After finding all the right answers in the second half of 2007, Kurt Busch and crew chief Pat Tryson are brimming with confidence heading into the new season.
“We’re really looking forward to it and we’re working real hard,” Tryson said during the recent Spring Media Tour in Concord, N.C.
“We’re hoping to come out of the gate real strong and position ourselves early in the season up in the top five and be able to try some different things to try to make ourselves better when we, hopefully, get to the Chase.
“We want to win some races and get a pole. We’re going to try to win more races than we won last year and compete for the championship.”
Those are lofty goals, but both crew chief and driver are feeling it after staging the comeback of the season last year.
The No. 2 Penske Racing Dodge struggled early in 2007 as crew chief Roy McCauley dealt with his wife’s serious illness, which eventually forced him to give up the position. Troy Raker took over in the interim, but made it clear he didn’t want the job full time.
Meanwhile, Tryson, who had guided Mark Martin to two straight berths in NASCAR’s Chase for the championship, moved to Greg Biffle’s car after Martin left his longtime home at what is now Roush Fenway Racing. The pairing didn’t work and Tryson was fired in June.
Just days later, he was hired by Roger Penske to head up Busch’s crew and the chemistry was almost instantaneous.
Busch was as far back as 16th in the points in June and trailed Dale Earnhardt Jr. by 236 points for the 12th and final spot in the Chase entering the July 8 race at Daytona.
He finished third in that event and, from that point on, was one of the hottest drivers in the Sprint Cup series. Busch got all the way to 10th, holding a 206-point advantage over Earnhardt in 13th after the 26th and final race of the regular season.
In the Chase, Busch finished eighth and went into the offseason full with optimism.
“Roy McCauley and Troy Raker definitely deserve so much credit for their contributions during the year, especially considering the adverse and unusual circumstances they were working under,” Busch said. “When we were able to add Pat Tryson as our team leader back in June, it gave us the solid and consistent leadership that our team needed to overcome the obstacles and make the big drive to get into the Chase.”
Busch joined the Penske team in 2006 after five full seasons with Roush, including his championship year in 2004.
“I’d been around (Busch) for three years at Roush,” Tryson said. “We didn’t spend a lot of time together, but I liked him. What helped the most, though, was that of all the drivers at Roush, him and Mark (Martin), liked the most similar stuff.
“So it made it an easy transition for me to say, ‘Well, I know what I’d be doing with Mark here, so let’s try this.’ And it works with him. That made it easy for me.”
Tryson said the strong performance last season was actually a lot of things coming together.
“Some of it’s communication, some of it’s chemistry with me and Kurt, some of it’s chemistry with me and the guys on the team,” he said. “And some of it was car stuff – a little bit here and here and here.
“They had all the pieces to the puzzle but maybe they weren’t all in the right place. But the biggest thing is everybody welcomed me with open arms. We all get along great. We go testing and we have a lot of fun and try to go do stuff together.”
One thing Tryson had to learn to deal with was Busch’s sometimes fiery temperament in the race car.
“Drivers blow up and get mad,” Tryson said. “Well, the reason they do that is because they want to win. (Busch’s) desire to win is so great, which is part of what makes him great. So you’ve got to learn to throttle that a little bit, but not kill it.
“You’ve got to learn to work him on the radios and, when he’s having a bad day, give him a little offset, let him go a little bit and then reel him back in. Keep him calm and get him back focused on the task at hand, which is to win the race.”
Tryson was gratified to be contacted by numerous NASCAR teams after he was fired by Roush, but is happy he chose to join Penske.
“I was looking for a change from what I had and it’s just a completely different atmosphere,” he said. “I’m not saying one’s right or one’s wrong. But, for me, this is the perfect place to be right now. It’s relaxed and I get along great with everybody. It’s definitely a completely different way of doing business.
“I’m really looking forward, hopefully, to giving Roger a Daytona 500, a Brickyard and a championship trophy, if not this year in the next couple of years.”