Darlington II: This Week in Ford Racing - Jeff Burton interview

NASCAR Winston Cup FORD NOTES ABOUT DARLINGTON * Jeff Burton (1999) and Mark Martin (1993) are the only two active Ford drivers to win the Southern 500. * Rusty Wallace is still looking for his first NASCAR Winston Cup win at ...

NASCAR Winston Cup

FORD NOTES ABOUT DARLINGTON
* Jeff Burton (1999) and Mark Martin (1993) are the only two active Ford drivers to win the Southern 500.


* Rusty Wallace is still looking for his first NASCAR Winston Cup win at Darlington.


* Dale Jarrett leads all current Ford drivers with three Darlington victories.


* Kurt Busch earned the first pole of his NASCAR Winston Cup career a year ago for the Southern 500.


* The last of Bill Elliott's 40 Ford wins came in the 1994 Southern 500.


* Curtis Turner won Ford's first Southern 500 in 1956.


* The only driver to win the Southern 500 more than once in a Ford is Bill Elliott, who won it three times (1985, '88, '94).


* A Ford driver has won the pole for the Southern 500 each of the last four seasons -- Kurt Busch (2001), Jeremy Mayfield (2000), Kenny Irwin (1999) and Dale Jarrett (1998).


* The only time Ford has swept the top three spots in the Southern 500 was 1963 with Fireball Roberts (1st), Marvin Panch (2nd) and Fred Lorenzen (3rd). Nelson Stacy also finished fourth that year in a Ford.


* The Wood Brothers have eight NASCAR Winston Cup wins at Darlington, including four Southern 500 crowns. Three of those four wins came while running Mercury's with Cale Yarborough (1968) and David Pearson (1976 and '77) while the fourth came in a Ford with Neil Bonnett (1981).

Jeff Burton, driver of the No. 99 Citgo Taurus, is one of two active Ford drivers to win the Southern 500, joining teammate Mark Martin in that category in 1999. Burton, who is still looking for his first triumph of 2002, spoke about the annual Labor Day weekend event as part of this week's NASCAR Winston Cup Series teleconference.

JEFF BURTON --99-- Citgo Taurus

YOU WON BOTH RACES IN '99 SO YOU MUST FEEL YOUR CHANCES ARE PRETTY GOOD.

"It depends on what the weather is, I guess. We have certainly run well at Darlington and it's certainly one of my favorite race tracks. The last three races there we haven't run like we're used to running. It's kind of one of those race tracks that we used to just love going to and now we're a little nervous about going to because we used to almost be at the point of being dominant. We led a tremendous amount of laps in all the races we were in. We only ended up winning two of 'em, but we dominated a lot of those races and ended up having pit stops and stuff happened at the end and we didn't win 'em. It's a track we've always done well at, but, again, it's been a challenge for us the last three races and we need to get ourselves back to where we used to be."

THE TRACK DOESN'T CHANGE BUT OTHER THINGS DO THAT CAN AFFECT SUCCESS AT DARLINGTON.

"I think the biggest thing that's changed is the tire. Even though the tire falls off on speed, it doesn't fall off to the extent that it used to fall off. It doesn't feel as good when it's new, but it doesn't feel as bad when it's old. What our strength used to be at Darlington is we'd always qualify 10th to 15th, right in there, but on a 50-lap run, the 99 car was really fast all the time. We were never real fast to start, but since the new tire we've had trouble getting that back. Aerodynamics are so important now and a lot of things are important now. The stuff that used to work doesn't work anymore and we've had a tough time letting go of what has worked for us in the past because we've had so much success in trying to figure out what we need to do in the future."

DOVER, RICHMOND AND LOUDON ARE UP NEXT. DO YOU SET GOALS IN ADVANCE?

"We go week to week. We obviously plan farther ahead than that, but when Bristol was over we were thinking about Darlington and when Darlington gets over we think about the next race. That's how we do it. We try not to look too far ahead. If you map a plan out for four or five races ahead, then what happens is you get complacent. 'We'll take car 82 and car 74 to this race and that race.' Well, it may be that you've built a better car since then or you've just ran a car and had a great run with it so you want to run it again. So, we don't plan too far ahead, but, certainly, when Darlington is over we've got our minds on the next race."

IS IT RACING WHEN CARS JUST BUMP OTHER CARS OUT OF THE WAY?

"It's been like that for a long time at Bristol. That's what Bristol is, like it or not. You live by the sword and you die by the sword. If you're willing to knock a guy out of the way to win the race, then you have to understand that the next time you're leading, the guy behind you has the right to knock you out of the way. That's how it works. You drive people the way they drive you and you also drive people the way they drive other people. If you see a guy that will constantly knock people out of the way, then you have way less respect for him as far as what you can do with him in the race car. Jeff did what he had to do to win the race, but, at some point, that will come back to him and he'll lose a race somewhere because of what he did at Bristol. I'm not saying he did wrong, I'm just saying that's the reality of it and you've got to understand that whatever you do has consequences to it."

