Kyle, you finally got the monkey off your back winning here in Texas. Talk about tonight’s win?
KYLE BUSCH: It feels good, especially, Dave just mentioned this is my 300th start. So not a bad way to celebrate it, of course, sitting on the pole with a new track record and going to victory lane. Man, it wouldn’t be possible without such a great team, led by Dave Rogers, and everybody back at the shop that does such a great job working our stuff, building our cars and making it to where we’ve had really good equipment.
And I say that the expense that Joe put in out of his own pocket this off-season to build us some really cool cars, we appreciate. But tonight it was all about staying up front, keeping it clean, and running as hard as we could. This was a fast race, man. I’m telling you. There was a lot of speed out there and being able to carry a lot of speed throughout the turns and down the straightaways tonight throughout the whole race. I mean, I ran 100% much of the race. So it was a tough day there for a little bit, getting loose, trying to slide around, trying to find grip, being able to move to the middle or move to the top.
Then chasing Truex there, I thought that second to last run I had a chance. I was just trying to maintain with him. I didn’t want to catch him because any time that I was gaining time on him in the previous runs my tires would get hot and I’d start fading worse than just riding with him or trying to maintain a pace with him.
So I felt like I was doing a better job at that, and then that caution came. As soon as that caution came, my boy stepped up to the plate and hit a grand slam. So that was really, really cool that they hit an 11.7 on Dave’s watch. It’s a crew chief’s watch, so it’s a little fast. But it’s still a pretty good stop for my guys.
But we’re used to those guys. They’re just so great. They won me the race getting me off pit road first, being able to dictate the restart and just run a hard pace there for the last 20 laps as hard as I could.
Q: We’re joined by winning crew chief Dave Rogers. Dave, as Kyle alluded to, a key pivotal pit stop there at the end. Talk about the team moving forward with a win like this?
DAVE ROGERS: Yeah, this is just a great venue to win at. It’s a total team effort. The guys worked really hard on this Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry all week. We came off the truck. We didn’t have the speed or the bounce we needed. All the guys kept working hard. The engineers worked hard. The mechanics executed really well, and Kyle drove a brilliant race. He’s got a lot of experience. He’s pretty witty behind the wheel.
We just got behind and lost track position there. Got behind on my adjustments, and the pit crew came through with a phenomenal pit stop at the end and put us back out front. At a track like Texas, they give every crew member a nice cowboy hat in victory lane. So it means a whole lot to the team to win here. So really excited. A good night.
Q: We’re also joined by winning car owner Joe Gibbs. Joe, we’ve seen Kyle come so close to winning here in Texas. What’s it mean to you to see him in victory lane in the Sprint Cup Series?
JOE GIBBS: I think what’s really important is to all of our partners, everybody. Toyota has done such a great job, partners for us. Interstate Batteries, we all love Norm, hanging out with Norm. It’s great to see Interstate, our founding sponsor, when you think about it, 22 years of a partnership there with Norm and everybody. It’s a thrill for us.
M&M’S obviously a real partner for us too. It’s a thrill for us to come here. We’ve got so many sponsors here. We’ve Interstate, Sport Clips. We’ve got GameStop. So we’ve got a lot of our partners that are here. We love coming and racing here, and what can you say?
Today, I think, was a total team effort for the 8 team. Great pit stops, Dave making great calls. Kyle driving it like mad, and everybody back home too. Everybody that worked so hard back home with our cars and our motors, it was a thrill for all of us. So our partners, a big deal for us, and we’re going to celebrate.
Q. Kyle, you’re not a sentimental guy, I guess, but why does Norm Miller mean so much to you?
KYLE BUSCH: Norm’s just a huge supporter of mine, personally, as well as professionally. It means so much to have a guy like that on your side. He’s been one of the best people that I’ve been able to talk to the last few seasons, especially with Joe as well too.
A couple years ago I had an issue here and Norm stepped up to the plate to help us finish out the season. He’s one of the best character that’s we’ve got around. It’s a lot of fun to be able to put him in victory lane here in Texas. We tried. We only get one shot a year because they split it between Interstate and M&M’S here.
But it’s been so much fun to keep trying, but yet to finally pull it out and do it here tonight. He’s jacked up, dude. You ought to talk to the guy. He’s fun.
Q. What did Norm do for you, Kyle, a couple years ago here?
KYLE BUSCH: Well, I had an issue in a truck race, and unfortunately got suspended for the weekend. Then M&M’S pulled their sponsorship for the final two races of the year, and Interstate Batteries stepped up. Norm wasn’t going to let that car go the rest of the year without colors on it, so he put his on it. It takes true character, and obviously, he’s outrageously dependable. That’s right. Write that down.
Q. Dave, not discounting any part of Kyle’s driving or the speed of your pit crew, how important and how key was it to have that first pit stall?
