12 Questions with Kurt Busch

The 12 Questions series of interviews continues this week with Daytona 500 winner Kurt Busch of Stewart-Haas Racing. I spoke with Busch at Dover International Speedway.

1. How much of your success is based on natural ability and how much has come from working at it?

I would say that it’s a balance of both, but in all honesty, my dad, Tom, taught Kyle and I everything about the race car. First up was how to work on it, and that taught us how to respect it. And then (was) how to race it. He was always there helping us with our go-karts.

You know what’s funny is that I always looked forward to watching the race with him on Sundays as a kid, because he would point out certain things that the veteran drivers were doing, like Dale Sr. was doing this or Bill Elliott did that, and it was really neat to digest that and then apply it to the little go-kart we had.

Does he still give advice from time to time now?

Oh yeah. He hasn’t slowed down one bit. (Laughs) He still knows it all.

2. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards and now Dale Earnhardt Jr. have all either retired in the last couple years or will retire soon. What’s your pitch for fans of theirs to become fans of yours?

There’s the opportunity in NASCAR that’s different than any other sport and that is that we have 40 guys that take the green flag every weekend. There’s two sports teams usually, like right now it’s the (Golden State) Warriors against the (Cleveland) Cavaliers (in the NBA Finals), and are you a fan of either? Usually by this time of year your guy or your team is out of it, and so you choose one or you move on to another situation.

But I always encourage people to stay involved in NASCAR and find a driver that they think is similar to their driving style or to their demeanor (or) to their ability of fun level. I think the fun level is what this sport needs to continue to focus on. Everyone talks about power rankings, stages, points, wins — let’s talk about fun level.

3. What is the hardest part of your job away from the racetrack?

That’s a good question. My job is great, I love it. There’s always so many different hats you have to wear, whether it’s a media hat, a sponsor hat, working with the crew guys and the engineers, studying wind tunnel numbers.

That’s maybe the toughest part right now, balancing all the rule changes of NASCAR and trying to find a common thread on how to get that advantage. The sport is all about having that advantage and being the top team, and right now we’ve been working our buns off balancing all of the different things that are changing.

4. A fan spots you eating dinner in a nice restaurant. Should they come over for an autograph or no?

Oh sure. There’s a moment in time where you always have that one chance to make a new fan or to keep a fan of the sport of NASCAR. It’s nice when you’re done eating to come over.

I remember one time — it was actually here in Dover, Delaware — where I was having ribs and somebody wanted me to sign what they wanted me to sign. I was like, “Guys, I’m eating.” They were just so ecstatic, they wanted me to sign and I really had rib barbecue sauce all over my hands and signed what they wanted signed. They wanted that part of it as well.

Here’s some barbecue sauce from my meal. It’s like an extra souvenir here.

Yeah, it was like icing on the cake.

5. What’s a story in NASCAR that doesn’t get enough coverage?

I would say it’s just the genuine racing on the track and who’s doing what and how that move or pass happened. It’s similar to like old-school journalism on where guys were out-dueling each other out on the racetrack.

6. Who is the last driver you texted?

I had lunch with Matt Crafton this week, so maybe that was the last driver I texted.

That would make sense.

I do need to text Jimmie Johnson, though. My wife’s playing polo and his buddy Nacho is playing polo, and so we gotta figure out if we’re gonna go watch polo.

That’s something you’d never thought you’d say a few years ago, right?

Yeah. Polo, right?

7. Do you consider race car drivers to be entertainers?

Yeah there’s that aspect of it. Ultimately we’re just hardcore racers, and then you learn at this level the TV side of things because we’ll be like, “The track’s ready to go, the track’s green,” but we still got another hour or so before live TV hits. So there’s a little bit of that, but at the end of the day you just roll with it and focus on driving the car.

8. What is your middle finger policy on the racetrack?

I haven’t used it in a while because it came with so many penalties — not from other drivers, just from NASCAR. Honestly I haven’t used it in a while. It’s usually when somebody does something so blatant and that blatant moment was backed up by three consistent blatant moments. So you usually need to have three strikes to get something pretty big.

So three strikes, then the finger.

Yeah, I would say.

9. Some drivers keep a payback list in their minds. Do you also have a list for drivers who have done you a favor on the track?

Yeah, you have all the different lists. Like when we get to the cutoff for the playoffs and you know guys are really pushing hard to run consistent and to get into the playoffs. Then there’s the good guy list, the bad guy list; you keep track of it all. That’s an element that if you’re good at that situation, you’re in that top percentile.

