JEFF BURTON, NO. 31 AT&T IMPALA SS, met with members of the media at Atlanta Motor Speedway and discussed racing in Atlanta, the Atlanta date moving to Labor Day weekend next year, chemistry with his crew chief Scott Miller and more.
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT RACING IN ATLANTA? "This is an extremely challenging race track. It's completely two different personalities, one in qualifying and one in racing. Qualifying here is just really fast. You kind of just throw everything at it and mash the gas and go. In racing this track gets very, very slick. It has really low grip, hard to get grip on both ends of the race track. I just think it has two different personalities. Of course, the grooves in the race here, everything from the white line to the wall and everything in between so a really demanding race track. A big challenge for the teams. Obviously Goodyear has brought a different tire than what we had in the spring so we're going to have to get adjusted to that. I always think this is one of the most fun races of the year because it just gets so slick and control gets really low and I think that's fun."
DO YOU THINK THE QUALIFYING PROCEDURE SHOULD BE CHANGED WHEN IT COMES TO RAINOUTS? SHOULD NASCAR TRY TO RUN QUALIFYING THE NEXT DAY? "I think its way more important to get practice, go get ready for the race. I think that's way more important. I do understand that if you're 44th in points and you go home and didn't get a chance to qualify how you could not feel very good about that. On the other hand I do believe, this is kind of a hard-nosed stance on it, but I do believe that protecting the best 43 or 42 teams, there's nothing wrong with that.
"As all you guys know I'm in favor of having 43 teams not 48 and I think if you're going to put people in a situation where they have limited time to get ready for qualifying, I think it's more fair to take care of the teams that try to attempt every race and are higher in points than others. So I'm okay with letting it be done on Friday and if doesn't get done on Friday then it's over because I think ultimately that takes care of the teams that have done the best job."
YOU'VE GOT THE NFL ON SUNDAY, WORLD SERIES ON SUNDAY, THIS THINGS IS BEING RUN AWAY WITH JIMMIE JOHNSON RIGHT NOW, WHY SHOULD PEOPLE WATCH? "That a very good question. There are a lot of things going on, on Sunday. Jimmie has extended the point lead and there's a lot of people that are looking at this thing and saying hey this thing is over. I don't believe that it's over and I think that anybody who has watched racing long enough they probably know it's not over as well. This race is always a really good race. The ending of it is always really exciting and I expect that to be no different this weekend. Again, I don't think this thing is over. There is still a lot of racing to go. A lot is going to happen between now and then and I would just recommend people stay tuned."
SINCE THIS RACE NEXT YEAR WON'T BE IN THE CHASE, CAN YOU COMMENT ON THE BENEFITS OF HAVING THIS TRACK IN THE CHASE VERSES HAVING IT ON LABOR DAY WEEKEND AT NIGHT? "I think it's best for the track to have it on a day that the weather stands a better chance of being good. How many times have we come here this time of year and the weather is iffy? I think for the race track obviously having a race that's in the Chase seems like on the surface of it to be a really good thing, but I think it's more important to have it on a weekend the weather stands a chance to be better. I think a night race here will be really cool. So I think there's more advantages of being here on Labor Day than it is being here this time of year even though they're not in the Chase. That's my opinion. Just seems to be like the weather has such a huge bearing on how many people come. I think it's going to be advantageous for the race track. That's my opinion."
ON THE ECONOMY AND ITS EFFECTS AND WHETHER IT SHOULD BE TALKED ABOUT. "Well I think that's actually in a broader context, if you listen to some financial analysis the mood of the country has more to do with the economy than the economy has to do with the economy. I'm not sure I by that. I'm not an economist, I don't know. But it just seems to me that the economy, you can't ignore it.
"You can't ignore that people are being laid off, unemployment rates are rising, inflation is rising, stock market its doing what it's doing, the bail-out and all that stuff. It's such a big story that I think it would be wrong for us to just act like it's not happening. More importantly is the people who are buying they tickets, they know what's happening because they're the ones that are getting furloughed and their wages are going down. I think that not talking about it isn't beneficial. I do believe that our sport as probably most sports we have a tendency to beat this story into the ground but on the same token it is there. It's not something that we've created by any means.
"The only thing that we can do as a sport, in my opinion, is what we have to do, we have to make a compelling reason why people need to come watch a race and why they need to tune into it on television. If we do that, then we're going to have better days when the economy is good. We'll have bad days when the economy is bad because I'd venture to say that our sport, if you look at what we race for, what it takes, what it costs us to spend a year to race verses the purse that we receive, I would be willing to bet that we're pretty low. The purse is maybe 25 percent, 35 percent at the most of what we have to raise to do what we have to do.
"So we have to have corporate America, if we don't have it we can't succeed. So it impacts us, because if the corporations can't send the money and the people can't afford to come watch it then there's teams that don't have it. Ignoring it doesn't make it go away but I do believe we will beat a story in the ground."
