DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 27: Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M's Brown Toyota, talks with crew chief Dave Rogers and wife Samantha Busch on the grid prior to the start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 27, 2012 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)
In this week's 12 Questions interview, Busch talks about a sweet victory over his brother, how he came to an understanding with Tony Stewart and why Michigan makes him nervous.
Our series of weekly NASCAR driver interviews continues this week with Kyle Busch. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver spoke with us at the recent Texas Motor Speedway weekend.
SBN: How many of the races in your career can you remember?
KB: I probably remember about 90 percent of them.
SBN: So some random Pocono race from five years ago, you can remember it?
KB: If you bring up the high or low points of it, I can tell you, "Yeah, I remember that" and I can tell you what all went down. Like I remember Pocono 2005, I was running third and I started getting a vibration real bad and the right-front wheel bearing went out and I wrecked in Turn 1. So I remember that one.
SBN: What was the first win you got in any form of racing?
KB: I mean, are we talking video games?
SBN: You played video games before you raced go-karts?
KB: Yeah. Kurt and I raced against each other at Mario Kart.
SBN: So you considered that a big win for you?
KB: Oh yeah. I red-turtled his ass. Right before the checkered flag! I was behind him for most of the race and saved that red turtle for right at the end. So that was a good win.
(Editor's note: If you're unfamiliar with red turtle shells, see video below.)
SBN: Oh yeah, those are sweet.
KB: I am the most nervous racing RC (remote control) cars for whatever reason. I don't know why or what it is. But when I'm up in the tower and driving and watching my shit run around, I am like the most nervous you could be, just trying not to mess up or screw up or anything.
And whenever I get nervous, I start screwing up worse. Like if I'm leading and I've got somebody catching me, it's tensing me up. But when I'm behind the guy and I'm running him down or something, I'm like, "Yeahhh...I'm gonna get his ass!"
SBN: That doesn't happen to you when you're actually in the car, right?
KB: Uh-uh. It's just RC racing. But anyway, the reason I say this is because when I was 12 years old racing RC cars, I had finally moved up to the stock division. I'd moved up from novice – novice is terrible – so now I'm in the stock division where guys have been racing a long time.
And it was the third or fourth race I ran in the stock division, and I'm leading and I'm going to win it, I got my brother off to the side cheering for me, and that was most nerve-wracking time. That was probably my first "win," I guess.
My first win win (actually driving a car) was March 27, 1998. Legends cars.
SBN: Who is a clean driver you enjoy racing with in NASCAR?
KB: Kenseth is probably the best one. He and I get along really well. We race each other really good. Always been that way.
SBN: On the opposite end of that, who is a driver that always seems to hold you up or makes it extra hard on you?
KB (chuckles): Harvick.
SBN: Oh yeah, I guess that makes sense. What's your personal code of conduct on the track?
KB: A lot of different things go into that. Texas, for instance, is kind of a one-groove racetrack. It's hard to pass. Aero is a big key here. So you'll run guys kind of hard the whole time, to just not fall back. If you're running seventh and you're losing touch to the sixth-place car and you've got guys stacking up behind you, you're fighting your ass off because you don't want to go from sixth to 15th.
But like if you're at Martinsville and it's the first 10, 15 laps of a run and you've got guys beating on your rear bumper, you're going to let 'em go. So then you can try to save your tires, because in 45 or 50 laps, you're going to pass them back.
Typically, when it comes down to the second-to-last run – before the final pit stop – is when you're concentrating on what you've got to do to get yourself in position for the final run of the race.
SBN: Do you keep a mental list of drivers who you owe for on-track payback?
KB: You're never ahead. You are always behind.
SBN: As far as owing people?
KB: Yeah. I've heard it from probably two or three different drivers, that they feel they're always behind and paying somebody back. And I'm like, "Yeah, I'm always behind, too." I think it comes from not necessarily how many times somebody has wrecked you, but how many times somebody has screwed you over.
Over a span of two or three years, there was somebody who wrecked me four times. And he didn't do it intentionally, but we just wrecked together. Eventually, I wrecked him back and he's like, "Now I owe you!" And I'm like, "What are you freakin' talking about? We wrecked four times in the last two years, and I finally paid your ass back for once, and now you owe me again? Come on."
So you're always behind.
SBN: Who is a driver from that past that you'd like to team up with if you could turn back time?
KB: Hmm...there's a lot of good guys from years ago that you'd want to be on a team with, but the first one that comes to mind is (Dale Earnhardt) Sr. I think he's one of the guys you would never want to race against; you'd rather race with him.
