Joe Gibbs Racing driver Kyle Busch was made available to media at Daytona 500 Media Day:
KYLE BUSCH, No.18 M&M’s Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
Could you just talk a little bit about your relationship with Joe Gibbs and what you thought of when you first knew the possibility existed that you could be one of his drivers?
“Just trying to remember. It’s a long time ago. Obviously just, I guess, we kind of went on the race shop tour, if you will, and went to go talk to everybody, but being able to talk to Joe was certainly very high on the list, and getting over there and being a part of Joe Gibbs Racing, being with Tony Stewart, being with Denny Hamlin and having an opportunity to work with those guys and the success that they’ve already had, and knowing that they’re a top‑flight organization, that was one of the highlights for me, but then just to be able to sit down with Joe and really talk with Joe firsthand, lay it all out there on the table, I’m not perfect, I made plenty of mistakes, this is kind of who I am, but obviously there’s a lot for me to learn and I could definitely lean on him for a lot of that guidance, and that’s what I’ve done over the course of my career, and he’s been there with me and for me every step of the way. We’ve kind of had this bond, this relationship that he and I have had the utmost respect for one another, and it’s turned into this.”
What did you think about the idea that an NFL coach would be a NASCAR owner?
“Yeah, I didn’t necessarily put all of two and two together when I was that age. I was only seven years old. I knew of Joe Gibbs on the football side and of being a head coach and winning Super Bowls, but then not really understanding the magnitude of what that meant at that age and then coming over here and being a NASCAR team owner and winning the Daytona 500, I thought that that was cool. I didn’t really put Dale Jarrett and Joe Gibbs together. I put Dale Jarrett and Ned Jarrett together, you know, father‑son, the announcer, calling the shot of Dale and Dale’s show. But it took a while for me to pick up on the Gibbs connection.”
What does it mean to you to be one of the all‑time greats?
“I mean, it’s not all important. It’s not life or death, but it would certainly be nice. There’s opportunities out there that all things considered and all the stars align, yeah, you can make it there. You’d better set your goals high, as I’ve always kind of looked at it, and try and go out there and achieve them and not be totally disappointed or let down if you’re not able to achieve those goals, but obviously you want to be able to go out there ‑‑ if you set it at one championship or two championships, well, hell, I’m already done, so why am I still here; know what I mean? We keep changing that and moving those targets a little bit. I had the 200‑win target years ago. I think it came up at Richmond with Kerry Tharp (President of Darlington Raceway) years ago, and we’ve now kind of pushed that number up. So obviously just continuing to go out there and succeed and doing well and pushing hard and trying to get the most out of myself and my equipment and my team and everybody.”
How do you think your 208 overall wins compares to the team’s 200?
“It’s not for me to decide.”
Especially at a track like this, how important is it for your spotter to be perfect?
“It’s pretty important. You know, I don’t ‑‑ it’s important for all of us to be perfect, essentially, otherwise you’d see misses like we had the other day. You know, the overall aspect of a spotter is very important at the speedway races because you can’t see everything that you want to see. In a perfect world, if you could drive the race car from outside the back of the car like you can on a video game, that’s where you want to be, know what I mean? Being able to see the runs coming from behind you and seeing what’s going on around you and knowing whether or not you are clear and the runs that you’re getting or the guys behind you, the runs that they’re getting, that’s what’s most important in the speedway racing.”
Could you describe your relationship with your spotter, Tony Hirschman?
“I wouldn’t have him as long as I’ve had him if it wasn’t somewhat good. Tony (Hirschman, spotter) has been great. The only other spotter that I’ve had that’s been as good as Tony was probably (Jeff) Dickerson. He was really, really good. He was very good at being able to explain ‑‑ the crew chief would never get any words in because he was always on the radio, but having information at speedway races like this is very important. Tony has definitely picked up on that more so I’d say the last two, three years even though we’ve been together for a while. I kind of got on him a little bit a couple years ago about needing more information, needing some better help and him being a part of this and helping me, because again, none of us are perfect, I’m not perfect, he’s not perfect, but to be able to work better, work harder and communicate is where it’s at.”
Denny said earlier today that Joe Gibbs can intimidate without meaning to do so. Can you give an example from your own experience what he means by that?
