You talked about the move to the new team and that people that you were taking a step back with that move. Seeing that you have multiple wins and are in the playoffs and the car that you left is not in the playoffs, does that make you smile a little bit?
“No, I don’t really focus on that stuff a whole lot. For me, it’s all about what we’re doing and it’s all about what have you done for me lately. Anything that anybody else does, you don’t really worry about. The only other guy I really worry about as much as me is probably Austin Dillon. Just trying to work with the RCR group and make sure we’re as good and as strong as we need to be to further our competition and success rate.”
Busch on what makes this year’s NASCAR Cup Series playoff field so tight:
“The cars are closer, the drivers are closer, all the data that you get. We have SMT data in these racecars now, so everybody gets to see the same stuff. So everything is so much tighter now that it’s hard to find any sort of advantage because you’re basically just tattle-tailing it to everybody anything that you do. So yeah, tighter points is going to mean tighter races. It’s going to mean tighter opportunities on pit road to excel or to go backwards if you make mistakes.”
What wisdom or ideas were you able to bring over to RCR with your experience and time at Joe Gibbs Racing?
“Alot of stuff – just how you perceive data, look at data, what data you really need. What’s important after practices, after races, things like that. That’s the biggest thing from there. They’ve got a good process and procedure of how they do stuff and how they build cars and I didn’t see anything in that. But they’ve done a really good job of taking in some of my ideas and being able to implement that.”
Have you succeeded your expectations? Have you met your expectations? Do you still have more work to do to get to that goal?
“I would say – give me some of my finishes back and I would say that we’ve probably exceeded expectations. Three wins on the year, I feel like is a good start. I’d love to have five total, in a perfect world, so lets win two of these final 10 races and we’ll really have something to talk about.”
Was five wins the number coming into the year?
“It always is.. that’s always my number. Anytime you look at a championship season of a driver, they’ve got around five wins. That’s been a good year.. you can always bank yourself as being a championship guy if you have five wins.”
What would it mean to you to bring a championship to RCR for the first time in almost 30 years?
“I mean it would be phenomenal.. it would be awesome. That’s what we all strive for. I don’t care what team I’m at, I’m going to go try to win a championship. But to have the history and the legacy of RCR and everything that they’ve done over the years with (Dale) Earnhardt, Sr., and with the other drivers that have been there – yeah, it’s been a little quiet lately, but that would be nice to shake that up. I feel like when you’re in the Final Four, it’s like a championship season. You just have to go out and execute in that last race. There are so many things that can go against you in that last race to not let you win a championship, but that’s a title season. That’s where we want to get to and I feel like we can, and we’ll work Phoenix (Raceway) when that time comes.”
How beneficial is your experience in doing this before – been there, done that, won it?
“I mean anytime you have experience doing something, you’re only going to think back to the moments that you can be better at it and not make the same mistakes over and over again. For me, I don’t know – I’ve been through years of playoffs where we’ve had wins through the playoffs and have been really strong and not won the championship. I’ve had years where we barely make it through each round, and then we get to Homestead (Miami Speedway) and we win, you know what I mean. Like we were written off in 2019... nobody thought we were even close to having a chance. So we went out there – we executed on the final day and we smoked everybody. But in 2018, I thought we were destined for the championship and we go to Homestead – we’re running fourth of the top-four guys, in the fourth position, and we had a bad day. But that’s just how it comes down to it in that last race, in the final moment.”
Half of the playoff field this year is comprised of teams with two cars or one car, and none of the three or four car teams got everybody in this year – why?
“Parity, call it. Call it just the difficulty of competition being so close as to what it is. I feel like your biggest gains are the times in which others make mistakes. And so for me, at Michigan (International Speedway) – I was working really hard trying to pass (Ryan) Blaney. I thought my car was great, driving perfect on lap 15.. he’s going to cut me some slack and give me a break, and he doesn’t and I crash, you know what I mean. So it’s moments like that where you take yourself out and others have done similar things that it just opens up – Ross (Chastain) and Kyle (Larson) got in a car-fight at Darlington (Raceway) earlier this year and they knocked themselves out.. they knocked themselves down in points. So there’s always those things that just kind of happen and it’s because you’re trying to get that position. You know you have to put that other guy in a bad spot to get them to lift in order to get that position, and you’re either going to crash, you’re both going to crash or whatever.”
And it goes back to the car now?
“Yeah, I mean like I said – the car being so close, it’s hard as a driver to find that extra step of an advantage and to pass that guy that’s in front of you.”
Coming to this team this year – just because of who you are, do you come in and almost say – ‘hey, I’m the driver.. I’m the leader. Let’s do it this way’. In conjunction, not like bossy. A lot of times, you look at the driver and they sometimes look at the crew chief, depending on how the team is formulated. How did you look at it? Have you tried to assume the mantle of the leadership, or share it with Randall (Burnett)? How do you approach the playoffs with these guys this year?
