Throughout the season, Rob Tiongson interviews various drivers and personalities in the world of NASCAR. Today, he catches up with Kurt Busch, 2004 NASCAR Cup Series champion and driver of the No. 1 Monster Energy Chevrolet Camaro fielded by Chip Ganassi Racing.
By ROB TIONGSON
I think one of the key things is adapting to the surroundings as being fluid and being able to adapt to the car's different changes, whether it's setups or the tires, the aerodynamics, and the key element is not being complacent. It's something I had to learn a few years ago (where some things) don't apply necessarily straightforward to what it takes to win today. You have to adapt and you have to learn. Using that experience now for over two decades at the Cup series, it's fun to balance it out and be an older guy but also learn new ways to win.
It's fun to go to Daytona each year and drive through the tunnel and feel that newness of a brand new season. And going through there 20 years straight, it still gives me the butterflies, excitement, and the fun. As the season gets underway and you get into the dog days of summer and 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, it's fun to pump people up and to give them some of this racing experience that I have and to coach them on how to become better and to be better mechanics or engineers and to be able to be at their best. 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.
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 chasing down the checkered flag. I’m a racer and it’s the way of life that I know. And I don’t know much outside of that.
Starting out with my family racing and racing as a hobby, it’s evolved and changed from those days at the bullring at Las Vegas to a business. I almost laugh and say that I’ve got a PhD in motorsports for being in NASCAR for 20 years.
You don’t know the media, you don’t know how to do interviews, you don’t know how to present yourself when you first start off. I was a blue collar kid from Vegas that made it through. And I didn’t necessarily have the family lineage or the guidance when I got to the top level. And so that’s where things are different for some, and different for others.
It was a fun reflection of my career and a fun production to be a part of. I was the stunt driver, I was the writer, and I was involved in the lightning and the videography portions of it. And to work with such great, talented people with Third Shark and Monster Energy and all of those guys coming together to help with the sequences, it’s a powerful cinematography of a NASCAR car out on the open roads. And that was the definition for doing it.
And as we were producing and filming it, it was four days straight, it just snowballed and it started to change the narrative. Each night when we were done, before we would head out for dinner and grab some drinks, there was a review of the writing portion where it was like, “OK, we need to catch this scene tomorrow because it popped up today. And we still have this to do when we get down to Key West to finish it off.”
And there were random times like the burnout in the credit scene on Duval 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 did that scene at the end. And that’s just how all of us rolled together. It’s the Monster lifestyle. It’s the energy within us all and the energy within the cans. It tells a fun story about my career.
Am I done racing? We left it up for interpretation.
I would say that I didn’t have patience when I was first starting off. 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. So I kept on pushing so hard and I was trying to be a perfectionist in every category.
Whether it was the times in the media when I said the wrong things or I was back talking to another racer, or I wasn’t smiling enough, it was a tough beginning not knowing if I was ever going to make it. I would tell my younger self to calm down, smile, and know that it’s going to be OK no matter what happens.