In the Hot Seat with Kurt Busch

All things considered, Kurt Busch remains as competitive as ever. (Photo: Luis Torres/The Podium Finish)

All things considered, Kurt Busch remains as competitive as ever. (Photo: Luis Torres/The Podium Finish)

Simply put, Kurt Busch is one of NASCAR’s most passionate, competitive racers who wears his heart on his sleeves. For the past 21 years, Busch has traded paint with the likes of Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon, Rusty Wallace, Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski, and younger brother Kyle Busch.

Undoubtedly, Kurt Busch matured over the course of his stellar NASCAR Cup Series career. Evolving from a brash, purely talented racer from Las Vegas to a polished, cunning racer, Busch has a genuine perspective of his journey parallel with NASCAR’s dynamic changes as seen in a previous interview from late 2019.

Regardless of the tracks, cars, or championship format, Kurt Busch responds to the bell without hesitation. By all means, the 42 year old racer knows when to choose his battles on the asphalt arena.

Certainly, some fans ponder when Kurt Busch’s likely NASCAR Hall of Fame career may conclude. After all, Busch has accolades such as the 2004 Cup championship and 32 Cup wins including the 2017 Daytona 500. Versatile on any race course in NASCAR, he’s even dabbled in NTT IndyCar Series competition with a sixth place finish in the 2014 Indianapolis 500.

By all means, Busch has that old school driver’s swagger with a modern day understanding of the optics surrounding motorsports. Without a doubt, his experiences serve him well with his insightful analysis when he’s commentated for FOX NASCAR’s Xfinity and Truck Series races.

Recently, I caught up with Kurt Busch to discuss his evolution in NASCAR, a popular pre season video filmed by sponsor Monster Energy, and his relationship with his younger brother Kyle. Now, let’s put the pedal to the metal by getting “In the Hot Seat with Kurt Busch” here on The Podium Finish!

Rob Tiongson : As one of the most passionate, devoted racers here in the NASCAR Cup Series, we’ve seen you grow from the young, brash racer to the more fired up, determined, aggressive veteran on the track. From your perspective, how have you kept fresh and focused as you evolved as a racer and as a person?

Above all else, Kurt Busch loves racing in the NASCAR Cup Series. (Photo: Luis Torres/The Podium Finish)

(Photo: Luis Torres/The Podium Finish)

Kurt Busch : I think one of the key things is adapting to the surroundings. Being fluid and being able to adjust to the car’s different changes, whether it’s setups, or the tires, the aerodynamics. And the key also is not being complacent. What may have worked a few years ago doesn’t apply necessarily straightforward as what it takes to win today. And so you have to adapt. You have to learn. And using that experience now for over two decades at the Cup Series, it’s fun to balance it out and to be an older guy, but also just learn new ways to win.

Tiongson : Sometimes with being older comes wisdom. And we’ve seen a lot of that with you recently with your wins in 2019 at Kentucky against your brother Kyle and Las Vegas last fall.

It’s clear racing is still a passion of yours. Of course, it’s still a grind because of the demanding schedule. So, how do you kind of keep fresh and don’t feel haggard?

Busch : It’s fun to go to Daytona each year and drive through the tunnel and to feel that newness of a brand new season. Going through there 20 years straight now, it still gives me the butterflies and the excitement and fun. And then as the season gets underway and you get into the dog days of summer and then the Playoffs in the fall, you have to compartmentalize and separate each part of the year.

Also, you have to adjust to where you are in points, or how many wins you have or don’t have. At this point in my career, though, it’s fun to pump people up and to give them some of this racing experience that I have. And coach them on how to become better and to be better mechanics, or engineers, and to be able to be at their best.

So when you do all of that, that’s when the team aspect comes in. Everybody’s got to do their job to help each other. And you rely on the team.

Tiongson :  During your formative years as a racecar driver, you spent those days in the West Coast and racing at places like the Bullring at Las Vegas. How did those experiences shape you to the man that you’ve become on and off the track?

Busch : I feel like my racing attitude and knowledge are always continuing to change and evolve. And yet, it’s still that same fun of going there and just chasing down the checkered flag. I’m a racer. It’s the way of life that I know, and I don’t know much outside of that.

And just starting out as a family racing, and racing as a hobby, it’s evolved and changed from those days at the Bullring in Las Vegas to a business. I could almost laugh and say that I’ve got a PhD in motorsports from being in NASCAR for 20 years. You don’t know media, you don’t know how to do interviews, you don’t know how to present yourself when you first start out.

I’m just a blue-collar kid from Vegas that made it through. I didn’t have, necessarily, a family lineage or the guidance when I got to this top level. And so that’s where things are different for some and different for others.

Tiongson : I want to talk a little bit about your little retrospective that you did with Monster Energy with the really great, hilarious, but fitting video that you did called Shifting Gears with my favorite tight end of all time, Rob Gronkowski. It really seems to sum you up perfectly with the Monster Energy flair.

So how was that experience like to film that video in the Key West area?

Not your daily stroll in Key West. (Photo: Monster Energy)

Not your daily stroll in Key West. (Photo: Monster Energy)

Busch : Yeah, it was a fun reflection of my career, and a fun production to be part of. I was the stunt driver, I was the writer (and) I was involved in lighting and the videography portions of it. And then to work with such great talented people, with Dirt Shark and Monster Energy and all those guys coming together to help with the sequences, I mean, it’s a powerful cinematography of a NASCAR car out on the open roads. And that was the definition for doing it.

