KURT BUSCH, NO. 41 HAAS AUTOMATION CHEVROLET SS, met with members of the media at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and discussed the difference of racing an Indy Car and Stock Car on the 2.5-mile track, his connection to Indianapolis following his attempt at the double in May and many other topics. Full Transcript:
MODERATOR: Now joining us, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet for Stewart Haas Racing, Kurt Busch. Kurt, you’re kind of a rock star here in the month of May, doing the double at the Indianapolis 500, the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte. You had quite a tremendous experience. Talk about coming back to this track for the first time after that stellar run here in the month of May.
KURT BUSCH: This feels like an off weekend now, I only have to do 400 Miles. The way that the month of May went was a tremendous feeling and a sense of accomplishment. I really enjoyed it all the way through with the two race teams, of course, with Andretti Autosport, Stewart Haas Racing, and all the people along the way that helped make that double happening. Still writing thank-you notes. It’s incredible the amount of people that we touched and that reached out to us. So it’s a lot of fun to come back to Indianapolis and see Doug Boles again. I won’t be bumping into any of the IndyCar folks but the atmosphere here at Indianapolis is always special, and now I have a greater appreciation for the Speedway. And I hope the respect that I’m going to show it this weekend, it will help me bounce up on some of my results here at the track. It’s been tough in a stock car here for me. The diamond-cut surface is one of the unique challenges in our sport where the track is fresh and it’s fast when we first get out there here in a couple hours. And then the track rubbers in after every practice session and continues to get greasier and greasier, and it’s just because the rubber is filling in those diamond grooved surfaces. So the track goes through a big change throughout the weekend. And we’ll, of course, adjust to the changing track conditions. And our team has turned a good corner since Indianapolis when I ran here in May.
The stock car side, when we unloaded at Pocono in June, that seemed like we were, you know, grabbing another gear and our team has found a good rhythm since then. So we’re hoping to cash in on some of those set-up notes and procedures that we’ve been following since the first Pocono where we finished third. So looking forward to running around here in a stock car. And driving down into Turn One won’t be the same at 220, it will be around 200 today, but Indianapolis always challenges you no matter what car you’re driving and you have to respect the track.
Q: Hi, Kurt. Two quick questions. First, has the enormity of what you accomplished as a rookie here in the 500 set in with you now that you’ve had some time in the rearview mirror?
BUSCH: It has. It was a sense of personal accomplishment that I didn’t know I’d be able to obtain, and I genuinely have so many unique feelings from the whole experience. I mean, 1100 miles was the goal. The second goal was to challenge myself in a different form of motorsports, which is to run the IndyCar. The third objective was to promote motorsports in general on what significance and return on investment motorsports can give a company, whether it’s the IndyCar side or whether the stock car side or a unique adventure such as the 1100 miles. The fourth reason was to do it for our troops, do it for the military on Memorial Day weekend and to have all the social media outlets to be able to reach out through and to connect and have a lot of our branches of military pulling for us. And the fifth reason was, hey, let’s just do it, let’s go out there and have fun and go 220 miles an hour into Turn One and hold it wide open.
No regrets. I really enjoyed it. Afterwards it felt like it took a week or two to settle back into the Cup rhythm. But overall to have a plaque to say Rookie of the Year, Indianapolis, to qualify at 230 miles an hour for a four-lap average, that was exciting.
I guess there is the one regret. I should have stayed for qualifying on Saturday and tried to stay locked into that Fast 9. My objective was to be top 15. We were knocking on the door. We were third fastest when I left and then we got to Charlotte and a loose lug nut made us have to start in the back of the Allstar Race. To do it all over again, yeah, I would love to have a shot to come back on Sunday and go for the pole.
That’s been the big question. Will I come back and do it again? Every day I wake up and like, yes, let’s do it again. Then there are thoughts of I finished sixth, that’s pretty special. I don’t know if I could achieve that result again.
And then Andretti will text you, Marco will text you. The relationships from the open-wheel side that I opened up whether it’s Jimmy Vasser at KV Racing or Ed Carpenter with his race team. It’s really unique to talk to a lot of the team owners and other drivers on the IndyCar side to see if it can and will happen again.