10. Who is the most famous person you’ve had dinner with?

I’m trying to think. I had a beer with Reggie Jackson the other day.

That’s pretty cool. How was that?

It was pretty solid. We were hanging out at the Yankee Club restaurant in New York City, but I don’t know (about dinner).

Oh, I got it. We just finished Indy, so Indy’s fresh in my mind. Having dinner with Mario Andretti at an Italian restaurant in Tampa, Florida, was one of the coolest moments that I’ve had. To sit down with him — I had my family, his family there was really neat.

That’s awesome, especially being able to pick his brain and stuff like that I imagine.

Just hanging out in one of his cool Italian spots and the way that racing was the anchor of the conversation. I saw the joy in my dad’s eyes and the way that everybody was really just chill, but really engaged in the situation.

11. What’s something about yourself you’d like to improve?

My ability to communicate. I’ve had things in my head all the time on what I’m thinking or what I would like to see happen with the car or it could be something simple as schedule.

I think I told my wife the other day, “Yeah, we’re gonna have lunch when we get to New York City and we’ll meet up afterwards,” and she was just confused if she was doing lunch or if I was just doing lunch. It’s a little thing. I think that’s just a part of being husband and wife, but honestly I can do a better job with Tony Gibson and anybody that works at Stewart-Haas, just to be clear on communications.

12. The last interview I did was with James Hinchcliffe because I went to the Indy 500. His question was: “Do you think that Jimmie Johnson will be able to break the championships record, and if so, how many do you think he’ll end his career with?”

I’ll answer your question, James Hinchcliffe, in reverse. I think he’ll end with eight. I think if he gets it, he’ll be done; he’ll walk away, drop the mic. Will he get it? I’ll tell you, the combination of Chad Knaus, Rick Hendrick, Lowe’s, Jimmie Johnson — that is a power package that has never been assembled and probably never will ever again, and it’s mind-boggling to see their results and watch them continue each and every year to power through it. I wish them all the best. I think they’ve got the best potential out of everybody to ever set that type of record.

Will he do it? I’m on the fence; I’m 50/50 because I’m out there still competing and I don’t want him to get another one while I’m out here. I wanna get one. I wanna get another one. So we’ll see how it pans out. I’m gonna say 50/50 that he gets it, but when he does, 100 percent he’ll drop the mic and walk away.

The next interview that I’m doing with is with Paul Menard. Do you have a question that I could ask Paul?

What’s the slogan for Menard’s? “Everything’s better at Menard’s,” or what’s the slogan? Oh, “Save big money at Menard’s.” So I wanna ask Paul Menard who came up with that tagline, and then if he was ever a box boy or a bag guy at Menard’s.

Editor’s Note: Unfortunately, Paul Menard will not be the next 12 Questions interview. Due to another interview running long, I was late for Menard and he was unable to reschedule the interview for the Dover weekend. My apologies.

Let’s talk about Fence Climber Guy

There are some real idiots in this world, and two of them are Richmond Fence Climber Guy and Dover Fence Climber Guy.

That’s right — NASCAR had another moron climb the fence during a race, this time in Turn 4 while cars were passing underneath him under the green flag!

Dover Fence Climber Guy is lucky he didn’t end up splattered all over the track, to be honest. Hopefully, he will be banned for life from the track as Richmond Fence Climber Guy was.

Look, this fence climbing stuff is way different than a fan running onto a football or baseball field. One false move (or the fence giving way), and Fence Climber Guy becomes Dead Fence Climber Guy, and thousands of people are traumatized after watching his death and it’s very terrible for everyone.

So please, don’t dare your drunk friends to do this or let this become a “thing” in NASCAR. It’s not funny. Really.

By the way, Dover Fence Climber Guy is currently in jail. According to the track, he was charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and “offensive touching” on a law enforcement officer (not sure I want to know what happened there).

Anyway, again, don’t be a Fence Climber Guy.

The Top Five: Breaking down the Dover race

Five thoughts following Sunday’s race at Dover International Speedway…

1. Get out of Line

After a disappointing finish to what was otherwise a very entertaining race, the immediate reaction from NASCAR Twitter was, Man, that overtime line rule stinks!

That’s understandable, because fans invested four hours in a race that built anticipation with great racing — only to see a non-finish. Ugh.