As we were producing it, as we were filming – it was four days straight – it just snowballed. And it started to change on the narrative. And each night when we were done, before we would head out to dinner and grab some drinks, there was a review of the writing portion.

“Okay, we need to cast this scene tomorrow, because it just popped up today. And we still have this to do when we get down to Key West to finish it off.”

Then, there was just the random times where the burnout in the credit scene on Duvall Street. That happened last minute. It was the last half-hour of a four-day trip, and we were running out of daylight.

We were supposed to be filming in a marina from a boat back towards the car. And the water was too choppy that day. So, we just did that scene at the end.

That’s just how all of us rolled together. It’s the Monster lifestyle. It’s the energy that’s within us all (and) it’s the energy that’s within the can. And it tells a fun story about my career.

Am I done racing? Well, we left it up for interpretation.

Tiongson : I’d want to ask that question. But I also respect that you’re probably tired of answering that question, so I’ll leave it up to imagination.

You’ve grown up a lot. I’ve looked up to how you’ve matured over the years. If you could give your younger self some advice about what you’ve experienced on and off the track to improve upon yourself, what would you have told him in terms of a valuable lesson?

Busch : I would say that I didn’t have patience when I was first starting out, and I felt like I was on a fine line of even making it in the sport, or being able to stick around for a little while. And so I kept pushing so hard. I was trying to be a perfectionist in every category.

Whether it was the times in the media where I said the wrong thing, or I was backtalking to another racing, or I just wasn’t smiling enough. It was a tough beginning, not knowing if I was ever going to be able to make it.

I would just tell my younger self to calm down, smile, and it’s going to be okay, no matter what happens.

Tiongson : I think that’s really great advice, and certainly you’ve evolved from a 20-something to where you are now in life. What’s it like to battle with your brother Kyle as your relationship has strengthened in recent years?

All things considered, Kurt Busch has the accolades of a NASCAR legend. (Photo: Harold Hinson Photography)

(Photo: Harold Hinson Photography)

Busch : Yeah, I feel like Kyle and I have gone through different phases of our careers that are similar. We’ve gone through different timelines of age and development within our careers. And doing it as brothers, you know? Everybody thought, when we got into NASCAR, that we raced against each other a lot when we were younger, and it’s crazy.

We never raced against each other until we got to the Cup level. We’re seven years apart. And so any time I was racing in a higher division, he was too young.

Here I am, NASCAR champion. He comes in the next year, he’s Rookie of the Year. That’s 2004 and 2005. And it’s like, “Okay, all right. He’s got little brother syndrome. He’s going to do everything faster, and better, and stronger than his older brother.”

And I sat there and laughed because I had to go through the teething process and the maturity process against the veterans. And I would say in the early 2000s, it was a lot harder. It was definitely more cutthroat versus what you see now with rookies and younger guys when they’re coming in. There isn’t as much of that hazing, or that difficulty.

And so Kyle came in, and he was guns a-blazing, and had his ups and downs. But I’ll tell you, the maturity level that he showed in the early 2010s, and then with his accident at Daytona and the way he bounced back from that.

He came back and won Sonoma, and won the championship, and a ton of races that year. I was like, wow. He just went from a star to a superstar in this sport. And that, to me, was like a passing of the torch. Like, “You know, you’ve done an incredible job, Kyle. I’ve done all right.”

But to me, he’s going to be superstar status. And I’ll be recognized as a good racer. But I just think he took it to the next level because he had the older brother to shoot for his whole life. I’m proud of him.

Tiongson : That’s so nice to hear, and I think you both are NASCAR Hall of Famers in every right, motorsports Hall of Famers all the way, on and off the track, with what you guys have done over the years.

Man, it’s always exciting to watch both of you on the track, and hopefully, before this year ends, I can cover the races in person and see you guys race in Texas, either here in Austin or up at Texas Motor Speedway. It would be a treat to see.

Perhaps Busch's next triumph comes in Austin. (Photo: Harold Hinson Photography)

(Photo: Harold Hinson Photography)

Busch : Thanks, my friend. Yeah, appreciate talking with you. I would try to get to that Austin race. I think it’s going to be cool.

Editor’s Notes

Special thanks to Kurt Busch for taking the time for this latest “In the Hot Seat” interview series on The Podium Finish. Also, thanks to Jeff Dowling and Chip Ganassi Racing for making this interview possible. You can keep track of Kurt Busch’s efforts on social media via Facebook, Twitter, his official website and here on TPF!

Rob Tiongson

Rob Tiongson is a 30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field and hockey. A Boston native turned Austinite, racing was the first sport that caught his eyes.

From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by him or by one of his talented columnists who have a passion for racing.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. He enjoys editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography. Moreover, he enjoys time with his family and friends, traveling, cooking, working out and being a fun uncle or "funcle" to his nephew, niece and cat.

Tiongson, a graduate of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication, pursues his Master of Arts in Digital Communications at St. Bonaventure University. Indeed, while Tiongson is proud to be from Massachusetts, he's just as happy to be a Texan.

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