Toyota Racing - Kyle Busch
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS)
Playoff Media Day - Sept. 13, 2017
Joe Gibbs Racing driver Kyle Busch was made available to the media during NASCAR's Playoff Media Day:
KYLE BUSCH, No. 18 Skittles Sweet Heat Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
Why did your team decide to make a pit crew change?
"Well, when you're in a performance based business, it comes down to performance. For us and Joe Gibbs Racing, everybody on the whole organization kind of decided that it was a necessary change to give ourselves the best opportunity to go race for a championship. You got to come out here with all these guys. All these teams, as good as they are, you have to have all the bullets in the chamber. We felt like we were a little bit short there with the pit crew. We got metrics and things like that that kind of show they were a little bit off, not far, but just a little bit. When you need it most, you're going to need to count on those guys. That could be the last stop at Homestead. Fastest pit crew wins hopefully."
We saw a race Saturday night decided by a late race caution that really changed the outcome. As a past champion, favorite to get to Homestead, are you concerned about something like that happening there?
"I feel like NASCAR is in a tough spot regardless. You look at Martin, being in the wall as hard as he was at Darlington, you wonder why wasn't a caution thrown. He could have had a broken brake rotor or something. Someone flicked up flack and hit the wall. That happened to us at California Speedway last year. I think Ryan Blaney hit the wall with three to go, I ran over part of his brake rotor and went into the fence. I caused a caution two laps later coming to the white flag for (Kevin) Harvick. Everybody blamed me for Harvick not winning the race. So they're in a tough spot. I mean, I don't know how to tell you how hard of a wall hit needs to be in order to throw a caution or whatever. So they're obviously the ones out there officiating and figuring all that out."
Having won under this format before, are you confident?
"I don't think I've won under this format. Nobody has, right?"
You've won with Eliminations.
"Yes. I think this format here is different than the last one. Obviously with the elimination still being the same, I don't think anybody necessarily has an advantage. If anybody has an advantage, it's obviously the guys with the most points because they have the most opportunity to let points slip away and yet still move on to the next round. Everybody says (Martin) Truex is an automatic lock for getting to Homestead. If he has a bad race in that last round before Homestead, there's three winners that move their way through, he's not one of them, I overtake him in points because I have 20 less points than he does or whatever, then he's out. So it's obviously any man's game still. So just kind of depends on what all happens."
Do you know if the points are going to be a bigger help to you in the early rounds?
"I think in the later rounds. I think the Talladega round obviously is going to be the biggest one, right? Right now that's where Truex got knocked out. I think that's kind of the biggest shine of light of what happened last year, that that would have probably allowed him to go through where he's at this year, and how well they ran last year, too. They would have accumulated the same if not maybe a tick less stage points. Got to race it out. It's circumstantial. You got to play it out, see what happens."
Have you experienced any issues with ambulances this year?
"I have. I'm not going to get into the specifics of it. We've had discussions with NASCAR as a driver council. We've worked with them as best we can to try to help in those situations and make it the best that we can for us. Sometimes earlier in the year I was frustrated. I'd spin out in practice and barely touch the wall, didn't have to go to a backup car, or even repair the car much, yet I'm on my way to the care center. Some of those things are just a little too precautionary. But again, it's the same thing as a yellow. How hard do you have to hit the wall to be able to go to the infield care center and not know that you don't have an issue. I get their stance. It's better being safe than sorry, I guess."
Do you have concerns about drivers when they're involved in stuff like that, want to make sure they get checked out?
"Yeah, I do, no question. I think we had a little minor scare with Noah Gragson earlier this year at Pocono. He kind of got out of the truck a little slow, went to the care center. They weren't really all that thrilled with his results, so they made him do some further testing in Charlotte when he got home. So we were able to get him released, though, later that week. It's tough in those situations because obviously you want to continue to see those guys back in their race vehicle the following week. But you also got to know they're safe not only for their own safety but everybody else's."
Is there a favorite driver this year to win the Playoffs?
