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JAN 23, 2018 | Ford Performance Staff

Busch Ready to Take On the 2018 NASCAR Season

BuschMediaDay2018_800

DAYTONA - Kurt Busch, defending Daytona 500 champion, met with media members at the Charlotte Media Tour Tuesday morning.

KURT BUSCH, No. 41 Monster Energy Ford Fusion
YOU COME INTO THE YEAR AS THE REIGNING DAYTONA 500 CHAMPION. ANY ADDED PRESSURE?
“I had some family members ask me that the last couple weeks. They asked if I feel less pressure. To me, I feel more pressure because I want to defend it properly. I want to go back to back. I want to bring it home again for Monster, Ford and everybody at Stewart-Haas. You give it that same attention to detail that you give Daytona every year. If you have won it or you haven't you still go after it hard.”

WHAT MAKES THAT RACE SO HARD TO REPEAT? “I think the factors involved. Whether it is the manufacturers change from year to year, the engine combinations. This year it is a whole new ballgame with the no ride height rule. You will see cars with a whole different style of setup. That is what gets me all motivated to work as hard as I can because when there is something new you want to be on the cutting edge to be the first guy to do it.”

IT SEEMS TOUGH TO REPEAT AS A CUP CHAMPION AS WELL. IN THIS SYSTEM, DO YOU THINK IT IS EASIER OR HARDER FOR A DRIVER TO REPEAT? “In the current system with the stage bonus points I feel like it is easier. I went to Daytona in July and we all had a nice media session down there and I said at the time, Truex has all these bonus points he is pretty much going to Homestead now. The way they were running at the 1.5 mile tracks -- I am not saying I predicted him to win in July but to your question, I think it will be easier to repeat with this bonus point system because the rich get richer with the stage wins.”

WHAT ABOUT SPEEDS AT DAYTONA? YOU THINK THEY WILL BE UP CONSIDERABLY? “I haven’t seen the sims or how it will play out as far as overall speed. Anytime you think you will go too fast they slap the smaller restrictor plate on you. There is always that range right around 200-205 mph.”

WHAT ABOUT FORD LIFTING ITS GAME OVERALL THIS YEAR? DO YOU ANTICIPATE THINGS BEING BETTER? “I think having a year under our belt will help things. That newness stage is gone and those meetings have productivity and not people stepping on each others toes. I like it. I like the way it feels. Mark Rushbrook is now the director of Ford Performance with our group and there is an enthusiasm still there. We just needed to find a little more rear aero last year. This new system where they will be scanning the cars in tech inspection should help us close the gap.”

IT IS NOT ABOUT JUST WAITING FOR THE MUSTANG NEXT YEAR? “I would love to have it right now. I would love to go with any new technology and the way that the rules are, I was surprised we had a 2018 Camry racing in 2017. That was a little bit of a surprise to start last year. With the Camaro this year, Ford will get its chance but that is all part of the game behind the scenes.”

YOU SIGNED WITH SOME DIFFERENT AGENCIES IN THE OFF-SEASON, IS THAT TO PREPARE FOR LIFE AFTER RACING OR JUST A MATTER OF IT BEING THE RIGHT TIME TO DO IT NOW? “I feel like I have a lot more to do in racing. Whether it is the NASCAR level or sports cars. I have done some drag racing and some IndyCar. To me I am just trying to learn more about the whole product that happens with racing and that is to work with guys like Fox or NBC. This next week I will be out at SuperCross doing guest commentary in the booth and I will be out at the XGames as well with ESPN out in Aspen, Colorado. That is where Lou Oppenheim at ICM has helped me learn more about the TV side and what could be on the horizon. I don’t know. I am just trying to move forward and learn all I can.”

CAN WE ASSUME THIS MIGHT BE YOUR LAST YEAR? “No, I wouldn’t assume that. There are many balls in the air but you have to be smart this day in age and you can’t just have one plan because things change quickly. I like to have options and that is an option for me. It is that drive and desire to win races still for me. I want to win more. Last year was great with Daytona but we want to win more for Haas, Monster and Ford and everyone on the NASCAR side.

