Kurt Busch, the 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion, is looking at a lot of change next year: A new sponsor in Shell/Pennzoil, the No. 22 on the side of his Penske Racing Dodge Charger and a new nose on the car, too.
Understandably, Busch was eager to get a little bit of track time during this week’s tire test at Daytona International Speedway, which is newly repaved. Busch nearly won the race in 2008, when he pushed then-teammate Ryan Newman to victory.
Following are Busch’s thoughts on the new Daytona and the year ahead.
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE NEW TRACK SURFACE?It’s an impressive surface. There’s been a lot of hard work done. Lesa (France Kennedy) and the France family should be proud for what they’ve accomplished to resurface it and give it a new look. It’s just a new attitude and this is what 2011 will bring to start off our Sprint Cup season. Big exciting time. I’m proud to be able to say that I got a chance to race on the surface when it was redone.
HAVE YOU NOTICED A DIFFERENCE IN SPEED?The speeds are comparable to where we were before, but we’re not sliding around. It’s very controllable. It’s similar to Talladega when that track got its repave. It’s Daytona. It’s only three lanes of traffic where Talladega is six lanes of traffic. That’s the biggest mindset and difference between the two tracks. There’s going to be small things that you learn each and every practice session when you go back on the track.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE TYPE OF RACING THAT CAN BE EXPECTED AT THE DAYTONA 500 THIS YEAR?I think that each race will have its own identity just like it always has. With the Shootout where you have the best drivers and you have the ones taking the biggest risks because there’s no points involved. Then you settle into practice zones and then you get into the 150s where guys have to race their way into the show. We’re still going to see big packs, big action. The asphalt is the equalizer. When you had a car that wasn’t handling well in the past you could work by them after 15 to 20 laps. You won’t have that option anymore. Everybody is going to be fast all the way until the last drop of gas in the tank.
IS THERE STILL SOME TRACK CHARACTER TO THE SPEEDWAY?Just how much time NASCAR and ISC has put into their venues to put the best face forward with repaves at Talladega, here at Daytona, Phoenix is in the works and you here things about other tracks. ISC is doing a tremendous amount of work to create a new look for our race fans to enjoy when they come to the track. It’s just exciting to listen to (the fans) talk and be part of the event.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE NEW PIT ROAD AT DAYTONA?This road was the most treacherous of all the pit roads that we race on. The old surface, the oil from all the sport’s cars and the pit boxes for a superspeedway car didn’t seem to be the right size. It looks like green acres out there. It’s really a safer place on pit road. The environment for the crew guys will be much better and you won’t have to worry as much about getting a fender ding and rubs on pit road with the amount of area out there that is paved. I’m excited about it.
DOES THE NEW TRACK SURFACE INCREASE THE CHANCE OF A BIG WRECK?Physically it’s going to be less demanding. Mentally you’re going to have to be that much sharper, that much precise. If you think that you have a hole, you already better be in it because somebody else is going to take it that much quicker. Reaction times are going to have to be that much quicker and there’s going to be bigger consequences with it.
CAN YOU ASSES THE NEW TIRE? WHAT WILL IT DO FOR LATE RACE STRATEGY?Any time that we see a fresh repave at tracks we have to be smart with the tire that we choose to put on, A. a good show, B. to be safe, and C. to be out there on Goodyear tires that mom and pops want to buy. They want to see the performance of them and with that we’re going to be on the conservative side. That’s just what happens on fresh repaves and we’ll change the strategy at the end of the race. Whether it’s a two tire call, fuel only, I think that you’ll see a lot of that play out as Speedweeks develops. It will definitely change the outcome of how the race is going to be one. You’re not just going to come in and put four tires on like you use to do in the past.
Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEED.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100 and e-mail him at Jensen is the author of “Cheating: The Bad Things Good NASCAR Nextel Cup Racers Do In Pursuit of Speed,” and has appeared on numerous television and radio shows. Jensen is the past President of the National Motorsports Press Association and an NMPA Writer of the Year.