It’s easy to follow the “That sucked!” reaction with “NASCAR should change that!” But there are still a few benefits worth considering before throwing the whole thing out.

First, the current overtime rule was designed for superspeedways and still has validity at Talladega and Daytona. By cutting down on overtime attempts, there’s a reduced risk of a car flying into the fence like Austin Dillon or Kyle Larson at Daytona.

Second, it lessens the chances of race manipulation. Remember, this rule was created in the wake of the sketchy Talladega finish in the 2015 Chase.

So with that in mind, NASCAR had to come up with a rule that would address those issues while also applying to every race and all types of tracks (otherwise, people could scream inconsistency!).

But Dover really could have used multiple overtime attempts, so it doesn’t need to be governed by the same rules as plate tracks. Maybe it’s time to separate the two.

NASCAR could bring back the three overtime attempts for non-plate tracks while keeping the overtime line/current format for plate tracks only. After all, it’s a safety thing at plate tracks in a lot of ways and I can’t get on board with ideas like unlimited attempts no matter how much some fans say they want it.

Either way, NASCAR will probably end up changing some element of the overtime rule because fans seem really disgusted about how the end of the Dover race turned out.

2. Monster entertainment

It’s a shame the craptacular finish overshadowed what was otherwise a very fun and entertaining race for the second year in a row at Dover’s spring event.

I watched most of the race from the press box, and I kept getting so caught up in watching the battles that I forgot to tweet updates a few times. The leader never seemed to be able to get very far away, and the passes for the lead seemed to take multiple laps to execute.

There had been talk about adding VHT to Dover’s surface, but it definitely didn’t need it. The race had multiple grooves and drivers were all over the track. There always seemed to be something interesting going on.

I asked Martin Truex Jr. why Dover has put on a good race the last couple years.

“Man, it’s just so hard,” he said. “I think everybody is just so out of control, you run five laps and every one of them is a little different because you’re just out there hanging on. The tires are bouncing and skipping across the track so bad. You can get a little bit of a gap on somebody, and then you get in the corner a foot too deep and you slide sideways and he’s up your butt again and then you’re even looser.

“It’s just really hard to be consistent here and hit your marks. I think that’s why everybody comes and goes. (The cars) are just a handful and you’re sliding around just praying you make it through every single lap — and I guess that makes for exciting racing and guys getting close to each other.”

If that’s the case, this goes along with the theory that the more teams struggle with nailing a setup or finding consistency, the better the racing turns out to be.

3. Playoff Points for Dummies (like me)

Speaking of Truex, he won two more stages on Sunday to bring his season total to eight (most in the series) and has 18 playoff points halfway through the regular season.

For some reason, I didn’t understand how exactly the playoff points worked until talking with a couple people from NASCAR this weekend. So if I didn’t know, maybe you don’t either.

I thought — incorrectly — a driver would start with the playoff points and they were like money. If  the driver didn’t use them in Round 1, they would carry over to Round 2. But that’s not the case at all.

The actual rule is whatever amount of playoff points a driver has, they get that amount at the start of every round whether they needed them in the previous round or not. And they can further add to that total while in the playoffs.

So let’s say Truex doesn’t get another playoff point the whole season (unlikely). He would start Round 1 with 18 points. If he advances to Round 2, he starts with 18 points. Same with Round 3.

That’s a massive advantage and it will really make a major difference in the playoffs, because it creates a mulligan opportunity.

Anyway, hopefully my ignorance will help others out there understand. But I’m sure a lot of you already know that rule and you’re thinking, “Are you kidding me? How many races into the season are we?”

“Are you kidding me?” Truex said when I brought this up. “How many races into the season are we?”

He was well aware of the rule, of course, and that’s one reason why the 78 team has been so aggressive in going after stage wins.

“It is huge, and that’s why we keep trying to pile them up,” he said. “We might be able to get to 30 or so, but that’s still only half a race (with maximum 60 points this year). So they’re going to be important as long as you can be consistent. You’re still not going to be able to afford to have consecutive really bad days.”

In the past, the the typical regular season storyline is “Who will make the playoffs?” This year, that’s joined by the talk of “Who is in good shape with playoff points?”

4. He’s lucky AND good

There’s no doubt Jimmie Johnson got lucky in a couple instances on Sunday. But that doesn’t mean he’s somehow undeserving of getting to victory lane.