ANY WORK IN THE OFF-SEASON ON ENGINE, CHASSIS, ETC. THAT CAN HELP THE FORD GROUP? “There isn’t a big new PR announcement or roll out of a new car but there is always development. There are always new things. I can’t talk specifics about the engine but we have improved in the areas that Penske, Roush and us at SHR all demanded. Doug Yates listened to us and applied that. That is exciting news. For all the 1.5 mile and short track stuff. We believe we have the elite superspeedway engines right now. The aero side with the new Hawkeye scanning system in tech, that will be a whole new game that the teams have to learn and play within. We have hired four guys already just to try to help perfect that system for us at Stewart-Haas.”

HOW DO YOU SEE PIT ROAD BEING DIFFERENT THIS YEAR WITH ONE LESS GUY? “I like the move. It will create a safer environment with one less guy per team out on pit road. What it does now is put more responsibility on the jack man and tire carrier. Yet it is just the evolution. We used to have seven guys on pit road and we thought taking tha tone gas catch man away was going to be bing but it didn’t change the game much. Now we are down to five guys. Will it change it much, I don’t think so. I have let the team do their practices and my first practice sequence will be tomorrow and the next day, driving the pit stop car with the guys. What I like to do is always change it up. The car doesn’t stop in the same spot each time. I will come in there nosed-in, nosed-out and juke up a lot of our sequences so they can adapt.”

HAVE YOU HAD CONVERSATIONS WITH YOUR CREW CHIEF AND TEAM ABOUT STRATEGIES YOU MAY INCORPORATE DUE TO THE NEW PIT ROAD RULE? “There is the new pit road rule and also tires that continue to be limited as far as our quantity every weekend. I think we saw at the spring race at Richmond, guys were gluing up old scuffed tires which is a no-no and now you have more of a tire management sequence. I think it puts more variables on pit road by having less guys, fewer tires and the stages and when yellows come out and how many heat cycles are on your tires. I think that is what NASCAR wants. More variables to create more opportunities for guys.”

HAVE YOUR PIT STOPS BEEN AS FAST WITH FIVE AS IT WAS WITH SIX? “I don’t know the numbers yet. Tomorrow will be my first day really interacting with them and usually when the driver shows up everyone gets nervous or pumped up extra. We will see what the numbers show tomorrow.”

HAVE YOU SPENT TIME WITH BILLY SCOTT IN THE OFF SEASON? “Yeah, lunch as many days as possible, texting each day, calls and just putting a strategy together. We will be out in Las Vegas next week doing the test together with Stewart-Haas and Ford.”

“I like his ability to read all the crew members and also the infrastructure at Stewart-Haas Racing. A guy like Chad Johnston is a great crew chief. He is now with Kyle Larson and we saw the success they had last year. Chad was at SHR and didn’t find the right system to fall under. I don’t know how to really describe it other than Billy is a good team player, not that Chad Johnston isn’t, but Billy can adapt to the things that are being thrown at him in all directions. I think he is very patient. It is going to be good to work with somebody fresh and energetic like himself and a whole new group of engineers on the 41.”

HAS IT BEEN GOOD TO GET AWAY AND DISTANCE YOURSELF IN THE OFFSEASON AND BE FRESH FOR DAYTONA? “It has been good and the weather is great down there. I came back a few days ago and I feel stuffy already. Jimmie Johnson goes to Colorado and does a lot of skiing and high altitude training. When I am down in Florida I love the weather and love to support my wife’s polo team. It is great to be down there with her in the offseason because she gives so much to be on the road with our race season. FOr me, I work out twice as hard down there. I have one of those altitude masks that help raise the altitude level. At sea level the air is really good down there but as soon as you get the season started and go to Atlanta, that isn’t too bad, but Vegas and Phoenix are high altitude and dry dirty air out west. That is why I like Florida and like to train down there.”

IN WHAT WAYS IS BILLY SCOTT DIFFERENT FROM TONY GIBSON? “He has a fresh outlook on everything and if you question him on something, Gibson always had a quick answer. ‘Nope, we aren’t doing that.’, ‘Yep, that’s right.’ Billy likes to say, ‘Let me think about that.’ I like to get his wheels turning and he gets my wheels turning on a lot of topics. It is a fresh outlook on how to communicate.”

WILL YOU BE MORE INVOLVED IN SETUP? “That is the fine line of falling in line to help the group or being like a young guy and just show up and drive. A lot of the kids these days just show up and drive, go to the sim, then show up and drive again. It is a fine line. I have asked guys like Ray Evernham on what he helped Jeff Gordon do in the latter part of his career and Jimmy Fennig, I always look up to him. We won a championship together and it is fun to bounce ideas off of him. Having this young Billy Scott in there is a fresh look and I am excited about what we will teach each other.”

