|Talk a little bit about how the plan came together to take the Harley J. Earl trophy on a Stanley Cup-like tour.
“We came up with an idea Friday morning in Atlanta. I realized that there are only two trophies from victory lane at Daytona, and you cannot get a replica of the trophy. Gene Haas has his from the breakfast afterward and it is now in Oxnard, California, at the Haas Automation headquarters. My trophy is at the race shop right now. All the crew guys have been taking selfies with it and other pictures of it and they had a toast the other night with it. I am going to get the nice carrying case that goes with it and I am going to send it out on a tour. I am going to turn our Harley J. Earl trophy into the Stanley Cup. It will make events here and there. I wanted to get replicas for Ford, Monster Energy, for myself and whomever is significant enough to get a replica. But they only make two. That is what is so significant and powerful about this trophy. The first visit after the SHR race shop will be to Las Vegas, so the fans in my hometown can see it, and then it will go to Corona, California, so it can hang out in the Monster headquarters for a little while.”
What does it feel like coming back to Las Vegas?
“Vegas is different. It’s our hometown and we grew up racing on that little three-eighth-mile bullring that is in the shadows of Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Every time I go out there, it reminds me of all the people who helped Kyle (Busch, brother) and I, especially our dad Tom. But the different Late Model teams, modified teams, the Legend car races, and all the competitors, the Dwarf car days. It’s just fun to come back and reminisce. But, ultimately you’ve got to strap on the helmet and focus on the task at hand. It’s always special in Vegas.”
The West Coast swing of races at Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Fontana serves as a pretty good indicator of where a team stands. How important is that slate of races?
“The West Coast swing is a perfect gauge for how your work went through the off-season, whether it’s the wind tunnel, the chassis dyno, new development, and then the team, as far as how the pit crew is performing. Those races on the West Coast swing really can put a stamp on where you are, what needs to be done, and what weaknesses or strengths we have.”
There are a lot of logistics involved in the West Coast swing. What do you do? Do you stay out on the West Coast or do you commute like you would to other NASCAR races?
“I stay on the West Coast. I call in to the team call-ins. Ashley (Busch, wife) likes to drive to the races out West. So, it’s just a nice, old-school road trip, going from Vegas to Phoenix to Los Angeles and making the best of it. We stop at some of the scenic spots – Grand Canyon, there are the beaches out in L.A. So, it’s a fun, cool West Coast trip.”
Of those venues that you mentioned, is there an area of the West Coast that you like to visit, have to visit, when you’re out there?
“My hometown of Las Vegas, going back there to see family, friends, and restaurants. There’s this old-school place where we always used to go get pizza when I was a kid. It was just great to go back to the roots and reminisce. It gets you back to where everything started, going to Vegas.”
You can’t test like you once were able to in January. So how do you, as a driver, adjust to a change like the one that has been made at Stewart-Haas Racing for the 2017 season?
“It’s because the teams have more depth. There is more simulation. The engineering staff has gone through things at a much higher level, whereas it used to be the driver and the crew chief who would go to the track and then come back with a notebook of things. Now, the notebook has been gone through by the lead engineers and they’ve prepared it as best as possible before we show up. Limited track time saves money but, at the same time, you end up spending it on personnel and hiring the key guys to make the cars safer, faster, stronger, and I know we’ve done a great job to transition with Ford because I’ve seen some of the drawings and the way that Doug Yates has the engine set up. We had to change a few of our suspension settings to adapt to the way he had his engine set up, so there might be a couple bugs here or there, but I’m not too worried about it. We’ve got really good, quality people at Stewart-Haas with Yates engines.”