Kurt Busch won his first, and the second straight NASCAR Nextel Cup Championship for car owner Jack Roush at Homestead on Sunday. As a result, Busch is now the third-youngest driver to win the championship at 26 years, 3 months and 17 days.
Despite his relative youth, Busch was highly articulate yet candid when describing his Championship year with Roush and crew chief Jimmy Fennig.
KURT BUSCHCONGRATULATIONS.KB "Thank you, so much. It's unbelievable to be able to put such an effort into what it takes to make a championship calibre team. Many things have to fall into place. Jimmy Fennig is a true leader and he really helped me understand what I needed to do with the race car to make it go fast. I have to thank my team and my sponsors, Sharpie and Irwin, and all of our associates. It's wonderful."
WHAT HAPPENED WHEN THE WHEEL BROKE?KB "It was an odd problem that hasn't come up all year. We feel like we dodged a huge, huge, devastating proposition that would have taken us out of this championship and we pulled through."
YOU'RE THE CHAMP.KB "It's an unbelievable deal. This is what a team does to win a championship - they persevere on a day such as this. All year long we've done things like this, whether we put ourselves in a hole or whether we had a small problem, I just can't believe we were able to overcome all of that turmoil today."
WHAT ABOUT THE RIGHT-FRONT WHEEL?KB "Again, it had a big vibration those last 50 laps and it held on, but I'd like to put a cap on today and move on in what we did this year as a team, which was unbelievable. This championship is for Jimmy Fennig. I can't believe it for our team, for everybody that has put work into this car, Jimmy has done the deal.
"That's why I'm choked up is because there are heavy hearts in the NASCAR community with what we had to go through a few weeks ago with Hendrick and the problem they had. I love them truly and I want to donate anything that I can from this championship to them. This affected my little brother, so it hit home for us. It's unbelievable."
YOU'LL GET TO CELEBRATE IN NYC.KB "It's unbelievable for our sponsors and everybody that gets a chance to come to New York."
AND JACK?KB "Jack is just a true, true competitor. He's a racer from the word go and that's who I modelled myself after when I got to this point and he's helped me get to this point. I was so far behind in 2001 and made so many mistakes, but my sponsors stuck with me. We've got some great associate sponsors and we pulled through.
"Just an unbelievable day - to be able to persevere such as we did again - to overcome all the different obstacles - to put together a great season such as we did. With the regular season, superb job, and then with the playoffs, outstanding. One little slip here or there, we were able to make up for it. We started off the chase with a win and we finished with a top five and a pole. It's just unbelievable the way that Jimmy Fennig executed the whole program to give me the best race cars that I could possible drive and to give me equipment that would give me the position like we had today.
"A top five finish, I was in stitches. I was just sick to my stomach the last few laps. I had been out there forever. I haven't had fresh water in a while. This is in parallel to the Super Bowl or to the World Series to snag this first championship that NASCAR put together with this new format and to be the first Nextel Cup champion, it took so much from within. It's like any other championship in the world. I felt like I had the whole world on my shoulders every lap today, but, yet, I felt like I was alone or I had my whole team behind me and I had the fan support and I knew that I had the equipment to do so.
"So many emotions today and to be able to pull through and finish like we did - to cap off a great season - it's an unbelievable feeling."
JACK ROUSHTHOUGHTS? "It's just been great to be part of Jimmy Fennig's program. Jimmy organized this 97 team in his own light. It comes from all the good history that he had with Bobby Allison and Jimmy Fennig has only worked for two NASCAR team owners. It turns out Bobby Allison and myself and, of course, he spent so much time with Bobby and Bobby's been an inspiration to me as well. But, anyway, to be here with Jimmy and in the doldrums when we were just getting Kurt started and brought Jimmy into the program and had Jimmy take him as a son or as a driver that was incredibly talented, that was what he considered to be worth his energy and his commitment to hang in and bring us all along has been incredible.
