Kurt Busch met with media at Daytona International Speedway on Friday between testing sessions to discuss his new Phoenix Racing Chevrolet NASCAR Sprint Cup team and his expectations for the 2012 season.
Q: Kurt, talk a little bit about being here back in Daytona, the 54th running of the Daytona 500 here next month and your testing here this last two days.
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, Daytona is always special. It's always a moment when you come through the gate for testing, it's a moment where you always remember, and this year I got to count number 12 as far as the years that I've been coming down here to race in the Great American Race, and to do the testing with James Finch and this Phoenix Racing Group, it's just been pure joy.
It's been a lot of fun to work with a small group of guys and thrash on just getting the car to the hauler to get the hauler down here on time, and just how everybody on the team is walking on cloud nine right now with the excitement, with the way that we've been running so far on track, especially in the single-car runs, with where we did our mock-up qualifying run, it put us second on the board as far as guys with the fastest laps this morning in single-car runs. So a ton of excitement, and the way the guys are together on this, it's going to be they're looking at me to grow and to learn, and I'm looking at them to grow and to learn, so it's going to be a lot of fun this year.
Q. First off, have you been spending the amount of time at the shop that you thought you might, and then once you got here, could you give us a little comparison of your experience in the tandem draft?
KURT BUSCH: I spent a ton of time at the shop down in Spartanburg. It's about an hour and a half from my house, so it's almost therapeutic driving there and driving back, with the time you get to think about things as well as create checklists. I'm technologically challenged, so I finally hooked up Bluetooth in my truck so I can talk going down the road.
It's fun with this group of guys, like we were putting the seat in the car, and all the big programs and teams, they have quantities of bolts, pieces, things. We've got one of everything. And so we've got the one seat that we were getting dialed in, and I wanted to change the brackets. I looked at the clock and the car had to be on the hauler in a couple hours. There was no time to make brackets quick enough, so this is more or less Landon Cassill's seat. I just jumped in it, and I feel like the Green Giant, shoved in his little seat. It's just that fun atmosphere, working on the car, being with the guys. This is exactly what I needed.
And to be out there in the draft, I've just done single-car runs and then that big pack as far as just trying to do a favor to NASCAR and understand how to collect more data on what we need to see for our race, whether it's the two-car draft still or whether it's the big pack racing. We have yet to really decide.
Q. I hear you say this is so much more fun for you, but you're such a competitive guy, and if you're not having a chance to win every week, some wonder, "How much fun is it going to be if he gets into the season and he's not winning?" Even if you're not winning will you still be enjoying it?
KURT BUSCH: I've always been guilty of doing things the hard way, and working hard instead of smart, I guess is my mentality. And these guys, the way that we're understaffed, but yet they have such a big heart, they're just like me. So getting back to old-school racing, having fun with it, the pressure is not there. But when we go week to week and go to Phoenix, Vegas, into Bristol, we'll start to learn more about the cars, where we stack up.
It's not going to take winning to make me happy. Right now it's just going to the track, having fun, and at the end of the day, like the first day when I was at the shop, Finch was there, we all looked at each other like we were done talking, it was quarter to 4. I said, "Where's your beer cooler around here?" We went and cracked open a couple beers and started chitchatting the rest of the day about fun stories. That's what this is going to be about for me in 2012.
Q. What does it mean to you that TAG Heuer stepped up to sponsor you in the Bud Shootout? Do you know if there will be another major sponsor? Are you meeting with sponsors on behalf of the team right now?
KURT BUSCH: It's impressive to have that group call us and want to put together a first-class program and to have a blue chip brand on the car. Finch is excited. You know, what it does to create just energy around our team is there. But there's going to be the attention toward us, good, bad or indifferent no matter what we do these first five, 10 weeks, and it's just neat to have them stand up and say, we're behind you 100 percent. And it creates a platform to where our sponsors that might have been, let's see how this shakes out, well, no, let's be part of this.
I've got to bring a briefcase in, I've got to bring my driver bag in. I've been working 10 jobs it seems like, and it's been going from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day since after the [NASCAR awards] banquet.
Q. You talk about Phoenix being a single-car team. It's also a tenacious team. Do you think maybe you could get better results than what a lot of people are expecting?
KURT BUSCH: Well, tenacious is a good word as far as working hard and playing hard with those guys. But yeah, we feel like if we stick to what we know is the basics and a quick story is we have our pull-down rig that's at the shop. It was designed by Andy Petree. It's a couple years old, cost $80,000, this piece of equipment. With past race teams I've been with, they have this same piece of equipment, it's $250,000, built by a big company somewhere, and it takes 10 people to run the software. We're getting the same job done with a calculator and a tape measure and this pull-down rig, and it's exciting to see just like how you check tow on the front end of a racecar, this is how I check tow on my Legends car!
It's just that fun of "keep it simple, stupid" and we're going to be just fine going through all this. We might exceed our expectations, we might not live up to it, but we're going to have a darned good time while we're doing it.
Q. Speaking of sponsors, Richard Petty talked yesterday about how the time isn't right for Kurt Busch, how you've got to kind of take a step back. What are you hearing from people? Have you talked personally with people who said, "All right, we're going to have to give you some space right now and come back to us in a month, six months, a year?" What kind of chatter are you hearing along those lines?
KURT BUSCH: Well, my objective is to keep the eye on 2013's big prize, and going in and talking with as many teams as I did this off-season, my original plan was to work with as many groups as I possibly could, find four or five races with these guys, those guys, run Nationwide, do this, Trucks even, and associate myself with as many sponsors, teams and people. That way they get to know me and go, wow, what's really the problem here, and the problem is when there's a bad day on the track, that's when there's the only issue.
It was weird to hear his [Petty's] comments yesterday because he was ready to throw me in the car and we would have been down the road. But the contracts just didn't align on where they were and where I wanted to be, and so I talked with Finch, made the deal happen. But I also talked with Waltrip Racing. I went to meet with Richard Childress at his winery and talked shop. Just the doors that were opened during this off-season to talk to people, yes, 2012 is going to be a unique year for somebody such as myself. But to take a step back for me personally and look at all of this, this is what I need.
Q. In the off-season, obviously there were some challenges you were facing. Can you take us through kind of your mindset in terms of, "Here's what I need to do, how am I going to handle this?" You seem to be in a very good place right now. Can you take us through what you kind of thought internally and how you would approach the year?
KURT BUSCH: Well, if I'm going to sit there and tell stories to my grandchildren, this is not what I wanted to tell them. So in looking at the big picture, I've got to understand what it takes to be a competitive driver and to harness that fire in my belly the right way and to put it together in a 2004-style effort.
When things are going smooth, this is a tough freight train to stop. When things are going rough, that's what I have to polish up on and knock the rough edges off. So working with a group like Finch, having fun while doing it, there's more to it than just settling down into 2012 and just going to the racetrack. There's going to be a lot going on behind the scenes. Things just don't change overnight, though...