JEFF BURTON, NO. 31 CATERPILLAR IMPALA SS, met with members of the media at Lowe's Motor Speedway and discussed this weekend's race, the Carl Long penalties, how racing 600 miles at Lowe's Motor Speedway has changed over the years and more. YOUR...
JEFF BURTON, NO. 31 CATERPILLAR IMPALA SS, met with members of the media at Lowe's Motor Speedway and discussed this weekend's race, the Carl Long penalties, how racing 600 miles at Lowe's Motor Speedway has changed over the years and more.
YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT RUNNING IN THE 50TH RUNNING OF THE COCA-COLA 600. "Well, certainly last week was not a good weekend for us. We didn't run very well and ended up breaking an engine. I feel like we learned an awful lot. We used it kind of as a test and tried some stuff that didn't work out very well so we'll come back and try again. I feel pretty good about what we're coming in here with. It's a pretty cool race. Fiftieth anniversaries are always cool and the trophy is quite spectacular. It certainly would be cool to win it."
YOU MENTIONED YOU GUYS HAD PROBLEMS LAST WEEK, BUT I SEEM TO REMEMBER RCR AS A WHOLE DIDN'T FAIR REALLY WELL, WAS THAT ENOUGH OF A CONCERN FOR YOU GUYS TO MEET THIS WEEK AND TRY TO DISECT THE SITUATION? "I think it's pretty obvious that as a company, as a whole we haven't performed as well as we need to this year. There's been some races where we have but we've not had a race where we felt like every team was really good with the exception of maybe Talladega. We're working hard. We are behind. We're not where we want to be. We came here last week with the approach of trying some different stuff. I know it's silly after running like that but I feel really good about what we have coming and where we can be but what we had last week certainly wasn't the same as what we have this week. I feel pretty good about this week compared to last week. I think everybody in our company we have a real understanding of what we did last week and why we didn't succeed. If we leave here without some of us showing an opportunity to run well then I'll think we'll have some serious questions."
GIVEN THE LENGTH OF THE 600 AND GIVEN THE DIFFICULTY OF PASSING ON 1.5-MILE TRACK IN THIS CAR, IS TRACK POSITION GOING TO BE THE SINGLE MOST CRITICAL THING LATE IN THE RACE? "Well it's certainly important. A lot of that depends on the tire. If you have a tire that can withstand being old and is still good then yeah you'll see a lot of people play the track position game. If the tire falls off and I think this tire falls off a little more than last year's tire and the year before that, then you bring it into question. If you look at what (Jamie) McMurray was able to do, he was able to charge through the field pretty well. The No. 77 car was coming through the field pretty well so there was examples of fast cars that were able to get to the front. It's crazy because there are so many cars. Where I was running I could see about 12 cars, it looked like to me they were all running the same speed and that when that bunch gets bunched up. The first two or three guys they get out then there is this incredible race for eighth to 18th. They all run the same speed. I think we'll certainly see that again."
IS THE 600 TOO LONG IN YOUR OPINION AND WHY OR WHY NOT? "Well I think the 600 is too long if you run it every week. I think it's cool and special and I think it's unique to have a 600-mile race so I think it's cool to have the Coke 600. I think it has a lot of history and it's important for our series to have a race that's longer than all the other ones. It's also important for our series to have a race that's shorter than all the other ones. So I don't think 600 miles is too long but if we did it every week, 600 miles would be too long. The fact that it is the Coca-Cola 600 separates it from other races so that makes it okay. If the race track owners all got together and said hey every week we're going to have 600-mile races I would think that would not be in our best interest. I certainly think there are some race tracks on the circuit that would be better shows at 400 or even 350 miles. I think the shows would be better. But the fact that it is a special race and a unique race that makes it actually cool and makes it a good thing."
WHAT'S YOUR TAKE ON THE CARL LONG SITUATION? "Give me the Carl Long situation because I'm not familiar with it."
THE BIGGEST PENALTY IN NASCAR HISTORY - A $200,000 FINE, 12 WEEKS SUSPENSION. "What did he do?"