Q: Quick follow-up. The 2015 Cup schedule will be coming out pretty soon. Any changes you’d like to see?
BUSCH: Oh, my. Could I be president for the day and then decide what we’re going to do? Wow, there’s so many opportunities. I think the first one should be the final race should be bid on like a committee such as the Super Bowl. There’s a committee that goes around and it gets filled in with who does the best job with their community to present themselves as the frontrunner to have the Super Bowl. Why not do that with our final stock car race?
You know, The Chase, I think Chicago is a great place to start it off. Those Chase races are valuable. And could we mix it up and change some of the races that are in The Chase and not in The Chase?
One unique thing is maybe we should take Talladega out of The Chase, put Richmond in The Chase and use Talladega as the cutoff to get into The Chase? Why not? Because we’re all driving around, they’re very tentative and trying not to get in a wreck at Talladega. But why not make it the final race to get in and throw a huge wild card in to try to make it into The Chase. Because by then you have 15 guys that are pretty much locked in. That means those top 15 guys are going to throw it on the line to try to win. They’re not going to be riding in the back to protect their points. To change the schedule, I would change Richmond and Talladega, and it works because NASCAR owns both those tracks.
Q: Kurt, you touched on it in your opening of the new respect you have for Indianapolis. So if you could expand upon that and how different did arriving this morning, if anything, feel?
BUSCH: The respect that I have is how motorsports has evolved. I mean, the track was built early in the 1900s and technology in motorsports and the open-wheel world, it was a challenge between man and machine, and they came to Indianapolis to prove themselves. One of the stories from my month of May was sitting down with Mario Andretti, just having a coffee one of the mornings. He’s talking about the ’81 Indy 500 and how he still won it but they took it away from him. Then he went back a few decades before that and talked about in 19 — I think it was ’67 he said, that he was having some overheating trouble with his car. And this is back in the day of creative ingenuity and building your own car and you’re there with your team wrenching on it to try to find the speed. He said his car was overheating, so they put a pan on the radiator to draw air quickly out of it on the backside of the car. And he said from that moment the whole car dropped down in the back and the front wasn’t turning as well. So he put these little wickers on the front of the car. He put these little wings on the front to try to get the front to turn. The discovery of down force happened by accident is what Mario was trying to tell me, and from that point forward we started to see big wings built onto these cars and the speeds went through the roof at that point.
That’s when you’re challenging now cars to go over 200 in an open cockpit and the safety of what we know as today’s drivers wasn’t what it is today. The safety with the seat belts and head restraints and things they didn’t have then, that’s when it really gives you a true sense of danger and when you’re on that edge of driving an open-wheel car at 200 miles an hour at Indianapolis. So that’s the respect that I found for the track during the month of May on how dangerous it really was decades ago and how those pioneers were pushing the envelope of speed and danger. And it really came true on Sunday morning when Father Gruber [?] was having mass for me and my family, little Houston, he’s nine years old, he started to cry. He had that moment of Kurt might not come back, he might get hurt or something. It was really a unique feeling of the unknown going into Sunday morning at Indianapolis.
Q: This is a preview question just for next week. At Pocono you’ve had a lot of success. You recently finished third there in June. How will you and this new 41 team build from that and pull out a win?
BUSCH: That’s a good race to change some of our setups and cash in on a third-place finish. Where I felt like we could do better is the tunnel turn at Pocono, and here at Indianapolis we have four of those. We have four 90-degree corners, and so if we can capitalize on what we did there at Pocono, we’ll be better here. And what we can fix from here, we’ll be better at Pocono next week. Is that where we go next week or no? Go to Watkins Glen? Pocono and then Watkins Glen. So hoping that tunnel turn that we knew we could be better in, we’ll fix that for today and we’ll be better at Pocono in two weeks.
Q: Kurt, you mentioned one of the things about doing the double was just to challenge yourself, a new challenge as a race car driver. Beyond the IndyCar thing, OK, you’ve got that thing done. Are there other things that you would like to try to do to challenge yourself that are different?
