Q: All comes down to Saturday night, Kurt. What is your mindset right now?
KURT BUSCH: You know, a few months ago we needed to put ourselves in position to control our own destiny. We’ve accomplished that. Is it the cushion that we wanted? No. We have only a six‑point cushion. At the same time we can look forward and see that Biffle is 9th in points, and he’s only eight points ahead of us. Logano, he’s 10 points ahead of us.
There’s plenty of positions to gain moving forward. That just gives you the motivation to know it’s not necessarily about defending what position you’re in with the guys behind you.
So we’ve had our shares of strong runs. We’ve had our shares of misfortunes. Are we a Chase team? I believe so. I think we’ve performed at levels that are comparable to those that are locked into the Chase such as the top 5 numbers, top 10 numbers, laps led, just the general stats board has us in good position.
But the most important is the overall points tally that we have, and that’s got us in 10th, with a six‑point cushion. So I’ve been in this situation before, but it was to win the championship, it wasn’t to race into the Chase.
Seems like each year that I’ve made the Chase, there was plenty of comfort, plenty of room to spare as far as like having a poor finish and the help of somebody else we would still get in.
This reminds me of the 2004 battle where I went into Homestead where I had a few points positions as far as a cushion. We were able to bring it on home and deliver.
That’s the same mindset now. Not necessarily defending the points we have, it’s about gaining on the guys that are ahead of us. Right now Biffle had speed, but he hasn’t produced the results. I look at him as being a guy we can try to pass in points. Even Jeff Gordon can look to pass him in points, put both of us in on not necessarily the wins, Biffle would have the win to fall back on.
So many scenarios that could play out. But we’re looking ahead. We look at we can gain those eight spots off of Biffle and gain our way into the Chase.
Q. Are you chasing Biffle Saturday night or Gordon and Keselowski, other guys without wins?
KURT BUSCH: There’s plenty of ways to look at it. We want to say that Gordon is where the focus is to make sure we stay ahead of him. If we’re going to do that, we may as well look at trying to grab the same amount of points on Biffle and race our way on him.
Last year Gordon was a lap‑down car, got the lucky down at a pit stop sequence in the race that allowed him to put four fresh tires on. Kyle and his team, they were leading the race, I think, or running top 5, had no need to pit at that point. Those are the moments you’ve got to look for to make sure somebody is not going to get four fresh tires on you and advance on the next sequence.
That’s what makes Richmond so exciting, is tire drop‑off here is so dramatic, you have to make sure you keep an eye on coming in to get tires.
Q. At the end of last year, where did you expect to be with Furniture Row Racing coming into Richmond?
KURT BUSCH: The team was 25th in points last year. Now here we are on the threshold of making the Chase. To say that we had it as a goal, that it was going to be an easy task was not necessarily the case. Even with the way the season started, I think we were as low as 29th in points, we had our work cut out for us.
When we unloaded at Texas, I think that’s when we turned the corner. That’s when we had speed. That’s when we had just a newfound rhythm within the team. We turned into players at that point in the season.
Q. How much will you want to know Saturday night where everyone else is running, specifically about Jeff Gordon?
KURT BUSCH: If I’m running up front, that protects us very easily from not having to add up points to know where Gordon is. 15th is what I’m going to call the threshold for us on when things aren’t necessarily guaranteed because we have to stay 15 points ahead of Truex who has a win and could move into the top 10 in points.
As long as we’re running up front, which we hope we will. We ran this Richmond race earlier this year in third place most of the night. We finished 9th after one of those crazy restarts at the end. We feel like we’re going to be in good position.
We tested here earlier this year. We ran well. We’re going to start with that same setup. So I feel like we’ve positioned ourselves well. It’s not necessarily a matter of keeping track where the others are unless we’re starting to fall into that 15th‑place range.
Q. Does it become more of a chess match trying to figure out who is whereas opposed to running a conventional race?
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, there’s a large amount of variables here. With the tire drop‑off, when you pit, when you don’t pit. There’s a lot of times when you’re running top 5, you don’t pit because you want to protect that track position. For us, we have to keep track of the 24 and see if he’s in that tail end of the lead lap scenario, he’s going to come in and put tires on. We have to keep track of that.
