This time last year, Kurt Busch coasted to victory in the spring Atlanta race, the ultimate springboard in putting his No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge solidly inside the Chase. Those playoffs may be six months away, but his team would kill for that type of repeat performance this weekend. After getting caught up in someone else’s mess, Busch’s pole run at Las Vegas last Friday turned into a disappointing 35th-place finish that dropped him to 19th in the season standings.
Can Busch turn it around, and how does he feel about some of the big issues facing the sport and his struggling Penske Racing organization today? Doug Turnbull sat down with him at Atlanta recently, asking him everything from his thoughts on crew chief Steve Addington to marriage advice for younger brother Kyle Busch.
Doug Turnbull: Let’s start with Daytona. How do you feel, after one race under your belt at a plate track, about NASCAR’s decision to loosen up the rules and allow full-on bump-drafting and a larger restrictor plate?
Kurt Busch: It was positive all the way around. The racing was better, and the action out on the track was better. Before, you used to have to think before you gave a big bump-draft. Now, it seems like you don’t have to look over your shoulder, you don’t have that pressure form NASCAR, so to speak. It’s all in the driver’s hands, and it provided for some great racing. It was an awesome, typical Daytona where you had the big finish at the end… but all the racing throughout, whether it was the Shootout, whether it was the 150s, you name it, it was positive all the way around.
Turnbull: Do you think they made the right decision at Daytona to go with multiple green-white-checkered finishes?
Kurt Busch: Yeah, it turned out – every time when you have a new rule, it usually gets used in the first race. I thought it was great – I was at the back with fresh tires, I needed more opportunities to get back up there, so it worked out.
But when you’re the leader – who was the leader on that first one, Greg Biffle? He didn’t win the race, and a couple of other guys that were leading didn’t win… so when you’re the leader, it’s not so good. With the new rule, with the double-file restarts, everybody’s jumbled up. But no matter what the rules are, you gotta find a way to win.
Turnbull: What was your take on the pothole situation?
Kurt Busch: I was surprised that they did get it patched up. It did open up to be a big hole, and I ran over it once, not meaning to, at speed, and it felt like it wanted to rip the right-side tires out of the car. They got all the team’s Bondo, and they put as much Bondo as they could in that hole and did the best makeshift fix to make sure the race finished.
I was surprised. I thought they were going to have to end up canceling the rest of the race and we were going to upset a lot of people.
Turnbull: Is repaving the answer for it?
Kurt Busch: Well, when you repave that just starts a cycle of life with the racetrack. Now, you gotta try to match the tire, and then you end up having tire issues because the speeds are so high. We’ll see how it shakes out. I think that they’ll just patch that section, it’ll be fresh asphalt for that 100 yards of racetrack, and I think that’s the best way to do it.
But eventually, they will have to repave it. It is 30 years old.
Turnbull: There’s a rumor going around that NASCAR drivers are campaigning to still run the old package with the wing at the other three plate races this year instead of the new spoiler. What are your thoughts on that?
Kurt Busch: I would say you’ve got to go with the spoiler and stick with it. And I think when we do add that at Talladega, we’ll see more of that side-drafting going on at these restrictor-plate tracks. Right now, with the wing, the air can escape underneath it and over it, and you don’t necessarily slow somebody down when you’re side-drafting. That’s the biggest thing. So hopefully, it works out for the positive everywhere we go.
Turnbull: Kyle’s making some big jumps into marriage and also starting his own race team. He still wants to run a bunch of Nationwide races, though. First off, do you have any advice for the marriage part, and second, do you think he’s maybe a bit too ambitious as he missed the Chase last year, and is just trying to do a lot at once.
Kurt Busch: Well, he does have a lot of things going on, but he’ll figure it all out. I think he’s ready to make the marriage step, and my advice is “Happy wife, happy life.” And he’ll be good. With the ownership part of it, it takes time to get things started up, and you’re going to go through the ups and the downs.
Especially the downs right away. Like Daytona, he wrecked two Trucks – it probably cost him $200,000 right on the first weekend.
Turnbull: The way the pavement’s worn out through the years, Atlanta Motor Speedway has become a driver’s track. And it seems like the people are walking away from the track now in their cars with a Darlington stripe on the side. Has Atlanta become a Darlingtonesque track, though probably not as difficult?
Kurt Busch: It definitely has. Darlington, you race right up by the wall all the time while Atlanta, when the tires get old, that’s when you move up to the top side of the racetrack. It just seems like there’s more grip up there, but you’re right next to that wall. It’s an exciting track to race on, it’s a lot of fun for the drivers and a lot of fun for the fans because there’s so many grooves of racing, you can race anywhere on that racetrack.
Turnbull: You’re with your brother’s old crew chief this year. What’s your take on Steve Addington’s addition to the Miller Lite team so far?
Kurt Busch: It’s been positive from the start. I like his experience level, and his [additional] leadership that you don’t get to see at the race track. You see it back at the race shop, and it’s been tremendous. A lot of the guys have warmed up to him real easily… and away we go.
Turnbull: Brad Keselowski is your teammate this year. So far, he’s turned a lot of heads – both good and bad – throughout his career. What would be your advice to him as he’s ruffled a lot of feathers and irked some of the veterans in the series?
Kurt Busch: He’s just on the gas, and it’s always easier to rein somebody back than it is to push him ahead, so to speak. But the way he’s come into the sport is his own doing, and I feel like his tenacity and his drive will overcome some of the other pitfalls that he has.
Turnbull: Is the splitter the next thing to go on the CoT?
Kurt Busch: It’s been troublesome, the way that it restricts front end travel. You’re always fighting to get the car to turn. And that splitter, it can actually create flat tires, if you rub somebody on the left rear or on the right rear. That’s something you just don’t want to have to deal with.