Winning The 500 Came With Bonuses For Busch

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, March 4 2017

Kurt Busch says a sense of calm has come over his life. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Andrew Coppley)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Newly-minted Daytona 500 champion Kurt Busch says his victory in last Sunday’s “Great American Race” has come gift-wrapped with a “sense of calm” for the remainder of the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.

Sense of calm? KuBu? Recently married and all grown up? Incredible.

“It’s an incredible feeling to win the Daytona 500,” Busch said during a media presser Friday morning at Atlanta Motor Speedway, site of Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 (FOX, 2 p.m. EST). “But it (also) comes with a piece of mind to know that you’re a race-winner in 2017 and you have five bonus points that we’ll carry with us all through the playoffs. And it gives you that motivation to go out there and win these different stages and get those bonus points and to get race wins.

“It also gives you a sense of calm that if you have a bad race there’s no huge issue. Today, there’s a lot of anxiety with the crew chiefs with cars getting through tech inspection in time to be able to qualify. Since it’s a new procedure and new process, we’re focused, and for us on the No. 41 car we have some wiggle room with things. It’s neat to have that sense of security as our foundation for the 2017 season.”

Busch’s victory snapped an 0-for-15 history in NASCAR’s traditional season-opener around the high-banked/2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway, where the Las Vegas native also had recorded three Daytona 500 runnerup finishes (2003, ’05, ’08). Busch, who has experienced a number of self-inflicted career controversies since his Cup championship season in 2004 for Roush Fenway Racing and Ford, has found his niche with the team co-owned by retired three-time Cup champion Tony Stewart and businessman/racer Gene Haas.

Fresh off of ushering in SHR’s new relationship with Ford Motor Company, Busch qualified his No. 41 Monster Energy/HAAS Automation Ford Fusion 13th at 186.988 mph. Teammate Kevin Harvick earned the pole at 190.398 mph in his No. 4 Jimmy John’s Ford.

Busch re-lived his emotional win, recounted his whirlwind “Victory Tour” week since and unveiled an NHL Stanley Cup-style travel itinerary for his trophy during the media session. An edited transcript follows:

QUESTION: You’ve done a ton of interviews since winning the Daytona 500. Have you lost track of them all at this point?

KURT BUSCH: “Yeah, I definitely have. Years ago when I won the championship you look at it and think, ‘Oh man, there’s a lot that goes with this.’ Maybe you don’t soak it all in, but this time around my phone is like 400 texts deep and I can’t get caught up. All the shows, interviews and moments, I’m trying to soak it all in and feel everything I can. There’s even a story behind how this ring ended up back on my hand. All the teamwork and all the people that helped make this happen _I have to thank NASCAR for such a beautiful media week to go along with such an emotional, historic event in Daytona. To drive into Victory Lane at Daytona with a stock car in the ‘Great American Race’ is one of the best feelings in the world. To be able to accomplish that with the team I have at Stewart-Haas Racing, their first Daytona 500 win, it has been a fairy tale. I don’t even know what day it is anymore. I know I’m on-track at Atlanta and that’s when the focus on the regular season begins.”

QUESTION: You said at Daytona you wanted to pace yourself. How have the celebrations gone?

KURT BUSCH: “The key to pacing myself, that came from the groomsmen in my wedding festivities. All the days added up together. Sunday night after Victory Lane and all the media requirements and different celebrations and pictures _ my in-laws were there and we went to their boat parked in the intercoastal waterways to have a couple beers and my phone was blowing up with Monster people. They were down at Razzle’s and I was like, ‘Razzle’s! I remember that place. Let’s go!’ Gronk (New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski) was down there and had the VIP area so we went.

“I don’t know what time I left Razzle’s but I was there partying with Gronk and that’s a cool stamp to put down. Mark Hull and Mitch Covington, all the top Monster people were there. All the top SHR people were there, even college grads like Mike Verlander wearing his khakis were inside Razzle’s having a good time. Those are the celebrations you don’t forget. That was the pacing myself. I left there at about 3:15 or 3:30 am and that’s what it takes to pace yourself to make it to the breakfast event with Daytona pushing our car into the Hall of Fame museum the proper way on Monday morning.”

QUESTION: What is the story behind the ring you mentioned?

KURT BUSCH: “So, there are three rings for winning the Daytona 500 _ driver, crew chief and owner. As we gathered to take the picture, I have two owners, Gene Haas and Tony Stewart. So Tony Gibson, he got his and we moved him off to the side with his and I gave my ring to Tony Stewart. I figured I’ll get mine later on when they do a ring ceremony with all the crew guys. I told Tony to take my ring.

