Toyota Racing – Kyle Busch
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Media Day
LAS VEGAS (September 12, 2019) – Joe Gibbs Racing driver Kyle Busch was made available to media at Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Media Day.
KYLE BUSCH, No. 18 M&M’s Hazelnut Spread Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
What’s different about racing in Vegas compared to other tracks?
“Not much. It’s just another venue. You come out to Las Vegas though, for myself and being this is the hometown, you want to come out here and run well and do a good job. This is a race – I grew up watching the race track be built. I’d love to be able to go out there and win here anytime. I’ve been able to do that once fortunately in my career, but we come out here twice now. There’s better opportunities to try to come out of here with the win. We were really fast here in the spring – coulda, woulda, shouda won the race if it wasn’t for speeding on pit road. Hopefully this time around we’ll keep it clean and have a shot to win again.”
How do you view the use of your bonus points in the Playoffs?
“It’s kind of an insurance policy. We all pay for insurance to hopefully never have to use it, but it’s there just in case. For us, we’ve done a great job of being able to build those points up throughout the regular season and it’s nice to be able to have that point structure in place to kind of give you the opportunity to have your early season success help you through the post-season. I think it’s the most fair structure that we’ve had through the Playoff era. Looking forward to not having to use those points, but if need be, there’s some that are there.”
Does having the points as insurance change how you approach any of the rounds?
“No, not at all. First and foremost, we try to figure out how we can win each and every week. Then as the races go on, we then kind of figure out what the points look like and where the cutoff is for guys that are or aren’t going to make it.”
If you don’t win the championship this season, will it be a disappointment?
“I’ve been asked this question every single year and yeah, if you don’t win a championship it’s disappointing. I’ve been to the Homestead race four years in a row and I’ve only won it once. I don’t know if that is a little LeBron James’-esque, but it feels like I can get there and just can’t seal the deal. It’s kind of crazy that it comes down to one race and one race track. Fortunately, I’ve been good there over the years. We won it in 2015 and we were really fast in 2016. Carl (Edwards) was actually better than us and then all heck broke loose and I was the fastest car there in 2017, just got stuck in traffic and wasn’t able to get back up towards the lead fast enough. Then last year we were horrendous. We should have finished 14th and ended up fourth. All the top-four were the championship contenders. Anything can happen.”
Is a win essential at Homestead?
“It’s been proven that way. I think you have to go to Homestead, you have to be ready to win that race. I don’t know, this year might be different because you can kind of take the top seven or eight guys and flip them in any order and replace them and they’ll stay in that order because it’s so hard to pass. Homestead is a little bit of a wide race track and you can kind of move around a little bit. If it does develop around the outside, around the wall, then it’s going to be single-file. We’ll see what happens.”
Do you expect to see more aggression in the Playoffs this season with what we’ve seen in regular season competition?
“Yeah, I guess I would imagine some of that, sure. Everybody goes for broke and tries to move people out of the way and get what they can get on restarts. It’s always kind of chaotic in that regard. It is because as soon as the restarts are done and you kind of get three, four, five, six laps gone after a restart then that’s kind of where you ride. It’s really tough to pass for the next 40 until cars start to fall off and tires start to wear out a little bit. It’s certainly a different game then what it’s been in years past. In years past, you could kind of take it easy on restarts a little bit and let everything kind of formulate and single-file out some and then you could pick your way up through there. You can’t really do that now.”
Are the unwritten rules of etiquette changing on-track when it comes to the Playoffs?
“Those rules are changing and I think it’s just the nature of Mark Martin not being around and (Tony) Stewart and (Jeff) Gordon and Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. and some of those guys that knew how to race, but also the aero-package and what these cars drive like nowadays. A lot of these younger kids now come up running Late Models and K&N cars and beating the doors off of one another throughout their careers and here they are doing it at the Cup level. It’s just a different form of where these guys are being taught to race.”
How do you deal with the younger drivers who are driving that way?
“I focus on what I’ve got to do first and foremost and then worry about that later.”
Can you talk about the season Kurt Busch is having and what would it be like for both of you to make it to Homestead in the Final Four?
