An Interview with: Kurt Busch
THE MODERATOR: We're going to continue it with our winning driver, Kurt Busch.
KURT BUSCH: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: Can you talk to us about the race, after the day? What's been going on?
KURT BUSCH: This journey at Kansas Speedway, you know, Pat Warren is a really good friend of mine. Each year he texts me, sorry I didn't see you after the race. I said, I'll get there one day.
To win at a mile and a half, to beat Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, to be in position for the win, I knew it was there. I had to dig deep and I had to find something. I just had to find something that would be a little bit above Larson, a little bit of a trickery move on Larson.
I said, I just have to stay close. I've got to stay close. After we got beat off pit road and we were restarting third, just got to stay close. Last year in the fall race I finished fourth here and burned up my front tires on that last run, and I was, like, if I stay close, I think Kyle, if he can't get the lead, the 18, he will let me slide through.
Through his definite connection of a JGR car helping the 23XI car, but it's deeper than that. It's family. Kyle Busch held me as far as a pass to not break my momentum, and we saw that happen with Larson when I was racing him before that.
Turn two was his weak spot, and that's where I knew I needed to make the final move. It all unfolded perfectly where I was able to make the move and not lose momentum and break the draft and bring our Toyota home to victory lane with Jordan Brand, Monster Energy, Toyota, everybody that's part of this.
It was that moment where I could not let the team down, and I didn't want to have to make a phone call to M.J. afterwards on why we did not win.
So, I could definitely feel the connection. I'm proud that we won today.
Q. What do you think this win says about your career and a win with another organization driving a scheme that everybody is looking at in a season where up until today you had led nine laps?
KURT BUSCH: It's a process. You have to start from the ground up when you are building a brand new car, whether it's the Next Gen or the No. 45 at 23XI. The Toyota family brought me in; Monster Energy said, let's go do this.
You have steps that you have to take. When I switched from Roush to Penske we won in our sixth race together. When I switched over to SHR, I think it was, again, like our sixth race, won at Martinsville.
This one took a little bit, but here we are. We're winners. It's a process. The Ganassi car, we won mid-summer when I switched to them.
Each place, each sequence I'm just happy to have a ride and happy to give my best. Early in my career it was all about me, me, me, and now I've understood this is a team, and every element is super important.
So I was able to do my job today. My team put me out there in position, and I wasn't going to let anybody named Kyle beat me today.
Q. Kurt, you drive the No. 45, and the Petty family gave their blessing for 23XI to use that number. Given that history and with this week's marking of the 22 year anniversary of Adam Petty's passing, how does that all make this win all the more meaningful?
KURT BUSCH: I've talked with Kyle Petty a couple of times, and I'm sure I'll get a text even from Richard that, yes, they were registering the No. 45 for years.
M.J. wanted this number on the second car, and we asked the Petty family for their blessing. Kyle Petty said, yep, if it's you, Kurt, I'm going to let it ride.
Yes, I could feel things early on with Kyle and the way that he wanted this 45 car to have success, and it's a small spiritual connection.
Again, I'm happy that we've won, and also it's a representation of a brand, and it's a 45. With us winning, or even just continuing to build and build and build, we wanted the 45 to be successful. I'll now be able to call Kyle.
I'll find him in Level Cross and we'll go get a drink together and say thanks.
Q. First off, who are you flying back home with?
KURT BUSCH: Kyle seemed to be in a rush and Denny said he would stay. (Laughing).
Yes, I flew out with Kyle. He would wait, but, yes, flying home with Denny.
We're going to get ice cream with his daughters tomorrow after team meetings.
Q. Denny was in here earlier, and he said that the emotion of this win for him is actually stronger than any of his own personal wins. What does that mean to you that this is so important to him on that scale?
KURT BUSCH: Hang on a second. Sorry. That was a deja vu moment. There's things that an owner has to go through that are really heavy, and Denny has chosen this ownership role, and he has done it with integrity and class and ambition and motivation. It's things I would never want to put myself in position for.
He called me a year and a half ago, two years, and said, hey, I've got a plan. I was, like, if it all works out, I'll be part of it. But, wow, just learning some of the things, being close to him as a friend, but also as a racer, and now he is my boss, there's a lot that goes into the ownership side.