“At Razzle’s later on that evening the ring is floating around with all the crew guys taking pictures and I’m like, ‘Whose ring is that?’ I thought Stewart had mine and Gene was already off to Barcelona for the F1 test and Gibson had his on. So Tony Stewart’s ring was floating around all the crew guys and one guy shows up at the breakfast deal the next morning, and he was pretty lit up, and we were like, ‘There it is, get it off his finger.’ He had gotten a bit too drunk and didn’t remember to pass it to the next guy. So this is Tony Stewart’s ring and I’m going to give it back to him and all the crew guys will get theirs later on.”

QUESTION: Your mom told me after you won your Cup championship that it took three months for it to sink in for her. Do you get the feeling this one is a little more real-time for everyone?

KURT BUSCH: “I believe so because Daytona is so vivid. Winning a championship exhausts you over a full season and in this day and age in NASCAR, the 10 weeks it takes to win it. Daytona is 10 days of an extreme high just for a normal practice session or an extreme low when you have crash damage or something like that.

“Daytona is bang-bang with all the different emotions and stress levels that get checked. My mom has always had a displeasure for Daytona and Talladega because of the plate racing and her fear became a reality when (brother) Kyle broke his foot at Daytona. She just hopes her boys come home safe. I can’t wait to bring the trophy to her and tell her that we conquered Daytona one time. But she’s still more worried about safety and her boys coming home safe.

“It has sunk in and we just came up with an idea this morning. I realize there are only two trophies from Victory Lane and you cannot get a replica of the trophy. Gene Haas has his from the breakfast afterwards and it’s now in Oxnard, Calif., at the Haas headquarters. My trophy is at the race shop right now. All the crew guys have been taking selfies with it and pictures and they had a toast the other night with it. I’m going to get the nice carrying case that goes with it and I’m going to send it out on a tour. I’m going to turn our Harley J. Earl into the Stanley Cup and it’ll make events here and there.

“I wanted to get replicas for Ford, Monster Energy, for myself and whomever is significant enough to get a replica. But they only make two. That’s what is so significant and powerful about this trophy. The first visit after the SHR race shop will be to Las Vegas so the fans in my hometown can see it and then it’ll go to Corona, Calif., so it can hang out in the Monster headquarters for a little while.”

QUESTION: What’s been the most surreal part of this experience for you?

KURT BUSCH: “It’s hard to pinpoint one moment. Victory Lane is overwhelming. To have Mark Hall and Mitch Covington from Monster Energy stand there and take a picture next to the trophy with you and then at the same time to have Gene Haas and Tony Stewart there with you taking a picture. Tony Gibson is all over the internet. He is a meme now with his laid-back video and celebration. To see that emotion, that’s what makes me the happiest. All of the crew guys that he has underneath him that are part of this No. 41 team.

“My phone, I can’t get caught up with all the texts. My friends who were there celebrating with me. My old car owner in Las Vegas that I will see in a couple weeks. He is a 70-year-old man with a video of himself crying. I don’t know which one is the biggest other than being able to get out of the car in Victory Lane knowing you won the ‘Great American Race.’ That has to be the biggest high, right there in Victory Lane.”

QUESTION: Do you have any celebrations in the works for your hometown of Las Vegas?

KURT BUSCH: “Nothing specific to the Daytona 500 yet. One thing that I know we were already planning on doing was my high school reached out to me. I graduated 20 years ago. That’s good and bad, I guess. I’m bringing a 2004 championship replica car, it’s a Ford, and it’ll be in front of the gymnasium at my high school and we’re doing a student assembly. They wanted to induct me into their sports hall of fame. They’ve had some baseball and football players come through Durango High School. We’ll unveil my hood hanging in the rafters. It’s the No. 97 Sharpie Ford, 2004 championship hood. That will be on Thursday before race weekend in Vegas.

“It’ll be neat. We have all kinds of giveaways for the students. I talked to the principal there, who I actually went to school with, Nate Miller. We’ll have a little pep rally and it’ll be ‘Spirit Day’ at Durango before race weekend at Vegas. Jeff Motley (from Las Vegas Motor Speedway) gave us race tickets to give away and Pole Position Raceway gave away 97 go-kart passes for kids to come to the go-kart track and race there. We’ll see what builds off of these events. Again, there’s still the focus of the regular season.”