“Oh, we had a meeting one time where you could see the vein in the middle of his head start to pop out and he grabbed his pencil and he checked it across the room at a guy and he may or may not have said a swear word. That’s the most mad I think I’ve ever seen Joe Gibbs, and that was in 2009 or ’10 I think it was.”
He was getting on the engineers ‑‑
“We were getting on the engine guys. The engine guys were blowing up too much, so he got really mad. That was in the engineering meeting, yes. But it was ‑‑ that was pretty funny. But as far as Joe being intimidating, not really. To me, he’s not intimidating. He’s just very wise. He has a lot of wisdom, and he’s very smart in what he can do and how he can explain things and the way that he can use his words to encourage people to help develop into the successful race team that he has.”
When you were 16, you were going to drive on the circuit and they changed the rule? Do you remember what happened?
“Yeah, so I ran ‑‑ I ran six Truck Series races when I was 16, and then they made a ‑‑ what was the Homestead one, Bob (Pockrass)? Do you remember that one? That was trucks when I got kicked out in the seventh race, I got kicked out there, but I was going to run a Cup race ‑‑ oh, I was 18 already. I was 18 going to run Homestead in a Cup race, and my car apparently wasn’t legal, so I wasn’t allowed to run the season finale, unlike other people that get to run season finales that have no experience. Put two and two together on that one.”
They changed the rule because of you?
“Yes and no. So the rule ‑‑”
Marlboro was the car sponsor ‑‑
“Marlboro was the sponsor of the CART Marlboro 500 weekend at California Speedway and the Truck Series was racing in Marlboro 500 weekend with a 16‑year‑old driving, and the state Attorney General saw it in the newspaper and said, hell no, this ain’t happening, and put a squash to that. So that’s the story. Whether or not that’s the truth, I don’t know.”
You were supposed to run that 2003 or ’04 Homestead ‑‑
“Yeah, it was ’03. ’03 finale.”
That was during inspection or something?
“Yeah. Yeah, you didn’t know that? Yeah. Where have you been? Yeah. It was the No. 60 Ditech car. It was after I ran six or seven Xfinity races and six or seven ARCA races, then they were going to put me in the Cup race season finale at Homestead, and the car didn’t make it through tech.”
With so many crew chiefs coming and going these days, what does it attest for you to have Adam Stevens this long, especially going in as the defending champion?
“It’s weird because you look at it and him and I haven’t really been together all that long, I think five seasons, and I think we’re the second longest pair besides (Kevin) Harvick and (Rodney) Childers. You’re used to talking about Chad (Knaus) and Jimmie (Johnson) being together for 15, 16 years, whatever it was, and Paul (Wolfe) and Brad (Keselowski) were obviously together a very long time. So it’s quite interesting now how the dynamic of crew chiefs has kind of changed, switching teams around and such like that. But I’m glad I’ve kind of found that connection with Adam and the relationship that he and I have developed and the success that we’ve had over the last few years has been really, really great, and him and I both having a little bit of a fiery drive together, we kind of elevate one another to be able to perform, and he’s very good at responding to my criticisms as well as me to his. So it works well.”
We talked a little bit about the move away from here to the West Coast Swing. The race at Vegas, the two races last year in Vegas, did the racing get better at Vegas from the start of the year to what we had, and how do you feel about the package now?
“You know, I don’t know. I didn’t go back and watch the races on television, so just from my seat, from my vantage point, I thought that they were pretty similar. To me it just seems, though, that when your car is really, really good, when it’s more perfect, you’re more gone; know what I mean? Like the 19 (Martin Truex Jr.), for instance, he ran down the 4 (Kevin Harvick) car, was able to catch him and then drove away to the finish, and when I got back in traffic early in the race, I started back in traffic, I was really, really loose and hit the wall and everything else and we got it repaired and got it where the car was really, really good and really good balance, and then I could drive up through the field and got all the way to fourth and was probably going to run about third, but there was like one ran we passed everybody, you know, and so I felt that same way I think it was the year before that when I drove through the field in one of the runs during the race, as well. To me it’s pretty similar. I don’t notice a whole lot different.”
Phoenix they’ve changed. No matter which way the track is configured, whatever the car combinations, you seemed to be locked into that place no matter what they throw at you?
