NASCAR Teleconference Transcript - Jeff Burton April 14, 2009 An interview with: JEFF BURTON HERB BRANHAM: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to this week's NASCAR cam video teleconference in advance of this weekend's events at ...
NASCAR Teleconference Transcript - Jeff Burton
April 14, 2009
An interview with:
HERB BRANHAM: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to this week's NASCAR cam video teleconference in advance of this weekend's events at Phoenix International Raceway. Joining us today from the NASCAR Research and Development Center in Concord, North Carolina, we have Jeff Burton, driver of the No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing. Jeff comes into Saturday night's Subway Fresh Fit 500, he's 12th in the Sprint Cup Series standings. As far as Phoenix is concerned, Jeff has two Sprint Cup victories at this track.
PIR is a good track for you, more often than not in the past. What's the outlook going back to Phoenix this weekend?
JEFF BURTON: Well, you know, it has been a good track for us. I'll be honest though, in the last few years we've not done as well as we need to do. Things like Harvick and Bowyer are outlearning us out there. We look this week to kind of turn the tables a little bit. We've worked hard on that short track program. Went to Martinsville and didn't have a great deal of success. None of our cars did. But we worked hard on it, tried to be better. This is a big test for us. We have Phoenix coming up. I think Phoenix has a lot -- much closer to Richmond and New Hampshire than Martinsville is. We need to go there and perform well because we need to build the basis of our short track program this weekend. It's important to leave Phoenix feeling good about it so you know you can go to Richmond and feel like you have a good start. This is not only a big weekend for us, but for all the teams.
Q: In terms of the economy and the fan base, it seems like it isn't as grim or as bad as people thought it was going to be heading into this season maybe with the exception of Nashville this past weekend. How does it look from your end in terms of the crowds this year?
JEFF BURTON: Well, you know, it's no surprise I think to anyone that we've seen crowds that look smaller than what you've seen in the past. That's a part of the economy. There's no question. People are having to make decisions, there's not as much discretionary money to spend. People are going to buy milk rather than going to a race, and that's okay. That's a decision people should make.
At the end of the day, what we do have is a lot of loyal fans. I can tell you the enthusiasm at the races is really high. There's no question there's a lot of excitement. There's a lot of enthusiasm. That's the great thing. We're going to have less people. When there's less jobs in America, we're going to have less people at the racetracks. When there are people that are not making the money they're accustomed to making, there will be less at the racetrack. That's part of the beast unfortunately. What I look at, the fans we have are enthusiastic and excited. That's been really cool to see.
Q: When it comes to the auto makers, it seems like you do a ton for them already. Is there anything else you can do to promote the auto makers to help them out even more?
JEFF BURTON: Well, I think we have to be looking at everybody that we work with. We're partners with a lot of different companies and a lot of different fields of business. What we need to be doing is looking at all those things.
The thing about the manufacturers, Chevrolet in particular, is I think the main thing letting the people know what Chevrolet is doing. This isn't a company that's in retreat. This company's in full-fledged assault trying to build better cars, better vehicles, higher fuel economy vehicles, safer vehicles. Their product line is unbelievable. If you look at what they've recently launched, what they're gonna launch in the future, they're building really, really good cars.
I think getting people to go look at the vehicles is really important. People have to have enough money to be able to buy the vehicle. If they don't have that and the credit doesn't get freed up, no one's gonna buy 'em. Getting the economy turned around is number one. Number two is going to get people to look at the product. If you look at Chevrolet, you're going to like what you see. They're doing it better, they're doing it nicer, they're doing it neater. What we're trying to do, what I'm trying to do, is just remind people this company is vibrant, full of excitement in a downtime. It's launching tremendous vehicles that have had a lot of forethought put into them, getting people to go look at the vehicles.
Q: I wanted to ask you about Marcos Ambrose. What are your impressions of him as a driver? Is he earning respect out there? Have you had any interaction with him off the track?