"(Martin) Truex. Oh, yeah, just the way they've run. Now they're picking it up everywhere they go to. They're a scary team. They're a threat, that's for sure. If you look at, okay, what is Truex's worst track, Martinsville maybe. Probably a sixth or a seventh, that's it. Everywhere else it's a win. That's pretty scary. For us, I think we look at it as every track is a pretty good track. You look at Talladega as just being an unknown. For us, I feel like Texas is probably our worst place just with the repave, trying to figure out what it takes to be fast there."
You know what it's like to be in his shoes in that situation.
"No, I've never I take that back. Back in 2008, I was that guy. We were the guy that had eight wins in the regular season. We were the No. 1 seed. We were kicking everybody's butt each and every week. When it got down to Chase time, we fell on our face. We threw that championship away, no question. I know how it feels to be as good as he is and to be winning and to be the threat each and every single week, but you still got to get it done when it comes down to time. Certainly they could have the same thing we had happen or they could just light us all up and show us what they've been about all year long."
How many championships to you hope to instill your legacy in this sport?
"For me, I don't care about my legacy, it's more important than winning one, it's more important than winning two, three or four. I'd feel happy if I were able to get five. I feel like that's a challenging goal, but yet one that probably is achievable. Why wouldn't I say seven or eight? I feel like I'm too far along. If I was going to say I'd get to seven or eight, I should have had three by now. It's just tough in this business. It's hard in this sport. I mean, you could go rattle off five in a row, we've seen that done before. But realistically how easy is that? It's not. I always try to look at the realistic ness of it and being able to see what's truly achievable."
Besides you, Truex and Larson, who of the other 13 do you think is the most likely to produce a surprise perhaps?
"48. Never count 'em out, nope. I've had friends over the years that have worked for Hendrick and have worked with the 48 team. They always say, Man, when Chicago comes, whatever the first Chase race is, Jimmie's got a switch that he flips on, and it's on. So we'll see if he can do it again. He has before, right? So don't count him out."
What kind of challenges face your team switching the pit crew at this point before the biggest part of the season?
"I don't think we face many challenges. I'd ask Adam that question. But really I think as good as the pit crews are these days, as fast as they are, I feel like even though some drivers might stop a little different, some might stop shallow, might stop left, long, whatever it might be in the box, I feel like the pit crews are so fast now, that they can adjust so quickly that it doesn't matter. You don't see that very much anymore. Arguably, years ago, when Matt Kenseth was super-fast with the Killer Bees, it was always because Matt stopped the same every single time, and they knew where he was going to be, and they just planned for that. Nowadays, I think our guys are all fast enough where they're athletic enough that they just go where you're at."
Is the switch a matter of speed or is it a matter of consistency more than anything else?
"Yes. Both, yes. You know, my guys, they would have speed. But the speed that they had was occasional. The consistency that they had was less than stellar. When you can have a faster group, and their consistency is better, there's no question you got to take that."
Do you feel you have all the pieces to win the championship if you can survive and advance for lack of a better term?
"I do. I still look at the 78 (Martin Truex Jr.). I mean, there's no question why you can't put him ahead of us. The reason I say that is because if you look at every single race during the year, maybe one or two instances here or there, Truex is either first or second, or first, second or third. You look at (Kyle) Larson, if he's not first, he's like fourth to eighth. I feel like us, if we're not first, we're fourth to sixth. Truex is always first or second. His average is always higher than what ours might be. If we're having an off day, our off day is sixth to eighth, whatever it is. Larson's off day is sixth to eighth, whatever it is. The off day for the 78 is, like, second. That's just how good they've been."
What has it been like to see Truex resurrect his career these last two seasons after hit or miss in the first 10 years?
"(Martin) Truex is a great driver. I've raced against him for a championship in the XFINITY Series when him and I first came on the scene back in 2004. He beat me out for that one. So obviously I know how good he is. I think what's more crazy is not how Truex has resurrected his career, it's how Furniture Row has resurrected its career. You could believe if he was at Hendrick or Gibbs or RCR or somewhere like that, okay, there's a big team, that's why. But he's doing it with a single car operation out of Denver, Colorado, the middle of nowhere, and making it happen with not a whole lot of resources. Obviously this year, the last two years, their resources are huge because they're now with Joe Gibbs Racing and being a part of our Toyota team with the Toyota resources that they get. They're performing with it. They're doing a good job."