HOW WOULD YOU RANK THE PERFORMANCE OF THE NO. 48 TEAM OVER THE PAST THREE YEARS AS THEY ARE CHASING HISTORY AND GOING FOR THEIR THIRD STRAIGHT TITLE? "They've been real special. They've been able to maintain the intensity. They've been able to maintain the performance. Where it ranks in history I think we've got to wait, you know? If they go and win a third in-a-row that's a different story than if they don't. Putting themselves in position to win three in-a-row is really special. We've been competing against them in those three and they've beat us in two of them the third one is not over just yet so I have a lot of respect for what they've been able to do. Last year to me was the most impressive run at the championship. Winning four out of the last five, doing the things that they did to win that championship, beat the team that came in the favorite in the No. 24 (Jeff Gordon) car. The No. 24 averaged just over a fifth-place finish, that's a hell of a special thing. We have a lot of respect for what they've been able to do and their consistency and their level of performance is as good as anybody has been able to lay down in two years and possibly in three. I don't want to write history just yet, we've got another month before we can write history."
HOW DO TEAMS GET BEYOND WHERE THEY CAN SURVIVE WITH THE ECONOMY GOING WHERE IT'S AT AND WITH MERGER TALKS OF CHEVY AND DOGE AND EVERYONE KIND OF GETTING SMALLER? HOW CAN NASCAR AND THE TEAMS THEMSELVES SURVIVE? "We've got to be smart in how we spend our money. There's a lot of talk about things that you know 20 percent about. Of course, I'm not a business owner or a race team owner, but as a guy who has a lot of respect for what car owner's do, they can't tell what's going to happen. The only thing they can do is be smart, try not to grow too fast, sound business principles, that's all the race teams can do. We are very much dependant on the ability of sponsors to be able to participate in this sport. This sport will be fine. It will go through periods of tough times. We've seen this before. This is eerily similar to the 2001 or 2002 I think we went to the Daytona 500 with 44 or 45 cars. We were going to some race tracks with 43 cars. This looks a lot like that and when we came out of it we had this huge growth with Toyota coming in, with the creation of new teams and we could support that as long as everything was going well but the minute it didn't go well then it can't.
"So now that we have a lot of people that are being let go. We have teams that cannot find sponsors. It is a very complicated thing when you have 43 spots and 50 teams trying to make it happen. There's very few positives that long-term come from that. Short-term it feels good. A lot of people are getting jobs, a lot of sponsors are involved. I'm just telling you, fifty well-funded teams for 43 spots does not work well. We've got to find a way so we can always try to have 43 well-funded teams rather than our system now we have 51 teams, 43 teams that's what we have going on and I just don't think long-term that's good for us."
TALK ABOUT GETTING TO THE TRACK AND HOW THE WEEKEND SHAKES OUT FOR YOU AND YOUR TEAM DIFFERENTLY IF WE DON'T QUALIFY? "I had three or four events to do yesterday so I was here at 1:00 p.m. or something. I got here yesterday afternoon. Emotionally got myself in a situation where I had no idea, look at the weather forecast there was no way we were going to do anything today, we're going to do something today so I've got to get my head into gear here because I decided I was going to take the day off and now I've got to go play. Not being a pessimist but we always qualify the best when it rains out and it is what it is (laughter). That's been our strong point in qualifying is rain so what we've got to do is we've got to find a way to qualify better there's no question about it. Whether we qualify well or not, that's not going to determine whether or not we have a chance to win this race. It's a 500-mile race. What we're here to do is focus on making our car drive well so we can put ourselves in position to win the race. I feel really good about the car that we've brought here. I feel really good about the information that we have coming into this practice session. I feel good about it, I really do. I'm sure most people do. This track is going to change a lot between what we do today and the race on Sunday. It's going to rubber up a lot. There's going to be a lot of things that go on. We've just got to pay attention to us. I understand that we're racing the No. 48 (Jimmie Johnson) for the championship as well as the No.16 (Greg Biffle) and the No. 99 (Carl Edwards) and the No. 07 (Clint Bowyer), I understand that but all we can do is control what we do. We're here this weekend to just control what we do. We got ourselves in a situation last week where stuff piled up on us and we ended up making not a great day even worse and those are the kind of things that just kill you. We've got to find a way to rebound from that."
IN THE CHASE A DNF CAN PUT YOU OUT OR ONE GUY CAN DOMINATE IF HE GETS HOT AT THE END, CAN YOU LOOK AT THE CHASE AT THIS POINT AND SAY THE WAY ITS SET UP THIS HAS BEEN A SUCCESS FOR NASCAR? "Let's be clear, the fact of the matter of last year was that Jimmie Johnson went into Homestead (Homestead-Miami Speedway) with a 50 something point lead on Jeff Gordon. It was a little closer than what people remember. You guys know those numbers. It wasn't 120-point lead. It couldn't have been, Jeff Gordon averaged a five point something finish last year and went into the Chase with more points I believe than Jimmie Johnson did. Jeff Gordon waved the white flag if you remember and said the race is over but one hiccup by the No. 48 car and the race wasn't over. I'm sure that he has a bigger lead right now today than what Jimmie had last year. The point system, it's kind of funny, when we have teams that are winning races and doing really well we always say well these guys ought to get more points.
