During the Sprint Media Tour last week, two of the hottest topics were the new qualifying procedure and the revamped Chase for the Sprint Cup. Joe Gibbs Racing driver Kyle Busch discussed both, even giving ideas for possible modifications to the Chase format. During the conversation, he also talked about his extracurricular racing in the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series, JGR teammate Matt Kenseth and his Kyle Busch Motorsports truck driver, Darrell Wallace Jr. Here is a transcript from his Media Tour press conference:
What will your team’s strategy be with the new championship format?
“Essentially your best way of going throughout the Chase is to win a race in every three races — that obviously gets you locked into the next round. Being able to do that is key. Separating those three races out into each one — can you go test at those tracks? Are there tracks like it you can go test at without wasting a test at those tracks? Those are the things that everybody is going to be looking at and trying to figure out their best strategy and best way of getting to and achieving the ultimate goal of winning races in those races.”
Will the new qualifying procedure help you?
“I don’t know that it really does. Again, I hate to be ‘Debbie Downer’ but I think there’s going to be a lot of down time. You might see a car or two out on the race track here or there, but it’s not going to be like 15 cars out on the race track making something exciting is what people are assuming. Restrictor plate races you’ll see that. When you’ve got 30 minutes let’s say at Martinsville — you go out and make a lap and then you’re going to sit there for 30 minutes because you’re not going to go out and make another lap on your tires. You’re not going to heat up your motor again. You’re going to hope that you’re in the top-25 or whatever the round is in order to move you forward. You can’t work on your car so if you go out there and make a lap and you’re 30th then yeah, you have to go out and see if the driver can make up the difference to get you into the top-20, but you can’t work on the car at all. There’s no air pressure adjustments, there’s no rounds in the rear windows — there is nothing until the break. You can’t work on the car at all until the break. Once you make a lap, I think you’re going to sit there for awhile.”
Did your team achieve the goals it set forth last season?
“We don’t necessarily ever set goals for our seasons. The 18 team — we don’t do that anymore. We used to and we used to never really achieve those goals. You want to say five wins, so many top-fives, so many top-10s and when you’re not achieving those then you feel you have to make up for the races we haven’t achieved our goals. We just go out there and we race to our potential — that’s what we try to do. We try to put everything out there and try to get everything we can out of the day or out of the weekend — whatever it may be. For instance, we run top-10 at Texas — if that’s what we have then we reached out potential and that’s all we had for that day. Kansas for instance last year, we certainly didn’t reach our potential. There was opportunity there for us to be better than 35th. Those are the races in which you look at and try to make yourself better. Those are the ones you have to learn from and not make the same mistakes over again.”
What did Joe Gibbs Racing want to see changed in the new championship format?
“One of them is that you want to reward winning — well I don’t know if any media member has done it yet, but last year the champion would have been Dale Earnhardt Jr. who didn’t win a race. How does that reward winning? Our book, Joe’s (Gibbs, team owner) book, his thought was — so when you have every reset, let’s reset with the guy who has the most wins in the season. So if it’s Matt Kenseth who has seven wins or even a Jimmie Johnson who has five wins, they automatically get a seed into the next seeding all the way through the Chase unless you get beat. If you have five wins — Jimmie Johnson has five wins and I get my sixth win, then I’m the first one seeded all the way through the Chase — it changes based on how many people have the most wins. If you’re tied for most wins, go to most seconds. That way at least the guy that has the most wins can be considered all the way through and you’re rewarding the guy with wins. That was the only thing we asked for them (NASCAR) to look at and re-do and change, because then you would have had a different champion besides a guy that didn’t have any wins at Homestead.”
Are you able to recover from a bad race faster than earlier in your career?
“It kind of depends — early in the season bad days are easy to toss to the side and say, ‘It doesn’t matter.’ A Kansas-type scenario where it’s in the Chase, that takes a lot longer. I would say it goes into the next weekend where you know you’ve got to make up for lost points, but all you can really do is what you can do. You’d like to be able to say, ‘Yeah, I can go out there and lead every lap and win the race.’ Realistically, all you can do is the best you can do and being able to finish top- five is going to be a good day in order to try to make up points. You want to win, that’s your most points, but you can’t do something stupid to end up like you did in Kansas.”
Do you believe racing Nationwide and Truck Series events aids in performance?
“I would say so and I would argue the fact that it did help — I’ve said that all the time. There are drivers out there — there are the Jeff Gordon’s, the Jimmie Johnson’s that run way better just running one. I’m not one of those guys. I feel like running the Nationwide and the Truck and helps me and gives me a better opportunity to be better on Sundays. I may still not win as much as say Jimmie Johnson or even Matt Kenseth who don’t run as much, but to me I just feel like I’m better ready for Sunday than I would be just not racing those races. I think last year and every year except 2012 not running as many helps me and gives me a better opportunity to be ready to go come Sunday.”
How much will the new ride height rules impact teams?
“It’s affected us enough where we’ve been testing an awful lot this off-season already trying to figure things out and trying to come up with what’s going to be best. Is running the old way going to be best? Is running a new way or running something entirely different going to be good? What is it? That’s been the story of what we’ve been working on. We’ve been to Nashville twice. We have a short track test next week and then I’m sure we’ll have another short track test before Martinsville. I’m sure we’ll be going to Nashville if the weather ever warms up again — Nashville is going to get a lot of business this year I have a feeling.”
Do teams take risks during every race in order to get a win?
“You do, you take some risks for sure. There’s obviously times where you stay out and let’s say you’re on your second from the last run of the race — do you stay out and not pit or do you short pit, do you grab tires now and wait for everybody else to pit and kind of jump over them? There’s so many different things that you weigh every single minute of the race — that the crew chiefs weigh and sometimes the crew chiefs even ask the driver, ‘What do you want to do?’ It’s kind of like, ‘I don’t know.’ There’s going to be a lot more risk takers with this strategy than maybe what there had been in the past, but you’re also going to have to weigh that risk and know what consequences it has for you too.”
Did Matt Kenseth’s season raise the bar at Joe Gibbs Racing?
“I had a season just like that when I came to the team in 2008 — I won eight races before the Chase even started and was poised to win the championship and then all we did was nail our foot to the ground. It sort of hurt us in the final 10 races. It was fun that Matt (Kenseth) was able to come and be that successful. It was great to see and it was great for our team and for myself to be able to be with him all year, but Denny (Hamlin) being out for a few races kind of hurt a little bit. It’s going to be great to have Denny back and have him healthy hopefully for the whole season. Hopefully all of us healthy for the whole season and to be able to work together as a team and come out with a lot of great things with this new no ride height rule and the new qualifying rules and all the different procedures that are going to happen on a race weekend.”
What are your expectations for Darrell Wallace Jr. this season?
“I think Darrell (Wallace Jr.) has a lot of potential. I think he’s a great young driver. He’s driven very well and he’s a driven person and personality that wants to go out there and get it done and be successful. I’m excited to see him and what he’s got in store for us in the second year at KBM (Kyle Busch Motorsports) and having him in a truck again full time. Hopefully, he can win a few more and then contend for the championship. Essentially, it’s going to come down to consistency and just him being consistent and being there at the end of these races and being able to have an opportunity to race guys like Matt Crafton or Johnny Sauter or people like that to win the championship.”
– Photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR