As the clocks ticks down to this year’s Daytona 500, defending race winner Kurt Busch spoke to RACER.com about his expectations heading into his 18th season of Cup competition, and how the sport is changing.
Q: You’re about to line up for your 18th Monster Energy NASCAR Cup season. How do you feel?
KURT BUSCH: I’m all pumped up. We made a crew swap on the No.41 car, so I’m with a new crew chief this year with Billy Scott, so it’ll be fun working with a new guy, a young guy. He’s got a whole group of new engineers to learn ideas from, and I’ll be teaching them things and they’ll be teaching me things. It doesn’t matter how many years I’ve been in it, it’s still fun to get all pumped up before the season and head to Daytona.
This year kind of seems like an all-in sort of year. There is no reason to hold back; there’s no reason to look too far ahead; each week it’s give it your best and go through everything with a fine-toothed comb and really have a solid game plan on how to gain the most points, be up front and lead some laps. [Being] back at SHR, I know all the people there and it’s just a good environment all the way around. I feel like a refreshed, energized kid going to the races and racing against all these new kids. It’s a strong youth movement in our sport and I feel up to the task of just continuing on as a strong veteran and showing these kids how it’s done.
Q: Nearly two decades of race experience and seat time goes a long way in your line of work…
KB: It does, because track time is limited, and we’re getting less and less practice sessions, and you’ve got to have those real-life situations of what happens out on track to bank off of, and I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve. I’ve got a lot of years under my belt, and guys like Dale Junior are done racing now. Tony Stewart hung it up a couple years ago. The sport is definitely going through a changing of the guard. It’s the cycle of life. That’s how it works. When I came in, my rookie class had Kevin Harvick. The next year was Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman. Guys that were even after me when they came were Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards. Kasey Kahne now is in a unique and different situation too. The sport is changing around and is moving, and I still have more that I want to do.
Q: When you go to the race track, do you kind of know which teams are going to run up front and go for the win at every event?
KB: I mean, it’s not obvious. In the way the sport is shaping up, all categories of the team have to be at top levels: pit crew, the driver, the manufacturer, the strategy of the races… So there is some predictability, but raw speed – if you have that category taken care of, you’re going to have more opportunities to win each week. That’s what the 78 car did last year. The new Camaro is going to be tough to beat this year. And Ford is looking to upgrade in 2019. You can parallel a little bit of the manufacturer side to Formula 1. Right now Mercedes is so dominant and Ferrari and Red Bull are right behind, but sometimes it’s your year and sometimes you have to work extra hard just to maintain.
Q: Do you have everything you need to win this year?
KB: Yeah, absolutely. I feel confident with it. As far as the race strategy guys, I’m going to be with a new group this year, so I’m excited to see what they’re going to pull out, and then I’ve got to do my job to gain spots on restarts and be up front up and lead those laps. Some races will be tire management. I hope to apply everything that we’ve got in all the right areas to bring home more wins and have more fun.
Q: What are you hoping to achieve in 2018 and even beyond?
KB: I want to get into the 30s as far as race wins. I’m at 29 right now. I had a goal when I first got into Cup. My mentor and my teammate Mark Martin at the time when I signed on with Ford, he had 33 race wins and I said, “You know, if I could even get close to that it would be a huge accomplishment in my career.” So it’s great to be that close to my overall goal that I made 18 years ago.
Q: How much longer would you like to go for in Cup?
KB: As long as I’m having fun with it and I’ve got a competitive car, I’m a racer. I guess you could say I’m a raceoholic. No matter what comes my way, I want to get in the car and go for the checkered flag. A couple more years in NASCAR, or who knows? There could be another opportunity somewhere else with other things. As long as my wife still supports me and wants to continue to go out on the road, or if she wants to settle down and have some kids, we’ll that’ll be the plan too.
[But] I think if there is an opportunity in Formula E, rally car, sports cars, I have a few tracks and races that are on my list. The 24 Hours of Le Mans is at the top of my list. The Bathurst 1000 would be awesome to race. Being to race at a couple cool tracks in Europe would be great. Then there is even a track here in America that is probably one of the coolest tracks in the world that I’ve never even been to, and that’s Laguna Seca. You know, the power and prestige and the history of winning Daytona was a fantastic, magical moment for me.