“Yeah, I enjoy Phoenix. Phoenix was a cool place for me growing up. That was one of the first racetracks I went to as a kid to watch a race, so I’ve been there for a long, long time and just enjoy the West Coast and me being a desert rat from Las Vegas, Phoenix, California, Vegas, they all kind of fit within that for me. Enjoy getting out there. Have a lot of Rowdy Nation fans out there, so it’s cool to put on a good performance out there in front of the West Coast Swing.”
How do you think the new rules will affect the race in Phoenix?
“New rules, old rules. Joe Gibbs Racing, baby. That’s where it’s at.”
So far nobody has asked you about winning the Daytona 500; that’s been sort of the storyline. Do you get tired of ‑‑
“No, it’s fine. It’s attention to the sport, which is good for all of us. You know, me not being able to win the Daytona 500 isn’t something that’s going to kill me, but it’s certainly going to weigh on me in the late goings of a race to try to get out there and win this thing. We were so close last year. There was just a couple different instances that ‑‑ different circumstances could have made a whole different days, and we wouldn’t be having this discussion this year. But you know, it is what it is. We’ll go out there this year and see if we can’t give it the same shot we gave it last year.”
Do you take some solace in knowing some of the greats have never won it?
“Yeah, no, I certainly know some of the numbers, maybe not all of the numbers. I think Darrell (Waltrip) was 17, Dale was 20 (Earnhardt Sr.) ‑‑”
Tony Stewart never won ‑‑
“Tony Stewart never won, Mark Martin never won, Rusty (Wallace). There are a lot of greats that haven’t, but I would definitely not want to be on that list if I had my way, but you don’t always have your way, especially in restrictor plate racing with just how random it is. Years ago, I would say probably ‑‑ man, ’85, ’87 maybe or earlier, you know, it was way more skill, car, equipment, driver, that sort of stuff, but with the restrictor plate stuff, it’s been way more random and unexpected.”
Have you been invited to the White House?
“Have not heard that yet, no.”
Would you go if you were invited?
“Because it’s the White House, man. Just go and take in celebration and having an opportunity to be able to meet a president. I met the last one. I wouldn’t mind meeting this one. It doesn’t matter what your beliefs are. It’s just a matter of being able to go and have the celebration and the accolades of winning a championship.”
When you think of Trump coming, apparently that’s on the burner, the president coming on Sunday ‑‑
“Rumors are rumors. I have a rumor that I’m not starting the Daytona 500, so how about that?”
Do you think your image has changed over the years?
“In what regard?”
You used to be the bad boy, and ‑‑
“Some still label it. Keep going.”
Do you like that image?
“It doesn’t bother me. It is what it is. I live my life just the same as you live yours, and mine is just a little different perceived than yours probably. It’s all fine. Just a matter of being able to go out there and do my job and whatever it takes to do my job is what I focus on, and a lot of who I’m known for and what I’m known for is obviously racetrack related, results related, competition related, so you know, away from the racetrack, those around me could say that, yeah, I still have that fire and that desire in some of my other outside businesses and such that I’m a fierce competitor but also a little demanding in the things that I expect my people to do, so that’s ‑‑ I guess that’s just a part of my nature and the way I was brought up.”
Dale Sr. was also known as sort of a bad boy on the track. Have you ever flipped anybody off?
“I’m sure I have, yeah.”
When you look at the 2021 schedule, are there any markets you’d like to visit or races you’d change?
“Less two events at places. How about that?”
Street courses, are you a fan of those?
“No, our cars are not made for street courses, no. Especially with the new car. From my understanding, I haven’t seen it, I haven’t looked at it, I haven’t heard a whole lot about it, the only thing I have heard is it’s heavier than the current car that we have now, and that is not a positive for going street course racing. In case people have forgotten, we wreck a lot, right? The cars that we’re trying to emulate are those of the 24‑hour car, the GTD car, which they crash, but they don’t crash a lot. Like they’re not all bunched up together, restrictor plate races and things like that, and we need all these safety bars and door bars for T‑bones and everything else around them, right. So when they had to implement all of that into this new car build, the car is heavy. It’s heavier I think than what we have right now. So there’s a problem in that. The other problem you’re going to have is I don’t think any of these owners realize that if they’re going to start spending $800,000 for a car, we’re going to be crashing the hell out of them. Right now they’re only $200,000 cars. So have fun, boys.”
Your outside business, Rowdy Energy, how long did it take you to come up with the concept, put things in motion, and how long are you willing to give it to mature to success?