DAVE ROGERS: You’ve got to give that to Kyle. He’s the fastest man in Texas. No one’s been around this track in a stock car faster than Kyle. He laid down a nice lap yesterday and broke the track record, and that got us that number one stall. That was key. Even leaving the pit box under yellow, we didn’t have to spin our tires real bad and abuse them just leaving. That clean exit meant so much. Again, that was a big deal.
Q. Joe, could you describe how far Kyle has come since that hiccup in Texas in November of ’11?
JOE GIBBS: I think back to last year at the end of the year, Kyle probably had some of the most bitter disappointments, I think, that’s happened to us in 22 years. We missed the Chase. We had Watkins Glen and won, go to the last lap and get in somebody else’s oil. We had some issues mechanically during the year that cost us.
I think last year at the end of the year, Kyle really handled all of those things about as good as you could handle them. I think it showed real maturity, and I think that kind of set the course for this year, really. Dave and him went through some real tough things, and they have – I think they have some of the most frank conversations, and they’ll both get fired up and get after each other. But I think that’s all part of sports.
When I think about it, it’s like in football, the coach and the quarterback. You can have some sparks, but it’s neat to see the way they’ve handled all of that this year to get off to the kind of start the way we have right now. I just told Kyle, whatever you’re doing, keep doing it (laughing). We don’t want to change anything right now.
I do want to say a big thanks to M&M’S. They’re a big part of this program. Because this sport is unlike any other. You can’t race without great sponsors. M&M’S is a great sponsor for us. They teamed up with Norm, and everybody likes Norm, so that’s awesome. The other people that we’ve got on the car, Monster is on there, so that’s great. We’ve got great partners. That’s neat for us for Joe Gibbs Racing to have those kind of partners.
Q. Dave and Kyle, and also for Coach, given what happened last year, and he touched on some of that, how important – there is a long way to go in the regular season. But if you guys continue at this pace to get solidly entrenched in there, are you guys going to be more dangerous potentially in the Chase than you ever have been because of that pressure of trying to make it happen at Richmond just won’t be there? How important is that for you to sort of keep this going until you stretch out a little bit from everybody else?
KYLE BUSCH: Yeah, well, if it was for getting two wins last year, we would have made the Chase. That’s what our year is all about. You have to be able to execute through the first 26 and get yourself a playoff spot and be able to go battle with the rest of the guys to be able to win a championship.
Right now, obviously, winning two races so far this year, you’d say that’s a lock. But anything can happen. We’ve still got some work to do to get better at some of the tracks that we did struggle at last year, and we know that.
One is coming up next week, so that’s going to be a battle for us just making sure we’ve got a good handling car and one that I can drive and push hard and make speed of because that asphalt is pretty new there.
But with last year’s frustrations and everything and coming down to that race in Richmond, we didn’t execute that as we needed to. But we learned from that one. We put that in the memory bank and we talked about it a lot. Through the last ten weeks I felt like we did a lot of things right, and there were probably a couple things we could have done even better yet.
We learned from those things and Dave and I talked a lot through those weeks and through the off-season. So what do we need to do to better execute the end of these races to put ourselves in a position to win and close them out like tonight and California, you know, being able to do that.
DAVE ROGERS: Yeah, there is a lot to it, first the momentum. Everyone’s more relaxed. It’s easy when you work the cars. When you get behind, you don’t feel like your back is completely up the wall. Can you take a deep breath and make better decisions? Also, it alleviates a lot of stress from the guys in the shop. There are several hundred people that work at Joe Gibbs Racing that build these race cars. When we can come out here and knock out a couple wins pretty early and put ourselves up front in points, it lets us start doing some long-term planning, and making sure when the Chase comes around, we have some of the best race cars sitting on jack stands, so we know how to build.
Last year, with the pressure on us, trying to make the Chase, we were trying to bring our best stuff to the last laps and mixing it up a little bit. We still had really good cars in the Chase, but they could have been even better. So I think the early momentum really sets up the entire season.
Q. Kyle, when Martin was in there he had mixed emotions about finishing second, as you might imagine. I’m wondering, were you surprised he was able to hang with you that you guyed combined to lead 313 laps? I don’t think anybody’s surprised about you doing that. But are you surprised that he was able to match your pace?
KYLE BUSCH: No, I’m not. He was really fast here last year, and those guys have really worked hard at MWR on their mile-and-a-half program. Sometimes people forget just how closely MWR and JGR work together. Sometimes it frustrates you though in that respect because you’ve got to race a separate team, but you’re still working with them. So you know you’re sharing a little bit of information there. But in the long run, it seems to help you out. And both of us were really strong this weekend.
