Ford Performance NASCAR: Kurt Busch and Matt Kenseth Media Sessions at Darlington

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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS)
Bojangles’ Southern 500 Advance (Darlington Raceway, Darlington, SC)
Friday, August 31, 2018

Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Ford Fusion, has had two weeks to enjoy his Bristol win and spot in the Playoffs. He came into the Darlington infield media center before practice today to talk about that and other issues.

KURT BUSCH, No. 41 Haas Automation Ford Fusion – IS THERE ANY ONE OF THE THREE RACES IN EACH PLAYOFF ROUND THE DRIVERS CONSIDER TO BE MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE OTHER? “I think it depends on where you are in the point standings. How many bonus points you’re gonna be able to carry with you throughout the Playoffs, and then the goal of the team – the overall strength of the team. For us on the 41 car, we believe we’re a top-five program and we need to get through to that elite eight group, which is that Martinsville, Texas, Phoenix round. That’s where over the last few years of this format I see the most drama, the most stress, the most focus because if you win at one of those three, or have a good run through those three, you get to Homestead and you have a shot at the championship. But teams can look at this year with the first round as being the toughest because of the Roval and how unique that cutoff race is going to be and how you have to approach that race, and so with Truex, Harvick and my little brother, those guys have so many bonus points you could almost say they’re not stressing the Roval as much as some of the other teams are, so it just depends where you sit within in the points, the bonus points you have, and the goals of your team. But each round – three races is so short that anything can happen in three races. That’s what’s tough about this format.”

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American Muscle

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE ENDURANCE PART OF THIS RACE? “This one is tougher than the Coke 600, I think. It’s that long mental sequence of sets of tires, sets of tires, sets of tires, long green-flag runs where you’re racing the race track, and how hard the track changes throughout the race and how hard it is because the tires drop off so much, and it’s Labor Day Weekend, it’s hot, it’s muggy and this is the good old south, so it’s just a good challenge. This is where it kind of kicks in the Playoff mode with this race now, Indianapolis next week, these next 12 races you’ve got to be at your best and it’s great to come here to Darlington and kind of kick off that stretch run.”

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT VEGAS BEING THE FIRST RACE OF THE PLAYOFFS AND IS THERE MORE PRESSURE ON YOU WITH THAT BEING YOUR HOME TRACK. “Getting back to the first question, the first round of the Playoffs this year has three new race tracks in it for the first round. Richmond has never been part of the Playoffs before, neither has Vegas and obviously the Roval, and so hometown it’s exciting, it’s fun. There’s tons of stuff going on to promote the Playoffs with Las Vegas Motor Speedway and my friends out there. It’s busy, but I’m focused to go there and get a solid finish. Vegas has been a tough track on me over the years. I look at Richmond being a better opportunity for us to win, but you never know. Right now, Stewart-Haas is strong. All of the mile-and-a-halves we’ve had good chances at winning, but what we have to remember is we’ve never been to Vegas in September and it’s gonna easily be 100 degrees, 140-degree track temp. It’s gonna be a whole different setup when we get there, so I hope we’ve done our homework, our setups, even the engine department with how different the air is going to be in the feel of the engine with it being so hot out.”

HOW DID IT FEEL TO FINALLY GET THAT WIN AT BRISTOL? “We’re not here to win one, we’re here to win a bunch and it’s not a relief to win one. You want to win seven, eight – those guys are strong right now that are up in the top three and for us we’ve been very consistent this year. Bristol was a perfect race where pit stops were solid, restarts – eight out of 10 of them went our way and luck was on our side, and if we continue to do that, to be in position to win, you have to have good pit stops and good restarts with fast cars, so we just want to continue to build on it. It’s not a relief at all. We just want to keep going on the 41 group, so Billy Scott, my crew chief, it was his first win and that’s special. It proves to him and all of his new guys, all the guys on this 41 car to get that first win, that puts that stamp on it and now they want to go and get more. I like the way that our win happened and when it happened this season.”