QUESTION: Do you have any desire to compete in the Indy 500 again? Did any of your post-race Daytona 500 texts include an invitation to drive in the Indy 500 this May?

KURT BUSCH: “It’s amazing to have the camaraderie and the ability to have open conversations with legends like Mario Andretti. I saw Mario’s (text) because his came in early Monday morning. I haven’t talked to (INDYCAR) team-owner Michael Andretti about things. I haven’t talked to Marco (Andretti). The emotions of this event, yes, it fits right in when I won in 2014 at Martinsville early in the year. It gives you that calm sense that I can go focus on other things and have the ability to go run the Indy 500.

“I haven’t talked to Michael. I haven’t reached out to any other team. My focus has been to settle in with Ford and get 2017 underway and to give my full focus to the Stewart-Haas race team. It’ll be difficult at this point, with a Daytona 500 win, and the emotions and the amount of responsibility that comes with it. The Ford executives called me and asked, ‘What dates do you have available to come up to Dearborn, Mich.? We want to bring our winning Ford GT drivers from Le Mans and from the Daytona 24 Hours up for a big day at Ford.’

“The schedule is getting full. The month of March, we’re on that West Coast run. I think my first day that anything isn’t scheduled is April 5th or something like that and that’s on our way out to Texas (Motor Speedway). It’s a busy time. I don’t know if I’ll be able to run Indy this year but it’s really neat to have the fraternity of IndyCar Series drivers reach out to me and celebrate with the No. 41 car.”

QUESTION: It seems like your wife, Ashley, has done so much for you as a person. Has she made you a better race car driver, too?

KURT BUSCH: “It’s amazing. Since the first day that we met there’s been this instant chemistry, and a lot of it has to do with her sports background and being an athlete and jumping out onto the polo field to compete. She’s knows what it takes _ the time, commitment, effort, to be with teammates and to do your homework, do research, watch video. To put that full commitment into things has been seamless.

“What’s been tough for me has been _ I got to tell a story about my mom a little earlier _ she just wants her boys to come home safe and it was great to celebrate a win at Daytona. My mom is already a little bit apprehensive about Talladega because it’s coming up. She doesn’t like those races. She just feels nervous about them. And that’s the pessimistic side of me that I have and I’m trying to grow away from. Where Ashley says, ‘Be positive. Think good thoughts. Know that you have everything in place to win.’

“The power of positivity through Ashley has been incredible. Her calmness and ability at such a young age to influence me is like a special team member that I never knew that I was missing, and she’s helped me grow and become stronger on the racetrack. To have the home life and the time at the track and the celebrations and the fun things that we do, I couldn’t find a better partner in life.”

QUESTION: How does it feel to have one more Daytona 500 victory than brother Kyle?

KURT BUSCH: “We have plenty of moments to dispute between the two of us. He can immediately rebuttal that he’s won at Indianapolis (in Cup). That’s a huge win in our sport, to win at the Brickyard. Yes, I have a little bit of a slight edge right now because of the buzz and energy that comes with winning at Daytona and it’s 2017. But over the years he’s done an incredible job becoming his own driver with the statistics and everything that he’s done in the Cup Series (2015 champion), Xfinity and Truck Series.

“And even as an owner, I’m very proud of him for what he’s done as an owner in the NASCAR series. In the Truck Series, especially with this farm system. Finding these drivers, Kyle right now is the best talent scout out there. To race with him in the Xfinity Series and win that race in Richmond a few years ago, that was a big brother moment. So I think that the more time goes by as well as stats that we’re able to achieve add up, the two of us are getting closer instead of farther apart as we go through life in racing.”

QUESTION: What would the 38-year-old Kurt Busch tell the 28-year-old Kurt Busch?

KURT BUSCH: “Slow down and not push so hard and not put so much emphasis on one race weekend. I was such a perfectionist early-on in my life, it helped get me to this point. But it also took away some abilities to absorb what was going on around me and to help myself enjoy those moments. I think patience is the biggest thing that I would preach. Putting together a game plan that’s a bit more long-term instead of week-to-week or month-to-month, that would be something that I would tell my younger self.

“It was tough. Coming from Las Vegas, being an outsider, moving to the Southeast and trying to fit into the ‘Good ol’ boy Southern world’…I was just hell-bent to try and stay. And yet, if I could have told myself, ‘You’ve made it this far, things are going to work out OK, just calm down a little bit. Settle-in, this is the final destination of motorsports.’ That’s something that I didn’t do early-on in my career.”


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, March 4 2017
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