The four Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship contenders met with the media individually on Thursday afternoon.
What’s Joe Gibbs like as a leader?
KYLE BUSCH: Joe is a pretty awesome leader. He’s just very well respected and has a great ability of being able to know people and putting the right people in the right places. And always asking questions, he’s in our team meetings each and every week and I think his attendance rating is probably better than all the drivers’ combined attendance rating for those meetings. Just his ability to be able to be around the shop and have the camaraderie with the employees and to have everybody pulling a little extra and going for a little bit more all the time.
Have you been on the receiving end of a tongue lashing from him, like this guy, since he’s a football coach?
KYLE BUSCH: No, I’ve never been necessarily yelled at. We have had some deep conversations though and none in which were a lashing, I would say, just a more matter?of?fact discussions. And so that’s always welcome to me. Even when I’m doing well, I welcome those discussions. We had one earlier this year and so certainly listen when he is speaking.
Is it almost like you’re talking to your father in a way or something like that, that kind of respect?
KYLE BUSCH: Yeah, absolutely. He’s been around for a long time and has had a lot of life experiences that yet I have to learn from and he gives great advice in situations. And so him being with the NFL and seeing so many different personalities and personnel on that side of the ball and then of course on the racing side as well too, and being with Tony ?? Tony warmed him up for me ?? and so just having that relationship with Joe has been awesome. And how it all started was just, when I walked into the first meeting I was just like, Look, I’ve done this, I know I’ve done that, and this is who I am and this is who I want to be and you can help me get there and sort of things like that. And we have just had a really, really good relationship the whole time.
The last championship race at Homestead, next year it will be at Phoenix, are you in favor of moving the championship race around every year?
KYLE BUSCH: Yeah, if you move it around every year, I’m in favor of that. Obviously with Homestead though, if you look at it, it’s been six different winners the last six years, right? So that’s a pretty remarkable feat. Might even be longer than that, I just know six. But as far as Homestead, it’s a really, really racy place, we enjoy it as drivers and it gives itself an opportunity to put on a good show. Phoenix, we all kind of saw the struggle last week a little bit and even before that you had Harvick who dominated, won six, seven in a row, whatever it was. And now the JGR cars have won four in a row. So we know that any time you put a championship on the line though there’s going to be different things that happen and different guys that get good.
When you come into a championship like this do you disconnect from a personal side from things like business or any of that? What do you have to do to stay focused just on this race?
KYLE BUSCH: Yeah, I mean there’s not enough time in this week to get all of what you want to get done, done. Unless you’re up all night through midnight. But you get what you can and hope that it’s enough. With all the rest of the stuff I got going on all the time there’s certain things that I’ve put off until the season’s over and there’s other things that I’m still involved in because there’s timelines and deadlines on that I got to give answers to and whatnot. So sometimes it’s a good distraction kind of take your mind off things a little bit, and other times it could take up too much time where you’re not able to get done all you want to get done.
We heard some other drivers talk about this format and say that just getting here is kind of the main thing because it’s a one?race deal. But I want to say after last year at Homestead you’re like, well I didn’t win it doesn’t matter, nothing else matters. So do you have a different mentality than them or are you just different mentality just quickly after the race?
KYLE BUSCH: I’m probably different mentality than most any ways. Obviously with 2015 and being able to come out as a champion that was the greatest achievement. You set your goal out for the beginning of the year to be able to go out there and do that and everybody’s goal there after is to always just get to Homestead and if we’re, if we’re eligible for Homestead, then we can go after that championship. So I always look at it though as we want to be able to go out and win the championship. So for us to be eligible five years in a row I think is a pretty cool thing, but to come out with one of four is not so cool.
How do you view your two teammates in a race like this in a winner?take?all kind of situation? Do you view them as competitors
KYLE BUSCH: I don’t think it matters winner take all, I think it just matters about how good they are, period. I think even with Harvick, how good he is, period. You look at this race and what’s on the line, there’s a lot on the line and it’s come down to the winner each and every year. But we also look at Harvick’s really good at this place, his average finish is great, he’s been in the contention of winning it almost every year. Us, well, we finished 4th last year, we probably should have been about 14th, so we got a little lucky there towards the end. But overall when Denny’s been in contention for the championship race he runs up front. Martin, same thing, they run up front. We all have abilities to be able to find something when it matters.
Is there any hesitation if Martin or Denny came up and asked you about setups or anything going on with your car that you might want to hold anything back or you don’t care?
KYLE BUSCH: No, I haven’t done that. When we talk about our cars in debriefs and things you talk about everything that you got. There’s even times where they might say something either the same or a little bit different and you’re ?? like I always tell Adam, Yeah, that too. Like I always say, Mark that comment, because they say it a different way and sometimes I like the way they say it to where Adam can get a different understanding or a better understanding to what they do say. So we always lean on one another and I think that’s what leads to the strength of our team and our organization to get us to this point.
There’s been a lot of talk about respect among the four of you because you guys are elite when it comes to NASCAR Cup racing. But would it be easier if you did know what the other’s weaknesses were? I mean, you raced them inside out, but would it be easier if there was maybe something you could pull apart with these guys?