JEFF BURTON: I really haven't had a whole lot of interaction with Marcos. I can tell you I think everybody has been impressed with what he's been able to do this year. He's run very competitively. I know they had an engine problem the week before last. They've run very competitively. I've raced around him on the racetrack a lot this year. I think he's a lot like any rookie, he's feeling his way through it. But if you look at what he's done to this point, I think it's been really good.
We saw it in the Nationwide Series. We saw in equipment that wasn't the same equipment that Kyle Busch is driving or I'm driving, but he could still be competitive on a given day. I think everybody knows the talent is there. If you look back in his career, what he's been, it's been pretty impressive. He's very, very highly thought of in Australia. It's no surprise he can be successful. He's gonna be here for a long time.
Q: Can you understand him when you talk to him?
JEFF BURTON: I grew up with Ward, so I can understand pretty much anybody. We kind of talk alike actually.
Q: Before the season you talked about drivers needing to reach out more to fans. So far this season what are you seeing that seems to work in regards to driver/fan interaction that's making the most benefit? Something at the track, away from the track? What more can be done at this point, if anything?
JEFF BURTON: Well, what more can be done is always a great question. I'll tell you a lot it boils down to how much time the drivers have to spend. It's real important for our drivers to interact with our fans. That's kind of what's separated our sport from other sports throughout the year. I think now in the economic situation that we're all in, it's important to look at that and say, How can we do it better? The question isn't how do we do it more, it's how do we do it better.
Our sponsors have always been the driving force behind that. They've had autograph sessions, sweepstakes, all kinds of things that they've done for years. That's been the driving force behind it. We've recently seen racetracks step up to the plate, holding events at racetracks. I know I've done probably three or four events at racetracks this year where the fans could come in and do special stuff with them, interact with them. I think those are neat things. I think we need to do as much as we can on a race weekend to not only have people there happy but make it exciting, make it fun. We spent a couple hours with the fans at Texas. I know we did it at Daytona. We did it at Bristol. You interact, talk, answer questions, whatever it happens to be. I think the racetracks can continue to do those things.
As I said before, I think it's important to understand there's a right time and a right place for everything. Signing autographs two minutes before you get in the car to qualify, that's not the right time. The fans have to understand there's a right time and a right place. But we have to make sure we don't go hide in the motorhomes. We have to be willing to be exposed to the fans, let them interact with us. The minute we build structure to that, the easier it will be for everybody. I think what happens sometimes is drivers get bombarded, always bombarded, you know what I mean? You retreat a little bit, you go and hide because you know you're going to get bombarded. If you have a hundred people there, you sign 50, you have 50 that are mad at you. You made 50 people happy and 50 people mad. The 50 people that are mad let you know they're mad. We got to find a way to be a little more structured, to give the fans more interaction, so everybody leaves with a good attitude.
Q: I saw at Texas a couple weeks ago where some teams were having issues with lug nuts falling off because of the stud rule, gluing issue. A lot of people would be struck at how can something, so much put into the car, winning can come down to the gluing of a lug nut. If you have gone through things like that, how do you deal with that? This is something you can get off the drugstore shelf that causes you to lose a race.
JEFF BURTON: Well, the stud length rule, the theory behind that, is that if you don't have enough threads on the nut side of the wheel, it's dangerous. The problem is the more threads there are, the longer it takes to tighten it up. In a competitive-based business, when our tire changers are paid and given the charge to do it quicker than the next guy, making it take longer -- it doesn't make it safer. In some ways that can actually make it less safe because you have to stay on the lug nut longer.
The thought behind the rule is a very good thought, but the practice of it may not actually work out very well. Only time will tell.
Here is what I can tell you. I don't lose sleep over getting lug nuts tight. I don't lose sleep over good or bad pit stops. Here is why. The things that I can control are getting on pit road fast, getting on good, putting the car where I need to put it, making sure the wheels are straight, making sure I stop where I need to stop, make sure I leave good. Beyond that, I can't impact it. I can't do a better pit stop.