“Yeah, Rowdy Energy drink is certainly something that’s passionate to me. It’s been in the thoughts for, I don’t know, three, four years, and finally was able to come to fruition with just being able to get hooked up with Jeff Church and some of the others around us right now. I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to be a process, that’s for sure. It’s going to take a while. It’s going to take some expense, as well, to get it off the ground and running and to the notoriety that we’d like to see it get to. But you know, I do things not to fail. I do things to succeed. So hopefully I can do that.”
Can you learn much from the Clash? Did you guys learn much?
“I did. I hope the others out there did, too. Otherwise I think we’re going to see a lot more of the same staff. The runs are not the same as what they used to be. This aero package is different with the hole in the nose ‑‑ what are they called? The aero ducts? Okay. So the old package, like there used to be this bubble, right, you’d catch up to a guy and then half a car length away you’d start to push him back away. That bubble is less. So in case anybody didn’t figure that out when we were here during the Shootout, then you’d better go back and rewatch the film. There’s some differences, and I learned some things certainly. I felt like my car was driving really, really good, so I was pumped about that, so if we can have that same repeatability in our 500 car for next Sunday, I’m looking forward to it for us.”
So the leader can’t control the action behind him as much?
“No, not as well as you used to be able to do, no, so the leader has to be careful about what he’s doing, especially when you’re on however many older lap tires than those that are around you and such.”
What’s the competition been like with Jimmie Johnson over the years and what do you think he’s meant to the sport?
“Well, there’s two different questions there. So myself and Jimmie, ever since I came in with Hendrick Motorsports and him and I have worked together over the years, him and I have had the utmost respect for one another. I hope we can keep it that way for one more year because him and I, we’ve never laid a door or a fender or anything on one another. We’ve always raced each other really, really clean, have had great respect for one another. We’ve raced each other for wins cleanly, we’ve raced each other for championships cleanly. He’s one of the best I’ve ever been around. I think two other guys I can say the same thing with that is probably (Matt) Kenseth and (Greg) Biffle, who are now gone, but overall I think he’s left a phenomenal footprint on this sport and what he’s been able to do, him and Chad (Knaus) both, and of course the relationship that he and Lowe’s had for many years. That car is just going to be iconic. As much as we don’t maybe see it right now, to me it looks like an Earnhardt Goodwrench car. Whenever I see Jimmie Johnson and a Lowe’s car, that’s what it reminds me of.”
Further down the line, but obviously with Bristol being a cutoff race, a night race, you’re the winningest driver there ‑‑
“Cut‑off for the first round; is that right?”
Yeah. Does that make it any more intense, any more exciting, or what’s the thought process going in?
“No, it shouldn’t, not for us. Hopefully with the results we have through the year, that should carry us through the first round just fine. I always look forward to Bristol, though. It’s a fun race. Winning that one would certainly be cool. It’s a cut‑off race, so it’ll just get you to next week, but hopefully you’re already into next week, know what I mean? I think the most interesting race of the year is probably going to be right back here for the regular season finale of just the last‑ditch efforts to try to make it into the playoffs and what that playoff board is going to look like with the guys that are down at the 16th spot or around the 16th spot, and even those that are around the 30th points spot that are in on points, they get a win, they’re in, know what I mean? So that one is going to be what’s most interesting with just the random of Daytona.”
Who do you think is the face of NASCAR right now?
“That’s not for me to decide, not for me. Your sport’s most popular driver is Chase Elliott, if that answers some of your questions.”
Who’s the best?
“You’re looking at him.”
Before you started racing, did you have any really crappy jobs growing up?
“I loved my jobs, man. I loved my jobs. I worked at Hobby Town USA when I was a kid from when I was like 14 to 16, and then once I got my license, then I could drive to work. I was riding my bike to work 14 to 16, but once I could drive to work, I worked with a decal shop out in Las Vegas, a guy that laid decals on race cars. We also did malls, we did signage and windows. We did all kinds of stuff. That’s where my passion was for making cars look good, making sure the decals looked good and all that sort of stuff, and that’s ‑‑ I’m a big proponent of looking at my stuff that I have today, too, and making sure the stuff looks right. A couple years ago my door numbers were a little too crooked, so I had to make sure we changed those and got them in the right way that I wanted them to look. So I’m always on the decal guys.”
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