be_ixf;ym_202112 d_07; ct_100
Kurt Busch competes in the 2016 Nascar season in Long Pond, Pennsylvania

Kurt Busch Speaks!

Jun 102016

After reeling off a remarkably consistent run of eleven top ten finishes in the first thirteen rounds of the always tumultuous NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Kurt Busch, wheelman of the No. 41 Hass Automation/Monster Energy Chevrolet SS, finally got what he really wanted this past Monday afternoon – a win. Short-shifting, coasting corners and deftly using the eyes in the back of his head, Busch saved enough petroleum by-product and beat back the advances of a stalking Dale Earnhardt Junior to win the Axalta “We Paint Winners” 400 at the quirky, three-turn 2.5-mile “Tricky Triangle” in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. A long time coming, the victory was the first for Busch in almost, to the day, a year. Furthermore, it locked the 2004 NASCAR Cup Champion into the post-season ten-race clash that truly matters, the Chase for the Sprint Cup. A few days after the Pocono strike, Busch and the entire No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing outfit dialed-in their collective focus toward the bristling quick Michigan International Raceway and this Sunday’s 400-miler up in the rolling green Irish Hills. The same race Busch won a year ago, the team, this time with veteran crew chief Tony Gibson back in the turret after a week-long “forced “ vacation, will send their driver out onto the 2.0-mile D-shaped oval in chassis No. 978. In it to win it for the next twelve rounds leading smack-up to the start of the Chase come Chicagoland on September 18, Busch has slammed it up into overdrive, keen to take the measure of anyone who dare block his way into victory lane. Take it away, Kurt.

Kurt Busch Interview

Kurt, what are you up to today?

Just getting ready to drive out to the track, Michigan Speedway, and it’s about an hour and a half from here in downtown Detroit.

Before your Pocono victory on Monday afternoon, Michigan was the last place you won at, correct?

Yeah, it was this weekend, last year.

Do you like the Michigan track?

It’s certainly a fast one. It is. It’s definitely the most intense for speed and average speed and the way in which you have to drive around the track because the draft is really intense there on restarts.

How is the car on the Michigan track?

The way the cars are now, they’re very stable, very low to the ground, and very stiff and rigid with suspension. And then when the repaved the racetrack, the track is so smooth that you can really hammer down. Last year I think we saw 214 miles per hour for the top speed going into turn one. And in qualifying a couple of years ago we averaged 204 miles per hour.

Going back to Pocono, a lot of things had to go just right for you to be able to pull off that victory, huh?

Well, it was a tough challenge to manage the fuel, and to keep pace with Dale Junior, and then behind him was Brad Keselowski, who had a full tank of gas, so he could our on full steam. For us, we were two laps shy on gas, so I was trying to manage all the different elements and when it all comes together and you have a perfect day and you win, that was the reason to celebrate. It was just a fantastic effort by the team and what I was able to do in the cockpit to manage the race.

I wanted to ask you about that… Not only are you trying to race the car and maintain track position, but you’re also trying save gas and keep track of what exactly is going on behind you. There is a lot going on, isn’t there? Does it get hectic inside the helmet at a race like Pocono?

I mean you can definitely get lost in the emotions and the thoughts going through your head, but I thought to myself, you know what, keep it simple. Stay ahead of Junior and manage your fuel. Yeah, a yellow might come out later, or you’re going to run out of gas, but you know what, just run with what you have right now. Check out the mirror and lift off the throttle to save fuel.

And you’re also shifting the car at Pocono, right?

Yeah, that’s what makes Pocono a fun race track. You’re going 205 down into a corner and you downshift into third gear – you actually downshift to third in all three corners - so it’s a fun oval/roadcourse feel.

So, just how do you save fuel with 30 laps remaining in a race and a number of your competitors breathing down your neck?

Yeah, man, I can’t give away too many secrets, you know? I’m laughing here. Honestly, it’s predicting how to look ahead and how to lift out of the gas early and not kill speed – you’re still trying to keep your average speed up. You’re lifting early, but you can’t lift too early because the drag and the air will slow you down.