Best‑case scenario, we’re both running top 10, there’s no way for him to gain a lot of points on us if he’s running right next to us 6th through 10th.
Q. Any time during this weekend when you can just get behind the wheel of the car and only think about how good you’re running, not think about the Chase at all?
KURT BUSCH: Well, when we start practice tomorrow, we’ll see our speed on the speed charts. We hope to qualify well. The random bingo ball can dictate a lot of your weekend if you have to go out early here at Richmond. We hope we get a goodqualifying draw to go late. That will help our qualifying chances. That blends into a better pit road selection.
It’s the same scenario. You just get in the car, you practice, you race hard, and you see where the points fall out at the end.
We can control our own destiny here by being six points ahead, put the pressure on the others on having to do something that puts them up against the window of having to gamble.
Q. How do you balance when to be aggressive and when not to be in your situation?
KURT BUSCH: My situation is protect the racecar, make sure on restarts we don’t find trouble, that we spread out, and make sure that we don’t have any fender benders or a chance to poke a hole in the radiator, get hit hard from behind. I have to do my job to protect the car to get to that three‑quarters mark through the race to see where things are.
Q. If you get in Saturday night, how optimistic are you you can contend in the Chase?
KURT BUSCH: We can contend. I’m optimistic about it. We posted great numbers all season. We have a test session left that will allow us to prepare at a track that might be a good track for us, to get even better, or use that test session on a track that I know I struggle on in those final 10 weeks.
The team has advanced a tremendous amount. When I said we found a new rhythm at Texas, I think we hit another boost of speed when we came back to all these tracks a second time. Since then, like at Pocono earlier this year we finished 7th, second race 3rd. Michigan we wrecked in the first race, but we came back and finished 3rd again. Those are the finishes that it’s going to take to run well in the Chase. When you’re talking about 3rd, 6th, 4th, like last week, those are the numbers that stack up to give you a shot in the Chase.
Q. If you compare the situation of 2004, if you become the single‑car driver to make it to the Chase, would it be on par with almost winning a championship?
KURT BUSCH: It will be a significant accomplishment, but I don’t race for 10th, I race to win. Championships are what every driver sets out to achieve. When they’re building a team, they want to win championships.
This is a great step for Furniture Row, and for me to be part of this team, I couldn’t have done it without them, they couldn’t have done it without me. It’s a significant accomplishment, and unchartered territory for a single‑car team to make it.
It would rank in the top 5, I would say, of accomplishments within the NASCAR world for me.
Q. How similar is the pressure you feel going into this race that you felt going into Homestead in 2004?
KURT BUSCH: I think with more years of experience, it’s easier to understand what to expect, the scenarios that can be played out. You can do those all night long. But just get into the groove of driving the car, making the car as good as you can in practice, then just settling in knowing that if we go do our job at a normal rate, we’ll work our way into this.
Homestead 2004, that had to be something extraordinary. This just has to be a normal type of day.
Q. Concerned about your pit crew at all?
KURT BUSCH: You guys love the word ‘well documented.’ You’ve used that enough on me and those poor guys are getting worn out not performing at the level that are Chase material. I see this coming down to a pit stop or two, down to a restart at the end.
I know they’re going to put their best stop down when it counts because we know the whole season rides on this weekend.
Q. A few weeks ago Kasey was chasing Matt Kenseth at Bristol. Could have bumped him out of the way and didn’t. If you were in a similar situation to make the Chase or not, the only way you weregoing to make it is you had to rough a guy up, is that something you would do or is that something drivers stay away from because it’s not part of the code?
KURT BUSCH: Well, it’s hard to play ‘what if.’ I don’t like playing what if. We’re here to make the Chase with the 78 car. Two weeks ago after Bristol, we had a right rear hub failure. That put us up against the fence. We knew at that point Atlanta and Richmond would be the two most important races of the 78 car’s career.
So I’m looking forward to this challenge on whatever it takes to get in. If it takes moving somebody, that’s something that I’ll have to weigh out when we’re out on the track Saturday night.
Q. Everybody is professional, has to focus on the job at hand. After you made your decision, were guys upset at your decision to leave because of what you’ve meant to this team? Any hurt feelings on their side?