WHAT KIND OF FEEDBACK DID YOU GET FROM THE LOGANO TV EPISODE? “Mainly fans. A guy at the airport asked when we were going to see that Pantera again. People really jumped into the car build. I loved doing it with Gas Monkey Garage because I respect the work they do but also wanted to show them a little about the racing side. We actually took that car to the wind tunnel. I had all these big ideas for Discovery Channel about teaching people about the wind tunnel and what we learn. But it turned more into a thrash build, get the car to the track and kick Joey Logano’s rear end. And we did that. It has been fun.”

“You also have good connections that help out. Marcus Smith helped me a ton with renting the track to the TV show so we could use the Roval and be one of the first cars on the Roval and promote the road course for Charlotte Motor Speedway.”

DO YOU THINK GIBSON WILL ADVOCATE FOR YOU IN HIS NEW ROLE SINCE YOU DO HAVE A RELATIONSHIP? THERE HAS BEEN QUESTIONS AT TIMES ABOUT HOW EVENLY DISPERSED ALL THE INFORMATION IS AT SHR. “Yeah, I think the more years I have been there, the more friends, colleagues and depth in all areas. Taking somebody that was a drivers crew chief and blending him into the whole system will benefit everyone. Of course the 41, sentimentally to me, will benefit the most because Tony Gibson will have that look and keen eye toward our car.”

HAVING WON DAYTONA LAST YEAR, HOW DO YOU FEEL GOING IN? “I think Doug Yates and his engines are the best superspeedway engines. Ford seems to have the least amount of drag which with that comes the least amount of downforce. That means we will run well at Daytona and Talladega. We swept the restrictor plate races last year and I don’t see that changing right now.

AUSTIN DILLON SAID HE THINKS NASCAR IS GOING TO MAKE EVERYONE'S EFI DATA AVAILABLE TO OTHER TEAMS. DO YOU KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT THAT? “That is brand new to me. I wouldn’t think they would do that. Maybe it is brake trace, throttle trace. Something they might show for the television side. I don’t think it will be exposed from the different teams. It will probably have a filter on it, made for TV, to look where the drivers are picking up the gas or getting on the brake. I may be behind the eight ball having been down in Florida.”

HOW OFTEN DO YOU FIND YOURSELF THINKING ABOUT DAYTONA LAST YEAR AND WHAT HAPPENED? “It was an amazing win. The prestige, history and value of that race and just being part of it over the years was special. Now to go back there as the defending champion of the Daytona 500 gives me that much more motivation to do it again and make sure nobody shares in all the glory. It was a huge day. With Monster CEO’s there and announcing the entitlement sponsorship and for us, getting back together for me with Ford. I couldn’t have written more of a fairy tale type of race. Daytona, I think about it all the time. Once we get past that race and it is on to Atlanta and we don’t win, 2017 Daytona 500 winner is done. We have to find other wins.”

WITH YOUR CONTRACT SITUATION LAST YEAR, YOU WERE ADAMANT THAT YOU WERE GOOD, BUT WAS IT A RELIEF WHEN ALL OF THAT CAME TO FRUITION AND YOU WERE SIGNED? “Yeah. I had no worries that it was not going to happen. I think it shows that I was truthful through the whole process with everybody and giving the information when I needed to and helping everybody write the stories and keep up with the news. At the end of the day, there are so many parts and pieces to the sponsorship and NASCAR’s entitlement sponsorsorship. We all agreed that we should do a one-year deal and look to revisit things once we get the season back underway.”

THERE IS A LOT OF DISCUSSION ABOUT MONSTER AND IF THEY WILL CONTINUE THEIR ENTITLEMENT ROLE WITH NASCAR. ANY INSIGHT ON WHAT YOU THINK WILL HAPPEN? “The deadline keeps getting pushed back. Whether it is more needs from ISC, SMI, NASCAR, Fox, NBC the independent tracks. For me on the inside, I know how Monster engages at the track and ultimately my car is to go out there and drive the 41, haul ass and win. That is my job. I do know a lot of the ins and outs of what is going on on the business side behind the scenes. The deadline that existed in December has been pushed to January-February. We will see what happens. Once that domino is put in place the others will fall in place. I feel good about all the different situations. Being part of the Monster brand has been a fun fraternity to be a part of over the years.”