KYLE BUSCH: I think we all have weaknesses, but we all have great strengths as well too. So I don’t think there’s any way really to exploit those though as drivers as when you get out on the track. I think I tried to do it with Truex in 2017 when I ran him down from a ways back and it forced him up to the wall and he knew that and he got up there and I was up there already and he got up there in front of me and kind of blocked the air in the groove, but never hit the fence. I was trying to push him hard enough to make him have to pick up lap time to get him into the wall and he performed, he did a good job. So there’s time and instances in which that may or may not happen again and you just got to be the best in that moment.
This is, you guys on paper have a three?on?one against Harvick. Is it over simplifying to say that this is some advantage that you guys are going to be able to somehow gang up on him, or is there, does the numbers not work that way?
KYLE BUSCH: I don’t think the numbers exactly work that way. I think there’s double?edged sword about everything, right? So if you got 400 people working for you at Joe Gibbs Racing and it’s all 400 for one, it’s 400 for one, right? Well now it’s 400 for three. Versus SHR it’s 400 for one. So with people having to spread for all three cars, does that take away from just being able to put it all into one? I don’t know. We’ll see. I think it could either be really, really good for us and reward us well or it could be vice versa. So we’ll see what happens.
In 2014 Kevin said that this format was very stressful and could shorten drivers’ careers. You guys are still here, so obviously that’s not the case. But what about Adam?
KYLE BUSCH: Oh, no, it’s stressful.
Well talk about how stressful is it for you guys then.
KYLE BUSCH: It’s stressful, man. It’s not stressful until the round of 8 and the round of 8 is the ultimate pressure. Once you get here to Homestead though I feel like it reduces. It’s just about being in the Championship 4 and being eligible there and you know you’re racing against eight of the best of that time right then and there. You look at it, I think we were one through eight last week at Phoenix at one point in the race, right, so it’s hard, it’s not easy and you’re racing for points, literally single points at times that can get you in or out. So with this format being the way that it is, it definitely takes time off you probably a little bit, it’s pretty stressful, gives you some more gray hairs than you want ?? or the loss of hair there for that ?? Gluck knows what I’m talking about. But past that, just ?? crew chief, yeah, I would agree with ?? I mean, Adam, the whole Playoffs he’s been working 90 hour weeks plus. And so it’s crazy the stress and the difficulty and the sacrifice that his family has to go through for all this to work and for all of this to come together. So I know it is my ultimate reward back to him as well as all the families involved on our team to bring home the championship.
How would you look at the sport this year in the sense we have seen some TV ratings up, seen some tracks where the ticket sales were up. How do you feel about where the sport is right now, how it’s done this year?
KYLE BUSCH: Yeah, that kind of news is always good. It’s nice when you can have positive numbers and positive influence in what you’re doing and the racing and that fact. But overall for the overall scope of things we all want this to be strong and survive and I think it shows with the still the amount of sponsors and things that you do have in the sport. I’ve got one of the best there is out there. If it wasn’t for the long?standing relationship with Interstate Batteries and Joe Gibbs, M&M’s would probably have my full car. So it’s awesome that we have the companies that do what they do to put us out there on the racetrack.
When you have hopes of achieving a certain status, where do you feel like you are on that and would being able to win another championship, do you think that would help bring you closer or do you feel you’re so far in championships from where you wanted to be at this point?
KYLE BUSCH: Yeah, I’m behind for sure. Definitely behind and in wins and championships. Why? The list goes on. It’s a pretty long one. So how many can you get now is about where it’s at. If I end with one, that’s going to suck. If I can only get two, well, whatever. But three, four, five, I think five’s still achievable. But when you get to this final race in this moment, this championship format the way that it is, and five years in a row and you only come away with one, that gets pretty defeating.
You’re part of a generation of drivers in the Jimmie Johnson shadow. So with him winning all those championships it prevented opportunities and there aren’t any other multi?time champions. So how should your generation be viewed? I mean, one championship is obviously a tremendous achievement, but people may look at it compared to Jimmie like, oh, well, it looks very different. In what way should the championships be compared to the other things and how should your generation not be overlooked because of what Jimmie has accomplished?
KYLE BUSCH: I have no idea. If I answer that question the way I want to answer that question then I just look at it that I’m protecting myself. So that’s for everybody else to debate and go with. But, yeah, I agree, Johnson scooping up five in a row was certainly hard for the rest of us to beat. They were on top of it and on top of their game, in different cars for that matter, but that just means we all didn’t put it, do the job and put it all together the way we needed to. So I look at 2016, that was a missed opportunity. When the 19 crashed that was our chance to be able to win that race and I, for some reason, whatever it was, just could not go on the restart, so I just had no fire off and we lost that one. And Jimmie won that one for seven. So is this Kyle’s time? Being here five years in a row, I would certainly like to think so. But kind of sucks when you’re not able to bring home the trophy on Sunday.