BUSCH: Mike Helton asked me that same question afterwards, I told him monster trucks. I don’t know what’s next. I really have found over the last few years, you know, the different owners I’ve talked with and the different situations that have come up, it’s been great to drive anything and everything over the years. Half the battle of finding success is teaming up with a good team. And I don’t know what’s around the corner next and we’ll keep our eyes open. But right now my focus is on this 41 car and the Haas Automation Chevy and making it as fast as I possibly can and giving my undivided attention to it to be more competitive and to make a good run through this Chase this year.
Q: Fans have called in and said those who have raced open wheel and have spent time at this track, if there’s any benefit at all, you know, obviously maybe there’s a feeling of comfort or sort of a momentum or mojo because the vehicles are so different. But is there any sort of thing that you learned by what you’ve been able to do here in an IndyCar?
BUSCH: There’s still the experience level from a Cup car that you can’t duplicate. And so today I can’t feel like I can go out there because I’ve been at 230, the stock car is going to be easy today? And then there’s the tire wear issue. You always have to be tentative early on with the tires in a stock car here. In IndyCar there was no worry of tire drop-off or wearing out too quickly. So it’s matter of more of the experience level that you have as a stock car guy and respecting Indy and knowing what to do with each practice session and qualifying session and then in the race.
Q: Kurt, over here to your left. This weekend you’re back to being a veteran instead of a rookie when you were here for the 500. You brought a lot of exposure not only to the 500 but to the series itself. What kind of testimonial would you give to fans that don’t follow the series and about the drivers as well?
BUSCH: It’s a tremendous group of drivers, team owners. And the sport of IndyCar I think is at a healthy status. It’s back similar to where I remember it in the early ’90s before the split on how you have a group of competitive owners and then the drivers. They’re so deep with talent and skill. The oval experience that they all have now, such as Castroneves, I mean he won his first Indy 500 in ’01, his oval experience, and guys like Will Power who are tenacious on the road courses and the Andretti group has now molded into a bona fide championship contender. They won with Ryan Hunter-Reay a couple years back and then they won the Indy 500 this year. The depth I think, when I’ve looked at different racing series throughout my career, you go through depth to find the strength. And I grew up on the West Coast running the Featherlite Southwest Series and then we also had Winston West out there. And there’s usually only about 12 competitive Winston West cars and then the Featherlite Southwest Series there was around 30 that would show up each week. IndyCar is getting back to that. They’re getting back to depth and competitiveness all the way through their field.
Q: This might be impossible to measure but it feels like the city has embraced you. I was walking in The Circle yesterday, the Monument Circle and there’s big posters of you that you had autographed. Feels like people here, I guess because what you had done, just seemed to almost consider you a honorary Hoosier or something now. Do you sense that at all when you come here? Do people say stuff along those lines to you?
BUSCH: I was at a Chevy autograph session this morning and another stage appearance and the Indiana natives and a lot of the Midwesterners were real excited as a stock car fan to come to Indy and watch me race. It’s been great to receive the congrats and the respect from the Midwesterner fans. What I saw here in the month of May was very different than what it is here in July and August. It’s their big backyard party. It’s their moment to show the world what Indianapolis means and what this oval has always meant to them. And so the people make this Speedway what it is and it’s very special. I’m glad that they were rooting me on. And even when I got back to Charlotte, the crowd was there, “Hey, our NASCAR boy went up there and did good and we’re proud of him.” That was a special feeling. Now we’re back here, a regular Cup weekend. My focus is with the Cup car but it’s been great to have the Midwestern fans support me and some of that comes from Tony Stewart. I raced for Stewart Haas Racing and Tony is the strongest Indiana native that we had in our garage area. Sometimes that bleeds off when you’re racing for an owner that’s from this area.
BUSCH: We haven’t had talks yet. After the month of May and winding down through June, and just like today coming back to the Speedway, there’s different moments of when it tells me, yes, let’s go do it again. Then there’s moments of just wait, let things pan out. My focus right now honestly is that 41 car and The Chase that’s coming up.
We last year went to — I don’t remember which date it was, and said this has to be our cutoff. So I think we’ll have some talks again. We’ll have some other dinners and time to hang out. We’ll see what presents itself. I mean, I’m more than willing to jump back in and try to do a full 1100 miles because that’s the objective, to complete all 1100. It’s something special and it’s a target, and it’s only been achieved once. It’s very difficult to do.