HOW DO YOU LOOK BACK ON THE CLOSEST FINISH HERE WITH RICKY CRAVEN? “It was a great win at Bristol and it had been a little while, but it’s just a matter of getting the team where it needs to be, and that’s where we need to be right now. We’re in a perfect spot and it’s fun to come to Darlington and celebrate Throwback Weekend. For us on the 41 car, we have a perfect sign of age. For me, I get to have my own Throwback, it’s 2003 of that closest finish paint scheme, where I finished second to Ricky Craven. I’ve got some t-shirts to throw out tomorrow night at the big fan event and it’s a fun weekend to celebrate the past of our sport, the heritage. I saw that Dillon’s car has the old silver paint scheme on it. Everybody is in spirit and that’s what is so much fun about this weekend and everybody is chipping in to continue on the legacy of the Throwback Weekend and Darlington is the perfect place to do it. I have my showcar coming down. It’s the old 97 paint scheme and I’m hopeful that Kerry Tharp will let me bring it in the garage area, so I can get a picture of the 2003 car with the 2018 car side-by-side, so that way fans can see the true difference of what’s happened in 15 years.”

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE TEAM DYNAMIC AT SHR. WAS THERE PRESSURE ON YOU BEFORE BRISTOL AND IS ARIC UNDER THE SAME TYPE OF PRESSURE TO GET A WIN? “For us on the 41 car, we had such a big point cushion that we were virtually locked into the Playoffs, we just had to have – only two or three races left of getting that certification of being locked in. Almirola’s cushion is plus-100 very easily and that’s a two-race cushion, so there’s not a lot of stress at Stewart-Haas. There’s almost more of a celebration of our 10-year history at Stewart-Haas and the four cars are most likely going to make the Playoffs. I think there’s even a team photo scheduled next week with all the crew, all the haulers, all the cars, all the drivers and it’s a big moment because right now Stewart-Haas is definitely one of the hottest teams out there and to be doing it in the 10th season it’s kind of a cool situation.”

HOW DO YOU THINK THE REGULAR-SEASON ENDING AT INDIANAPOLIS IS GOING TO PLAY OUT? “I was a little bummed out that Indianapolis got moved into the Playoff cutoff race. It’s such a marquee event that it can stand alone by itself, and it didn’t need any kind of extra push in my mind to be a cutoff race or any extra part of the tough part of our season. From here on out these are all big marquee races – these final 12. I was maybe hoping or wishing that Talladega was going to be the cutoff race. That way it wasn’t part of the Playoffs, and maybe move Indianapolis into the Playoffs, but lots of things can happen. We saw a crazy race a couple years back with so many restarts at the end and people staying out on old tires, people coming in on fresh tires, and Indy is a tough place to pass, but at the end everybody is in aggressive mode, moving people, shoving people out of the way, so you just don’t know how many yellows are going to be at the end or if it’s going to be a long green run. Indy is definitely a tough challenge to have as a cutoff race, but, again, it’s such a marquee event that you kind of want it to stand alone.”

IS THE 2003 RACE HERE WITH CRAVEN A FOND MEMORY OR IS THERE PAIN ASSOCIATED WITH IT? “It’s a fun race to talk about. Genuinely I love to be part of that closest finish and I knew that I gave it my all out on the track and when Ricky Craven and I were battling back-and-forth it had that special feeling of we were deadlocked, laser-focused on each other. We didn’t wreck each other and we put on one of the coolest shows when it came to racing at a track that you’re not supposed to be side-by-side on. The groove is only a half-a-car wide here and how special it is, and what’s funny is I found this box. I have a dozen t-shirts of that finish and it has Ricky Craven’s car and my car finishing close, but it has his like two feet ahead on the t-shirt. I was like, ‘He was never that far ahead,’ so there are so many jokes and so much fun that comes with it and maybe one day if I tell this story enough, I will gain two-thousandths of a second and I will pass Ricky Craven. But that’s usually when I wake up and then reality sets in.”

IS THE ROVAL NOW CONSIDERED THE PLAYOFF WILDCARD RACE? IS TALLADEGA SORT OF JUST ANOTHER RACE NOW? “In the driver’s group we lobbied to get Talladega moved out of a cutoff race, so now it’s the second race in the second round and Kansas becomes that cutoff. And then the politics of everything moves around and now the Roval is a cutoff race and it is by far worse than Talladega as far as wanting to go to a cutoff race. That’s just the nature of the beast and that’s why you see guys racing so hard for every point in all the stages, making sure that they have that insurance policy when they get to that race, and so, for us, I see a good opportunity for the 41 car to win at a short track – Richmond’s first time in the Playoffs. That’s gonna be our all-in type race, but if we just continue to do our job at a nice pace, we’ll advance through that first round, but that Roval is gonna be pretty wild.”