"He's built the team and he's helped Kurt advance. I've had many questions. Kurt has had some lumps and bumps in his young career here. Kurt is an incredible quick study. Once he understands how something works, he never forgets it and he won't put it aside. If something happens that's not right for him or not good for him, then he makes the commitment to go forward and do it differently. If somebody had asked me what the thing is that's made the most difference as seen by me for Kurt this year is how close he's been to Mark and how close he's been to Matt and how close he's been to Greg Biffle and to watch him start to mentor, as he has, Carl Edwards who has come along behind on the same path that Kurt came through just a couple years ago."
TALK ABOUT THE SAVES YOU HAD TODAY.KB "It's just a scenario to where I've seen things go wrong and tried to understand the best that I can and what I need to do as a driver to communicate to the team to be able to persevere and stay focused on the task at hand. Things are always magnified when you're in this position of driving for a championship.
"There are other teams that have bumps in the road as well and to be able to put forth an effort such as this in 10 races, I had one smooth race, I believe and that was New Hampshire - and maybe Martinsville a little bit, where we finished fifth. But to go to each of the race tracks and to attack the race track for a win and nothing less. One race track after the next. Five hundred miles one week, 400 the next. Go to a rough and tough race track like Martinsville, follow it up - the week preceding was a Talladega Superspeedway event. A driver has to adapt to so many changing circumstances at the race track. Every single one is different, even your competitors because you see different competitors at every race track who excel at one specific style of race track versus another.
"The final 10 races, the race tracks challenged every team to the testing ability, to the team's focus, to the motor tuning and development - you name it. It was a full team effort and the way that we were able to overcome all of those circumstances - there is positions in time to be lucky - there is positions in time to be able to make sure that you stay focused and put those thoughts at bay and put together the best effort.
"I'm overwhelmed. I'm completely exhausted about what these final 10 races meant, but it's a true testament to what a team has to do, to what a driver has to do, to what an owner sees as a leader and the way that you have to compete at your top level for 10 races against the 10 toughest competitors - that's what this season meant for us was these final 10 races because that's what the Nextel Chase for the Cup is now."
TALK ABOUT YOUR RIDE TO GET HERE.KB "One might argue that it hasn't been a long road. I've been very fortunate to slide into different rides. That was racer's call them and to be able to meet the right people and sponsors and car owners and crew chiefs, and to be able to do this in such a short timeframe, it's mind-boggling to me. I've had so many things fall into place in my life that I'm very fortunate for. To be able to work for such a calibre team at such a young age was overwhelming to me and all I knew at that level was to go to the front, race as hard as I can and wrinkle fenders along the way. That's how I thought I was supposed to race and that was the wrong mindset.
"When I raced with Jimmy Fennig my second year, he gave me great cars that would lead races and run up front. Now I'm an unpolished second-year driver that has equipment - look out, and I ran over people again. So it took some time for me to understand the bigger picture and to know that there was no real level higher than this and there never will be in my life.
"I'm fully committed to NASCAR and the Nextel Cup racing circuit and just to be able to understand the bigger ethic and the bigger picture about racing at this level is one thing that I misunderstood the first couple of years and now I've been able to put that in grasp and to learn from Jimmy Fennig, to learn from Jack Roush, and, of course, my father was always there. He was the first one that I'd go to after a race when I got home and ask him questions about what I did wrong and what I can do better. He's really helped me along to this point."
TALK ABOUT THE EMOTIONS WHEN YOU GRABBED THE TROPHY.KB "I had the 48 in front of me, the 24 in front of that and I'm doing all these numbers in my head trying not to run into walls and I thought I did it. It took all the way to the back straightaway for them to communicate to me that we had done it and immediately the emotions overtook anything that I did all day today. When I got to the point of hoisting the trophy - the first Nextel Cup - it meant so much to me, it meant so much to NASCAR and I know that it means a tremendous amount to Nextel to savour those few moments and to act as if I had won something that has never been done before and I did that today. Those were the few thoughts that went through my mind as I hoisted up the trophy."
TALK ABOUT WINNING UNDER BOTH SYSTEMS.JR "We'd been in the old system, competing in the old system, last year was our 17th year and, of course, we've been to the call four times with Mark he's finished second. I was surprised that we were able to win last year. Our 2003 Taurus was dated. We hadn't had a new set of templates for it since '97, so we had a nose that was behind and tail that was behind and an engine that was revised the last time in '92 and the Dodge and the Chevrolet have had numerous revisions since then, so I didn't think our engine was great and I knew our car wasn't great from an aero point of view. I was surprised that we were able to come up with the durability, the consistency that the 17 Dewalt team was able to do what they needed to do.