“Yeah, I mean to me - starting back to the beginning of the year, it’s all data driven. So you look at data and it’s like – OK, what data was I used to looking at that was important to me do I need again to be able to see? And then I go to Randall (Burnett, crew chief) and I ask those questions, or I go to Justin (Alexander) and I ask those questions. And then we’re able to pull that data, get that data, and it kind of helps us to be able to learn from what we were doing and how to get better. I feel like processes and procedures have gotten better throughout the course of the year. And I think right now going into the playoffs – the only thing you can look at right now is how do you set yourself up for your weekends, your days or how many points do you need going into the weekend. So OK – we know this round is going to take ‘X’ amount of points to get through, so we need a 20th place finish, three weeks in a row, and we’re in. You’re not going to finish 20th, but you know when you’re running 12th, it’s not going to be dismal or it’s not going to cost you a ton, unless you have a bad day next week. So you always want the most you can get.
It's just stuff like that. They were in the playoffs last year. I feel like they have a good sense of what it takes and what it’s like. We both got knocked out early, but there’s learning from that.”
What can you do to help this group? They made the playoffs, but haven’t gotten past the first round?
“Well I didn’t get past the first round either last year (laughs).
No – to me, it’s talking about some of the stuff that I just mentioned. Not making mistakes.. that’s where I feel like our detriment has been. And some of it isn’t self-induced, you know. Like the engine issues at the Indy Road Course – how do you know that’s going to happen? So just things like that, but it’s racing – there’s a lot of different circumstances that will happen, but you just have to work your way around them.”
Cautions are down a little bit from last year. I know a little bit of that number is inflated because the road courses don’t have the stage breaks, but it’s still down I think over 10 percent from last year. I know it was tough to drive the car last year, so that probably contributed to it.
“Your cautions were high last year because everybody was getting used to it. Flat left-rear tires, too much left-rear camber, issues like that, so your numbers were inflated. This year, everybody has gotten better. Your numbers are deflated because of rule changes on road courses, so I don’t know that it’s an ‘apples-to-apples’.”
But how does that change things? In essence, there’s longer green-flag runs. So last year, you could probably count on – hey, my car isn’t right, there’s going to be a caution that comes up. Not necessarily all of the time.. there will probably be green-flag stops at Darlington.
“Yeah, it’s definitely more green-flag runs. I love green-flag runs. When your cars are right, you’re good and moving forward – I love green-flag runs. I love taking advantage of getting to pit road, on pit road, all that sort of stuff. Executing there and being able to pickup seconds that you can.
The caution stuff – yeah, cautions breed cautions, and with everybody knowing there’s so much to be gained on restarts, I feel like that’s probably been a little bit of my detriment this year.. just losing spots on restarts. Trying to get the beehive away from me, you know? Everybody get away from me.. let me go focus on me and then I can do my own deal. But you’re swatting flies on those restarts trying to keep everybody away.”
When you talk about pit road – obviously you’ve been every good for a long time in getting on and getting off pit road. I’m curious where that skill or that ability came from.. how you were taught that or the importance of that.
“I think it just stems from knowing there’s room to gain.. go take it. Every time you turn around or every corner you’re racing around, there’s a tenth to be gained. You know tenths can add up and when you can add up ten of them, that’s a second. If you lose a race by a half-second, then that costs you. It’s just knowing all of that. Just pushing.. always getting the most you can.”
This time last year is when you announced your transition over to RCR. What has this last year been like for you to have a clean slate, especially with how frustrating the first round of the playoffs was last year?
“To me, I’ve enjoyed it. I think moving teams is always kind of scary.. going to a new school or whatever is kind of un-nerving. But it’s been really good. Randall (Burnett, crew chief) has made it super easy. Everybody at RCR has been great. My thing now is just to try and reward them with the skill and everything I know that I have to be able to go out there and perform with the best of what I know to bring home a championship. But more importantly, just make that Final Four. The potential is there. The stuff is there. The team is there. We just have to execute, and that starts with me. That starts with Randall and it snowballs from there.”
What do you feel like the biggest challenge has been? With how well that you guys have run, what has been the biggest thing you’ve had to adapt to or the thing that’s challenged you more than you expected?
“I think the things that have challenged me the most is just the difficulty in the competition getting closer together. Less cautions, less opportunities of being better than the guys that you’re running around, so you kind of get stuck behind them. That’s frustrating, so you try harder and then you put yourself in a bad spot. So I think the detrimental part of me after a race is not having a good day, or something derailing it, and thinking like – man, what could we have done different. But really there’s nothing you could have done different to prevent it, or the data doesn’t suggest there is. It’s just stuff happens.”