Do you feel like NASCAR is at a turning point right now or does this feel the same as every year?
"It feels the same as every year. You kind of have guys that come or go, lose their rides with sponsorship or whatever it might be. I don't mean to single somebody out. If I had to, it's because they're close to me with M&M's. When M&M's left Robert Yates Racing, that essentially closed the doors of Robert Yates Racing. That left Ricky Rudd on the sidelines, he didn't have anything. Also David Gilliland, right? That's what's happening now I guess with Richard Petty and then with Matt (Kenseth) and Erik (Jones), whatever else is going on. It happens in our business. The thing that I don't necessarily like seeing, and it happens, is sponsors jump team to team. That's kind of what's more frustrating to me, is we pick off one another rather than figuring out how to bring in new names, more names, names that have been here, show them that our sport actually does work. I've been thankful enough, obviously the relationship that I have with the M&M's folks has been amazing enough that they continue to see value, they continue to see their ability to make NASCAR work for them and to sell their products."
What do you look at strategy wise as your best track coming up in the final 10?
"I don't really look at one necessarily. I kind of look at all of them. I look at all of them as being really good tracks for us that we can contend at. If I look at two that are kind of worrisome, the two most worrisome tracks for me is Talladega and Texas, because of the repave, unknown there. We were fast, we had speed, but we didn't show it through the entire race at Texas in the spring. We kind of fell off and ran 16th for a little bit of the day. Those are the only two that I'm a little worrisome about. The rest of them, I'm not worried at all. I feel like we're pretty good."
Who will be the one driver not in the Playoffs that will come in and spoil a win for you guys?
"Joey Logano. No question. Logano is a guy that can definitely knock off a couple wins. I don't think he would be any kind of a spoiler, if you look at it that way. If he wins a race, it doesn't matter for any of us. It actually opens up a spot for somebody to transfer through on points. So when you get to that round of eight drivers, which is that third round, with Martinsville, Texas and Phoenix, if I win Martinsville, Keselowski wins Texas, then you go to Phoenix and Logano wins, now Truex is going to be the guy that has to get through on points. It's so much unknown, you just don't know. But there's just going to be different situations. Each week you have to reassess your goals and what you need to do for that next race because things change. For us right now, it's like, Okay, go out, run consistent, get top 15 finishes probably for the next three races. We're not shooting for 15th, but top 15 finishes is going to move you on to the next round. Then it's probably going to be top 10 finishes. Then it's going to be all top 5s in order to get you through to Homestead."
You talked about you like to be in busy, be in cars all the time. What did you learn from that experience and adjust to it even better this year?
"I have a two and a half year old now. I'm pretty busy (laughter). He can keep me busy. Years ago, yeah, I probably would be sitting in my motorhome not doing anything, watching the XFINITY race, maybe going somewhere, visiting something, having dinner with my wife. Other than that, now it's all about, What are we going to take Brexton to do today? What park can we find around the racetrack? What museum can we see? Something like that. Once I'm done with practice on Saturdays, our team meetings, we're leaving the racetrack, going to do something. I'm not going to stay and watch the XFINITY race or anything like that, not keep busy in other ways."
Who is ready to perform just in time for the Playoffs?
"I just look as (Kevin) Harvick performance wise this year, right? I mean, Brad was really good early on, but they faded. They're kind of a little off the radar. Maybe the last two weeks they've gotten better. But Harvick is probably the most consistent. I just look at Harvick two years ago, I look at Harvick last year, I look at Harvick again this year. Switched from Chevy to Ford, been a little slow maybe, but I wouldn't count them out. I've seen speed out of the 41 (Kurt Busch) the last two weeks. They're definitely bringing some more heat to the track. Be ready for anything is what I say."
Is there anything from what you learned in 2008 that has stuck with you about yourself or how to race for a championship?
"The biggest thing was don't change what you're doing. We kind of started to change what we were doing, changed our setups, what we were running throughout the year. We were watching what the other cars were doing, the other guys that were around us that were faster. We started seeing some trends in what they were doing, so we started switching to their trends. That just took us off our game. We should have stayed focused on what we were doing, worried about what we were doing, made sure our stuff would out perform their stuff, and we didn't do that."
--- Toyota PR ---