Let’s take Example No. 1. Chad Knaus had Johnson stay out while others were on pit road during a cycle of green-flag pit stops, even though the team was already in its fuel window. As it turned out, Regan Smith hit the wall and brought out a caution — which benefited Johnson, who stayed on the lead lap as others had gone a lap down and had to take the wavearound.

I asked Knaus to shed some light on why. Was he hoping to catch a caution, and did he have a hunch? I think yes, but he wouldn’t elaborate.

“Yeah, there is definitely some strategy,” he said with a smile. “For sure.”

Then there was Example No. 2. Johnson was surely going to lose the race to Kyle Larson, but David Ragan hit the wall to bunch the field and set up overtime.

“When I was watching Kyle pull away from me with five to go, I’m going, ‘All right, second is not bad,’” Johnson said. “And then something in my mind said, ‘This thing isn’t over. They’re not over until the checkered falls.’”

Sure enough, Johnson got his chance — but he still had to execute on the restart. Remember, Larson was right there controlling the overtime start with a chance to win. He couldn’t get it done and Johnson did.

As Kasey Kahne noted on Twitter, it wasn’t the oil dry that cost Larson a chance to win — it was Johnson.

Said Larson:  “Jimmie is the best of our time, probably the best of all time. He just has a lot more experience than I do out on the front row late in races and executed a lot better than I did.  I’ve got to get better at that and maybe get some more wins.”

5. Aw, (lug) nuts!

One of NASCAR’s safety rules was tested this weekend, and what officials decide to do about it should set an interesting precedent.

Kyle Busch lost his left rear wheel after a pit stop early in Sunday’s Cup race, much like Chase Briscoe did in the Truck race on Friday. Both incidents were clearly mistakes by pit crews — the jack dropped before the tire changers had secured the lug nuts — and were not intentional moves to make a faster pit stop.

But NASCAR typically does not judge intent — the rule is the rule — and so harsh penalties will likely be handed out on Wednesday. The crew chief, tire changer and tire carrier (of the wheel in question) are all facing four-race suspensions, which is the mandatory minimum as spelled out in the NASCAR rulebook.

So Busch, who hasn’t won this season, is set to lose Adam Stevens as well as two key pit crew members, for a month. All because of a clear mistake on pit road.

That seems awfully severe, and it also puts Busch on the same page as rival Brad Keselowski (who owns Briscoe’s truck).

“At the end of the day, intent matters,” Keselowski said Saturday. “The intent of the rule was to make sure guys don’t put three lug nuts on and have a wheel come off and say, ‘Aw, too bad.’ That isn’t what happened in the scenario we had.

“It was a mistake. … It’s the difference between murder and manslaughter.”

Here’s the thing, though: If NASCAR lets this slide, it’s eventually going to be faced with a less clear decision and have to play judge on whether or not a pit crew intended to send the car out with one lug nut attached (or something along those lines).

Honestly, it’s better just to have rules and enforce them the same way every time — no matter the circumstances that led to the infraction.

DraftKings Fantasy NASCAR picks: Dover

I’m playing DraftKings this season and will be posting my picks here each week. Disclosure: If you want to play and sign up using this link, DraftKings will give my website a commission. Disclosure No. 2: I might be America’s worst daily fantasy player.

Last race’s results: Played the $3 Beginner Slingshot game. Finished 18th out of 200; won $10.

Season results: $26 wagered, $17 won in 10 contests.

This week’s contest: $0 free game due to Delaware state law restriction.

Dover picks:

— Kyle Busch ($10,400). It’s always dangerous to take the polesitter, but there are a lot of available laps to lead at Dover — and I want the people who are going to hog most of them. That would seem to fit Busch, among others.

— Martin Truex Jr. ($9,900). I’m going with Truex as my hammer. Last fall, Truex led 187 of the 400 laps — and I could see him with a similar performance on Sunday. He starts second, so he’ll have a good shot to pile up the laps led early in the race.

— Joey Logano ($9,200). This is pretty much a “He’s starting 26th and I want the position differential” play. It’s been a rough weekend for Logano, who seems to be lacking speed. But that team is capable of rebounding quickly. Maybe it’s not worth the high price to take the risk, but we’ll see.

— Ryan Newman ($7,200). I took Newman for one reason: He was the best driver remaining I could afford. Yes, I picked Newman to plug a hole — choosing him over similarly-priced Paul Menard, Ty Dillon and Trevor Bayne. There aren’t a lot of stats to back this up, other than Newman was faster than those drivers in practice. But this allowed me to take drivers like Busch, Logano and Truex — so that makes it worth it.

