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Busch Says NHRA Was Anything But A Drag

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, March 16 2011

Kurt Busch was edged by Erica Enders in Pro Stock on Sunday.

Kurt Busch returns to his day job this week – driving the No. 22  Sprint Cup Dodge for  Penske Racing at Bristol Motor Speedway.

But during a teleconference on Wednesday, Busch took a look back at competing in the NHRA Gatornationals in a Pro Stock car.

It was Busch’s first drag race in the highly competitive Pro Stock class. After struggling on the first day of qualifying he came back and easily qualified on the second.

He was eliminated in the first round on race day in a close matchup with veteran Erica Enders.

Here is some of what Busch, the 2004 Sprint Cup champion, had to say about the experience in the Gatornationals:

QUESTION:  Kurt, good reaction time, ran well in Gainesville.  Do you have any thoughts on what you might like to see one day, some of the things you liked about the NHRA experience from the fan perspective maybe somehow be integrated into the NASCAR experience?

KURT BUSCH:  Well, it was such a great time that I had there with the fans.  The sponsors, the way they get their solid advertising in the NHRA world is with the open paddock.  A lot of times you see the way that fans can interact with the midway gains, the grandstands are right there.  You file out of the grandstands, then you have the perfect pit-area-type atmosphere.  It’s easy that way because all the cars are towed through the pits.  Nobody really drives through like we do with our garage area where there’s the hot pit area.  That’s the biggest difference that I see.

Q.  With the good reaction times you had out there on the drag strip, do you think that might help you when you get the green flag?

KURT BUSCH:  Well, that’s one thing I’ve been joking around with.  Honestly, I feel like it has helped me.  I’ve been going through the different training processes through the NHRA Drag Racing school

Kurt Busch celebrates after winning a race where he went around in circles. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)

with Roy Hill.  And that has helped me I think on the Cup Series, just feeling the 800 horsepower that we have with the Cup cars, versus the 1400 with a Pro Stocker.

But it’s been great just to feel the rear tires, try not to slip them on restarts, hopefully that will help me on the short tracks, Bristol, Martinsville, Richmond, even our road courses where we’re trying to put down that good forward bite.

Q.  Usually the NASCAR race, you’re in the car for several hours.  What was it like at the Gator Nationals to work all day and then have your day completely end in six or seven seconds?

KURT BUSCH:  Well, that’s the big difference in drag racing versus NASCAR.  The way that things are set up, you’re a hero or you’re a zero in drag racing.  When you have luck on your side, you hope that you continue to advance through the rounds.  But you know ultimately it can come to an end right away.

For us to go into Sunday, it was an accomplishment to qualify.  At the same time, the expectations were to advance, but knowing we could get beat right away.

The satisfaction of the whole event to me was after the first round, yes, we were eliminated.  I think it was an honorable defeat.  It was a respectable defeat, a loss we can hold our heads up about.  When you look at the first round of the eight matches, we would have been beat half the field after our first round with reaction time and elapsed time.

It was something that the left lane was handicapped a little bit with the grip.  Not many guys ran very well in the left lane.  That’s the thing.  You want to be in the top half of the ladder so you have lane choice.

There’s so many little things that go into drag racing, it’s very easy to chair quarterback it, look at what we did wrong.  All in all, I thought it was a great weekend with our Shell Dodge in the Pro Stocker.

Q.  Was it strange to walk away after only six seconds?

Kurt Busch heads up track during the NHRA's Gatornationals over the weekend.

KURT BUSCH:  That’s the part of drag racing that is difficult to explain, but it’s just part of the sport.  You have the opportunity to get beat at any given moment.  Your day can start and end just as quickly.

Q: What are your future plans with the Pro Stock car now and do you see this being something that maybe you kind of take on more full-time after you’re out of the Cup car?

KURT BUSCH:  Well, I feel like we’re just limited so much on the schedule, it’s tough to get out there and say we’re going to do more races.  The only one that does line up is in July.  It’s the Mopar Mile High Nationals, which would be a great fit.

For me, I think we need to be focused on our Cup car at that point in the season.  It’s the end of July.  We have August and a little bit of September before we have to be locked into the Chase.  If we’re not running well in the points, we don’t need to go Pro Stock racing.

Only time will tell.  We’ll know what type of feeling we’ll be having with our Cup car on the NASCAR side.  I still feel like I have 10 or 15 years left racing a Sprint Cup car.  If I do, the NHRA Pro Stock will have to wait.  Right now my love and my heart is in NASCAR.  This is where I want to be and I want to deliver a championship to Penske Racing.  And we have to work on those things to make it happen.