“I think that he’s (Kurt Busch) done a fantastic job of changing teams once again and being able to elevate that team that he’s gone to, to a new level. I think that the 1 car being able to get back to victory lane in so long, I can’t remember the last time it won a race, but Kurt won this year so that’s pretty cool. They’ve also been really fast. They were fast at Darlington, they were fast again at Indy, but they got caught up in wrecks. Unfortunate circumstances kind of held them out of some points the last few weeks, but overall, it would be nice to see them run well throughout the Playoffs, I’m sure they will. Of course, racing with him or against him for a title at the end of the day would be pretty exciting. Overall, not quite sure how all that would work out in the end. Just have to wait and see.”
How do you use emotion or on-track incidents to motivate you to be better?
“I ran into the wall two weeks ago and then tried to continue on and blew a right-front tire and had to run the last two laps without a right side. Every situation that comes at you, you have to handle it as it comes to you. There’s no planning or pre-planning for things that happen in a race. You don’t know that on lap 186, you’re going to get run into by so-and-so and then it’s going to create this situation. You just have to be ready for anything and kind of reset and keep digging one you get to those situations.”
Does the strongest team each week keep changing?
“It does keep changing. There’s been some different circumstances that have kind of kept us out of victory lane I guess. We probably coulda, shoulda won Darlington if we would have been able to come off pit road the last two times, first. We came off third and couldn’t pass anybody. You’re at Indy and you come off pit road fourth and you ride fourth for the entire fuel run until you come back down pit road. I didn’t see (Kevin) Harvick pass a guy for the lead there. It’s going to be difficult. I don’t know if it’s just going to be strictly about how you come off pit road, that’s how you’re going to run or not and if that’s the case then you might as well write it off – whoever wins the race off pit road at Homestead, it’s theirs. It’s kind of unfortunate with what we’ve got going on right now.”
What has kept you out of victory lane in recent weeks?
“It’s execution, it’s circumstantial. There’s certain things that have kept us out. I just mentioned Darlington, Indy – we were working our way up through and we were passing guys on pit road, that was the only place we were passing anybody. Then we had an engine expire and beyond that, I don’t really remember anymore. It’s just a matter of track position these days and how things happen throughout the event.”
After going to the Final Four in Homestead the last four years, does it make the desire for the second championship that much more intense?
“When I won it in ’15 and we got back there again in ’16, the desire was there for ’17, the desire was there probably even more so because we were the fastest car. Then last year it was just about survival. We were terrible so I knew that we didn’t have a shot. It was just ugly for whatever reason, we’re not sure really why. We’ll see what happens this year. You don’t ever lose that drive and that desire to be able to go out there and be able to have number two or number three. Think about it, I’ve been there four years in a row, if I would have won it four years in a row, we’d be talking about a whole different dynasty right now. It would certainly be nice to get those accomplishments when you’re given those opportunities and they’re right there in front of you. The reason why we race it out is there are three other guys that are going to be in that race that are worthy of winning that race too.”
What would a second championship mean to your legacy?
“I’m sure it’s going to mean more than just one. I don’t know exactly what it would mean, but I don’t think two – two would change it over one, but I think when you get to three, it’s not going to be that big of a deal. Then four and five would be huge. That’s kind of what I look at. If I could get a handful of them, I would say that’s probably a successful career. Years ago if you would have asked me that question, I would have said, seven or eight is possible. Right now, probably five I would say.”
How do you stay ahead of the technology curve that younger drivers are being trained on?
“Best thing you can do is just keep up your study and keep up the things that has gotten me to this point. All the data that’s been coming on and wasn’t there when I was around so it certainly has sped up the learning curve for some of these younger guys. They get free SMT data right there given to them live as I’m making laps or Kevin Harvick is making laps or Jimmie Johnson is making laps. They’re able to learn so much faster and so much quicker and I can read that stuff and I can apply it really, really well, that’s not the problem. It’s free information, which kind of sucks.”
What has made you so strong at ISM Raceway in recent seasons?