ANY UPDATE ON YOUR SITUATION FOR NEXT YEAR? “No updates. I do have two contract offers that I’m looking at. It’s kind of the same thing as last year, where the team at Stewart-Haas put me into free agency and it gives me the opportunity to talk to others, and I do have the loyalty and the respect from Monster Energy. As the sport evolves and the sport changes it’s unique for me too, to understand more about the ownership side and how the different structures are set up, so no updates and just more information for me to digest. We’ll announce things when they get closer.”

YOU RAN WITH FURNITURE ROW RACING. WHAT DOES THAT ORGANIZATION MEAN FOR THE SPORT AND WHAT WOULD IT MEAN IF IT WASN’T HERE? “That’s a heavy question and a loaded question because they’re the defending championship team and for anybody to come in and buy that program right now, you’re gonna have instant success. The parts and pieces and the people that they have have made that place as successful as it is, and that comes through Barney Visser and his commitment to motorsport, so over the years he came in as a startup team, we made the Playoffs that first year when I was racing with them, we had some weakness then and they fixed those and now look at them. They’re a top team out there and one of the hottest commodities. I think things will work out. It’s, again, a tough time in our sport with sponsorship and the way that corporate America and the sponsorships are valuing our sport, so when that is cut back from a team owner, the team owner is like, ‘Wait a minute, I just put a decade into developing this team and I want it to run on its own and now it can’t.’ So Barney’s heart will step back in. I don’t see them changing much for 2019, but I could be wrong. For me, and the way that I know Barney Visser, he’ll work through this short-term, but then it looks like there is an opportunity of what the future can bring for that program because last year they had two cars and now they’re talking about zero? I don’t think so. We just have to continue to grow our sport, find new fans, and understand that there’s a value in sponsorship and that’s why Monster Energy is here as the entitlement sponsorship. I think there’s a value in it, but what we have to do is make sure that there’s a push, that there’s a car number out there – Number 1 through Number 99 – that those cars can bring value to the sponsorships and why they’re on the side of them and why fans want to appreciate those sponsors.”

WHAT WAS IT LIKE WHEN YOU WERE THERE? “It was a special feeling to race for Barney and, for me, I chose to go to a C-level team with like Phoenix Racing the year before and just kind of rebuild up, and use my decade of experience and start over, so to speak, and that was a perfect – it’s hard to call them a B-level team, but they were a B-level team in 2013, but yet they were right on that cusp of being an A-minus and now they’re an A-plus. It was special for me to work with Barney, Joe Garone, Todd Berrier was my crew chief out there and then there was this young guy named Cole Pearn, who was a gunslinger-type of engineer and now he’s one of the most successful crew chiefs in the business. So it was fun to work with those guys and when I look back on it, it was a perfect stage of my career to do such and I wished them nothing but the best when I left.”

 

Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 6 Oscar Mayer Ford Fusion, will be making his ninth Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start with Roush Fenway Racing this season and 25th overall at Darlington. He talked about this weekend before practice.

MATT KENSETH, No. 6 Oscar Mayer Ford Fusion – WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE BACK AT DARLINGTON WITH ROUSH FENWAY, AND WHAT IS THE PRESTIGE LEVEL LIKE TO WIN THIS RACE? “I’ve always thought the Southern 500 was one of the biggest three or four races of the year in my mind. I remember watching this race before I started driving and watching the Cup races when I was still running the Busch Series races, and it was one I looked forward to every year. It’s still the same way. It’s fun to come down here, especially on Labor Day Weekend. I think when we were fortunate enough to win this race in 2013 it was one of the most exciting wins I’ve probably ever had. It’s a really neat track. It’s one everybody wants to win at for sure.”

WHAT HAS BEEN THE HARDEST PART IN THIS RETURN TO RFR AND WHAT ARE SOME OF THE GOOD THINGS YOU’VE APPRECIATED? “Honestly, the hardest part has been these guys handing out weiner whistles in the middle of me doing this. It’s very distracting. Everybody is looking at them and laughing and giggling and wondering what they’re supposed to do with them and I’m trying to concentrate on your question (laughter). Probably the hardest part is just kind of coming in somewhat mid-season, partial-season, doing part-time and trying to get some momentum and trying to get the lay of the land and trying to get things rolling. The hardest part just has been a different role and there’s just a lot to learn and a lot to take in and a lot of differences, so just trying to figure out the people and the system again and kind of where we were at, where we need to go, that type of thing.”

