Up Front with Kyle Busch
May 07, 2014, Jon Gunn, NASCAR Illustrated, NASCAR.com
Kyle Busch made his first string of Truck Series starts while he was a high school senior and now, the 28-year-old Joe Gibbs Racing driver is in his 10th full-time season of Sprint Cup competition.
Busch began his Cup career with Hendrick Motorsports, but with Hendrick needing to make room for the arrival of the popular Dale Earnhardt Jr., “Rowdy” sauntered over to Joe Gibbs Racing.
Known as much for his hot temper as he is for his talent — talent that has brought him 29 Cup wins, a record 65 Nationwide wins and 36 Truck wins — Busch further infuriates his haters with his post-victory bows. Yet, he has failed to capture NASCAR’s biggest prize.
Busch enjoyed his best Chase run to date last season — ending the year fourth in the point standings — and he and longtime crew chief Dave Rogers aspire to be the first champions crowned using NASCAR’s drastically altered Chase format.
NASCAR ILLUSTRATED: Has your approach to going after a Cup title changed?
Kyle Busch: In my opinion, I feel like I’m still climbing. I’m not yet at the peak of my career. Certainly a lot of great days, even years, yet to come. It’s been fun, challenging, yet encouraging at the same time. Last year was one of the best years that I’ve had. That sort of showed a good light that we were able to finish the year off strong and finish fourth in points. Just looking forward to the 2014 season and seeing if we can bring [a championship] home.
NI: How has your relationship with Dave Rogers changed through the years?
KB: It’s been good. We’ve certainly gotten the chemistry going now where we understand each other really well and we don’t really have a whole lot of moments anymore where we don’t get what each other’s thinking. That’s really good for us. We just look forward to being able to punch through, continue on with our careers, being able to work together. I feel like Dave is a great leader, a great crew chief. He knows a lot of great things — people-wise and car-wise. We’ve had our off years, everybody has their off years. Some are worse than others, but we feel like we can go out and win a championship. We’ve just got to work for it and achieve it.
NI: Do you agree with the changes NASCAR made to the Chase?
KB: It’s not whether I agree with it or not. It’s a part of our sport. We continue to evolve and continue to try and make changes to our sport that attract the more casual fan [in hopes that] they become NASCAR fans. You’ve still got to do things for the avid fans that makes them stick around and want to be a part of the sport as well.
The on-track product has actually been pretty good. The new Gen-6 race car that came on last year is awesome. I really believe in it. As far as the point structure goes, it’s neither here nor there what happens with it. It’s just a matter of what’s going on at that particular time and just seeing it out. It’s now kind of like a playoff system in my mind, where you’re going to have 16 guys fighting after it. And those guys who win, those who do well, move on.
NI: Was Matt Kenseth’s first-year performance at JGR frustrating to you at all on some level?
KB: No, not at all. When I came in from Hendrick Motorsports in 2008 to join Joe Gibbs Racing, I had a phenomenal season as well. I won eight races in just the first 26. It was pretty crazy. From there on, the final 10 races [of the season], my year just fell apart.
Kenseth did a lot better job of — him and crew chief Jason Ratcliffe and everybody on the team — being able to close out the season and being able to finish second in points.
There’s room for improvement, there’s room for growth in all of Joe Gibbs Racing — including myself, Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth.
NI: Does your sponsor, M&M’s, ever offer feedback on your team’s performance?
KB: We get that. Certainly when you’re not doing as well, you hear a bit more from them, but when you’re doing well, it’s all quiet. It just kind of depends on how things are going. Sometimes when we’re having a bad stretch, they realize it, they get it. It happens in professional sports sometimes. They try to encourage us that the best has yet to come and we continue on.
NI: Are there any tracks in particular where you feel like you’ve got a great shot at winning?
KB: Yes, I do. Bristol, I love. Richmond, I love. I feel like I can really run well on the road courses. Darlington has been really good for me. I love Charlotte, although it’s hit or miss for me.
NI: You’re aware of the inherent danger of racing, but is that danger ever hard on your wife, Samantha?
KB: Oh yeah. Every day. There are always those moments that you share with each other before climbing into the race car and getting ready to go. You kiss each other, tell her you love her. From there, it’s about getting buckled in, going racing and doing your job but hoping that you always get to make it back.