Q.  Can you tell us what it’s like to take a run, hitting the throttle, staging all that stuff?

KURT BUSCH:  It’s an amazing feeling.  You’re sitting in the staging lanes trying to go through your head on what you have to do to do the burnout, to stage the car, shift it properly going down the racetrack.

When they pull you up there, you fire the engine up.  If you don’t have lane choice, you wait to see what lane you’re going to get.  There’s little differences in between each side on what you have to look at when you look at the Christmas tree.

Doing the burnout, you have to set the line lock at 1200 pounds on the brake pressure.  You actually start the burnout in third gear, hit fourth gear, hit fifth gear.  You’re actually wide open in fifth gear during the burnout, which is pretty intense.

You have to slow the car down after the burnout properly, put your tire right back in the same marks where you did your burnout.  Just a very small margin of error that you’re dealing with.  You have to get everything just exactly right.

I feel like in drag racing you have the perfect run to start with.  It’s just how you execute is how many

Don Garlits, John Force and Kurt Busch.

hundredths or thousandths of a second that you lose during your run.  Whether you’re steering the car too much, whether you’re off a little bit on your line, whether you hit your shift marks exactly perfect, it’s a tough game.

Reaction time of course is one of the most important elements.  You have to go right when you have to hit that mark just right on the Christmas tree.

Q.  Wanted to find out what the reaction was from the other drivers in the NHRA?  Did they like to see you there, have any questions?  What was that like?

KURT BUSCH:  It was an incredible experience.  Everybody was welcoming us into their group.  The fraternity of drivers was encouraging us, offering advice, trying to help us.  It was really a unique feeling to be the new guy but also to be the one with the notoriety from the Sprint Cup Series, and the excitement level for the energy of everybody there.

I mean, even Jason Line, the guy that’s won so far this year, came up to me and said, Thank you for being part of our division and shedding light on the Pro Stock division.

I said, ‘Wow, I’m just little ol’ me.’

He said, You come with a lot more weight than you know, and anything you need, I’m here for advice.

It was great to see everything come full circle.

Q.  On the flipside, what was the feeling like for you being a rookie again?

KURT BUSCH:  It was that exact feeling.  It reminded me of when I was in the Truck Series, switching over into Cup, not being familiar with any of the surroundings, just learning each day what the schedule meant, how to interact with the time that we had with the crew.  Of course with the fans, it was great.

Just an overall positive experience and something I’m very proud of with putting the team together myself, full group of volunteers, and teaming up with Alan Johnson and those Mopar guys.  It was a unique experience all the way around.

Q.  You spent some time with some NHRA legends in Gainesville like ‘Big Daddy’ and John Force.  What was that like?  What do champions like you talk about to other champions?

KURT BUSCH:  Well, I was just humbled to have the opportunity to share the stage with those

Tony Schumacher and Tony Stewart at U.S. Nationals in 2009. (File photo courtesy of the NHRA)

legends, what they’ve done in the drag racing world will never be equaled.  It might be, but those were definitely the top of the top.  To be mixed in with them, to have that notoriety, it was an unbelievable experience.

I’m just the new guy racing Pro Stock, but look at the cars you guys have driven.  Look at the crazy things you drag racers have done over the years.  Primarily ‘Big Daddy’, with no safety hardly in mind back in the day.  It was just go as fast as you can go.  The side effects they would deal with later.  With John Force, being 61 years old, still winning championships, having his near-fatal crash three years ago.  The safety things he’s implemented into their sport the past few years.

It’s amazing to sit there and listen to their stories and be compared to them, to share the stage.  I’m just beside myself.  It was just an overall grand experience that I will never forget.

The opportunity I had to go out there and be competitive, I just have to thank Dodge and Shell for giving me that chance to go and play.

Q.  Tony Stewart and Tony Schumacher with the Top Fuel Army Dragster, Tony puts that on his bucket list of things to do.  Would you ever jump into one of those things?

KURT BUSCH:  Anytime you get a chance to drive one of these cars in the Pro division, it’s an experience.  It’s definitely in the bucket list of mine to jump into a Fuel car or Nitro car and do what they call take a squirt, which is basically you launch off the line, go about maybe 330 feet, let off.  Just to feel that five Gs of adrenaline off a launch.

I encourage them to go out and do it.  Schumacher is a great guy.  I’m friends with Larry Dixon, the old snake Don Prudhomme, and guys like Don Schumacher have definitely reached out for me.  Really neat to have an experience to talk with these guys.

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, March 16 2011
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