And to finally flash across that finish line with the win, the first for you and the team in this season…

Well, it had been a great season up until that moment of winning. We felt like the win was coming and we just had to go out there and do our job and not force it, but it was such a great way to celebrate such a great season thus far. What made it even more special was to have Monster in victory lane in the Sprint Cup series. Oakley also gave all of the team guys new goggles so they could spray as much Monster and as much champagne and beer and everything else at each other and not get it in their eyes. They were crying for a party.

Had it been nagging at you that you were without a win in ’16?

I mean it was nagging at me, but at the same time you can’t deny the results of a very consistent season, and a very strong season up to this point. But those wins are very powerful and they’re what I live for. It’s what I live for, to go out there and win and deliver for the sponsors and the team guys, so we just couldn’t force it. We couldn’t get down on ourselves or we couldn’t get sidetracked. We just kept plugging away. It was a great, genuine, good feeling to win for all the hard work that has gone into this year so far. Things are definitely to plan and it’s because of the depth of the team and the notes we have together. As far as the amount of races we’ve done together now, we’re getting into two and a half years and that’s when you hope that the relationship is blossoming because that means you’ve been to all of the tracks a minimum of three times and now it’s time to get into that attack mode instead of learning mode.

The next few races to come - Michigan the high-speed oval, Sonoma the roadcourse and Daytona the superspeedway - that’s a mixed bag, isn’t it? Do you like racing on radically different tracks?

I do. I like this portion of the schedule. It really challenges the team on its versatility to prepare cars for all different types of venues. It challenges the driver. And then there are a lot of different changes with the tires this year that the lead engineers and the tire guys have to keep up with all of these different tracks, so it makes the challenges even greater.

We’re now only twelve races out form the Chase. What’s the master plan for the No. 41 team for this twelve-race run?

Yeah, we’re a third of the way in and we’ve got a win and we have ultra-consistency and we want to keep that consistency and we want to win more often and have fun through these summer months. I mean there are big races coming up. Michigan is the 2017 rules package; Sonoma, the roadcourse race there, and the race at Watkins Glen are always important and fun; Daytona in July; there is a Kentucky repave; we got to New Hampshire, you know that’s a Chase race in September; each race has its own important value in these next two thirds of the season and we want to win. We want to win more often and we want to keep plugging away.

What have you thought of the racing and what have you thought about your competition thus far in ‘16?

I think we’re seeing great racing. I think the rules package and everything that NASCAR is tweaking and that the drivers, along with the team ownership, have also been helping with has everything going in a positive direction. We’re seeing very close finishes and exciting finishes and right now I’d say the biggest surprise on track has been Chase Elliot. We knew he was going to be good, but man, he seems to have everything clicking already with the team and everybody on that 24 car. He’s had veteran-type statistics go along with this season so far.

Word has it that after the Michigan race on Sunday you’re going to go on a little motor racing-themed holiday. Any truth to that?

Yeah, I always like to find adventure on the NASCAR off-weekends and I think this one is probably going to top the list of them all. I’m going to head through Eastern Europe and to see a friend in Lithuania who used to be a neighbor of mine in the Charlotte area, and then it’s down to Baku, down to Azerbaijan for the Formula 1 race to meet up with Gene Haas and the Formula 1 team and to see our friend Lewis Hamilton over at the Mercedes team and to say hi to a fellow Monster athlete and to wish him the best. After that I’m going to fly down to Abu Dhabi and do a track day at the Yas Marina circuit and have some fun before I have to head back and get pumped up for our Sonoma roadcourse race. Hard times ahead, for sure!

As the 2014 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year, I wanted to ask you if you were able to watch the race this year. If so, what was your take on it all?

I got to see different segments of it and it was a great spectacle and an amazing event with the energy and the atmosphere of 300,000 people there for that race. And the way the race concluded with a long fuel run, hey, it takes a team effort when you want to win off fuel and that Rossi kid did a good job. I was proud that an American won it in its 100th running.

Right on, Kurt. Last question: Is this going to be your year? Can you win this thing come Homestead-Miami?

Yeah, things are definitely shaping up and pointing in our direction. We can’t expect too much to happen that’s out of our control, we’re just going to expect to continue to do the job that’s within our control and that’s to go out there and be consistent each week and find solid finishes that will build our team and build our notebook and make us best prepared to make a run to the Chase.