Chevy Racing–NASCAR–Daytona Speedweeks–Media Day–Kurt Busch

FEBRUARY 13, 2019

KURT BUSCH, NO. 1 MONSTER ENERGY CAMARO ZL1, met with members of the media and discussed his return to Chevrolet, winning the Daytona 500, his brother’s upcoming milestone and many other topics. Full Transcript:

What is the memory that you have of something that happened in the Daytona 500? Is there something that always comes back to you?
KURT BUSCH: I have one from the losses, then I have one from the win.
The loss that sticks with me was 2005. I wanted to make a move on Jeff Gordon on the back straightaway on the last lap. As I went to look out to make the pass, because I had a good run from the guys behind me, it was a line of Chevys. I was in a Ford that year. It was Dale Jr. behind me and I think it was Jeff Burton and a line of guys were ready to go with Dale Jr. I was going to get hung out to dry.

I came back to second. That one stayed with me for a while.

Did you rethink it?

KURT BUSCH: I wanted to try to go to the outside, just go for it, see what would happen. Didn’t win that race. To come back in 2017, have that opportunity to make a move on the last lap, pass Kyle Larson to the outside, that will be a memory that will stick with me forever because I didn’t have my mirror. My mirror broke, the bracket broke. I couldn’t see out behind me. I had to rely on the spotter to tell me, Yeah, you got three car lengths, four. I was hoping and praying he would say five next. If he would have said four, back down to three, that meant they would have caught me back around to the finish line.

Happy to have won it a couple years ago. But also, the memory of not pulling out and going for it on that last lap in 2005 stuck with me for a while.

Working together with teammates, when you start doing it, different type of racing the last few years, what was it like to get adjusted to that? Now with the new manufacturer, how do you start talking with your teammates about how to work closely together?

KURT BUSCH: The way the teammates have always approached restrictor plate racing is you work together 99% of the time, and you do it with a conscious effort. At the same time, you don’t go out of your way to have to find the teammate. If it works out, it works out, you’re there.
When it gets down to the closing stages, there’s that car number that’s on my door, and that’s the car that I’m racing for, and my guys are racing for. So, you somewhat separate from your teammates when you think you have the right opportunity to go for the win.

Now that you’re with a different manufacturer, how do you look into that? Do you have conversations with other drivers or is that done at a higher level?
KURT BUSCH: I tried to express some of that concern to Chevrolet, how the Fords put that effort forth at 100% level to work together as much as they can. Penske, it’s not just two guys, they have four. That’s somewhat not thought of in the proper way. They have four strong cars. SHR, four strong ones. The Roush cars are always good. Then you have the Front Row Motorsports guy that get the A engines from Yates for the restrictor plates.
A lot of Fords out there. The Chevys are outnumbered in that sense. Yes, we do need to work together the best we can to win in numbers and have that percentage chance when it comes down to the end on getting a bowtie in Victory Lane.
(No microphone.)
KURT BUSCH: With my ticket giveaway to our military. That was something I’ve been thinking about doing for years. The best way that I could get support in making it simple, clean and easy for our troops, for the racetracks, was to get ISC involved from the corporate side, and to get SMI, all of Bruton’s tracks involved. We still need to circle around with Dover, Indianapolis and Pocono. Those are towards the summer months.
I wanted to make it simple, That program that puts veteran tickets together from the NBA, Major League Baseball, football. Any sporting program that veterans want to go to, they go to first and see what tickets are available.

I’m very happy that I have a chance to put a hundred tickets out there for every race for military families, veterans, whatever, to be able to come to our races and enjoy.

Is this the first outreach you’ve done to bring the troops to the track?
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, I feel like it’s a small way to say thank you. The sacrifices that all those men and women have made, even the families that are at home when their service member is gone, it’s tough on the families and everybody involved.

Each time I visit the military bases, the hospitals, they inspire me. I’m moved by them. This is a way for me to say thank you. It’s the KB 100 ticket giveaway. Every race, a hundred tickets, all theirs. I hope I’ll have the chance to meet some of them as the year progresses.