BIG ENGINE - $200,000, 200 POINTS, WHAT DO YOU THINK? "On the surface of it and I haven't had time to think about it but one of the things that keeps people honest is the fact that a car that probably didn't have a chance to win the race was torn down and that the engine was torn down. I knew he blew an engine, I don't know if that was the engine that he blew up -- it was? So, what that means to a team that doesn't feel like they might have a chance to win but still maybe we can cheat and finish 18th that tells them don't do that. We have seen over the years and escalation in penalties, an escalation in money and big engines are something that NASCAR seems to have no tolerance for. That's a really, really big penalty especially for Carl and the financial situation they're in. You know tall fences make great neighbors and big rules make people not cheat. If you never make people regret doing the wrong thing, they'll never do the right thing so I'm in favor of big penalties because I think it makes it where people don't want to mess around."
HOW HAS RACING 600 MILES HERE CHANGED SINCE 15 YEARS AGO WHEN YOU DID IT THE FIRST TIME? IS THERE MORE STRATEGY? "There's actually less believe it or not. Fifteen years ago the reliability rate wasn't as high. Today you don't have that let's hold back and wait and save our stuff and all that. That mentality is no longer. The way our cars are today, the brakes, the engines, the gears, the transmissions, the springs, the shocks, all that stuff there is no well let's just ride around and save our car. There's no such thing as saving our car. When people say that I don't even know what that means short of hitting the wall. In many ways it's become more of a sprint race than it used to be if that makes sense. How hard you drive the cars is harder today. The percentage that you're trying to get out of your car is harder today on lap 200 than it was then. It was viewed as oh my God it's 600 miles and now its viewed as it's 600 miles, it's not that big of a deal. It's a complete different mindset. It is another 100 miles but it's not, I'm going to blow up because I said all this but the reliability rate has come up so much in 15 years it's not the strategy that it used to be."
DID YOU LIKE THE DOUBLE-FILE RESTARTS IN THE ALL-STAR RACE AND WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE THAT IMPLEMENTED IN CUP RACE? "You know we've talked about double-file restarts for a long time. Here's my problem with double-file restarts. With the Lucky Dog rule you could do the Lucky Dog rule the same way that we do it now with the 20-lap restart. You could race for the Lucky Dog behind the leaders. No big deal there. The problem is what if you get two laps down, what if you get three laps down? We got three laps down at Talladega, got two Lucky Dog's and made one up the old fashioned way. Talladega is not necessarily a case because if it had been double-file restarts maybe you could have drafted up there but if you go to Charlotte or somewhere like that and you have double-file restarts you're pretty much done. I think in a 500-mile race you ought to be given some latitude to try to get laps back. Now, I think what would be cool is double-file restarts late in the race. Let's say there's a 50-lap rule or something like that, you still race for the Lucky Dog but after that point it double-file restarts or something and the leader gets to pick where he starts. The leader doesn't have to start on the pole position. He could start second if he wanted to. I think that has some possible merits to it and maybe it's something we could try in the Nationwide Series or the Truck Series to give it a shot and see what would happen.
"I'm a proponent of getting the lap cars out of the way as quick as possible even when I'm a lap car. Assuming you could still try to race for the Lucky Dog and I would be a proponent for the double-file restarts but not all race because I think all race is too big of a penalty if you have something happen and you're two or three laps down and you can't make them up. I think you ought to have a chance to go make them up the old fashioned way."
AS DRIVERS GET OLDER THEY SAY THEY ARE NO LONGER UP ON THE WHEEL, WHAT SPECIFICALLY CHANGES -- WOULD IT BE PHYSICAL IN TERMS OF REFLEXES, WOULD IT BE MENTAL IN NOT WANTING TO GO THREE-WIDE AT 200 MILES PER HOUR? "I think I'm a better race car driver today than I was when I was 25 years old. I'm no less aggressive today then I was when I was 25. As a matter of fact I'm probably more aggressive than I was when I was 18. I think everybody is different and I don't think you can bunch everybody up and say when you reach 38 years old you can no longer do this. When you reach 48 years old you can no longer do that. I think that's not fair. I do believe, assuming no injuries, that it's more in the head than it is in the body and not from the sense of being afraid to do it and the sense of anything like that but the willingness to do it.
