On Kurt Busch's first day at Phoenix Racing, the conversation in the shop began winding down as quitting time approached. It was 3:45 in the afternoon and Busch, team owner James Finch and some of the team's 18 employees had just about run out of business to discuss.
So Busch, taking note of the laid-back atmosphere at his new organization – the opposite of Penske Racing – offered a suggestion.
"I said, 'Where's your beer cooler around here?'" Busch recalled Friday at Daytona International Speedway. "We went and started chit-chatting for the rest of the day about fun stories. That's what this is going to be about for me in 2012."
Fun. Get used to hearing that three-letter word come out of Busch's mouth this season instead of the four-letter words that got him in so much hot water last year.
Despite getting paid waaaay less money than at Penske and now driving for a team that would consider 15th place to be a great day, Busch insists he's extremely happy with his new surroundings.
It sounds like he means it, too.
"The pressure is not there," he said. "... It's not going to take winning to make me happy. Right now, it's just going to the track and having fun."
After his mutual split from Penske, Busch said his original plan was to drive a handful of races for a bunch of different teams. Four races here, five races there. Sprint Cup here, Nationwide there.
He met with Michael Waltrip Racing, dined with Richard Childress at the team owner's winery and had serious talks with Richard Petty Motorsports.
But after he and RPM couldn't work out a deal, Busch ended up at Phoenix Racing – the single-car organization with Hendrick Motorsports equipment.
The shop is 90 minutes from Busch's house – and he makes the drive often – yet he considers the commute to be "therapeutic." The tech-challenged driver figured out how to hook up his Bluetooth and makes calls while driving his pickup truck down I-85.
At the shop, Busch has helped the team prepare the car and noted Phoenix Racing has about one of every part and piece instead of dozens.
Other differences? The pull-down rig at Phoenix is an $80,000 machine, Busch said; at a big team, the machine might cost $250,000 and take 10 people to operate.
During this rebuilding year, Busch realizes he must change his ways – particularly after the races when frustrations peak – and is honest about his shortcomings.
"Well, if I'm going to sit there and tell stories to my grandchildren, this is not what I wanted to tell them," he said. "So in looking at the big picture, I've got to understand what it takes to be a competitive driver and to harness that fire in my belly the right way and to put it together in a 2004-style effort.
"When things are going smooth, this is a tough freight train to stop. When things are going rough, that's what I have to polish up on and knock the rough edges off."
From the sounds of it, he's off to a good start.