Since you’re going with a Chevrolet team this year, with Chevrolet having a year under their belt with the Camaro, Ford bringing in a new Mustang, do you feel more comfortable going to Chevrolet this year because of the year under their belt?

KURT BUSCH: Yeah, the up arrow is around Chevrolet this year, whereas last year was a question mark. Ford has the question mark with the Mustang. All of us really do with the new rules package on how it’s going to play out at the mile-and-a-half’s.

Again, you win by numbers, and the percentage chances say that Chevrolet is going to have an up year this year. The timing worked out nicely.

(Question about working with Kyle Larson.)
KURT BUSCH: With Larson, the two of us think a lot alike. He’s always had the right demeanor with making passes or yielding to a pass. The two of us have gotten along really well on track without having to communicate. I like that in him.
There’s things I’m going to learn from him, things I’m going to teach him. I’m really looking forward to the fun aspect of a young teammate, but also to challenge him to make him better at the same time.
When you get a new crew chief, how are you able to establish that over the off-season?

KURT BUSCH: It’s about communication. It’s about being in front of one another, going to lunch, dinner as much as possible, phone calls. Over-communicating, that’s what we were doing last weekend. I was double-checking all the fuel switches, alternator switches.

One thing we messed up on was the pit strategy in our Clash race. He said, we are pitting at lap 25. I assumed we were pitting under the competition yellow. We technically pitted on lap 24 to pit under green. Those are the little things. I’m glad we made a mistake like that.
The biggest and best thing about Matt, the crew chief on the No. 1 car, is he’s a racer. He won a late model race over Thanksgiving weekend. He beat Kyle Larson and I in a go-kart race we had with Ganassi. He’s a racer. I’m looking forward to that aspect as well.
(Indiscernible) twice as many cars this coming Sunday, a little bit of luck, how much of that was talent? You’re a former Daytona 500 winner.

KURT BUSCH: Right place at the right time. Johnson had a run. I’m running third. By the time him and Menard got together and swung back up the racetrack, I was able to squeak by. My little brother, who was right behind me, got clipped. I’ve been that guy that’s been clipped a ton of times, being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Where you have the logjam of restrictor plate racing and the wrecks that happen a lot are from second to eighth. That’s where they’re all happening. When you’re in that zone, you got to watch out.

You’ve been around the sport a long time. What are some things you’d like to see going forward as they try to revamp things?

KURT BUSCH: Main one is the cars on track producing that side-by-side racing where the drivers are comfortable racing side-by-side. The side draft isn’t so important. That’s something that I’ve been trying to talk to Steve O’Donnell about, Richard Buck last year. We’ll have Jay Fabian this year. It’s the competition side of the cars on the track.
Then we can talk about the schedule, the race lengths, shorten things up, switch things up. I think we’re going to see a lot of that coming in 2020. It’s not even something we have to talk about in 2019 because we know changes are on the horizon.

Do you think that’s necessary?

KURT BUSCH: I think so. Just giving it that fresh feel with the schedule, race lengths, cars on track. Those are all coming. Different start times and things, too, to help with fans at track, then fans watching on TV.

Do you feel like drivers are being asked for input? Do you feel you’re able to have a voice?

KURT BUSCH: There’s a decent voice. Right now, it’s more an owners’ transition, owners’ market, so they’re the ones with the stronger voice.

It’s a long season in the sport. How important is it to stay focused?

KURT BUSCH: You have to pace yourself. You have to know when to run hard or relax. Relax is Wednesday or Thursday, then go after it hard again every weekend.
For me, I’ve been fortunate to have had a great mentor in Mark Martin, helping me understand working out, the physical side of it, the mental side. Now transitioning more into a nutritional role. My wife is helping with things like that.

Even at Ganassi, meeting a guy like Josh Wise, a former racer, heavy into nutrition. It’s great to learn this and that from him in this chapter in my career.

There are things you can start out doing early on, then you wear that all out, you don’t leave yourself enough room to grow and to learn in the latter part. I feel like I’ve timed out a lot of things proper.

People in other sports, either basketball or hockey, talk about how long their season is.

