Our series of weekly driver interviews continues this week with Joe Gibbs Racing's Kyle Busch, who recently won his 97th NASCAR national series race. We sat down with Busch in his motorhome, just prior to the NASCAR All-Star Race at Charlotte.
SBN: Who is the most underrated driver in NASCAR?
KB: I'd say (Matt) Kenseth, I guess. I mean, he's a champion, he's a Daytona 500 winner but he never really gets much attention on him. He's always kind of quiet and under the radar. I mean, that's his style, but he just doesn't get much attention.
I mean, look at all the attention Trevor (Bayne) got for winning the 500. Matt never got any of that.
SBN: That's true. Trevor had the whole underdog thing going for him, though, and Kenseth is just...Kenseth.
KB: He's just quiet.
SBN: Everyone has races they didn't win that they feel they should have – and I know you have a few. What's one that sticks out that still bothers you today?
KB: Well, it's not that they bother me. But one we felt so good about in the early stages of it was the '09 Daytona 500. I think it was Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. and (Brian) Vickers got into it down the backstretch and wrecked – and we were right in the middle of it. I had led half the laps that were completed already in the race – or something like that – and we just didn't get to make it to the end to see if we had a chance at winning.
SBN: I would not have thought you'd pick a restrictor-plate race as the one you'd mention.
KB: Well, I don't win very many of them because I always get wrecked in them. What would you have said?
SBN: I don't know. It just seems like restrictor-plate races have that lottery-ball nature where you don't have much control over it.
KB: Yeah, but Daytona was still a driver's track then. Remember that? It still took car and driver when we were there in '09.
SBN: If you could make a new four-car team and pick any three drivers to join you – aside from your current teammates – who would you like to team up with?
KB: I would say Tony (Stewart) would be one, Jimmie (Johnson) would be one and...hmm. I don't know who the third one would be. I'll go with Matt. I get along pretty well with Matt. Matt's good at what he does, and we both really like racing Late Models.
SBN: So are those picks based on the information they could give you, or on friendships or what?
KB: Both. You know, I think Tony and I get along pretty well since a ways back, and Jimmie and I were great teammates when we were teammates (at Hendrick Motorsports) – he's always fast and always good. Kenseth is the same thing as those two guys.
SBN: Was there a driver you wanted to model yourself after when you were growing up?
KB: No, not really. My favorite was Jeff Gordon. I just followed him growing up because I started watching racing when he came on the scene. So I kind of stuck with him. I liked Earnhardt, I liked Mark Martin.
SBN: What's a memorable post-race escape you've made from the track to the airport?
KB: I've had plenty, really. I would say the best was probably at Loudon one year when I snuck out and nobody knew I was gone. (Grins)
SBN: Snuck out? What do you mean?
KB: Out the side door.
KB: I'm talking about from the hauler (to avoid the media). What are you talking about?
SBN: No, no. I wasn't talking about escaping from the media, I was talking about beating the traffic to get to the airport!
KB: Oh, I thought you were talking about avoiding the media! Ohhhh! You mean like getting out after the race?
KB: Ah. Well, there's been times that I've been in and out of cones, in and out of cars, in and out of lanes. I've driven through parking lots before that were all grass. One of them was at Memphis.
We were leaving Memphis and they have a road course there that you drive out of, and then the grass. Well, you see this line of cars going way down (the road course) and then coming back this way, and I'm like, 'Screw it. I'm not going to go all the way around there and then go that way.'
So I decide to go through the grass to the front of the line. But there was a drainage ditch in the grass, and I never saw it. And I hit that son of a bitch, and it was like, 'BOOM!' (Smacks hands together to indicate he got some air)
The dogs went from the back seat to the front seat. It was really ugly. (Laughing) Fortunately, the car was still OK to where I could keep digging, but a bunch of people were looking at me like I was an idiot.
SBN: Who is somebody famous you'd like to meet who you haven't met yet?
KB: Hmm... (thinks for awhile)
SBN: I'm guessing you don't get starstruck too easily?
KB: I don't, no. I've met a lot of cool folks – football players, baseball players, celebrities, stuff like that. I don't really get starstruck. I would say one I would have liked to have met is Dale Earnhardt. I would like to have had some sort of dialogue with him before he passed away.
SBN: Last season, Jamie McMurray won a few huge races but missed the Chase; Jeff Gordon didn't win any races but made the Chase and contended for the title. If you had to choose, which would you rather have?
KB: Well, you want to make the Chase, but if you could win all three of the big races in a year and miss the Chase, I would take that year. I'd take a 500, a Brickyard and a Coca-Cola 600 and miss the Chase. Because then you've won all those races, you know?
You want to make the Chase and win the championship. But you're saying it's either 'Make the Chase or win all those races.' You're not saying it's either 'Win the championship or win all those races.' So if you're just going to make the Chase and fall on your face like (Busch did) in 2008, I would sure as hell want to win all those races.