It was great to race with Martin. It was great to battle with him there and race each other hard. I felt like our car was a little bit better than his if I could get to the clean air. Because any time we restarted, it seemed like I could stay with him and even run up on him a little bit. But I’d start slipping and heating up my tires and I’d start fading backwards. Where it seemed like when I restarted and got out front, I just checked out. He couldn’t even keep pace with me. So that I felt like we had a stronger car in that respect. It was just a little bit difficult to pass because we were going so fast around this racetrack. You’re using the bottom lane because there is so much throttle-on time that you don’t venture off the bottom for a few laps because it’s so fast around the bottom. So it was good racing with him and it is cool to see the Toyotas running up front like that.
JOE GIBBS: Michael came over to the winner’s circle there and congratulated us, and I think J.D. went over and talked to Rob and said, hey, it’s one of those things. I know he didn’t want to finish behind us there, but I think we have a great working relationship with him, and Toyota has helped tremendously with some of the projects that we can do together.
Q. Kyle, going back to what you said at the outset, you said that Joe had put in some expense to put better cars on the track. Could you elaborate on that?
KYLE BUSCH: A little, just a little. Joe has spent some of his personal money over the off-season to build a few new cars for each team. We’re still utilizing chassis and whatnot from last year and re-bodying those cars and whatnot. But there was some other stuff that we wanted to try to some other cars. Instead of just completely redoing the fleet, we did a couple cars for each team, and that was Joe. That wasn’t in the budget. So we appreciate that and all the football years that he spent, it makes our race team a lot better.
JOE GIBBS: Do we have a budget? No, I walk out of every meeting and say I’m going to try to make some money so you guys will throw it away. That’s kind of it. You don’t want to be the owner in this deal.
KYLE BUSCH: No, you don’t.
Q. Kyle, you have six wins in 13 starts between Cup and Nationwide. I know last year you had one win in both series. You ran a lot of races last year in Nationwide. But are things just different this year? Maybe just positive overall in both series because you’re not maybe as bogged down by your team? You’ve got Joe’s help or JGR’s help. It just seems like things are different.
KYLE BUSCH: Yeah, a lot of things are different, but for some reason, man, I’m telling you, I don’t know what it was, but there was a funk last year. My wife could tell you just that. We tried so hard to change the things that we were doing. But there was a stretch there where we thought, finally okay, things are headed in the right direction. We had four Top 5s in a row. We head to Charlotte, and boom right after that, three DNFs in a row. It’s like oh, my gosh. Here we go. Then you’d have a good run, and two bad runs, then a good run, and a bad run. You could never make up that ground that you kept losing with the bad races.
So, you know, running the KBM stuff last year a start-up team was tough in the beginning. We were a little slow, but we made a lot of strides throughout the year. I thought we were very competitive at the end of the season. We could have won four or five races, it’s just every scenario worked itself against me, even on the Cup side too. Dave and I had, I don’t know, what, six, six of the last ten races we had a legitimate shot to win and look what happens. Stupid stuff that’s out of your control sometimes.
You think back to Phoenix, I think we led the most laps. And Homestead, we led the most laps. Us and Truex were up battling against the lead and up against the wall the whole day and didn’t put a mark on the car. Then pit strategy comes into play, and we’re three laps short on fuels, just can’t make it. Dover was another one. Just there was a funk. I’m glad the monkey is off our back. We’re riding a wave right now that’s 30-feet tall and ready to keep riding.
Q. You alluded to the new surface at Kansas a few minutes ago. That’s a place you’ve really not had your best performances. Can you talk about this role that you’re on, how much confidence that gives you, taking the new Gen-6 car to this new track?
KYLE BUSCH: Yeah, I’m looking forward to it. I thought we were running decent there last year. We were eighth or ninth. Actually, I was leading, and I spun myself out while I was leading so, that was dumb. So hopefully we have a good car like that this time around. I don’t make a mistake like that. But, you know, Kansas is newly repaved. It’s got a winter on it now, so we’ll see how that changes things. But I still expect it to be fast. It’s a place that you want to run well at because it is a Chase race. So we’ve got to develop our notes in Kansas next weekend, and fortunately I’ve got a really good teammate in Matt Kenseth. He and I have been working really well this year. I haven’t mentioned him at all tonight, but his team and our team have been really, really good with one another. Unfortunately, Denny’s not with us right now at this point where we’re not being able to use the 11 car’s notes much because we’re kind of driver of the week over there. But it feels really good to have good chemistry between all three.
Q. They’ve won the last two races there.
KYLE BUSCH: Yeah, yes. Okay. So I need to talk to him. I definitely do. That would be good for me.
Q. Dave, these 1.5 mile tracks are engine killers and yet Toyota has won here and Vegas, also at California. Has that been an area of special focus for your team and Toyota as far as development?
