On Sunday, November 21, 2004 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Kurt Busch flashed across the finish line in fifth place, and in doing so, won the NASCAR Nextel Cup Championship. 14 years removed from the premiere accolade of his 18-year Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career, Busch, a winner and five-time pole starter in 2018, now finds himself slotted in among the final eight drivers poised to try and make a run at the title.
Q: You’re closing in on the conclusion of your 18th season at the Cup level. What do you think about when the topic of Homestead-Miami comes up?
KURT BUSCH: I think championship weekend. This is what it’s all about. This is the who’s who of the elite eight, so to speak, of NASCAR. To make this grouping is really the common goal at Stewart-Haas Racing. The goal is to have all of our cars in the elite eight, and to be competitive and to win this championship. This is a good stamp on the season, and it’s a goal achieved. Now, it’s time to do our job. Our job is to execute on this short track at Martinsville, the fast mile and a half track at Texas and the one-mile oval of Phoenix.
Q: Those eight spots were not easy to come by either, were they?
KB: They started this format in 2014, I’ve been in the eight three out of the five years, and have yet to make the final four. It’s a matter of making it to the final four. Yet when you get there, it’s still a matter of winning the championship. It’s hard to say, “We’re done and it’s easy now and we’re playing on house money.” No, hell no, it’s all about the championship. That’s what we are here for. All along I felt like the best road to get us here for our championship was to build consistency.
Q: At this point, is it all about going out there and posting up a win?
KB: I look at the first weekend as a chance to look at everybody’s demeanor and to look at the way everybody is digesting their approach. We still have to do our job, and if we do our job, that means we are a top team. We need a point in stage one. and we need a point in stage two. and we need a point in stage three, which is the finish. So while we are doing our job, we’ll watch the others do their job.
Q: You’ve won at Martinsville before. The Paperclip has been pretty good to you in years past, huh?
KB: It has been hot and cold. When we hit it right, we run strong all day. When we aren’t right, then we are cold.
Q: How about Texas and ISM Raceway?
KB: Texas is our bread and butter. We go there to count on top 10s and top fives and a chance to win. My confidence level is high with Phoenix. Results have been good over the years. If it’s going to be a must-win, I like Phoenix.
Q: Going back to after the summer race at Daytona, you and the No. 41 team went on a run, reeling off eight straight top 10 finishes. You probably know exactly where you need to be during this final phase of the season?
KB: Yeah, I’m glad you’ve researched it and looked at it that way. My job is to be consistent and steady every week I race. When you have a blip in the stack, it’s almost like motocross or supercross or even MotoGP, when you fall off your bike. You’re like, “Oh man, an 18th has been what’s recorded, but maybe that guy had a spill when he was running strong.” That’s the way I have looked at the second half of our year. You hit the nail on the head. The second half of the season has been money, and we’ve been strong everywhere. We sat on the pole at Louden, and we led the most laps at the Louden race, and that was definitely the kickoff for the second half of the year for us.
Q: You’ve posted up quite a few pole runs thus far in 2018?
KB: It’s nice to have the most poles in the series right now. We are gunning for the year-end pole award. What’s more special is our team has put together all these pole runs on all varieties of tracks; superspeedway, road course, short track, 1.5 mile track and the fastest track at Michigan Speedway.
Q: You strike me as being quietly confident right now…
KB: I agree with you. There is no reason to not think that we cannot win this. I mean, there have been years where I’ve been overly confident, which I learned quickly the media will write as “cocky”. I would say, yes, quietly confident is definitely the best way to describe this group.
Q: Kyle Busch, Harvick and Truex were quieter during the second half of the season. Did you pick up on that at all?
KB: I did.
Q: What’s your take on that?
KB: I think they’ve been riding on their points for a while. When they have your points totals up like they do, you can still be quiet in the first and second rounds of our playoffs. Now, those three, mixed in with the other five drivers who have worked their way to be part of this elite eight, now it’s the who’s-who. There are no jokers, there are no questions. It’s on at this point.
Q: All eight guys who will line up at Martinsville on Sunday are a threat to win this thing, huh?
KB: Yeah, if I could have been one of those guys that was banking points early in the season and had everything clicking perfectly, of course I’d be there. That’s how you gather the points, and how you set the tone for what you are going to do in the playoffs. There are three of those guys, and they’ve navigated through, and now you have them all eligible.
Q: Anybody you’re surprised didn’t make it into the eight?
KB: There are a couple surprises. For sure Jimmie Johnson, and my second surprise is Ryan Blaney. I am not surprised at all by Chase Elliott and that lone Chevrolet program running good. You would have thought one of them would have hit it right. Chase has been really strong in the second half of the season.
Q: What’s up with your 2019 season? Too early to tell?
KB: I wish I had all the answers. I’m very confident in the direction I’m going. I love the way that Monster Energy has supported me over the years. They’ve told me that they’re with me and we’re going to be in a competitive top-tier team. It’s just a matter of making everybody happy, and there are a lot of factors that have to go into it all. I have been focused on the last 10 races to make a run through the playoffs. At the end of the day I wake up, and get to drive a race car 200 miles an hour, and I get to go have fun. That’s where I’m at with all this.