"The people that I talk to that retired and then looked back on it and said God I shouldn't have done that the reason they made that decision was because they thought they wanted to be doing something else other than being at a race track three or four days a week. Man I've done this since I was seven years old and we raced a lot so I'm on my 33rd year of racing. You have to really want to do it and there can't be something else you'd rather be doing. If there is something else you rather be doing, if you looking at wow it would be cool to play gold this weekend or it would be cool to be on the lake this weekend, if you rather be doing that then you need to be doing that. I think the older you get the longer you've done it perhaps the more you start to look at well I'm missing out on something. I can tell you that's just from talking to people that I know retired not only from driving but from other things then regretted doing it. There's a lot of people that don't regret doing it and have really enjoyed doing what it is they're doing. I don't believe it's a physical thing, I believe it's more of a desire thing. My desire level is higher today than it was, well maybe it's not higher but it's pretty high, it's not lower, than it's ever been. I think the reason why is because I've seen both sides of this thing. I've seen not being successful and I've seen being successful. I have been at the brink of leaving the sport and gained a real appreciation for the opportunity of being here. Having the opportunity to talk to Mark (Martin) about his situation, he thought there was something he wanted to be doing and he found out when he was doing it he wanted to be doing this. When my wife and I talk about it and people bring the conversation up, when are you going to retire, I don't know when I'm going to retire. I can't imagine not doing this. I don't know what I would do. So I think it's more of the planning and the desire than anything else."
JIMMIE JOHNSON KIND OF TOOK OFF AND LEFT EVERYBODY IN THAT FIRST SEGMENT OF THE ALL-STAR RACE, HOW BIG OF A CONCERN IS THAT OR DOES THAT NOT REALLY MEAN MUCH GOING INTO THE 600? "You cannot deny his success here. You cannot argue with his success here. You certainly have to understand that Jimmie and that team are going to be someone you have to beat. I'll be honest, that All-Star race thing to me is not a barometer it's really not. I know it's easy to think it is and if I would have won the race I'd be telling you it is. We ran next to last, last year and came here and ran third, fourth, fifth in the spring and won the fall race. I just don't believe it's the barometer about who can be successful this weekend."
IN A PERFECT WORLD IF YOU COULD DESIGN A BLUEPRINT FOR DRIVING THE COCA-COLA 600 WHAT WOULD BE YOUR GAME PLANE FROM START TO FINISH FOR 400 LAPS HERE? "My success at winning the race has been being able to go fast in day and at night. There's a lot of talk about your car has to be good at night and that's true but the times I've won it I thought I was able to be successful in the day and the night. Being out front and having to avoid a lot of that -- it's hard at 20th. I'm telling you it's hard. Being able to run out front and be able to kind of not have to fight that would be a pretty cool deal. But you know every race you never know what you're going to get. In a perfect world we would lead every lap. You're not going to do that so the key is good track position, having a problem-free race and being able to work on your car throughout the day without having to deal with other issues."
JIMMIE JOHNSON AND KASEY KAHNE SAID THAT THEY EAT DURING THIS RACE, DO YOU SNACK OR DO ANYTHING ELSE TO GET YOUR ENERGY UP AND IF YOU DO WHAT DO YOU EAT, WHO HANDS IT TO YOU? "I have eaten during this race. I've eaten during other races. I don't like to do it because there's some issues with eating during a race or any sporting event. I don't like to eat but I've eaten like protein bars and stuff like that. I've definitely done that. My thing is keeping the fluids in. It seems like if I keep the fluids in I'm okay. I'm not opposed to eating during a race. I've eaten during this race and I've eaten during other races as well."
IS THE COCA-COLA 600 ONE OF THE CROWN JEWELS TO YOU AND DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE MEMORY? "To me the Daytona 500, the Southern 500, the Coke 600 and the Brickyard 400 are the four big races. That's the four races to me that are the biggest races of the year. We won the thing racing Bobby Labonte many years ago. It was an incredible race that TV did no justice to whatsoever. They went away on break. We had a race off pit road and we passed each other like three times and they never showed it. It was a great race. To beat Bobby when he was really running well here and at Atlanta and he was just really hard to beat that was really cool to me. I just think that this is just a cool race. I like going back and looking at the old pictures. This is a really, really cool race track that's very difficult. This is a difficult race track and it keeps changing. I just think the history of it is special. My history in it to me is special. It may not be to other people but to me it's special. So that to me makes it one of the crown jewels."
-credit: gm racing