"Then when we have years where that guy is running well and winning and getting more points than everybody else, we say well they're getting too many points. Our point system rewards consistent finishes. It rewards winning. It is what it is. If Jimmie Johnson goes into Homestead with the thing already wrapped up or if Greg Biffle goes into Homestead with that thing already wrapped up I don't know what we could do different. We've moved the thing now where it's a playoff system for 10 races. Most years have been compelling years.
"Not every year is going to be. I don't think that a point change is required. I think the teams are required to do a better job. If Jimmie Johnson or Greg Biffle or Carl Edward goes into Homestead with a 100-point lead shame on us for letting him do it. It's not the point system's fault, it's the competitors fault. That's my view of it. Now having said that there's always better ways to do stuff but I think we've already done a tremendous amount to try to make sure that we have interesting point races with the Chase system. I think for the most part we have had good Chase's."
ON THE CHEMISTRY HE HAS WITH CREW CHIEF SCOTT MILLER AND HOW LONG IT TOOK TO FEEL COMFORTABLE WITH HIM. "It came pretty quick for us really. My optimism is based on results. Scott came in and we did a lot of stuff to try to get ready for 2006. All of our off-season testing in 2006 went really well. I felt really good that we could go and be really competitive based on what the testing was telling me. So that immediately let me build confidence in Scott. That immediately let me know that hey Scott is going to get some stuff done and it let him know that I can get it done too. The fact that our off-season testing went real well that helped merge the thing together quickly. Beyond that I think a lot of it boils down to respect. I think a lot of people confuse, it kind of drives me nuts when I hear people say my crew chief and I, we always think the same I think that's crazy. I want to argue with Scott and I want him to argue with me. I think that us pushing each other makes each other better. We don't take things personal, we welcome arguments, we welcome disagreements. I think some people might walk in there and hear my engineers, crew chief and me talking and think wow they don't like each other very much. But we're just talking to try to get better. We don't take things personal. Scott has just done a damn good job. It's just that simple. He's been right on, he's been really good at almost everything he's done. He's worked hard. He's dedicated. I just have a lot of respect for him because his work ethic is so strong and I just respect that a lot."
SOME DRIVERS AND SOME STICK AND BALL PLAYERS BELIEVE THAT GETTING BUTTERFLIES BEFORE A RACE OR A BIG GAME LIKE THE WORLD SERIES IS GOOD, DO YOU AGREE WITH THAT? DO YOU STILL GET BUTTERFLIES AND WHAT'S THE BEST WAY TO CONTROL IT? "I think that everybody is different. I think that some people might get energy from that. I think everybody is different. I don't get butterflies. I get more intense as the race gets closer and I start focusing more on the race. Early in my career I think I got nervous but now I feel like I get prepared if that makes any sense. On Sunday morning I'm not even thinking about the race. At 11:00 I'm not even thinking about it. I want to know what time the (Carolina) Panthers play because I can't do it all day. I've got to get focused at the right time. I don't really get butterflies anymore but I've worked myself into an understanding when I need to get ready. The National Anthem and all that stuff is probably the best part of the day. The jets flying over, that's an incredible experience, driver introductions. But I wouldn't call it butterflies; I think my readiness gets better as it gets closer. I hope it does. It better."
IT WAS ANNOUNCED THIS WEEK THAT SHANE WILSON WAS GOING TO BE WITH CLINT BOWYER ON THE NO. 33 CAR AND NOT GIL MARTIN, CAN YOU EXPLAIN IF YOU KNOW AT ALL WHAT THE THOUGHT PROCESS WAS BEHIND THAT? "There was a lot of conversation about that. I'll let you ask Clint that, he can answer it a lot better but there was a lot of conversation about it. We believe that Shane is 100 percent ready right now to take over and do it. He was the No. 1 choice all along. We looked around to make sure there wasn't something out there that we didn't know about but Shane was always the guy that we felt really good about being able to do the thing and do it right. The more Clint and Shane talked the more Clint became excited about that. How all that got moved around, Richard and Clint will be better at answering that. But we believe that positions us to have the four best possible teams that we can have which is ultimately the goal. We think that Shane and Clint can work very well together and we think that Gil (Martin) and Casey (Mears) can work really well together. Gil has done an incredible job, been in the Chase the last two years, had a really good chance to win it last year. That's a solid, solid team and we believe that putting Shane in his position will allow the No. 33 team to be solid really quickly. We believe that it gives us the best chance to have immediate success and well as long-term success and that's just as simple as it gets. All the details really don't matter but that's ultimately why the decisions were made."
-credit: gm racing