KURT BUSCH: I’ve had friends in the NBA, friends in Major League Baseball. There’s that grind that you have to go through, the mental approach that you have to have with it.
One unique thing after I won the Daytona 500 a couple years ago, I got to visit the Cubs at spring training, got to meet Theo Epstein. He said, Congrats on winning Daytona. Do you do Yoga?

That’s an awkward first question.

That’s the approach of every sport right now, is to find areas to help the athlete’s zone in on and be focused on and help them with their routine, to get them through their long seasons, as well.

How is your Yoga?

KURT BUSCH: Not that good yet (laughter).

The first week schedule, does that make Daytona a tougher race?

KURT BUSCH: I like it. It blends well with the veterans who have been around, know what to do, how to jump right into it. There’s none of that warmup, there’s none of that couple races. It really blends towards the veteran teams and the veteran drivers to have the Daytona 500 as our Super Bowl as the first race.

Matt was a crew chief-racer. He was successful in other series. Is this the first time you’ve ever had a crew chief like that?
KURT BUSCH: It is, yes, to have the racer-racer be the crew chief. The only other time somewhat similar was Cole Pearn was the lead engineer at Furniture Row Racing when I was there. Wasn’t the crew chief just yet. He has that racing background from the late model races he’s done up in Canada.

How is that beneficial?

KURT BUSCH: I think it’s quicker and cleaner with the communication. Sometimes there’s a nickname, we call it an ass-ometer. That’s when you are sitting in the seat, feeling something, it’s hard to explain. If the crew chief has been a racer, he knows what ass-ometer means.

(No microphone.)

KURT BUSCH: I mean, it’s tough running for a team that might not be viewed as an A-Team, so to speak. But he’s doing a great job with the equipment he has and the communication that I’ve seen him give to his crew chief, to hanging out with the other drivers. I think that’s key, as well. When you’re a driver working your way up, you have to develop relationships with other drivers, to learn from them, if you’re not at one of those A-Teams. That will help him go and deliver information to his team.

He’s doing a good job all the way around. The success at Daytona is sometimes different than the regular season. Now that he’s got a year under his belt, we hope that he improves in all the other categories that he can.

How much do you think he could become a star because of him winning?

KURT BUSCH: When Danica sat on the pole here a few years ago, we’ve had different guys like Pastrana come in, big characters that help improve the sport. I think he would move the needle because of his racing background, being part of that Drive for Diversity program, that NASCAR has invested a lot of time into it. That would really go well.
We all wish him the best of luck. If he has success, we all have success.

You were talking about fitness. Jimmie Johnson is running the Boston Marathon.

KURT BUSCH: That’s intense. I wish him luck. Maybe I’ll be up there, be his water boy. That’s way over the fitness level and commitment that I have. But it’s neat to see guys like him, Landon Cassill, Josh Wise, Almirola is a heavy biker, logging some miles on his bike.

That helps you. When you’re in the car, you know you’re giving those full hours of working out each week, that’s the mentality that helps calm you down during the race.

How remarkable is it what your brother has been able to do?

KURT BUSCH: With 200 coming up, it’s amazing. Especially when he got into the Truck Series at age 16, then NASCAR came up with rules to make sure that you had to be an adult, that kicked out the minors for a few years. Now look at the way the rules have changed. They’re encouraging the kids to come in at 16, jump into the K&N East and West. Can’t run on the big tracks till age 18.
Here he is now, my little brother, on the cusp of 200 wins. Xfinity Series, Truck Series. He’s over 50 now in Cup. When you cross that 50 threshold, that’s instant Hall of Fame access, I believe.

Speaking of Kyle, you’re making your 650th start next weekend at Atlanta, Kyle his 500th. Is there a commonality that you two share?

KURT BUSCH: It’s going to be our father. My dad Tom, our mom Gay, they helped us with everything in racing. We didn’t set out to make it our career. For me, as much. Kyle, once he saw me having success when I was in my late teens, he was 12, 13 years old, yeah, he had more of a seriousness about it.
For us to have the chance we have in NASCAR, to have the success and the championships and the wins, all came from our parents helping us out.

