The 2017 version of the 12 Questions begins with 2015 Cup champion Kyle Busch. Starting with this interview, the 12 Questions are in both podcast form and written form (a transcript has been edited for clarity below).
1. How much of your success is based on natural ability and how much has come from working at it?
You have to have some sort of natural ability to apply all the work and everything you do to the racetrack. There’s drivers out there I’ve tried to help along the way during the past few seasons that I give them all the work and everything possible I know what to do, and yet they can’t quite equate it to the racetrack. So there has to be a talent there.
What is the real number there? I think you have to have 100% talent, but you also have to work at it 100% in order to be successful. You can’t just be a 50% talent and a 50% work ethic, because that’s half of both, right?
2. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards have all retired in the last couple years. What’s your pitch for fans of theirs to become fans of yours?
I got candy. (Smiles) I got M&M’s, Snickers, Skittles, Starburst, Milky Way, Twix — I got everything. And I’ve got their dogs covered, too (with Pedigree). The Mars brands are great for helping me recruit fans, that’s for sure.
But also, I think people change over time. I think I have (changed) a little bit and have gotten more fan friendly, let’s say. We’ve had some neat experiences over the years with some of our fans. Many might remember the video from leaving Martinsville or the autographs I put on somebody’s motorhome with all the Kyle Busch stuff in Watkins Glen. It’s been fun to meet those people, see those people — the true, dedicated Kyle Busch fans. And it’s growing.
What we don’t want to see are the Jeff Gordon fans and the Tony Stewart fans and the Carl Edwards fans just leave because they feel like they don’t have anything to follow in NASCAR anymore. They do. I remember when I was a kid, Jeff Gordon was my first guy — but I also liked Dale Earnhardt, Dale Jarrett, Rusty Wallace and Mark Martin. I liked all these guys, one of them was just my favorite. I can see where some people might get stuck on that, so I’m hoping you can pick me.
3. What is the hardest part of your job away from the racetrack?
My hardest job away from the racetrack I guess would just be travel. Traveling every single week, going to the events back and forth, I think that’s challenging. Our schedule is pretty demanding. We start it now and it’s 38 weeks straight. Even though there are off weeks in there, you’re still going to be doing something — and it revolves around this sport.
And then in the offseason, I’m an owner, I’m a dad 24/7. So I wear a lot of different hats. And what hat I’m wearing in particular moments, it’s hard for me to remember. But I try to position myself well for each of those situations.
4. A fan spots you eating dinner in a nice restaurant. Should they come over for an autograph or no?
There’s a right way, a tactful way in approaching somebody that’s out to dinner — especially with their wife or their family. And in my opinion, that way is if you’re finished with your food and that guy just sat down, go do it quick before they start eating. But once that person — me, for instance — is picking up a hamburger and stuffing his face full of grease, don’t come over and ask for a picture or an autograph, you know what I mean? Like wait until the person completes their meal and they get up to leave, if you can have that patience to wait around for a few.
Do people actually approach you when you’re in the middle of a bite?
Oh yeah, no doubt. All the time. The biggest thing that’s disappointing is people want to be on their time. When you want something, you can’t be on your time and expect it right now; you have to be on that other person’s time, right? If I’m going to go get Peyton Manning’s autograph at dinner and I see him out with his family, I’m going to sit there patiently and wait until he’s done and he’s on his way out of the restaurant. And I’m going to follow him out and get my picture taken or an autograph or whatever the heck I want. I’m not going to go bug the guy while he’s eating and trying to enjoy an evening.
5. What’s a story in NASCAR that doesn’t get enough coverage?
I think what may be missed are the stories of the people within our sport. Some of that has been coming out — that one kid, for instance, the crew member from the Xfinity Series who met me from the Kyle Busch Foundation who is now a pit crew member on the Xfinity side and trying to make his way to the Cup side. That got hit last year and that was a really good story, that was cool.
This sport is very demanding. It’s not just demanding for media or drivers, it’s also big for team members. They work Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. They’re off Thursday, but they’re flying Thursday sometimes at 3 in the afternoon to go to a venue. And then they work from 8 a.m. until midnight or sometimes 2, 3, 4 a.m. on Sundays, getting home on that Monday morning.
