“It was a pretty crazy day with the rain and just the yellows and the line-up, and it was just kind of everybody getting back in the groove, but man, there was a lot to digest, especially with me on a new team.”
That was Kurt Busch, speaking a few hours after the running of Sunday’s Clash at Daytona International Speedway.
Now at the wheel of Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 1 Chevrolet, the former Cup champion and Daytona 500 winner has been learning the CGR team and system from the asphalt up, and lined up for the Clash as a sort of fact-finding mission. And it went pretty damn well.
Q: What’s your take on what went down at the Clash?
KURT BUSCH: I thought it was a solid race for us and the No. 1 Monster Energy car. For our first race together our plan was to make sure we checked out all the handling and the power and the key communication. I mean, we had a fundamental checklist to go through, and boom! We were right there. We were in it with a shot to win, but man, with the rain, with the lineup issues NASCAR was struggling with, there was a lot of craziness. And then who knew when it was going to rain, other than I guess Jimmie Johnson when he said he made his moves because he saw the dark clouds coming. It was just bummer luck, because I thought we really had a shot to win. It just didn’t turn out in our favor.
Q: You looked strong in the draft and appeared poised to make a genuine run for the win…
KB: Yeah, I was just playing it patient. I was really trying to understand the car’s feel with the Ganassi setup versus where I was at Stewart Haas Racing last year. I was just feeling out the suspension and the way the car was reacting in the draft, and all signs pointed towards the positive.
Q: NASCAR dictated a few new horsepower and aerodynamic tweaks for the 2019 Cup season. You guys haven’t really tested at all, and then came the Clash. Was it a “learn as you go” sort of scenario?
KB: Yeah, that’s what NASCAR is trying to do with not allowing the teams to put in a lot of track testing. That is forcing us to do a lot of work on the simulation models, and even on the simulator itself with driving in the virtual world. A lot of questions still to be answered, but the direction of the sport is to create more drag and more downforce and less horsepower. What all that does is bunches up the cars in tighter packs, and when you do that, if one guy makes a mistake, like Jimmie Johnson when he got into the side of Paul Menard on Sunday, it draws everybody into the wreck. I don’t know… Hopefully, you’re having a lucky type of draw all year long.
Q: Everybody went right to the high line and appeared to be either riding around or holding station during the majority of the race. From behind the wheel, what was your take on that?
KB: The big thing there is that is the right sides of the cars are very sensitive to side drafting and the left sides of the cars are not as sensitive, so everybody runs the high groove to block somebody from getting on that right side. That’s why you saw all of us following the high groove. I hope NASCAR can react to that and make some changes because it’s going to bunch us up together, but at the speedways, we’re definitely going to be running the high groove to try and block the other guys from coming up from behind. Frankly, we have the smartest drivers in the world understanding the draft now at a high level, and if all of us are doing the same thing, that’s what creates that type of racing.
Q: You’re with a new team in Ganassi. Good impression thus far?
KB: I definitely feel real good about the season that is coming up. With Chip Ganassi Racing, the heart and drive and desire of all the crew members is awesome. It’s all really just a good feeling with that strong cohesion of team, driver, sponsor and manufacturer. Everybody is driven to go upward and onward. I mean, Chevy had an off year last year. Frankly, for me, I had a good and consistent year, but I want more of a powerful year with more race wins and more stage points. I like it. I like the trajectory. We’re going to have a good handling car in the Daytona 500. Right now we don’t quite have the raw speed like the Hendrick guys showed in qualifying, but we played to our strengths and adapted to all the new rules that NASCAR has thrown at us.
At the end of the day, this garage area has assembled all the top mechanics and engineers. They have all the drive necessary to help a stock car program be successful. The garage is filled with talent. I’m just happy that I’m in a respected situation, and it’s a situation where they are wanting to upgrade in the driver category, and I’m excited to work with a young guy like Kyle Larson as well. That’s why all signs pointed towards Ganassi. The respect factor was the biggest factor in my decision-making.
Q: Chip Ganassi certainly is his own character, isn’t he?
KB: Chip is great. He’s the most hands-on and active owner I’ve ever raced for. Just in this short amount of time, the conversations, the texts, the dinners. Chip is like, “What do you need? What’s going on?” Chip is very involved and it puts a smile on your face to go to work each day, knowing he is as committed as he is.
Q: You sound confident about the 500…
KB: Yeah, and I just hope we just have the luck that goes along with being successful at Daytona. That means staying out of the wrecks and not making mistakes on pit road. I feel like we have a good group of guys that can forecast the race strategy.