News & Media


Rodman: Outspoken Busch more than pleased with results

June 18, 2011, Dave Rodman, NASCAR.com

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- There's no question a successful Kurt Busch is a far more pleasant man to be around -- just as there's no question his current string of three consecutive pole positions is emblematic of a season once on the brink of going bad suddenly being oh-so-right.

But something that obviously should have never been questioned was the unwavering commitment to him of Busch's Penske Racing team -- really, the whole organization.

"Unfortunately, the tagline that's going to be written about me for the rest of my career is that I'm fiery on the radio. But my guys love me, I love them and we'll stand behind each other. "

--KURT BUSCH

Their performance Saturday at Michigan International Speedway proved that, particularly in a stunning three-minute span where Busch and his boys made a setup change that secured Penske Racing's fourth consecutive pole.

"We watched Brad's [Keselowski, who qualified 10 cars before Busch and ended up 41st on the grid] run and we were in a panic because we really didn't know where Brad set his car up, exactly," Busch said.

But here's where it gets interesting, particularly if you were scanning Busch's in-car radio, say, at Richmond in early May when he absolutely went off on his team.

That wasn't cool, it wasn't calm -- but it was, Busch felt, necessary. And Saturday at MIS, the proof was in the poise.

"That was a cool panic we were in," Busch said, chuckling. "We were all under control, and it took it from a non-pole-winning car to a pole-winning car."

After Keselowski stated how tight his car was, one of Busch's engineers, who was out on pit road, radioed to a counterpart who was back in the transporter at a computer. That engineer accessed and printed a report, then verified information with the pit road crew, who made a simple but critically necessary air pressure adjustment that was the difference between Busch's career pole number 15 and something else.

"If he was that tight and we were set up that loose, we didn't need to go any looser with our setup," Busch said later. "It was nice to have that correlation of watching your teammate go out just a few cars ahead and still make an adjustment in time."

It's the latest step in a just-in-time process that was initiated by that radio blowup after Busch, in seven race weekends, went from leading the Sprint Cup standings to standing ninth.

"If that had kept up," Busch said in no-joke mode, "we were gonna be out of the Chase, and I just wanted to steer it correct, as quick as I could, to see results heading into the Chase. I didn't want to be on the outside looking in.

"I could have kept all my emotions in at Richmond and just gone into the Tuesday [competition] meeting and sat there and just thrown darts at the dart board again and nobody would have heard it the right way. It was the wrong thing to do but man, it's amazing to see the results this fast because everybody believes in each other."

The current skein puts that unease about the Chase at rest. Busch is currently sixth in the points -- 10 points out of fifth, and 46 points ahead of 11th. And he's got the prime strategic position for Sunday's Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips 400 at a track where he's won twice.

"We'll have a great pit stall," Busch said. "And in fuel mileage races, that's really important."

And just how startling is this string? Busch has only won more than two poles in a season once previously in his 12-year career. Even though he's won two in a row twice, he didn't come close to doing a triple in either of those seasons including 2004, his Cup championship.

But it comes back to the most telling aspect. For three weeks in a row, Busch and his team have struggled in practice -- twice even wrecking their primary cars -- but they've rebounded to win the pole. More importantly, in the past three races they've finished fourth, ninth and second.

Busch says he will never forget, shortly after his season-changing outburst, when a crewmember who's not typically on the road crew came to the race track, saw Busch and slapped him a high-five.

Michigan

Lineup
Pos.DriverSpeedTime
2.D. Reutimann188.68438.159
3.Matt Kenseth188.62038.172
4.Brian Vickers188.15738.266
5.Regan Smith187.60738.378

"He says, 'The whole shop thanks you for standing up and doing what you did with your voice, because things needed to be rearranged a bit.' This has been like being on a Ferris wheel -- I hopped on and it went from the top to the bottom and back -- but that is what this sport does to you."

So Busch is enjoying the ride, for now.

"Unfortunately, the tagline that's going to be written about me for the rest of my career is that I'm fiery on the radio," Busch said. "But my guys love me, I love them and we'll stand behind each other. It's just been a quick, simple fix, a directional change in our chassis setups. What we're bolting on the cars hasn't been anything dramatic, but we are working on some other, bigger projects."

Only time will tell what it all means, but right now, with Busch riding a string of three consecutive finishes of ninth or better --- with two of them top-fives --- the race performance is in sync with qualifying, and that wasn't the case earlier in the season.

Richmond was the last straw, in more ways than one.

"I was like, 'Where are we going and what are we doing?' " Busch said. "I'm bouncing off cars like a ping-pong ball, trying to stay the last car on the lead lap -- and that's what blew things open. Internally, I was trying to work on things, behind the scenes, but nothing was getting done. I just saw our general trend [going the wrong way]."

And how much at ease is Busch now? He finished his media responsibilities Saturday afternoon just after 3 p.m. ET and hauled off for a three-hour trip to Cleveland, where the Indians were scheduled to play the Pittsburgh Pirates and give Busch, an avid baseball fan, the opportunity to strike another park off his wish list.

"Gotta hit the Red Bull truck," Busch said, laughing.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.