"I fully expected with the new engine program and with the new Ford this year to be a factor this year, since we kept most of our people in place and learned a lot through last year. I had hoped to be able to put all five in the top 10. I'm greedy that way and that certainly is our goal for next year, but if we come back and look at the chances we had to lose this championship in the last 10 - the times that Kurt got himself caught in a situation, where he had to spin the car to miss a wreck or he had a wheel fall off today.
"My heart stopped when I saw how close he was to pit wall and crashing that pit wall head on getting into the pits as the wheel came off. So there were many ways for us to lose this. We can't expect to win two championships in a row with all the hazards that are out there, so this is a feast or famine business. It's incredibly hard to do this and I'm just glad to have a chance to have won it twice with Kurt and with Matt and I look forward to repeats for Kurt or Matt and the other guys."
YOU'RE THE LAST NAME ON THE WINSTON CUP AND FIRST ON THE NEXTEL CUP.JR "How about that."
WHAT HAPPENED WITH THE WHEEL AND SUBSEQUENT PIT STOPS?KB "We had a problem that in the car it felt as if we had a loose lugnut and when you have that type of problem it's hard to distinguish what exactly is wrong. Is it the wheel spacer the got caught up in the wheel wrong? Is it that there is something loose?
"You don't want to take and point your finger at somebody that did the wrong job. You have to analyse it the best way that you can and after the pit stop I still thought that the wheel vibrated loose and we had a flat tire due to a blister, not knowing that the centre of the wheel came out. So I pointed at the front tire changer during that pit stop and he was like, 'What are you talking about? Do you need something?' And I'm like, 'No, this is a moment in my life and your life that we're not agreeing on.' (Laughter) And we were able to get back out on the track and to not have a vibration after that.
"That was the first time I've ever had a wheel that came apart. The centre of it was tight against the hub, the wheel came apart from the outer ring. That's something Jimmy Fennig explained to me. We were able to learn something new today as well as finish well enough to win the first Nextel Cup championship. Just the way that our season has gone. There are so many lessons that you learn and you have to apply them quickly if you want to be competitive at this top level."
JIMMY FENNIG, Crew ChiefCAN YOU ADDRESS THE TIRE
"The tire, it broke and the first reaction you do is you go to the tire changer and see if the holes were oblong. We brought the piece up on the pit box and looked at it and they weren't oblong. So then we're sitting there, are the wheel spacers backing off? We're trying to fix the problem or find the problem, but the wheel was actually tight.
"I was just by the car right now and everything was still tight after the race, so we'll take it back to the shop on Monday and look at it and see if we can find, maybe we had some bad wheel spacers or the metal was too soft or something like that that caused it. But the tire changer did have them pulled up tight. Why it broke, there's a torque ring that picks up the outside and inner part of the wheel and it just picked up the inner part and not the outer part, so we'll dig into it tomorrow morning and find out."
HAS THAT EVER HAPPENED TO YOU?JF "With Mark Martin in '98 we had a wheel come loose, so I set a rule that the wheels get torqued when it leaves the garage and once it's on pit road before the race starts, so they're actually torqued twice. Since 1998 was the last time that happened - that was the very first time, but this time it appears the wheel wasn't loose, something else was the problem."
"To put that in perspective, that's a fatigue failure that you typically see on parts that have been used too long. We replace, for the Cup Series, our wheels every year and times when the truck wasn't as intense as it is today and Busch isn't as intense as it is today, you would expect wheels to be used two years in Busch and maybe a third year in Truck or ARCA, but that's the kind of a failure you typically see.
"We've got to go back and learn from this. Jimmy and I will put our heads together on it and look at some more parts, but, right now my shot from the hip is next year we'll run our wheels for 26 races and then for the last 10 we'll have another set of wheels. But in my 18 years, I've never had a wheel break that I felt broke because it was fatigued like this, but I've seen them on wheels that I knew were too old for what they were trying to do."