DAVE ROGERS: Well, Toyota has done a phenomenal job of developing motor package. It’s interesting, like Kyle said. At the end of last year we had a shot at winning a lot of races and just came up a little short for one reason or another. We were testing yesterday. Kyle hasn’t said anything about motor all year. We were testing the other day and he was like, wow, what motor is in this? This is terrible compared to what I’m used to. I said that’s your motor from last winter. That just shows how much progress Toyota and TRD have made in building these motors. They really went to work hard over the winter. They are putting out a lot of power right now, and it shows up at places like California. We had a good speed at Vegas, came up short. Matt got the win. We had a really good speed at California and good speed here. You can’t overlook the motor department. The folks in California are doing a great job for us right now.
Q. Kyle, you’ve kind of smacked the wall just a little bit there at one point. You may have had contact with Blaney coming down pit road. Is that just par for the course in winning a race?
KYLE BUSCH: Yeah, they can’t always be pretty. But, man, the turn four deal just took an awful set through the exit of the corner. It started to slide a little bit like it was getting loose and I just corrected just miniscule and thing took off to the right. So I was way out of the gas. I was just trying not to flat side it, and unfortunately it just nicked the bumper. I don’t think it hurt too bad. But it shifted the tail some. It took me a few laps to feel it out and figure out what was really going on. It felt like I made it looser in and looser off which we had battled with all day.
There on that pit stop deal, the previous stop, actually the green flag stop, the 7 was in front of me on that one as well. I came in and followed him on that one, and I felt like I lost too much time on it.
So this time around the exact same scenario happened. It was the exact same laps and we were in the exact same situation. So I was like, I’m not following him this time. I’m going to put myself out there as best as I can to not lose time. I got on the outside of him, and fortunately I had enough room between he and the cone. We touched just a little bit, no big deal. But that 16, 18 feet that I got right there is a lot in this sport, so you’ve got to get what you can get.
Q. That final caution, 20 laps to go, it looked like you might have been gaining on Truex a little bit there. If that thing goes green, do you have enough to get to him? If you get to him, do you have enough to get around him?
KYLE BUSCH: That’s a lot of ifs, and unfortunately, I don’t really have an answer for you. But I’d like to say that we had a shot at him. It’s definitely – traffic can come into play, and tire wear, obviously. I was trying to maintain my tire wear a little bit better on that run, and I felt like I was maintaining with him a little better on that run to where I could have a shot at it coming down late in the going.
I was just trying not to slip a tire as best as I could. He was coming to me a little bit, but it was going to be tight. It was going to be close.
Q. Kyle, 300 Cup starts here tonight. You’re what, 27 years old? What do you think of the numbers that you’ve put up? You haven’t even reached the big 3-0 yet, and you’re triple digits as far as all three series and victories. What do you think of when you try to put all these numbers together?
KYLE BUSCH: Unfortunately, there is a guy named Jimmie Johnson out there that has absolutely murdered the stat book for the rest of us. It’s great for who I am and what I’ve done and been able to accomplish in this sport and I’m thankful for that. And I’ve got a lot to be thankful for and a lot of people to be thankful to, including this man sitting next to me, both of them.
Of course you always wish your stats were a little bit better. I’d love to say that I’ve had 50 wins by now or something like that. But you take everything with a grain of salt as best you can, and we’ll continue to work hard. Hopefully we can continue to increase that number for many years to come.
Q. Did you spend any part of last year or even your career driving without confidence?
KYLE BUSCH: No, I don’t think so. I’ve got plenty of confidence. I’ll drive her off in there until I see God and not lift. That’s not a problem. First laps in California, right?
DAVE ROGERS: I can back him up on that.
KYLE BUSCH: Like I said, some things just didn’t quite go our way last year. But we’re fortunate enough to be in 2013 now and running strong and doing good for Monster Energy on the Nationwide side and for Interstate Batteries and M&M’S and everybody on the Cup side.
Q. Did not making the race last year change your focus in the off-season? And I guess, the result of the fast start here because of maybe changes you made in the off-season?
KYLE BUSCH: The race for the Chase, is that what you mean?
KYLE BUSCH: We were close. We were three points from making it, and if it wasn’t for a brake rotor exploding at Pocono or maybe a motor issue here or something else there, we would have made the Chase. But unfortunately, we didn’t. It was tough. It was really, really tough to have to go through that.
But we bounced back and ran strong in the final ten weeks. We wanted to carry that momentum over into this year. It didn’t start out that way in Daytona, unfortunately, and again in Phoenix. We put the race on my shoulders, and I didn’t do a very good job carrying it. So that was my bad.
Since then, we’ve talked and we’ve worked and we continue to grow and making our cars fast each and every weekend. So right now it’s having good stuff, having good communication, having our people with their backs not against the wall and everybody being able to work and work smart.