Kurt Busch Open Interview — Bristol

Friday, March 17, 2011

Dodge Motorsports PR Bristol Motor Speedway Food City 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup

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American Muscle

KURT BUSCH (No. 22 Shell/ Pennzoil Dodge Charger R/T) TALK ABOUT THE START TO YOUR SEASON AND BEING A FIVE-TIME WINNER AT BRISTOL? “This is a great weekend to try and build on our points. This is one of my favorite tracks on the circuit. Just the chance to figure out what we need to do here through practice; of course qualifying coming up this afternoon. We’ve got a little bit of a juggling act with the tires being changed and only having one set to practice with tomorrow. Qualifying is what it is right now. We actually have some damage. I got the right side of the car scraped off on the fence a bit, so we’re stringing the rear end, changing out some of the crash panels on the car. We’re working overtime with Shell/Pennzoil Dodge. We’ll see what we get for qualifying this afternoon. Once we settle into tomorrow, we’ll see what the scenario is for tires. Right now, I’m not a tire expert, but you can see that the race track isn’t rubbering in. It’s not getting darker as cars are making more and more laps. It’s almost like the tires are turning into powder which is similar to what we had a few years back at Indianapolis. I think Goodyear is making the right change by going back to last fall’s tire. I remember in the spring last year, we were right on edge. Some teams had trouble and some teams didn’t. This ought to put us back into a safer box and we’ll go from there.”

WITH SO MANY OF THE TOP NAMES DOWN TOWARD THE BOTTOM IN POINTS, ARE YOU CONCERNED THAT ONE BAD DAY WILL REALLY HURT YOUR POSITION IN THE STANDINGS? “It seems like the tough days really hurt you bad in points, but is it different than in years past? All’s we have to do is overlay where we were in years past versus what this new point’s system is. I think right now the way that you analyze the points from this year to last year, everybody is within a position or two of where we were in the past. It just seems awful tough to go to a race weekend, have a motor failure, finish 43rd and get one point. That’s the mental part of what the points can do to you. In the end, I think that consistency is the key. It is for the regular season and for the Chase as well.”

AS A DRIVER, DO YOU WANT THE TRACK THAT GETS TOO RUBBERED IN, OR NOT RUBBERED IN ENOUGH? “As a driver, you’d pick the tire that would last for the full fuel run. You don’t’ ever want to have to think of the tires having issues. I wish we could get back to the day when there was tire management, where you could abuse your tires and knock speed off of them if you were too aggressive. It just doesn’t seem like we have that combination with this new car. We’re either fine and sliding around or blowing out right sides. To me, I just think that the cars are too heavy, too high on center of gravity. We’ve put Goodyear in a box recently with this Car of Tomorrow. It’s been like this since 2007.”

IS IT MORE FRUSTRATING TO HAVE TIRE ISSUES AT A TRACK THAT YOU’VE BEEN SO SUCCESSFUL AT IN THE PAST? “Right now, the mindset is that we’re in survival mode. We don’t know when or if we’re going to have a tire problem. You just have to balance out your setup so that you’re not abusing the right front more than the right rear tire. We’ll see what happens in practice tomorrow. There’s times when tires are right on the edge and you have to play the tire game. In the end, we want to make sure that we drive our Shell/Pennzoil Dodge to a top-10 finish.”

IF NASCAR DOESN’T MAKE THE TIRE CHANGE, WOULD THE RACE HERE BE LIKE INDIANAPOLIS A FEW YEARS AGO? “I’m not an exact tire specialist. I love when I get a chance to do Goodyear tire tests because it helps with our team’s information. It also allows us to work closely with Goodyear to help them find the right tire. Just visually looking, the track isn’t taking rubber. When we come here and race in August, they have a truck race on Friday, there’s more practices it seems like and the track really rubbers in. In the spring race, the track really never gets rubbered up and right now it’s the lightest I’ve ever seen it. I think that it’s (the track) just chewing up the tires. What I know that fixed Indy was this extra chemical that they put into the rubber compound that makes it look like it’s ‘drawing’ on the race track; like it’s making it darker. Right now, the tires are just turning to a powder. They’re powdering off instead of laying the rubber into the race track. That’s what I saw at Indy and I’m seeing it again here.”

WAS THE ON-TRACK INCIDENT IN PRACTICE TODAY BECAUSE OR TIRE OR SETUP? “It was a combination of both. I feel like we’re struggling to get our car to tighten up on corner exit. On lap 15 I got cords sticking out of my right-rear tire. Is it the balance of the setup or is it more of the tire? That’s what we have to manage better if we’re going to be stuck on this tire but it sounds like they’re going to switch it up. We just can’t be as aggressive as we were on the right rear.”