— Daniel Suarez ($7,100). I’m going with a value play here for a couple reasons. First, the Toyotas look fast this weekend — and this is a way to get one for cheap. Second, Suarez was 12th-fastest in 10-lap averages — so he clearly has a fast car. The downside (and a big one, perhaps) is he starts third.

— AJ Allmendinger ($6,200). A good value for a driver who was 14th in 10-lap average for final practice. Allmendinger starts 24th, but has been strong here in the past (he’s led more laps at Dover than he has at any other track).

Brad Keselowski criticizes Kyle Busch’s behavior

Kyle Busch’s terse comments and microphone drop after a second-place finish in the Coca-Cola 600 has sparked an ongoing debate about what the limits of passion are.

Busch said Friday he’s not always gracious, but said the actions are a reflection of how much he cares. In addition, some media columns have also expressed that view this week.

But longtime rival Brad Keselowski strongly refuted that notion on Saturday, saying anger and the hunger to win should not be linked.

“When the media comes out and says that’s a reflection of him having the most desire to win, it makes me want to throw up,” Keselowski said. “Not only is that a terrible message to send to anyone who is aspiring to be part of the sport, that’s a terrible message to send to anyone in general in this world — that (anger) is a reflection of your desire to win.

“When I look at teams and people in this sport, they all want to be associated with those who have the strongest hunger and desire and passion to be successful. That’s natural. And that message (of anger being an outlet for passion) is a terrible message that has serious effects — not just on our sport, but our society. Your desire to win could be expressed in a lot of other ways that are productive.”

Keselowski said the message he would send to his daughter or young people who are fans of his is that anger is “not by any of stretch of the imagination a true definition of the most desire, the most passion.”

“You want to show me desire and passion to win?” Keselowski said. “It’s what you do when nobody’s watching.”

This isn’t the first time Keselowski has weighed in on the issue this week.

Clearly, Keselowski and Busch don’t like each other much. But Keselowski’s comments seem to be going beyond targeting Busch in particular to make a larger point: He believes excusing such behavior will set a bad precedent for young people — drivers or otherwise — in times of adversity.

Kyle Busch: ‘I’m Sorry, That’s Just Who I Am’

For all the talk about Kyle Busch changing and growing and maturing over the years, from Old Kyle to New Kyle to Family Man Kyle, the 2015 Cup champ never seems to go too long without doing something that pisses everyone off.

And you know what? As it turns out, that might not ever change.

That’s the theory Busch floated after winning the pole position Friday at Dover — five days after his much-publicized mic toss following a second-place finish in the Coca-Cola 600.

“Different people show their emotions in different ways,” he said. “Unfortunately for me, mine has never been very gracious — and I don’t know that it ever will be. I’m kind of learning that as the days go on. When my son (Brexton) is 2 years old, I see where it came from — it’s genetic.

“I’m sorry, that’s just who I am. That’s what I was given. If there’s anyone to blame, it’s probably the guy upstairs. I mean, I can probably get better and go to training and classes and everything else, but I don’t know. It is the way it is.”

Busch made the case those flashes of emotion don’t represent who he really is as a person, though — which is why sponsors, family and friends keep supporting him even in bad times. Look no further than Samantha Busch’s Instagram post this week to see another way he’s perceived.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to be blessed to be in the opportunity I’m in,” the driver said. “I’ve got great sponsors and partners that are with me, and they’ve stuck with me through a lot worse than what happened this week. And that’s through relationships.

“Those people that are close to me understand me and know me and know who I am outside the racetrack as a person and a friend, and that’s why I’m able to continue to have the relationships and the sponsorships that I do.”

As for why he was so upset at Charlotte, Busch said the time between his televised FOX Sports interview right after the race and when he arrived at the media center gave him time to stew over the missed opportunity.

For one thing, Busch said, he thought he was in position to win the race after passing Martin Truex Jr. and seeing Jimmie Johnson run out of gas (he believed Austin Dillon would also run out).

Then there was the fact a Coke 600 win slipped away — which would have given him three of the four NASCAR “majors” — as well as a Charlotte sweep that would have given him his first points win at his favorite track.

“There were a lot of things on the line that meant a lot to me and would have been special to me, but I guess I should care less about those sort of things and not show that sort of emotion,” he said.