Intro Kurt Busch has often been the Bad Boy of NASCAR during his five full seasons on the Cup circuit. The Las Vegas native has certainly experienced the highs and lows of stardom, earning the 2004 Cup championship but having his tenure at Roush Racing cut short last year after a much-publicized traffic incident. After replacing the retired Rusty Wallace in Roger Penske's No. 2 Dodge this season, Busch has a new lease on his career. When Stock Car Racing sat down with Busch at Infineon Raceway-where he earned the pole for the Dodge/Save Mart 350-he showed a measure of maturity, insight, and depth that go well beyond his public persona.
Hometown: Las Vegas, Nevada
Residence: Mooresville, North Carolina
DOB: August 4, 1978
Family: Married Eva Bryan in July; parents Tom and Gaye; younger brother Kyle, a driver for Hendrick Motorsports.
Racing Involvement: As a teenager, began racing Legends and Dwarfs in the Southwest, following in the footsteps of his father. Eventually moved to the NASCAR Southwest Series, where he earned the series championship. Earned Gong Show tryout with Roush Racing and moved up the ranks quickly after landing a Truck Series ride with Roush.
Penske's decision to hire...
Penske's decision to hire Busch placed him with one of NASCAR's top teams and one of the top team owners in all of motorsports.
SCR: Let's talk about this track and your history here. This is your 200th Cup start, and this place holds a prominent place in your development, does it not?
BUSCH: Infineon is a great racetrack. On the West Coast, it was really a home for me when I raced the (NASCAR) Southwest Series. It was the biggest race that we had on live TV a few years ago. When I won that race here (in 1999), I felt like it put my name out in the marketplace, with team owners asking me for my resum. Really, it's fun to come to a road course, even when you race in the Cup Series. It almost feels like an off-weekend, but at the end of the day they're handing out points.
SCR: Where would your career now be without that win in '99? That was certainly a big jump start.
BUSCH: It definitely was. It helped me get that name for the (Roush Racing) Gong Show and to get that audition. If I didn't win that race, there would still be many more opportunities, I thought, and I had things in place with running that Southwest Series team. We had a great sponsor, a great car owner. I even started to position myself with a West car. They called it Winston West back then. I ran Vegas, I ran California Speedway, and we were in position to run some of the big conjunction events with the Cup Series or with the Busch Series. We even contemplated buying a Busch car and trying to make the Vegas Cup race with it. So those were the things going on, and I had quite a few directions. But then when I got the phone call to go to the Gong Show, man, that was the real deal.
Busch put the No. 2 Dodge...
Busch put the No. 2 Dodge into Victory Lane in his fifth race with the team, at Bristol Motor Speedway.
SCR: Sounds like you had it all mapped out. But at what point did you go, Man, I want to be in Cup; I can be in Cup? Was there a particular moment when you realized this was a legitimate goal for you?
BUSCH: Hoisting the championship trophy in the Southwest Series (in '99) was a big moment. That feeder series at the time was a great stepping stone. It somewhat has fallen off the map now, but at the time-at any time, for that matter-drivers have to look around for the prominent series in their area and run competitively at the big events. I think that's key for any young, aspiring racer trying to make it up the ladder.
SCR: Good point. In that same vein, how many drivers are out there today at that level and all they need is a break? Some, of course, never get it and spend their whole careers chasing that opportunity.
BUSCH: There's at least a half dozen to a dozen here on the West Coast. There are guys who are just as good as a Burney Lamar, but Burney made his connection with the Harvick group. There's a guy by the name of Auggie Vidovich who's now racing a Busch car and getting some time under his belt. When you do that, that helps you stay in the series. Matt Crafton. A perfect example. He wins the Southwest Series championship and that helps him get an opportunity in a Truck ride.
Busch checks the competition...
Busch checks the competition during qualifying at Sonoma.
SCR: Looking back, what are the specific things from that level that made you the driver you are today?
BUSCH: I think it was putting the pressure on myself to do well in those races and trying to be the best so that I could be a standout and be able to make it to this level. Now I try to use that to try to be the best for that day to win the race for my team. Not to be a standout, but just be a regular guy racing Cup cars. Now I'm with a great owner, Penske, and everything has come true.
SCR: You touched on something there with the regular guy part. You were suddenly thrust into the top racing series in the country and actually one of the top in the world. How prepared were you for the off-track stuff?
BUSCH: Yeah, that's the thing. I raced Late Models and then got thrown into the Trucks pretty quick, which was great. I'm doing Trucks and next thing I know, six months after I race my last Late Model race, I'm racing Cup cars. Six months is a steep transition. I wasn't ready for it. I didn't think at the time that it was the right move, but how do you say no? So that's where I wish I had spent more time in the Truck Series-two years. A good two years in the Grand National Series, and then on to Cup. That would definitely prepare you for competition, for media, for sponsors-for the whole package in developing as a racer.
There has been little doubt...
There has been little doubt about Busch's talent once he straps into a car. The stuff surrounding the sport, however, has sometimes presented a challenge.
SCR: You were obviously ready as far as driving talent, but you're referring to all the outside stuff that goes with the sport?
BUSCH: Yeah, things just square themselves as you go. If you have 4 as your root number, it's squared and now you're up to 16 times more activity off the track or around the event. Then when you square 16, you're up to whatever that is. That's what it feels like as far as the pressure and the demands (as you move up).
SCR: And you were in your early twenties and had all that to deal with?
BUSCH: I was 22. And I came straight out of Vegas, where you just roll as hard as you can when you're 21, you know?
SCR: You seem more at ease this year and less prone to controversy. Why is that?
BUSCH: I'm just maturing as a driver and positioning myself with a good team. Having a championship is very special and it gives you credibility and respect from the other drivers and the media, and sponsors look forward to having a championship driver with their team. Again, in my career, something that came quickly was the championship. Now I've been able to enjoy the success from it.