Well, it's definitely satisfying to know that we've put too much effort into our off-season testing to see some of the results right away, but there's still so many question marks swirling around in our head about what this next race in Vegas will do for us.
Atlanta, I think we've got a good handle there on what we can expect. But then we run Bristol and Martinsville with the Car of Tomorrow. So this season more than most is a season of change with the race teams and the race cars out on the track. So it definitely feels good to know that we've run well and led most laps at Daytona and finished good at California. But hey, it's here for us, now we just need to continue heading down this road.
Sometimes you carve a path and you don't know if it's the right path or not. But this seems like we're doing what we need to do right now to get back on track.
Q. I was curious how you feel with just one teammate racing against other teams that have three or four or five. Can you tell the difference when you came over from Roush or how has it been with the lack of teammates to share information with?
KURT BUSCH: It seems like we have to work a little harder to gather the information. There's not just five teams on the ground all the time doing testing; there's only two of us. And right now I'm at a small short track in North Carolina and Ryan Newman is up in Kentucky, and so we hope to come back tomorrow with a couple cars still intact and all kinds of information to look at.
That's probably one of the tougher aspects of a smaller team is more testing, and there's more pressure, so to speak, at a test because we're the only ones gathering the information. There's nobody to double-check the information with, so to speak. We're definitely doing what we can as a two-car team and sharing great information. We just don't have the quantity, so we've got to make sure we have quality information.
Q. Do you sense on your team that Penske is kind of making a shift in emphasis from its open-wheel operation to NASCAR?
KURT BUSCH: Not at all. I'm real excited to the fact that we just moved the IRL team down to North Carolina and we have everybody under the same roof. But you'll still see the IRL cars zooming around running 1 and 2 and these Cup Cars gaining momentum and hopefully getting up to that same quality level that the IRL cars have.
But a guy named Tim Cindric, the general manager who calls the shots for Helio Castroneves in IRL is also the general manager of the Cup program.
So he has a little bit to learn with the Cup jargon, so to speak. He's like, well, why can't you pit when you're the lucky dog? You can in IRL. But Tim does a really good job at lining up crew members and lining up personnel so that they can read each other, work with each other and continue to make this program grow.
So we're definitely putting as much emphasis as we can on it, we just can only do so much at one time.
Q. Roger whining about every other shirt you've been in, do you think he really wants it bad in NASCAR these days? I suppose he must.
KURT BUSCH: I would say that he does. Just as much as he's won 14 Indianapolis 500s, he has no Daytona 500s, and that's why I still feel bad about Daytona and how it all went down.
But the next years they're going to wave the green flag on another race down there, and I hope that I'm there and hope I'm part of it and learn exactly what happened this year so I could translate it into a win for him because it would mean the world for me to give him a win at the Daytona 500.
Q. If you look at the odds, Michael Roberts picking Tony Stewart 6 to 1, Kyle 10 to 1 and you 22 to 1 odds, what do you believe the oddsmakers have to say about your chances there, Kurt?
KURT BUSCH: I guess it's goodbye if I was looking at the betting books, but yet it says that we need to work on our mile and a half program. And the fact that this is a hard tire and it's a new high speed racetrack that races like Charlotte, hey, all the stats show that we don't run that good. But that's why they race the races and that's why they have the sports books to make money and people to win money. So it's all fun and games to see the bookies try to rate NASCAR stats.
Q. Can I ask where you think you have improved so far? Where have the improvements come this year?
KURT BUSCH: I would just say the comfort level and the team chemistry has definitely been an improvement, as well as being able to quickly pull the trigger on a certain setup change instead of going back and forth with it. We now have a really good indication on when I'm voicing my opinion and when Roy has his opinion, as well, we both get a quicker read on each other.
Q. When you look at Las Vegas, you see the entertainment side, you see the social scene and you see a lot of temptations. When you were in the early part of your career, how did you avoid those temptations and focus on your racing career?
KURT BUSCH: I'll tell you, I grew up in probably one of the best cities to realize that they didn't make all of those hotels off their own money. It definitely was from the tourism and just the whole industry of having the gambling as well as the entertainment around the whole center strip area.
There's plenty to do outside of it, and you realize that the money is being made from people that might form habits that don't lend themselves to being successful in life, so to speak.
If you get caught up in it young, it's definitely tough to get rid of. I attribute that to my parents helping me understand that education came before play.
Q. As you've talked about, you get to look at Las Vegas as home when you go back there to race this weekend. Other drivers don't get to see it as home. Do you see them get caught up in the night life and kind of have to fight that during the week?
KURT BUSCH: You definitely see it. Guys are talking about how much money they made. Or a couple guys are like, man, I'm a few thousand bucks down. I'm like, sure, go over there and make it back up, see how it goes (laughing).
But everybody in this industry is focused and determined to win races, and they know better, that they need to be out at the racetrack focused on more important things. You might see them there on off weekends rather than during race week.
Q. The success you've had in the first two weeks, how important is it to have success at an intermediate track like Vegas this weekend?
KURT BUSCH: Well, just to keep our momentum rolling from California is a good step for us, and we know that Vegas race is different than California, and it leads right into Atlanta. So the three tracks we're definitely looking at very importantly and keeping our other eye on the Car of Tomorrow right around the corner.
Q. Have you ever found yourself in a situation like the DEI guys were at Fontana where one teammate's engine blows up and then the next teammate's engine blows up and you're waiting to see if that same part is whatever is going to give in your car?
KURT BUSCH: I've been in that situation, yes, with my previous team, except I was usually the first guy out. I was always harder on motors than most. I don't know where that comes from, but I guess the heavy race does that to you sometimes, and it's definitely a tough scenario to sit there and to see that your teammates are having trouble with engine durability and to know when your clock is going to run out.
But you do what you can and you race your car the best that you can with the setup that you have, and the motors you'd always hope are a given.
Q. Do you try to nurse the car and keep the foot down and hope that you make it till the end?
KURT BUSCH: You'll end up 32nd if you try to nurse it, and if you blew it up while you're running strong you'd probably finish 35th. It's probably the same result either way.
DENISE MALOOF: We appreciate you joining us today. Good luck this weekend in Las Vegas.
KURT BUSCH: Thank you very much. I'm definitely looking forward to our return to Las Vegas. It always seems like we have a good time when we're out there, but yet it's always too short. Maybe we should throw in a second date once we get further down the road.
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