6. Who is the last driver you texted?
Note: I forgot to ask this question. Not sure what happened; I just missed it. My bad.
7. Do you consider race car drivers to be entertainers?
For sure. I think we’re in an entertainment business. We are a traveling circus — some of us look at it like that. We do shed value to the facilities, to the fans — they pay for the entertainment of the race and they want it to be exciting. Some of them want to crashes, some of them want to see cars upside down, some of them want to see things they’ve never seen before. But in this day and age, man, we’re into now nearly 70 years of NASCAR racing; there’s not very many first-seen things that are going to come anymore.
8. What is your middle finger policy on the racetrack?
You’ve gotta do something really bad to get my middle finger.
Are you serious?
Yeah. I don’t do middle fingers a whole lot. You pretty much know a middle finger is coming if you get it from me. Like it’s that bad. Sometimes, I do it in the Truck and Xfinity level as a learning tool for the other drivers, for the younger ones.
I remember Ty Dillon at Michigan — I couldn’t pass the kid for 10 laps. He was just in my way. So finally I got by him, and when I got by him, I gave him one full, straight lap of the bird out the window. And ever since then, it’s been pretty good. There was one other time I had to get on him again about it.
I don’t really use it in the Cup Series, because either A) It’s never really worth it or B) You have to do something really stupid.
Landon Cassill actually got the middle finger in practice one time from me at Atlanta. I was on a qualifying run and he just decided in James Finch’s 51 (car) to pull right up on the racetrack right in front of me through (Turns) 3 and 4 and blend in while I’m on a flier. I should have just wrecked him, but I didn’t. But when I got by him, I gave him the bird.
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, I do. I have the “That guy needs paid back” folder and the “Hey, that guy has been pretty good to me” folder. Sometimes I’m like, “That guy has been pretty good to me, man, I should cut him a break — nah, I’m not going to cut him a break right now. I’ll save it for later. I’ll get him another time.” There’s this Rolodex that keeps going in your mind of folders about drivers who have either done you well or done you wrong.
10. Who is the most famous person you’ve had dinner with?
I guess I’d say it was President (George W.) Bush. We had dinner with him at the Greenbrier (in West Virginia) a few years ago. He actually came to one of our JGR sponsor summits.
I’ve had plenty of dinners with Mars family members. Obviously, they’re not necessarily famous, but they are famous — they’re a very wealthy family.
Shop Murph boutique owner! Yeah, I’ve had plenty of dinners with her. So that’s on the list, too.
11. What’s something about yourself you’d like to improve?
I’m perfect, dude. (Smiles) Man, that’s a hard one to answer. I don’t know. Obviously, everybody wishes they had more time, right? Not having enough time with Brexton, not having enough time with the race team, so it’s kind of hard to balance that right now. I’m struggling in that regard.
I certainly know I need to improve my skills in being able to be a little better of a leader, a CEO-type person at KBM, but also be able to change hats and be a dad and share that time with him as well.
12. The last interview was with Landon Cassill, and his question for you is: “If Brexton wants to be a race car driver, what are some things you can do to make him a better driver than you are now?”
Watching film, doing notes, paying attention, working on the cars. I worked on cars when I was a kid — that’s why I know them so well, that’s why I know what I think I’m feeling that’s wrong with them and I can communicate that to the crew chief instead of just saying, “It’s tight here, it’s loose here.” That’s easy (to say), but why is it tight? Why is it loose? It’s because it’s over on the right front or it’s because it wants to unhook the back because the track bar is too high. Stuff like that.
So being able to teach him all those things, communicate about that stuff. The unfortunate thing I feel like I’m at a disadvantage with him is when he’s 5 years old, I’m still going to be racing. So when he starts racing, the best tool I have for him right now is Tom Busch (Kyle and Kurt’s dad), who has already made two race car drivers and (Tom) being able to go to the racetrack and help Brexton.
Once Brexton gets to about 13, 14, 15, that’s when I’ll be able to get with him and race against him and follow him around and we’ll have somebody filming it and we’ll watch it and I’ll really be able to help him.
The next interview is with Martin Truex Jr. Do you have a question I can ask him?
How does it really feel to get all the good stuff from Joe Gibbs Racing?