People always ask what does the Daytona 500 do for your career. On a different side, what has it done for you personally?

KURT BUSCH: It’s like winning a championship. I’m glad that I had the chance to win a Daytona 500 and have that bookend and that parallel to my championship that happened early in my career. Very thankful for it.
It gives you that title that goes with you everywhere. You get to tell the stories about what it means to win this race, to not have to tell the stories about what it means to finish second three times.

Getting back to the fitness aspect of things, you always hear people talk about drivers being in race shape, nothing like being in the car for 500 miles. At what point of the season do you feel comfortable again in the car, not getting dog tired, you’re back into the fitness level?

KURT BUSCH: The 500 isn’t as physical here in Daytona as some of the other 500-mile races. Next week when we go to Atlanta, that’s a tough, tough track. If you’re not ready for it, it kicks your butt, then you’re going to be behind for a few weeks.
I would say after Atlanta, that’s when you get that first taste of, Oh, it’s on again. You’re done with all of the hype, prestige, history of Daytona. You better be good after that race because if you’re not, you’re kind of working from behind.

On the fitness side, you watch the old tapes of Cale Yarborough, more movement of those guys in the car. It looks more physical. Do you assume, having not driven in that era, it’s actually more taxing now?

KURT BUSCH: I would say there’s more of a driver sensation to feel every last little bit of speed in the car, suspension movement. It might not be as physical, but then the mental side of how the draft comes into place, pit strategy, the fact that usually there’s 20 cars still on the lead lap at the end of the race, how you have to make passes.
It used to be green flag would start the race, then it would be that 500-mile pace. Now with our stages, gaining points early, midway, you have a lot more to do mentally in the car than you do physically.

With your sponsor being the series sponsor, are there things you’re asked to do besides representing your team that represent the series that are a part of that contract, I don’t want to say poster child of the series, but does that add to your schedule?

KURT BUSCH: A little bit here or there. I’m always guilty of not saying no. I’ll help out where I can. I’d love to be utilized more by the sanctioning body, by NASCAR. But I have my own appearances things.

Monster has their own strategy. We do as much as we can to help promote the sport. But my deal with the team at Ganassi, myself personally, there’s things we’re doing for Monster to move the needle in other categories. There’s the fun, there is the Energy, and also let’s make sure we get Monster cans in all of our race fans’ hands.

Six months since Brian stepped aside. Do you think these changes would have happened this way if Brian was still running the show?

KURT BUSCH: I think things were moving in the direction to have some change. This I think was an opportunity for everybody to easily hit the change button, to move things quicker.

Does having people around more than Brian, is that a factor that guys will respect the moves more that these people are here?

KURT BUSCH: I think we all appreciate Jim France being at the track as much as he has been. I would say he went to 100% of the races at year end. There was a meeting that he had with all of us champions at the ROVAL. That inspired me.
Jim France’s meeting with all of us inspired me to do my ticket giveaway this year because it gives a chance to military veterans to come to the track, bring their families. It also brings more attention and more awareness to our races. That’s what Jim France asked all of us to do.

Is there a certain kind of basic enthusiasm that maybe wasn’t there the last couple years?

KURT BUSCH: I would agree with that. All of us knew we had a better effort that we had to give. This was a nice chance for all of us to grab another gear.

As somebody that grew up around the gambling, betting industry, how do you think it could help NASCAR, that it’s beneficial, something not to be afraid of?

KURT BUSCH: I grew up in Vegas. It’s a great hometown to represent as somebody’s hometown, but my dad taught me early on they didn’t build those casinos with their own money.

Gambling is a unique situation for our sport. It draws attention, it creates excitement, and it draws people to play-by-play, which is what you see a lot of when you go to the sports books, is people betting on baseball plays, football, basketball. We’re going to see that now in NASCAR.

From my days at Miller Lite, when they were my sponsor, the two biggest weekends in Las Vegas were March Madness for the whole month of March, and then the Super Bowl. That’s all due to sports betting and people’s involvement around their favorite team or around that event.
With 38 dates on the calendar, opportunities to bet and to do in-race bets, I think it just draws more attention to NASCAR in a good way.