|11/17/09 03:07PM||Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch|
Busch to share experience with new teammate
Kurt Busch says that everyone needs to stop seeking new formats and appreciate the run that Jimmie Johnson and his team have put together this year. Busch is working hard to narrow the list of things he thinks the No. 48 does better as he and his team prepare for next season, including the addition of Brad Keselowski as a teammate.
Keselowski projected himself onto the 2010 Sprint Cup scene in a big way via his win at Talladega last spring and was recently announced as Busch and Sam Hornish's teammate for next season at Penske Racing.
I always want the program to get stronger and Brad's going to do that for us.
This week the process was accelerated by three races when Penske announced Keselowski's tenure would begin this weekend at Texas, when he replaced David Stremme in the No. 12 Dodge. It's a move Busch is all for as he looks toward next year.
"It's a big step as things develop for 2010," Busch said. "I always want the program to get stronger and Brad's going to do that for us. And what better way to get him seat time in our cars and a feel -- that way he's got all winter to digest it and feel the differences between the Hendrick cars that he's driven, and what we have."
Busch is intense in the middle of races and has proven he's diversified through the years into a compassionate, empathetic teammate who's willing to share his depth of experience.
And so it was at Talladega after the last green flag lap, when Keselowski -- driving a Phoenix Racing Chevrolet supported by Hendrick Motorsports -- attempted to come up behind his future teammate and help him advance from eighth place. Instead, Keselowski turned Busch around in front of the field and created a 13-car pileup.
"It's one of those things that you're doing the best that you can, as a teammate -- I understand what he was trying to do," Busch said. "Bump drafts are tough to do properly and he's learning how to do those things."
Busch is no stranger to the learning process, citing his own performance at Daytona in 2008.
"I pushed a teammate to win here with the bump draft," Busch said. "There are techniques to it and he'll [Keselowski] learn. It's a big mistake that he made but it's part of the situation that we're all in."
And what advice did Busch have for his new teammate after Sunday's race at Talladega?
"I put my arm around him and said 'Hey, you were doing the right thing and I would have done the same thing, except I would have done this' -- and that's where the two cars have to work together a little better
Busch made sure Keselowski knew the hatchet was buried, so to speak, twice over. First, he offered him a seat on his jet going down to Daytona Beach on Monday morning.
"There were five of us in the plane," Busch said, smiling. "I said, 'We've got four parachutes where's yours?' "
But the Talladega miscue, in which Keselowski in his post-race television interview appeared devastated by the outcome, has been an isolated incident over the past couple months. Racing hard to get back into contention for the Nationwide Series title, Keselowski has raced aggressively, made no apologies and asked no quarter.
To some insiders, Keselowski seems to have alienated quite a few people in both garage areas. Busch went through a rough stretch in his Cup career and can relate, though he did indicate that if Keselowski wanted counseling he'd be there if his new teammate asked.
"Since I ended up on the bad end of the deal at Talladega, I felt like I was in the easy position of stepping up and saying something to him," Busch said. "And he accepted things. It's different for me, being 31 years old, giving a veteran speech to somebody. But I did.
"I remember the speeches I got from veteran drivers when I first started out and the bottom line is, he just needs to find his front bumper a little better and everything will be fine."
That's one less thing Busch needs to concern himself with in the stretch run of the 2009 season. He came to Talladega in sixth in the standings, 240 points out of the Chase lead and left 312 points out after points leader Jimmie Johnson finished sixth.
That was even more of a reason for him to rue the Talladega finish. His team and crew chief Pat Tryson engineered one of the best potential comebacks of the season, regaining virtually three lost laps and putting Busch in eighth with less than a lap-and-a-half to go.
"It was tough," Busch said. "I was right in front of or next to Jeff Burton and Jimmie Johnson [on the penultimate lap] and they ended up fifth and sixth."
That performance, combined with five finishes between fifth and 11th to start the Chase, cemented one decision Busch and his organization had been faced with -- namely what to do about Tryson, who announced Sept. 11 that he would leave the team at the end of the season to go to Michael Waltrip Racing.
The replacement process was muddied last week when veteran Steve Addington, Kyle Busch's crew chief at Joe Gibbs Racing, was replaced in that role and said he was open to all possibilities, including leaving JGR.
"We've interviewed good, quality people and we've got good, quality people internally that could bump up to this position, but really we haven't made the decision," Kurt Busch said. "It's smart for us to talk to Steve Addington to see what he could bring to our program, and it doesn't seem like we have to be in a rush for this deal.
"We're going to finish the season strong. We're not quite in Chase contention any more, and we said when we weren't, we were going to take Pat out. But I don't think that would be smart at this point. We've come this far, we may as well just finish it off."
Busch shrugged off any thought of frustration over a championship shot that never materialized due to Johnson and his team's dominance -- a situation Busch said everyone should appreciate rather than seeking new formats.
"There are areas that I feel like we can improve our program," Busch said. "And that's where we need to do that. If I feel like the 48 [Johnson] is better than us in a certain, specific area, then we need to take a look at that whether it's A through Z.
"They're probably better than us at 20 of the things, and we're better than them at six of the things. So if we can get that list narrowed down, then we'll be more competitive, and we'll put up a better fight next year."