WHAT DID YOUR HEART DO WHEN THE WHEEL FELL OFF AND JUST MISSED PIT WALL?KB "This is a good opportunity to throw Matt (Kenseth) under the bus. His nickname is Gravedigger after he ran into those tires and that was the last thing that I wanted to do (laughter). Matt is a guy that he's always a racer, he's always trying to do the best job that he can in the seat and that's somebody that I've looked up to. Even though he's only got a year's more experience, he was one that helped me in what we put together as a team.
"To have that feeling of knowing that the light at the end of the tunnel was very dim at that point and then to almost run into the tire barrier thinking about the light being too dim, I realized I was in the wrong frame of mind. The car wouldn't turn. I just had too much speed and when I applied the brake the car turned to the right even further. Because of the way that the calliper locked up so quickly, it turned the car to the right. I let go of the brake and turned the thing as hard as I could left and I missed it, and in doing all that, I came into pit road too hot. So my speed on entry was too fast and that penalty was to start at the tail-end of the longest line and that was that."
HOW DID YOU RE-FOCUS AFTER THE TIRE?KB "Knowing early on that you have time to make up and be able to pull up through the field, you're able to smile still and know that you've got a shot because you can still work as hard as you can and pull your heart out because tomorrow is gonna be another day and you hope that you gave everything that you gave today. For us, to have those problems early it was good. To have smaller problems later, it was still chewing at me, but I knew if I could find the 24 and the 48 that we would have an opportunity to race those guys for this championship. Things at the end of the race came into play for us in a positive way."
WHAT'S THE MOST SIGNIFICANT THING TO BEING CALLED SERIES CHAMP?KB "This one has its first. This is a tag that Nextel came into our sport to create a new identity around NASCAR racing, to create a playoff system to where you have to be a driver and a team to persevere over anything that happens in a 10-race playoff. If one or two bad things happen and your finish isn't that great, it somewhat takes your chances away, but if you're able to go for the win in every race and beat the best of the best - 10 guys for 10 races - and to be put up with the likeliness of other names that have come up through our sport as champions, it means so much to me and to give Jack his first Nextel Cup championship, to win the first one for Nextel.
"I know there's gonna be so much work ahead of me that will create a stronger identity for the 97 team and what Jimmy Fennig has put together. I look at it as a team effort, but in the history book it's my name. I know Jimmy looks at that. I know that Jack looks at that and I look at the others that have come through our ranks - to be a champion and to put together races and to put together an effort, it was all different in the past. This was the first one in the new era of Nextel as our series sponsor. To win this championship, it's unparalleled to anything that's ever happened in Motorsports because of what it took as far as an approach to win this."
CAN YOU ADDRESS THE MATURITY IT TOOK TO RE-FOCUS AFTER THE WHEEL FELL OFF?KB "I believe at that point in the race it was time to either shape up or ship out, and I wanted the team to rally behind everyone of themselves and to know that we had no more room for mistakes. And to have that circumstance of the wheel falling off, something that I've never had before, to have the miscommunication on what we were going to do as far as our pit stop, it was so early enough in the race, even if we have that towards the latter part of the race and didn't have the outcome that we would've had, it's a team effort.
"We got to this point because we're a team, and we were going to win this thing or lose this thing because we were a team. There wasn't going to be any finger pointing. I would take all responsibility because the media would've been on my shoulders afterwards. It is a great thing that our team pulled together today, and what I learned from these individuals sitting to my right that I've been able to piece things together to know what it takes to be a champion."
IS IT TRUE THAT KURT COMPLETELY MAINTAIN HIS COMPOSURE?JF "Yeah. Kurt has been doing an awesome job on these last 10 races. We ended up spinning out a couple, he kept his cool, come back and we got a nice top-five finish. He just calmed down, everything's been cool. We have a long way to go, and at the end the results show it. So, he's been doing an awesome job at that. I think I probably get a little bit madder on the box - you can ask Jack about last week at Darlington. It's a big team effort. One guy makes a mistake, we go help that guy, and we all stand behind, nobody points fingers like Kurt says."