WHAT’S THE BEHAVIOR OF THE CAR WITH THIS TIRE? “The mood of the car is just changing quicker. Your car is dialed in for seven or eight laps. Your car is fine and then once you get past lap 10 the right rear or right front just seems to be over-worked and the car is going through a bigger mood swing and getting looser and looser. I feel safe in the car; it’s just a matter of balancing out the setup a little bit better.”

WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES FOR YOUR TEAM THE NEXT FIVE RACES? “We’ve got a couple short tracks the next two out of three weeks. Fontana which has been a good track for me in years past, but I’ve struggled there recently. You mix in Texas, a very fast mile-and-a-half. We have Talladega – another restrictor plate race where I think we’ve got a really strong program. But I always like to look at the points after Talladega, after about the seventh of eighth race. That’s where you evaluate how you started the season, how your competition stacks up. Are you doing fine in points or are you behind? That’s the thing you look at heading into that off week. It’s just too bad that there isn’t a NHRA race on Easter weekend so I could go out and play.”

ARE YOU PLANNING TO RUN THE NHRA EVENT IN DENVER? WHAT WAS THE RESPONSE IN THE NASCAR GARAGE? “It was positive. It was just an incredible experience to build the team out of just a group of volunteers. To go through the testing and go to Roy Hill and his drag racing school, with Allen Johnson and Roy Johnson building the motors with our Mopar group. That’s the Mopar Mile High Nationals in Denver in July and it would be a perfect fit to go again. I think that there is just an overwhelming thumps up from our sponsors Shell and Dodge to go and try to do it again. It’s just that point in the season that I think that the focus needs to be on the Cup car because if we’re sitting right on that bubble of ninth, 10th, 11th in points, we just need to be focused on our Cup car. We need to be testing extra with it. We need to be doing everything that we can to get our real job into the show, which is getting into the Chase. It was a blast. I think that the fans really appreciate us being there. It was a successful weekend even though we got eliminated first round. It was a respectable loss. It’s funny, I’ve got the car sitting there, only missing the motor. It’s right down the road here in Bristol where Allen Johnson’s shop is. We’ve got all the bugs worked out of the car. It just seems like it’s itching me to go again and go play and have some fun. If we’re safe in points, that’s when I’ll go ask Roger Penske if I can go again and race. I’m not sure what the drop-dead cutoff point in making a decision would be. We’d have to test. You just can’t show up in Denver and expect that altitude to not give you fits. It’s going to be a tougher challenge to get our car down the race track in higher altitude.”

DID THE OFF-WEEKEND HELP YOUR TEAM? “Anytime there is a week off, you can take a deep breath, sit back and figure out how you’re stacked up. It was helpful for us at Penske Racing to have an off week to get caught up, building some more race cars. It’s tough though because you only have three races under your belt. It felt like it was just time to get going and then there was a break. I think most teams are looking forward to the April off weekend. From that point is where you make some big adjustments to you program.”

HAS YOUR SHORT-TRACK STYLE OF RACING HELPED AT BRISTOL? HAVE YOU TALKED TO KYLE ABOUT IT? “I think the way that you have to drive short tracks is to attack the track to a certain point and then you have to respect the race track because it will jump up and bite you pretty quick. If you’re overdriving the race car, that’s the easiest way to get into trouble. The key to Bristol is to protect your race car and to look as far ahead of the car in front of you as you can to absorb when there is going to be side-by-side racing or when somebody is checking up. One of the cleanest looking cars is usually the one that pulls into victory lane because he’s not rubbing guys the wrong way or he didn’t get into trouble throughout the event and he protected his car.”

IF YOU’RE GOING TO RACE ON A DIFFERENT TIRE, WHY WOULD YOU RUN THIS LAST PRACTICE SESSION? “We just learned that they’re going to change the tire and we’re only going to get one set for tomorrow (testing). That will be an important set of tires. What we can do is turn it into more of a test session and just evaluate changes on the race car and not necessarily dial it in for track conditions. We’ll get the car close, get it in the ballpark. I think we’ll use that set of tires in the latter stages of practice just to see where we are. We’ll make a 20 lap run, make an adjustment and go make another 20 lap run and see how it shakes out.”

ARE THE TIRES CLOSE ENOUGH TO GAIN INFORMATION IN THIS LAST PRACTICE? “They’ll be close enough. It’s the tire that we ran here in August and with not testing procedures these days, you’re chomping at the bit to go test at a race track that you race. This is that opportunity. We’ll just turn it into a test session.”

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com.


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