DO YOU WANT TO COME BACK NEXT YEAR? HAVE YOU SEEN ENOUGH THAT THIS WOULD WANT TO MAKE YOU RETURN TO FULL-TIME RACING? “Again, I’m just kind of honestly trying to concentrate on the rest of this season and trying to get this done. Those are probably things to talk about at a later date, but the season has been up-and-down. I wish our results were better than what they were, but yet on the other hand I feel like we’ve made a lot of progress. It doesn’t really show necessarily on the stat sheets or the box score all the time, but I feel like we’ve made a lot of progress and really just trying to keep that going and keep moving forward and keep trying to get more competitive by the end of the season.”

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT INDIANAPOLIS BEING THE CUTOFF RACE NEXT WEEK? “I don’t know. I look at them all as another race and the challenge that particular weekend. I haven’t really put any thought at all into it being the cutoff race for the Playoffs. I’m not really sure it will change a lot of things for there, and I honestly don’t know what anybody’s situation is, so it’s a tough question for me to answer.”

IS IT A LITTLE WEIRD NOT TO BE CONCERNED ABOUT PLAYOFF POSITION FOR YOU? “Yeah, I don’t know if it’s been strange, it’s just been different. It’s been interesting for me to get in and kind of drive for a while and then step away for a few weeks and kind of take a different view of the team, the sport, the race weekends, the way things go down from TV and reading notes and watching data and doing those kind of things. It’s been interesting. I feel like I’ve learned a lot and it’s definitely a different perspective. I don’t know if it’s been weird, it’s just been different.”

YOUR FUTURE IS NOT CERTAIN IN THE SPORT. HAVE YOU DECIDED TO WANT TO COME BACK AND RACE NEXT YEAR? ARE THERE ANY TALKS? “I think I already gave you the best answer non-answer I could come up with. I think you pretty much repeated that question, so just go back in the notes and repeat my answer. I don’t think I can give a non-answer that good again, so you’re gonna have to go back and look at the transcript (laughing).”

IF SOMETHING LIKE THE 41 CAME OPEN AND THEY ASKED YOU IF YOU WERE INTERESTED IN THAT WOULD THAT BE AN OPTION? “Again, I’m just trying to get running the best we can this year. I’m certainly not talking about next year and I haven’t really put as much thought into it as you all have, honestly. I think I still have seven races left this season. Trevor has a few races. I have not made the impact at Roush Fenway Racing at least in the finishes and the performance necessarily as I had hoped, or as big of a one as I hoped, but that’s really all I’m thinking about right now is getting the performance better and try to do a better job for those guys and get cars faster and get better finishes and get the team operating better and get me operating better – all that kind of stuff. I’m not really looking forward right now.”

DOWN THE ROAD WOULD YOU BE INTERESTED IN OWNERSHIP? “That one I can for sure answer for you, I have exactly zero percent interest in ownership of a race car. That one I’ll give you a straight answer on.”

HAVE YOU EVER NOT RUN FOR POINTS? “Yeah. I mean, first of all, the answer you want me to give you is yeah, we raced before my rookie year we ran five or seven races or something like people used to do before they went first year full-time. My first year in the then-Busch Series we ran like half the season. I came in like April and finished the year, that type of thing, and late model stuff. Contrary to popular belief, I have never raced for points. I’ve raced each race to try to go out and do the best I could, try to win, try to finish that race as high as you can if you can’t win, and that’s not really any different of an outlook as it is today. But one thing I have learned from being at home and watching TV is as much as we try to make everything not about points, that’s all you hear on TV is points, points, points all the time. So I don’t want to hear it anymore. I just show up to race and try to finish the best I can. That’s all I’ve ever really done, it’s just this big conception that everybody is like, ‘You race for points.’ Well, the better you run or the better you finish you always just got more. That’s just the way it worked.”

YOU SAID YOU LEARNED SOME THINGS. IS THAT YOUR NUMBER ONE TAKEAWAY IS PEOPLE FOCUS MORE ON POINTS THAN THE RACING? “I do find that interesting because it was supposed to be not about that and when you turn it on you hear it a lot. I mean maybe not every lap, but every two laps you hear something about some kind of point, which is crazy. That part, just as far as just as watching what everybody is focused on, that part surprised me a little bit, but, other than that, it’s just been different. I’ve enjoyed watching. It’s always been weird for me for whatever other reason if somebody would drive “your car”, whether it was testing of whatever it is, but this has been interesting. It’s been interesting to watch Trevor drive and then read his comments and watch his data and listen to what he says and kind of what Ricky says and kind of take a different view of everything than necessarily when you’re at the track all the time. So, in a way, it’s been good to kind of back up and get away and kind of watch and see what goes on because there’s a lot of things you miss when you’re just in the car.”

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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