ONLY DRIVERS GET ASKED ABOUT PRESSURE. GIVEN EVERYTHING THAT WAS AT STAKE TODAY, DID YOU FEEL ANY ADDITIONAL PRESSURE FOR YOU AND THE CREW?JF "I kind of had meetings every Sunday with the crew guys and the pit crew guys, and we go over what needs to be done, and we kind of just say do like we've been doing to get us to this point. I kind of joke around a little bit, keep 'em relaxed, but there is pressure on them guys. They gotta perform, they know they have to perform, but throughout our meetings we just say do what you did to get this points, and that's what those guys do."
AFTER TAKING SO MANY YEARS TO WIN YOUR FIRST CHAMPIONSHIP, YOU'VE NOW WON TWO IN A ROW. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR EMOTIONS?JR "Well, we're two for 18, that's 11 percent, that's not very high. I did a little better than that before I started stock-car racing, and I expected to. But, we are on our way. That's two out of 18, and it's not zero for 18. With what Kurt's able to do now, what Jimmy's able to do - you are going to give me some more years, aren't you Jimmy?"
JF "Yeah, I'm not done yet."
JR "Jimmy built a new house. I've been waiting for the letter. He says he was going to go the way of the dodo bird. Anyway, we've got a long time with Kurt here. I'm sure he's going to go at least 20, 30 years longer. I hope that I'll be around to see most of that, and we expect to win lots of championships with Kurt.
"Of course, Greg's still got his championship in front of him, Mark has got one more shot at it, Matt Kenseth's got his teeth whetted on it, and Carl Edwards, what can you say about Carl? So, we're real excited to go compete for a championship every year, and with the way NASCAR has got the thing for the 10-race deal, if you can salt the field with two or three strong horses like we had this year, you've got a better chance to win a championship than you really did under the old scenario.
"The thing that I'm sure will be talked about and lamented over is the fact that Jimmie Johnson had this organized - it was a cakewalk for him if it had been under the old situation. But, putting them all together 50 points apart is like throwing 'em under a blanket and we just want to have all of our guys in there, if we can."
HOW DOES IT FEEL TO WIN YOUR FIRST CHAMPIONSHIP AFTER SO MANY YEARS IN THE SPORT?JF "It feels good. I always say it don't really matter because I've enjoyed myself over these years, I've won races, but today is a special day. Winning the championship, my very first championship, with Kurt Busch and Jack Roush and the Sharpie team, it'll sink in pretty hard tomorrow, but I feel good about it."
MORE ON THE CHAMPIONSHIP.JF "The reason I say that is because I'm fortunate enough to be doing what I love to do, and that's go racin'. That's all I did all my life, and I've been pretty successful at it. So if I didn't win the championship, I was going to walk away with a smile anyway. But, like I say, this one is going to be special to me, and hopefully I can keep doing this another 10 years, keep following Jack."
WHEN THE WHEEL CAME OFF, WERE YOU CONCERNED ABOUT DAMAGE TO THE BRAKES, OR SOMETHING LIKE THAT?JF "Number one, you want to make sure the sheet metal is okay because we're playing in a very aerodynamic day now. The next thing that came to my mind was why it came off, because I've got to fix why it came off so we can continue on. That's all I thought about was, why? Kurt said he had brakes so I knew we were going to be alright there, but really concerned me and we kept kicking the spacer around, and I showed Jack and everything else, and we still couldn't figure out why, and to this time right now, I still can figure out why.
"No, I wasn't concerned about the camber or nothing else, because the wheel just came off. It ended up landing on the sway bar. We have little short pieces on the sway bar for flat tires, for rubbing, to handle that problem."
YOUR BROTHER KYLE WAS PRETTY DISTRAUGHT AT ATLANTA, PHOENIX AND LAST WEEK AT DARLINGTON. HOW MUCH WERE YOU THERE TO HELP BOOST HIM UP, AFTER HE CAME CLOSE TO WINNING A CHAMPIONSHIP?KB "One thing that we have done as brothers is we have stuck together no matter what we get involved in. It was evident to me that he thought that blood was thicker than business when the championship form started, and he was torn in so many different directions when this race finally came down to the end.
