23XI Racing driver Kurt Busch was made available to media prior to the Texas Motor Speedway race Saturday:
KURT BUSCH, No. 45 Monster Energy Toyota Camry TRD, 23XI Racing
What has the week been like coming off your win in Kansas?
“What a great win for our team and 23XI. All the men and women who have jumped on board to build the 45 car up and to just see the progress and to be part of it from just one little race for a top-10 finish, to leading some laps, couple of top fives and then just a rough stretch of wrong place at the wrong time as far as wrecks and building the cars back up and piecing together everything to make sure we stayed on schedule. And then Denny (Hamlin) as an owner -- great, great owner with his tenacity and the upgrades that Toyota said they were bringing and as a driver you always hear about upgrades. Okay, sure. But the way we unloaded at Darlington and had the raw speed there and then to back it up at Kansas and to pull our car into victory lane with the Jordan Brand. Wow, what a day for Toyota, Jordan Brand, Monster Energy and just all the men and women on our team. All the progress has now put us in that spot where we're solidified as a good team. And I told everybody at our team meeting and our team celebration that we need to become a great team. So those are the next steps.”
How hard is it to go from a good team to a great team in the Cup Series and what do you need to do to get to that point?
“With the Next Gen car, that's even put in a different twist, where we're a new team and the new car is like a clean slate. And it's a blank white marker board where you're just trying to draw patterns and find things and throughout all of the data from Toyota and TRD. The information shared from JGR for me and Billy Scott (crew chief) on that 45 car, we were the last ones as far as all the different apps and systems that they use. So we were going to school, we were a group of freshmen and everybody else were seniors with the amount of knowledge that everybody had within the JGR and Toyota system. So we had to go to work and had to find those rhythms, but also work within the new impound sequences. The rules with NASCAR, you show up, this is what you have. And then it's like, okay, well, how do we get better and unload better and have a better 20 minutes of practice. Because I'm used to hours of practice, and hours of debrief sessions. And now things happen so quick. And with me and Billy, really, we have a good simulator and we have to find certain sequences in the sim, which it's still not as real as you want it to. But it's a tool to use. And that's been the most gratifying part is just trying to uncover everything and look through it, filter through it. And then these last couple of weeks, things have slowed down, and we're making good decisions and the pit crew they're holding serve. So those are things that we have to continue to build on. And make sure we're at that top notch level.
What is it like having momentum coming into the All-Star race?
“A rush, the hauler right now with all their crew members being here and the pit crew guys I mean, it was a straight up like a football locker room or a college football locker room of just the morale, the trash talk, the fun and the excitement like there's a different swagger. You have to have that after a win. And then you have to compartmentalize it into what can we do on track today with the cool procedures for the All-Star and then we go for the million bucks. I mean, who doesn't love money? And we don't have to worry about points tomorrow. And everybody's just bouncing around like, let's go after this.”
Does this car continue to need more work for a 600-mile race?
“This car continues in my mind to exceed expectations other than there's two quick things, like the bodies seem indestructible and the suspension seems very fragile. And so as drivers and teams we've communicated those patterns to NASCAR. And so I go into a an All-Star race where you don’t have to worry about it. But in the back of my mind, to your question, the 600 you have to protect a car and not get a fender rub or get in the fence and tweak the suspension because that just makes for a crazy long day. That's what I had at Dover a few weeks ago after contact with (AJ) Allmendinger. I had to nurse it around for 150 miles and these cars once they're bent it's a whole different ballgame.”
Is this race car truly producing a more level playing field among young drivers and veteran drivers?
“It is feeling that way where you have to have a young role with it attitude and keep things fluid so a few weeks ago, I remember Bubba (Wallace) called me after the sim, and he's like, ‘Hey, we did this, this and this, go try it.’ And I was like, I hadn’t thought of it like that. And it worked. All three of those things were we're going to do this next week at track. And it's like sometimes you just gotta keep it simple. I won't say the final word on that. But just keep it simple and roll with it. And the upgrades that Toyota and TRD have helped us with and again, just the constant communication and knowing that this manufacturer might have been better at this group of tracks or this manufacturer might have been better over there. Coach Gibbs is a leader and he's a champion and sport all the way through. Denny (Hamlin), MJ (Michael Jordan), there's a large championship pedigree within our system, and everybody has rolled their sleeves up and they continue to push and right now there's three Toyota's in our six that are in the Playoffs. We’ve got to keep going.”
Is how you celebrate and enjoy a win different as you get older or deeper into your career?
“Age and experience and also the realization that this is a difficult sport. You're more appreciative as you get older and to build a team up like this on the 45, yes, this one is special. And then the last one I won at Ganassi was super special like you never know when that last one will be the last one. And early on in my career, like you said, there was multiple race wins each year and the trophies rolling in and you're young, you're naive and you're not as appreciative and that's the key word is being appreciative for the things that are going on.”
What do you think of the All-Star format and the strategy behind it?
“Yeah, the format that always gets thrown at us for the All-Star is fun, you know, like SMI (Speedway Motorsports Inc.) and the way that they've operated it over the years you don't know what you're gonna get. And when you see it, you have to absorb it and just figure out what the best way is to approach it. Right now it's an oval mentality of qualifying and if you make the top eight, then you're going drag racing for a little bit. And that was a fun discussion that the driver counsel had with SMI. And just, again, the excitement and the value of the All-Star atmosphere. That's what we tried to keep as far as the integrity of it, and then we're 25 laps there 50 laps they're still the pit crew can get you into the final stage and the top four. It keeps it all balanced with short run speed, long run speed, strategy, pit crew, a whole thing.”
What is a memory that sticks out to you from your first race win or first race?
“I'll go with a lesson I learned early on about my third race. With my dad, my mom and I was racing at the local track. I wrecked in a three wide attempt. I was trying to pass them all in one corner because I had won the week before. And it was this ego check moment of my dad said Where were you going? I was like well I was gonna pass them all on one lap. He goes well now you get to work on your car and fix it all by yourself this week. Probably should learn how not to wreck the car. And so that was a moment of the work ethic as a blue collar kid and what my dad was teaching me about racing. And once the car got pieced back together, and I had been winning races, he's like I just need you to go and finish seventh. It doesn't make any sense why we're here to win. He goes seventh place that pays $35. It's $20 to get the car and $15 for your pit pass. We are going to break even today. I was so worried about even just driving the car. I had to finish an eighth, paid 30 bucks. I told my dad, we’re like $5 in the hole now right? He said, something like that. It's about protecting the race car and being smart with it and putting yourself in position to win. And you can't win the race like they say on the first lap but you can definitely lose it.”
What advice are you giving your nephew, Brexton, on his racing?
“He's just turned seven. So we were gonna slow the roll on finances and how to race. There was a video I took of one of his restarts and I go, ‘Why aren't you block into the outside?’ Looks at me and says, ‘Fine, I’ll do it.’ And the next restart he blocks so far to the outside that the guy on the inside passed him and he got mad at me about it. So there's things with seven year olds that are different than others and just the growth over the last two years for Brexton, yes, he's gonna win a lot of races. And Kyle (Busch) has been a tremendous dad and a coach and a car owner for him and Samantha has been there all along, every step of the way as well. And then on the side, I made a deal with Brexton. I said every when you get for your whole life, I'm gonna give you $100. And so he has to call me or text me after each of the wins. And even like had the number he goes I think I'm up to 14 now is our account right? So it's gone from $30 to $1400, I mean inflation is kind of catching up. He's on his own program. We got it we got to keep straight with him. He doesn't care about anybody else. And but it's all going into an account and it'll tally up over the years.”