That's why he is overwhelmed with emotions right now, because of how much responsibility it all is and how much teamwork it takes.
Thanks to the manufacturers, the sponsors, just the amount of people. I hope that this helps everything as far as the foundation that we've laid. With Bubba's win last year, that was a huge foundation, and I would say that this is like building the first floor, building the second floor, and the sky is the limit.
This means a lot to me as well because we started this 45 car from scratch and a lot of guys, girls, people came from other teams. The spirit was we're a bunch of rebels, let's go do this.
Q. Can I ask about your deja vu moment?
KURT BUSCH: It was this media center and you asking the question about Denny. I'm just like, I'm glad we won. This means I was envisioning wins. You have to have the vision to win, and we did it today.
Q. Kurt, congratulations on your first Kansas win. When we raced at Atlanta two months ago you said in a post-race interview, I would like to see these cars unrestricted when we come back here in July. With that great showing that you got, you and Kyle had on the last couple of laps, do you feel like this shows a good example of a what Atlanta could be like without the restrictor plates on it?
KURT BUSCH: Possibly. There's all kinds of emotions after races. I was able to finish third at Atlanta. It turned into a restrictor plate type race, and I was like, whoa, this is a mile and a half, and we've never done this style on a mile and a half.
But I've been told the speeds would just be too high unrestricted and the tires wouldn't have the durability. So it's kind of off record, but Goodyear is, like, no, let's keep the speeds right at this level, and then that creates the draft.
So I just needed to do a better job of absorbing the fact that it's a mile and a half restrictor plate race, and it's going to be plenty slick when we get there in July, so careful what you wish for on that moment.
Q. How did the news of Buffalo, New York, reach you yesterday, and what does it mean to be part of a diversified team and to have this victory today in light of the events yesterday?
KURT BUSCH: I don't know what happened in Buffalo. I'm sorry.
THE MODERATOR: There was a mass shooting in Buffalo.
KURT BUSCH: I'm sorry to hear. I did the Fox Sports commentary for the truck race, and then basically I'm in my little bubble and focused on race day.
I'm sorry that there was an issue like that. Our prayers and thoughts go out to the families and people involved. I don't know what to say. I'm sorry. I didn't know that that happened.
Q. This was by far 23XI's best showing of the year, and it was the best for Toyota. I think all six were in the top ten. With this being a mile and a half track that you're going to have four of in the playoffs, how important is it to start putting together really strong performances at a track like this?
KURT BUSCH: It's been a process. We're building a team up with the 45 car, and then our team meetings with JGR, it's great that Coach is there. He has those coaching moments where he listens to everybody ramble on and then he brings everybody back together at the end, like he would as a Super Bowl champion that he is, as a NASCAR champion that he is, and there's so much to learn from the JGR Group.
Toyota has helped us bridge that, and now we just continue to get better and better. And to see the smiles on Kyle's face, Kyle Busch, Christopher Bell, Denny Hamlin, Bubba. I didn't see Truex, but I know he is happy for us. That's what we have to keep doing.
Again, like the Toyota family, they've got six strong cars every week. That's it. It's like Chevy has 12, 15. Ford has that many. Us, six; we need to stay tight. I'm glad that we were the top Toyota today.
Q. Just want to know what was going through your mind when Larson did that slide job in two and you had to go low to avoid him? And I have a follow-up when you are ready.
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, I had my dirt mentality. I was digging. I was jiving. I'm, like, all right, I see this coming.
You got to know who you are racing. You have to know what moves they're going to pull. The momentum that he had, I was, like, this is going to be easy. I'm going to cross underneath him, and then when I yanked the wheel to cross underneath him, I got all the air on my nose and got just as loose. It's those moves you make and those instincts that you have to have.
When I made the final move on him I'm, like, I can't do the full move because of what happened to him last time. I tried to throw a little asphalt type of mentality on him, like fake the slide job. I'm glad that we were with able to make the right move.
The car had speed in it. The car had speed on the long run, and I just needed to stay close enough in that short run stretch to be able to put on a move.
Again, you just have to dig deep and make all the right decisions and never second guess anything.
Q. Just curious, as long as I've known you, you've been able to come back. You're like a cat with nine lives. I'm just kind of curious of all the opportunities you have, you really seem genuinely happy with this one and the role that you are at: mentor, builder, all those things put together. I'm just wondering from your perspective how much this opportunity means to you? I'll turn around and listen. Thank you.
KURT BUSCH: Again, it gets down to teamwork, and everybody has to pull the rope in the same direction. Billy Scott was my first choice as a crew chief, and he's the structure of this 45 car.
And to have guys follow me over, and girls, from Ganassi to make this happen and to have a group of rebels from different teams. My car chief is, like, man, I'll jump out of retirement and come back and race with you.
To me this 45 car was a special project to leave my fingerprints on something when I'm done racing, because I know I'm in the twilight of my career, and that's what makes it even more special now that it's a winner. We're going to hang up a winning banner flag at 23XI here soon.
Q. Obviously, you had a fast car all weekend, but what specifically do you point to that helped you make some of those passes there in the final phase of the race?
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, car unloaded fast, and then qualified fifth. I thought we had a shot at the pole, but Christopher Bell, he laid it down heavy on speed and lap time.
Early on in stage one I thought we were a basket of bolts. We were just bad in traffic. I know everybody talks about it, and I still got to get with our engineering staff to figure out how to find a little better balance in traffic, because as soon as I found clean air, like lap 15 of every run, just like Darlington, car is flying. I don't know what we're doing wrong with that.
I'm glad the cautions and the timing worked out. If that was a five-lap run to the end I wouldn't have had time. At the end just the adjustments. I'm very, very happy. The coolest part was we made adjustments today and the car reacted, and we got better and better and better. A lot of times you are just stuck with the handcuffs on so to speak of adjustments don't work or dirty air is terrible.
I was happy that each adjustment worked, and we just kept getting closer to the front. I'm, like, all right, if we get out of here in the top four on a final restart, I'm not backing off.
Q. First, nine straight years with at least one win. What does that streak mean for you at this point?
KURT BUSCH: It's a lot of years. Getting old. (Laughing). A lot of great race teams. Really cool people. Great sponsors. For me I just do my job behind the wheel.
Early on in my career I was just thinking it was all about me, me, me making the difference, and all along it's everybody that adds to this.
At the end of the day, however many years it's been and however many wins it's been, it's the same thing that I'll always be able to go to my dad, give him a hug or a team owner in Vegas, the Star Nursery guy, and just say thank you for helping me make it in this NASCAR world.
Now here we are with winning with Toyota and 23XI, and this is my family.
Q. Last, you said you had to figure out a little trickery move on Larson for that last pass. How deep in your bag of tricks did you have to go to get it, and what were you assessing in order to figure out what was the right thing to do at the right moment?
KURT BUSCH: I was trying to add a few different difference-makers. Let's just say that. The move he made on me earlier when he lost all his momentum on his slide job, that taught me that if I'm going to make a move before the final lap, it needs to be done more from an asphalt frame of mind as far as the way I drive and who I am, and I knew I needed to be aggressive.
Just like I said in qualifying, these kids were just throwing it up against the wall and letting it rip. I'm, like, I'll try it. Ended up fifth. At the end of the day you still have to conserve your tires just the right amount, and that's what Kansas Speedway asked me to do.
Then I was, like, with Larson, he is a dirt guy. He is going to toss it on in there, but I'm not going to go to that level of sliding it in there and cooking the tires. I'm going to keep it under control, and I'm going to get him with the amount of laps that are left.
Q. Kurt, I don't know any other driver I can think of off the top of my head, but so far I think you're the only driver to win in a Ford, a Chevrolet, a Toyota, and a Dodge in the NASCAR Cup Series. What's your thoughts on that?
KURT BUSCH: That was a huge goal of mine to start the year. It was to win with Toyota and to check that box off. It was something that whether it's good or bad or different. Kasey Kahne drove for a lot of manufacturers. Bobby Allison won for a lot of different manufacturers.
That reminds me, Kyle and I with a couple of wins this year, I think we might be tied with the Allison brothers. That was another goal that I had this year. Winning Darlington was a goal. Didn't quite get that.
There's a few other goals I won't tell you about, but I'm so happy that we've won, we're in the playoffs, and there's more work to do.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, Kurt. Congratulations. Appreciate your time.