Stewart was that way. When I was with Hendrick and Stewart was with (Joe Gibbs Racing), I hated racing against Tony Stewart. Hated it.
And then when I went to JGR, I loved it. I loved racing with him! You know? It was awesome! And then when he left, it was eight or 10 races into the year or something, and we were kind of racing each other hard and going back to our old ways, and after the race, I was like, "Dude...I've just got to tell you: I absolutely hate racing against you."
It was jokingly, not pissed off at him or anything. And he was like, "Well, what do you mean?" And I'm like, "When we're teammates, dude, it's soooo easy. But when we're not? You've got this weird, different mentality. I don't know what it is." And he's like, "Alright, well, thanks for telling me." And ever since then, it's been great!
SBN: When is the last time you got nervous about anything?
KB: I would say testing at Michigan last week (when the drivers experienced record speeds). Makes you nervous.
I had missed the first day, and the other guys had already run the day before. So I'm out there and I'm thinking, "I am hauling the mail! This is bad-ass fast!" Well, I'm running 37.80 (lap times). I say, "What are those other guys running?" They tell me, "Oh, they're in the 37.20s right now."
I'm like, "HUH? No way!" But the car there, if you are just a little bit loose, you are so nervous that just any little bit of getting outside the groove or having a little bit too much yaw, and you're going to wreck. It's just like, "Wow." It was really intense. We finally got the car tightened up enough where the car wasn't nervous and then it didn't make me nervous and we were OK. But you are hauling ass there.
SBN: You guys do so many appearances and autograph sessions, and sometimes the fans can put you in an awkward position with their questions or comments. Do you have any funny stories along those lines?
KB: There are always the ones where you show up and there's a kid there and they say something like, "We want to invite you to our Thanksgiving dinner." Wedding invites, too.
SBN: How do you say no without hurting their feelings?
KB: Well, usually we're racing. But like there was a kid this weekend who said, "Next time you come to town, let's go race go-karts together." And I'm like, "OK...uh...that'd be cool."
The worst ones are when people always say, "Hey, you remember me?" And you're like, "Yeahhhh...." And they say, "Well, what's my name then?" It's like, "Yeah, no, I don't remember you that well."
SBN: If you had to pick one of these jobs after you're done racing, would you rather be a NASCAR TV broadcaster or a high-ranking NASCAR official like a Robin Pemberton?
KB: I would say the broadcasting, because I bet you it pays a hell of a lot better and it's a lot more fun to talk during the race and explain things to fans who may not know certain things. And you could pick half of a season you wanted to do instead of a whole year.
SBN: What's a question you get asked a lot that you're tired of answering?
KB: I don't know. (Thinks for awhile) What's a question I get asked all the time?
SBN: I don't know either. "What did you learn from the Nationwide race to use for the Cup race?"
KB: Well, no, but one thing that does bug me a little bit is, "Does the Nationwide racing really help you in the Cup car?" I always think it does. There's no better benefit than being out on the racetrack, learning what's going on with the track and the tire and all that stuff. To me, that's a big influence.
Now when you're struggling with your Nationwide car like we have been so far? Yes and no. We've got to get better to make it worth our while.
SBN: I've been asking each driver to give me a question for the next guy. Last week was Paul Menard, who wanted to know: "What was your home track and what did you like about it?"
KB: Well, it was the 3/8-mile Bullring (outside Las Vegas Motor Speedway). What's interesting about our home track is it changed – it went through a facelift. When it was first built, it was really flat on the bottom and then it would kind of get progressive banking up toward the top. The preferred line was around the top.
And then they changed it to go from banking all the way from the bottom to the top, which meant the line was one lane around the bottom. So I got almost two home tracks out of one. But it was a fun track. I enjoyed it. It's still the same old track today.
Actually, there was another oval track inside the big track – in Turn 4 – and they raced Legends cars there. Plus, there was a road course in the infield and a road course on the outside. So we had, shoot, eight different racetracks all on the same property. It was a cool place to grow up, because there were so many different types of tracks you could try.
SBN: And can you help me out with a question for the next guy? It's going to be Martin Truex Jr.
KB: Where did he grow up? New Jersey, right? Ask him, "Why are people in New Jersey always assholes?" (Laughs) Ray Evernham (a New Jersey native) told me that! But make sure he knows I'm joking.
Next week: Martin Truex Jr. answers Busch's New Jersey question and 11 others.