Have you seen a maturation in Denny Hamlin that, I won’t say overnight, but this ?? we just have kind of seen a different Denny Hamlin this year and I’m wondering, you’re around him a lot more than we are, do you see that as well? Do you see more focus than maybe has been there in the past
KYLE BUSCH: Wouldn’t say more focus, but just something’s ?? yeah, something’s a little bit different with Denny. He’s obviously done a really good job this year and Chris Gabehart coming on board and him and the chemistry and the relationship between those two, I think it started off very matter of factually when Gabehart had his first discussions with Denny and how all that went down. I’m probably kicking myself in the butt now because I told Gabehart how to do it. I wouldn’t say I raised Gabehart, Gabehart’s a man of his own, a very smart one in that, but we found him in the Late Model ranks, crew chief in Late Models and brought him over to KBM and he was the crew chief for my Late Model program and then he was going to be an engineer for the Truck but found an engineering role for my Cup team and came over to the Cup team with Dave Rogers and he’s just been, he’s been with JGR ever since. So him and I, we talked a little bit before his talks with Denny when it was all kind of going down and he’s done a really, really good job of, whether you want to say flipping Denny into the right frame of mind or whatever, but he’s just been a really good leader and Denny’s been a good listener.
After the 1, 2 finish last weekend how much momentum, how much of a role does momentum play or is that not really a thing for guys like you and him?
KYLE BUSCH: Truex said it and agree with him, Momentum don’t mean shit. Because I won Phoenix last year and went to Homestead and should have finished 14th, we ran terrible. I didn’t win through the Playoffs in 2015, went into the championship race as the underdog, shouldn’t even be there, no chance to win, and we won. So it’s all about, what can you do for me now. It used to be, what have you done for me lately, now it’s, what can you do for me now.
Does this year feel like 2015 at all?
KYLE BUSCH: A little bit, yeah, it sure does, feels a lot like 2015. I think I beat Carl getting into the final race by four or five points or something like that and I think we beat Joey by seven, so it’s pretty close.
You just mentioned how you were, how you are disappointed in some of the goals that you set, but do you ever give yourself any credit, you put up some staggering numbers, do you ever give yourself any credit, are you satisfied with any of it?
KYLE BUSCH: No. No, really not. Just there’s been too many missed opportunities. There’s a lot of stuff out there that could’a should’a would’a and it just didn’t happen so, for whatever reason. And we just got to figure out how to leave all that behind this weekend though and go out there and succeed.
How do you ever enjoy the success that you’re experiencing if you always feel you’re behind? You’re like, well, I got one, but I’m still behind where I want to be.
KYLE BUSCH: Those words do come out of my mouth. So you just deal with it. Trust me, there ain’t going to be anybody happier than me if we cross the finish line first on Sunday, for at least the first 10 minutes.
The change in the weekend schedules, with practice Friday, qualifying Saturday, has that contributed to your winless streak at all?
KYLE BUSCH: Yeah, a little bit. Because it’s, I don’t ?? I don’t necessarily like it. I like to be able to ?? I liked it the way it was. I liked to be able to show up on Friday, get a little qualifying practice in, go out there, focus on a good qualifying lap, qualify. And then focus on your race on Saturday, get all the stuff you need to do in race trim the day before a race. And now you’re practicing and doing everything two days before the race is and it’s just different. But everybody’s under the same thing, so it’s just a matter of how you put it all together and do your weekend.
Drew Herring is making his Cup debut this weekend. Obviously has good ties to TRD and Joe Gibbs Racing. What do you think about him getting this opportunity, his first on the Cup level after all these years?
KYLE BUSCH: I think it’s good. I think it’s great for drew. He’s earned it, he’s worked really, really hard on our stuff. He’s been our SIM driver, our test driver, our every driver. For him to not get as much seat time as he probably should, this could be beneficial to all of us. I think even if Drew does a good job this weekend maybe it will lend himself to having the opportunity to race in that car and that could, that car could turn into something better for all of us at Toyota and TRD with Drew doing as much SIM stuff as he does do.
What do you see out of Gabehart in the Late Models? What did you see there?
KYLE BUSCH: He was smart. He made cars go fast. He raced himself. He raced in Super Late Models and he still has the track record at Winchester right now, I remind him about that about every week. For the Winchester 400 he set the track record years ago and still has it to today. Just his cars and the way they looked and the way they drove. Watching them I was pretty impressed with it. And then I hired him on and the way that he made my stuff race and drive that’s when we were the most competitive and won the most races for a little while in Super Late Models, was really, really good and knew he was smart and the way that he thought about his vehicles and vehicle dynamics made him look good on Sundays, today, I guess.
Going back to what you were saying about missed opportunities. You also mentioned you’ve been here how many years in a row and only won one of them and could have been a dynasty or whatever. So do you live in those "what ifs" and those missed opportunities more so than going back to what you were saying, maybe than relishing in the successes. Like the "what ifs", the missed opportunities maybe stick with you more than maybe they should?
KYLE BUSCH: No, I wouldn’t say I live in that. Like I don’t come in here thinking, Oh shit, I only won one and I haven’t won any more. I come in here thinking this weekend I want to win this one. And then after, it’s like, oh, well, yeah, I only did win one. You know what I mean? So you think about it and it pops up or comes across your mind or whatever, but I don’t live in those moments, no.
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