KURT BUSCH: There’s always an equal and opposite reaction. At Stewart‑Haas Racing, I was texted by 20 to 30 guys on how pumped up they were. One of the managers there, Joe Custer, called me and said, You would not have believed the amount of rejoice and celebration when Gene Haas announced you were coming to the team.
At the same time at Furniture Row, you get the texts of, Man, I wish we could have worked it out. We’re kind of bummed out, but we have the present, right now to work on.
There was the disappointment but there was also, Why can’t we make the best out of these final weeks together and do something very special?
Our first task was to make the Chase. So here we are. That’s what we have to do on Saturday night. I think the way that this team has come together stronger and harder knowing that now is the time, I think the timing of this has worked out to be a benefactor for the 78.
Q. Are you concerned about limited experience in this type of situation, it may be too much for them?
KURT BUSCH: Really it comes down to Todd making the pit calls, me driving the car, and the pit crew producing those stops they knowthey need to produce now. The time is now or never.
Q. You talked about having your share of good runs, share of misfortunes. If you could have one race back in the year to make this weekend a little easier, which race would that be?
KURT BUSCH: That’s a tough question. We had a brake failure at Martinsville, caught on fire. We had a fuel regulator go bad at Texas while we ran 5th. Sonoma, I finished 4th, but I had a winning car. If we had a win right now, we’d feel a lot better about things.
So you could look at a wide range of things that went against us. Even New Hampshire, we led the most laps that day, got caught up on a restart wreck with Kenseth with 100 to go. That day we had a shot at winning, and we finished 31st. That was a 30‑point swing. If I had 30 points in my pocket right now, this would be a boring press conference. We can look at that moment, other little things.
But it’s exciting. We’re in position. We can’t look back at spilled milk. Right now we have the upper hand going into Saturdaynight by having the other guys having to chase us.
Q. The goal is to always win. Can this be fun or is it too much pressure, too much on the line?
KURT BUSCH: That’s a good question, too. I’ve been able to take a step back the last 18 months and put fun back into racing. It wasn’t necessarily about driving into Victory Lane to have to have fun.
Here we are on the cusp of doing something very special with a single‑car team. Win, lose or draw, I think it’s been a success. We’re in unchartered territory for a single‑car team. If we don’t win, we gave it our best shot. We know that we were capable of doing it. We just came up shy on some of those bad days or some of those moments that you wanted back.
Every team has those, though. But to be in the position we’re in and to have a cushion, it’s fun to be here and to feel this energy and to feel the excitement of trying to deliver for the team. I like these pressure cooker situations.
Q. Do you feel like the underdog in this situation? Going in six points ahead, you don’t really feel that underdog‑type mentality?
KURT BUSCH: No, I feel like we’re an underdog. It’s fine to be that. I’m a Chicago Cubs fan for life, so I enjoy the underdog role. The way this has turned out, we don’t have a win. We’ve been brutally consistent when we’re able to finish the race. We haven’t finished worse than 15th when things have gone our way on a regular‑type day, finished on the lead lap, since April. Those are Chase numbers.
Q. 1 to 10, how would you rate your confidence?
KURT BUSCH: 8.5. A couple things that could come at us that we can’t control. Restarts are going to be important all night. The way the pit crew hasn’t been as consistent as they’ve needed to be could be a factor. The other element I think is Richmond, the track can chew up tires. You can be off sequence of a guy. It wasn’t even your own doing. It was purely track position where you were running and why you pitted then versus not pitting.
Q. Everybody is going to look at qualifying tomorrow. How much do you put into that, how much does that change things, how does qualifying matter for Saturday?
KURT BUSCH: Qualifying has a decent impact, but it’s not a thing that’s going to keep you out of the Chase. I qualified 32nd at Atlanta last week. We struggled for track position. We worked our way up to about 15th and got stuck there for a while.
Then our pit road selection was awful. The 22 was pulling into his box. I’d have to pull around him. The polesitter, the 17 car, he pulled around us, Stenhouse. It was just a logjam until Stenhouse was a lap down. Then it freed up pit road a little bit so I wasn’t blocking the 22 in, having trouble getting out.
That can last halfway through the race if you’re in a bad pit box, and you’re in a bad pit box because you didn’t qualify well.