SBN: Obviously, you want to win very badly. But where does that motivation come from? Is it for personal pride or for your legacy or to just kick everyone's asses or what?
KB: I think it's 'D. All of the Above.' You want to be known as the best of the best, and you want to beat the best of the best. You want to have that feeling of winning – there's nothing else like it, really.
When I grew up racing, it was like, 'You win in order to go race again next week.' That's always been my mentality. That's how Kurt and I grew up racing – so we've always been highly competitive. When you win that often, you want nothing else but to be able to do it all the time.
SBN: What does winning feel like, anyway?
KB: Ask Charlie Sheen. (Laughs)
SBN: How much does your personality differ from sitting right here to when you're in the car?
KB: Well, sitting here you'd say I'm kind of laid-back, easygoing, joke around, whatever. But when you get out on the racetrack, you get a bit high-strung. You get tense, fiery, very competitive – all those types of things.
I'd say it's night and day. It's completely different. Here, you can let things go a lot easier. On the racetrack, when somebody cuts you off, you're not going to let that go.
SBN: So how long does it take you to transition between those two sides? Like when you get out of the car, how soon do you return to this version of yourself?
KB: It depends. At like Dover, for instance, we finished fourth – and that was it. You get out of the car, the race is over, you go home.
But times where you lose after leading the whole race or whatever, it's not until Monday, probably. Or other times when you have a confrontation and you're worried about things, you probably think about that all week.
I would say I'm too guilty of dwelling on things too long. I don't know if this is true or not, but Mark (Martin) said he got a deal with his wife where she said, 'If you don't bring the racetrack home with you, then you can keep racing.' So if my wife ever gave me that ultimatum, I don't know how good I'd be at doing that.
SBN: If you could switch lives with a different athlete, is there anybody you'd want to be?
KB: All I really pay attention to is football, really. So if I had to pick, I'd go with a Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. They're at the top of their sport, and that's where you'd want to be. I'd probably go with Manning – he's got a brother, I've got a brother. Those two brothers have won championships. I haven't won one, but Kurt has. There's some similarities there.
SBN: You'd be sore every week from getting hit by defensive linemen and stuff though.
KB: Yeah, that's right. I've had plenty of talks about that with (former Denver Broncos wide receiver) Rod Smith. Rod said he went to the doctor and had hip pain, and the doctor said, 'How are you even walking? For as bad as your hip looks, you shouldn't even be walking right now.' He had to have hip surgery, or they told him he wouldn't even be walking in five years. That ended up being the end of his career.
SBN: If you could take a year away from NASCAR and then come back knowing you had a job waiting for you, would you want to do it?
KB: I really wouldn't want to do it, but if I did, in a perfect world, I'd go race Formula One for a year. That's what I'd do. I'd go travel the world while racing and see if I could be amongst the best.
SBN: After you go to Monaco, though, you might never want to come back.
KB: Yeah. Monaco is the biggest for them, Indianapolis is the biggest for IndyCar and ours is Daytona. Who gets the best of all the three?
SBN: When you retire someday, what do you want your retirement story to say about you?
KB: I would say people are most going to remember me for my skill on the racetrack, first and foremost. I want to be known as trying to be one of the best of the best – whether I get there or not, it's up to opinion. A lot of people say Richard Petty was the best, a lot of people say David Pearson was the best. A lot of people still say Earnhardt was the best. A lot of people consider me that way, too. That's the first thing they'll remember me by – my on-track success.
The second thing would be how I grew up in the limelight. I started this when I was 18 years old, and now I'm 26 and when I retire, I'll be 40. And they'll see the whole transition of my life and how I made it through – and it was all under skeptics. Certainly, I know I wasn't the best coming in, and I'm not now; we'll see how it turns out when I'm 40.
SBN: I've never thought about that. You're kind of like NASCAR's version of a Hollywood child star.
KB: Yep. By the time I'm done, I'll probably be 40 or 45 and you will have seen my whole transition.
SBN: Let's say you're going to win the championship this year. Would you rather clinch it after Phoenix or win it on Turn 4 of the last lap at Homestead?
Public relations rep Bill Janitz: I know what he's going to say.
KB: What's your guess?
Janitz: You say it first.
Samantha Busch: I have my guess!
KB: You guys go first.
Janitz: My guess is you'd want to wrap it up as soon as you could.
KB: That's right. If it can be done (as early as) Texas, that would certainly be awesome. It would make it much easier. It makes you enjoy Homestead more. Instead of going in there and worrying about it and dwelling on things or thinking of bad things that could happen, it makes it so much more enjoyable if you can go out there and just race to have fun.
You'd know going in that you're not going to have the letdown of defeat. It's like Denny (Hamlin), or anybody that's been in that position. Man, you feel for the guy. You go into the last race of the year with a shot at the championship, and somebody takes it from you, essentially. Then you have to go through the whole offseason thinking about what you shoulda, coulda, woulda done. It sucks.