“(Kevin) Harvick had it there for a while and he’s still fast, don’t underestimate him. We’ve gone to work at figuring out what will make us better there and I think that we’ve kind of found some things over the course of Adam Stevens (crew chief) and myself working at that place and having the opportunity to go there a couple times a year and building a notebook. That’s been the biggest thing for us. We know what to look for when we get there and I think that’s kind of what’s helped us get better there over the last few times and has propelled us to a couple wins.”
Does the lack of success in the Playoffs stay with you or does it only come up when asked about it?
“You get asked about it so it reminds you, but overall you just try to figure out how to not have those same circumstances happen again. You try to learn from your mistakes. I was playing a new card game with a buddy of mine a few weeks ago and he was teaching me how to play it and he was like, ‘No, no, no, that’s not right, that’s not the right move.’ I was like, ‘Wait, let’s just finish it out and let me learn how to lose this way and then tell me what I did wrong and we’ll fix it next time around.’ You try to figure out ways of not being able to have the same circumstances take you out again, but sometimes it’s circumstantial. You just never know. 2013, everything was fine and we were minding our own business riding in the back of the pack and we get run over from behind at Talladega and knocked out. That was ’13 was still when they had the three-race resets, but you went back to zero so you didn’t have the success of those insurance points from the previous 26 weeks. It’s different now and hopefully for us we cannot have those mistakes and prohibit us from making it to Homestead.”
How hard was it to struggle with the race car in 2018 after such a strong car in 2016 and 2017?
“You don’t know that until the race. When we’re in practice in ’17, we were okay, we were working on it. We made a lot of changes and we made it a lot better throughout the practices and stuff and we got it to where I wanted it for the race. Then in the race we were really quick. Then last year, I thought that we were actually second-best. Through practice, I was like, ‘we’re okay, we’re not bad.’ Then we made some changes to it and kind of went backwards a little bit and put those back and then we got ourselves in the race with a few different changes and we were way off. It’s just a matter of how it all comes together for you I guess. Sometimes practice isn’t always an indicator of what you’ll have in the race.”
Are you better at dealing with frustration at this elite level of racing?
“No, I’m definitely not very good with frustrating moments. It’s hard. You pour your life and soul into this and this is what you do and what you want to do and be successful at and you want to go out here and prove and show people what they all hype up and talk about that, yes it’s true that I can be one of the best here and it’s frustrating when I’m not able to come out of races or seasons with the goals that you anticipate or the goals that you think you can achieve. It’s quite frustrating in that regard. This year for example, we’ve had four wins, we’ve been really good, we led the points — you look back on it and we should have eight or nine wins. It’s been okay. It would be nice to know that we could have those bonus points if we had four or five more wins that those would carry us right on through and we probably would be a true lock for Homestead.”
Is their a fear of failure that drives you?
“The fear of failure is no question what drives you early on for sure. When I was at Hendrick, that was probably the biggest reason why I got out of there. I was scared of failing and not running well enough because I was seeing and watching my teammates around me doing a good job and winning races and being successful and then not being able to do the same things as them so it was hard on me. Then getting over to JGR with a fresh start, went out there and kicked butt. It was fun and it’s been that way ever since.”
What is it about Vegas that you or the race car find difficult?
“The spring race is very, very different than the summer race just with temperatures and everything like that. Spring race, I always feel like I run better here. I run okay here in the spring and finished second before, we’ve won before in the spring of ’09. Then last year the summer race just did not go our way at all. We were really, really bad. We’ll see what happens this time around. I don’t think there’s anything in particular that we can pinpoint that keeps us from running better here. It’s just a matter of this place when they reconfigured it and put more banking in it, I lost whatever I had here because I was way better on the flat track. It’s just when you put banking in places, it makes it easier for everybody else to run better so I feel like it made it easier for other guys and didn’t really add anything for me.”
Does the later start time for the race help?
“We’re going from day to night so it’s going to be different variables and different variables sometimes lend themselves to guys that can adapt like myself and Adam Stevens (crew chief) over other teams that don’t quite have as good of adaption.”
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