It’s precisely 4,203 miles from the exit of Michigan International Speedway to the entrance of the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in Spain. That’s the trek Kurt Busch made when, after qualifying on pole and placing third to teammates Clint Bowyer and Kevin Harvick at the FireKeepers Casino 400.
As well as scoping out the Gran Premi Monster Energy de Catalunya, he took a ride on back of the Ducati WDW2014 Two-Seater Desmosedici MotoGP bike with MotoGP legend Randy Mamola.
Q: What were you thinking right before you got on the bike for your hot lap?
KURT BUSCH: My first thoughts were, I’ve never been over 100 miles per hour on a bike and I’m about ready to go 200 on a bike, so you may as well skip any of the astronaut training and just go straight to the moon.
Q: And the ride itself?
KB: It was insane to feel the acceleration and the deceleration. The deceleration was the biggest surprise of all, and how to hang onto the bike under deceleration and to keep my balance straight forward. Trusting Randy to go around the track was no problem. The braking was incredible, and so was the speed we carried through the corners.
I stayed very nervous and straight and upright the first few corners, and then I lost track of which corner we were in. I didn’t like that feeling whatsoever – of losing track of what corner I was in. But then I had to get rid of that feeling and tell myself, ‘this is only one lap and you’ve got to enjoy this and you’ve got sort this through’. When I started to just think about where I was on track, that helped me start to ease up and I wasn’t as tense, and then I really started to lean in with Randy through the corners and at that time was when I picked up where I was on-track. Wow, what a magnificent ride. I’ve never had my helmet that close to the candy stripes.
I loved it. I loved having the tires over to my left and to my right, and my head was hanging over the curbing and hanging over the edge into the grass. I was like, ‘this is what it’s about; now I’m feeling it; now I have a cornering experience’ From there I started leaning as far as I could to get over the bike, and I think that gave Randy a greater sense of my comfort level.
By the end of that first lap, coming down the front straightaway and getting on the brakes, the deceleration made me feel like I was doing pushups with four people on top of my legs. That’s where you really have to have that upper body strength and that core strength. You have to have everything when you’re in that seat, because you don’t have a roll cage, you don’t have anything to relax with, and you really have to be one with the bike. It all really blew me away. I didn’t know what to expect just because of my limited time on two wheels. It was absolutely one of the most insane motorsports experiences that one that one could go and find.
Afterwards, I told Randy, “Dude, if you would have grabbed any extra of that brake level, I was going over your shoulders, man! Every bit of my energy was in my hands grasped to the handles on your gas tank.” Randy said to me, “You did good, man, but you were right on edge.’ Then I said, ‘Well, you put me on edge! It was your fault!” Randy said, “Well, I couldn’t back up, I was going to take you on the best ride possible!” It was all a feeling of newness, and an experience that I hadn’t had in a long time in motorsport. I didn’t know what I was getting into; I just wanted to go fast. It was awesome.
Q: Did you get to meet any of the MotoGP racers while you were over there?
KB: I got to see Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinalis. It was great to have the access through Monster Energy and they got me to the podium area and I was able to give a high-five to Rossi for his third-place finish. I was also able to give a shout-to Lorenzo out after he won. It was great to experience it all.
Q: Now, you’re back home in America and holding station at Sonoma, where you’ll do a whole bunch of lefts and rights beginning today.
KB: Yeah, I’m all tuned up and I’m ready to go. I have this feeling that I felt years ago; I have this same type of need for speed that I had when I went up with the Thunderbirds in an F-18 and we did some lefts and some rights and some ups and downs. I think with Sonoma and what I just went through in MotoGP, I’ll be able to handle it and have a good weekend.
Q: While your brother Kyle, Martin Truex and Clint Bowyer have been touted as road course aces as of late, you very well might be the best of them. You have more top five and top 10 finishes than any other active driver right now.
KB: I’ve had some good runs on the road courses. Being smart with some of the pit strategy is key, and I’ve had great teams that have helped me do that. I’ve only broken through for one win at Sonoma (in 2011) and I’ve also had a few slip through my fingers at Sonoma and Watkins Glen, but I really enjoy road racing and I think it’s fun. It almost feels like a weekend off from our normal oval circuit that we that we participate on. The stats have stacked up for me, but man, I just want to try and get more wins in that column.
Q: Sonoma Raceway would be a good venue to snag your first victory at in 2018, wouldn’t it?
KB: Yeah, the road racing races are unique, and they’re not what our sport does very often. Any time you get a chance on the road courses or the superspeedways or the short tracks, it’s special to get that win. Yeah, it would be a great way to do it and break through and win in 2018. Last year at the Sonoma race I just burned up my rear tires and had to pit an extra time. I was able to charge from 17th back up to seventh at the end of the race. We just have to make sure we find the right setup for tire wear and not burn up the rear tires this time around.
Q: Clint Bowyer recently described Sonoma as the “short track of road courses.” Does that make sense to you?
KB: Yes, the track at Sonoma is what you would call a point-and-shoot track. You go through one corner and you get through the next corner and you point and shoot the car to the next one. Watkins Glen is definitely a high-speed road course with a lot of flowing corners and a lot of third and fourth gear areas, where Sonoma has a lot of first and second gear turns.
Q: You have placed in the top eight at the last six Cup races and had excellent top three runs at both Talladega and Michigan. What’s your take on your 2018 season thus far?
KB: It’s been solid. This year has been solid with a couple poles at the fast tracks like Texas and Michigan. With the consistency that the car has had with the new group of guys I have working with me, that’s a great segue into the second half of the year. Now we need to capitalize on the speed that we’ve had, and make sure that we’re making the right calls in the pits and then delivering solid pit stops.
At the 600 a couple weeks ago we had a really good car and just struggled the first half of the race with consistency on pit road, and just had to keep digging out of those holes to finish in the top 10. You have to have all categories down, and have to be strong everywhere. I’m happy with the season so far, but we all want a little bit more. That’s our incentive: to keep pushing and going and developing the setup that we need for the Playoff races for later on this year. Any race coming up now, that’s where we really need to make sure we dial it in.
Q: Did you expect your Ford to be a great as it has been?
KB: I’m very happy with the Fords. Did we expect them to be this good? I guess now that we’re halfway through the season, I can see why we are as good as we are because we had so many questions last year with the team’s switchover from General Motors to Ford. Those questions circled around the aerodynamics of the car, and they circled around the engine power levels. When you have a season to work on it, as well as an off-season to digest it all, and then can apply it all to an area to improve everything, that’s what you’re seeing with Stewart-Hass’ power this year. We just had an off-season to work on all the areas, and that gave us time to do such things.
Q: The Playoffs are looming in the not-too-distant future. All things considered, are you and the team where you want to be?
KB:Yeah, I like the way these next few races come at us, with the road course at Sonoma; we’ve got Chicago, one of my favorite mile-and-a-half tracks; Daytona is coming, which is a restrictor plate track that we’ve run really, really solid on. I really like this time of the year, and there is always that saying in NASCAR, “Don’t peak too early.” Maybe some of these guys that keep winning all these races will leave some chips out on the table.