"And, of course, what he went through after Martinsville, to have Ricky Hendrick so close to him as a car owner. I went up to him - I'm not much of a mentor just yet as far as at looking at different types of life scenarios, but as far as race car and focus of what you have to do in a car, I tried to give him as much advice as I could and tried to calm his nerves and to ease his pain. And just as all the racing community was down, and felt the effects of what happened to Hendrick Motorsports. If there was any piece we could get from our championship to help sooth their needs over at Hendrick Motorsports then I'd like to do so. And Kyle was one that branched me to them, and knowing how tough this was to go through as a racing community."
DO YOU STILL HAVE A HOLE IN YOUR HEART FOR MARK MARTIN, WHO IS STILL SEEKING HIS CHAMPIONSHIP?JR "Mark is a true champion, and Mark and I were holding hands, saying it would be fine for either one of us or for us together not to win a championship. We thought we'd been doing the right thing, and we were happy with the success we had, and it was enough. But, Mark, based on the way he raced the IROC cars and all the championships he had there and the Busch cars and all the races he won there, he deserves a championship in NASCAR's top series.
"It's one of the things I feel bad about when I go to bed every night that with another owner he probably would've had a couple of 'em by now, and I've held him back and that really bothers me. But we'll do our best effort to put him in a car that can win next year and then we'll go look for trucks and whatever's left."
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR PERSONALITY, AND WHAT KIND OF CHAMPION WILL YOU BE?KB "This is a new look and a new face for NASCAR, and I'm a driver that that likes to go back to tradition and go to the heritage of our sport, and I hope I'm able to link the two together to create an identity of new fans as well as keep the old fans interested in what we've done as a new format.
"To be a leader in what we can do in NEXTEL, the possibilities are endless and I am more ambitious and willing to do anything for them to help create what they want out of this program. And to be a champion, the first of NEXTEL, the second in a row for Jack Roush, the first for Jimmy Fennig, and the first for the 97 Sharpie/IRWIN racing team, there are so many people that I represent that any time that I speak or anytime that I show up for a type of appearance there will be people affected, and hopefully people that are turned on to our sport more so than what they were before as well as follow our team in more depth."
DO YOU THINK YOU WON SOME FANS OVER WITH THE CHAMPIONSHIP, AND COULD YOU TALK ABOUT THE REACTION OF THE FANS DURING DRIVER INTRODUCTIONS?KB "That's what's great about our sport. The fans are entitled to root and to pull against anybody they want to, and to be in a situation such as mine, the underdog, somebody that came up in this new format, new system, to be able to come up to the top, maybe too quickly, through my career as well, relatively unknown, just a different look, I guess, from the West Coast, and to race too hard too early, wrinkle those fenders and to crumble the spirits of some of those fans, this is definitely a bullet point in my career that will help some of them realize that I'm not such a bad guy, I guess.
"It's been fun to go up against the likes of Dale Earnhardt, Jr., to against the favourites of Jeff Gordon, and of course the favourite, Jimmie Johnson, with so many wins in these final 10 races as well as what they had as a racing family to go through. I always look back to these two individuals to my side, and they're the ones that pull me through any circumstance that I see, and the way the fans react, I hope that it's more of a positive outcome because I need to do my job as a champion to lead NEXTEL into their second year."
HOW IS YOUR BACKGROUND HELPFUL OR HURTFUL TO YOUR CAREER?KB "It was the rise to come up from one series to the next, with not spending a certain amount of time, learning the bad habits of what that series had within it or not developing the rapport with the drivers. Jack moved me straight into Cup, with only one year, six months, of truck experience, and to go from the bullrings and the Saturday short tracks out in Las Vegas and relatively unknown to the truck world, then completely unknown to the Cup world, every single of my mistakes were up at this elite level, and that's one thing that I did wrong.
"Maybe I should've waited another year in truck, maybe I should've done a year in Busch, but one thing I'm able to say and it's because I'm in this position today is that we continued to race hard, we continued to learn hard lessons, and the knowledge that I have about race cars is fed from my father, it translated right into Jack's frame of mind, the way that he approaches race cars and the way that he builds his teams. I was a racer at heart, that's all I wanted to do was race, and I didn't understand the bigger picture, so the results came quick, but the rough edges of the other things were a bit more magnified."