The guys that are on my team, really throughout the garage, work exceptionally hard at having good pit stops. I can't ask them to work any harder. I can't ask them to put any or effort into it. The desire, dedication and effort are there. I don't lose sleep over it. If we lose a race because of a bad pit stop, I'm upset about it, but I don't lose sleep over it, because I know my guys are working hard. How many races do you win, how many positions do you pick up? You only focus on the ones that don't go well. It's important to balance all that.
But my guys work exceptionally hard. I feel like I'm in really good hands and I don't lose sleep over that.
Q: Another economic question. At a time when sponsors are difficult to obtain, are we seeing potential sponsors or even sponsors you currently have sort of demanding more for their money, looking for more appearances by drivers, more input into activities by the team?
JEFF BURTON: It's a buyer's market. I don't care what you're buying, except for maybe handguns and ammunition, it's a buyer's market. If you're going to buy a new house today, I'm sure you're asking a price that you wouldn't have asked two years ago. That's just the market we're in right now. Our sponsors are always looking for the most value they can get for their dollar, and rightfully so. That's what they should be doing.
We've had sponsors that have had to come in and say our economic situation isn't what it was. We've had people ask to get some relief on things. We've had people ask to change in midstream because of their economic position. Certainly the new sponsors that are coming in, looking around, it's very clear what the situation is.
I think in a time where we don't have a lot of sponsors that are looking, a time where we don't have a lot of -- and we have a lot of good teams that are looking, that means the price is going to get driven down.
Corporate America is really smart. The reason they're in the position they're in is because they're smart people. They're always gonna be looking for added value, there's no question about it.
Q: Do you think teams are being proactive as far as the proposals they're putting out there, making them more detailed, complex, offering more as far as appearances?
JEFF BURTON: You know, I can't speak exactly to that. But I can tell you that as that market gets more pressure on it, if there's eight people looking at one sponsor, then people are going to start giving more. People are going to have to give added value. Why should you go with my team? What are we going to do extra?
Yeah, I think that teams for the most part are keeping the structure really close to what it is. Here is the thick we got to remember, too. No matter what's economy is, there's only so many hours in a day and there's still at the end of the day a cost it takes to do these things. A lot of that doesn't change. None of that changes. We can provide a service to a people at a cheaper rate. The question is, can we provide the performance to a company doing it at a cheaper rate. That's something that manufacturers and sponsors always have to be looking at, is what is the net result. Buying into a team at a low dollar and yielding a poor result isn't necessarily a good thing for a company.
It's a fine line between getting a great deal and pricing yourself out of the position to be competitive. So you really have to look at both of those things. But I can tell you the big teams have had a lot of success, they can demand more money, there's no question about that. I don't think they're going to be able to demand the extra percentage what they may get going into 2010.
Q: You kind of have owned Phoenix earlier this decade. You haven't run real well lately here. If they unload a car for you that's halfway decent, can you contend for a win here or is it going to take more work from this team?
JEFF BURTON: No, I think we can contend for a win there. We had it. I'll be perfectly honest. You are what your record says you are, right? We haven't been able to be able to contend for a win. I believe that we can. I believe in my ability to drive that racetrack. I believe in my team's ability to set up racecars that we need. Have we done that? No, we haven't. I can tell you before I won two races there, I hadn't won any before then. You know what I mean? We just got to do a better job. I got to do a better job of explaining to the team what's going on. I got to do a better job of demanding more of the car. The team's got to do a better job of unloading a car that's closer. It takes all of us.
I can't just sit back and say, I've won her before, you just got to give me a good car. Getting a good car has a lot to do with the driver's input, what the driver thinks he needs out of the car. There's a lot to it other than unloading it. I believe we can go to Phoenix and compete at a high level and contend for a win.
Continued in part 2