THERE SEEMS TO BE A LOT MORE REACTION ON TRACK AFTER THAT KIND OF THING. IS NASCAR BEST SERVED BY THAT KIND OF EMOTION?

"That could start up a great debate. It certainly gets people talking about the sport. Is it the professionalism that we hope to pull off? No, probably not. Does it make for great TV? It certainly does (laughing). I was in the race and I wanted to get home Sunday to watch the replay of the race so I could see all the interviews. It is what it is. It makes it exciting and it makes it interesting, but some of it is borderline unprofessional for sure. But it's a high emotion sport. That's one of the things I said about Tony Stewart when he was having such a hard time there, it's high emotion. You try hard and when somebody takes away your opportunity to succeed, it makes you mad and everybody reacts to that differently."

HOW DO YOU GET RID OF YOUR EMOTION?

"I don't know. It changes. One day you get over it pretty quick and the next day, for some reason, it makes you so mad you can't get over it. We had a really fast race car Saturday night and I got in a wreck that was none of my doing. The driver that I thought had caused the wreck, I saw him after the race and I laughed. We talked about it and it was just Bristol. I wasn't mad about it at all because it was just Bristol. Then, another time, I can get into a wreck with a guy that it makes me so mad I can hardly stand it. So, I think it really depends on the time and all the stuff leading up to the wreck. I try to catch my breath and realize my kids are watching, but it's hard to do."

DO YOU FEEL DRIVERS ARE GETTING THEIR SHARE OF THE MONEY OUT THERE AND HOW COME NASCAR DOESN'T SEEM TO HAVE THE PROBLEMS BASEBALL DOES?

"I'm gonna speak for myself. Roush Racing has treated me fair. They've given me raises when they can afford to give me raises and I've never had to go to them and ask for more money. When our sponsorship got bigger or we had success, then I saw it in my paycheck as well. So, from a personal standpoint, I'm completely satisfied with the way I've been treated from a money standpoint and I have no complaint whatsoever. The NASCAR situation compared to Major League Baseball and the NFL is completely different. We are individually owned. The race teams essentially have no business ties to NASCAR. They operate independently without contract, with the exception of having a contract that says if you're on the winner's circle you agree to come to all the races and you get extra money -- those kinds of things. But, short of that, we operate independently. So, if I have a problem with the way I'm being treated as a driver, then I have a problem with the guy I work for and not the organization that's having the races. Generally, when there's a problem with a car owner and a driver, it's kept quiet and isn't out in the public because they don't want the sponsor to know about it, they don't want the fans to know about it, they just work it out. We sell our own souvenirs. We're responsible for our own insurance. We're responsible for our own retirement plan. We're responsible for all the expenses incurred and we reap the benefits of all the money made. NASCAR has little bearing on how we run our team and what we're allowed to do and what we're not allowed to do from a business standpoint. So when we do have a problem, it's really not NASCARs problem. We could debate whether the teams get the fair share of money from the TV deal. We could debate that for years and I suspect we always will debate it, but, really, you run your company independently from NASCAR, in all honesty. You rely on them to have sponsorships so they can have races and those kind of things, but your team is your team and your relationship with your owner is your relationship with your owner, it's not NASCAR's."

AT BRISTOL, THE 31 WAS PENALIZED FOR WHAT HE DID TO THE 48, BUT THE 24 WAS NOT FOR WHAT HE DID TO THE 2. WERE THOSE INCIDENTS DIFFERENT AND SHOULD NASCAR HAVE PENALIZED THEM BOTH THE SAME?

"I'm not sure, but I don't think Rusty Wallace hit anything and I'm pretty sure that the guy Robby Gordon spun out did hit something. So, yeah, I think they're two totally different things. Robby Gordon had pushed the guy in front of him all the way around the race track for all but two laps under caution and, on top of that, he had all but put me in the wall on the back straightaway coming to get the green before we even got the green. So, I'm sure NASCAR looked at that and said, 'What is this guy doing?' Then they dropped the green flag and the guy in front of him got spun out and wrecked. I'm pretty sure all those things had a play on it, but, in my opinion, you can't compare what Jeff Gordon did to Rusty to what Robby Gordon did to the 48 car because the 48 car wrecked and Rusty didn't."

HOW TOUGH IS TURN 2 AT DARLINGTON?

"Turn two is certainly an interesting corner because it's real fast. The entrance to turn two, it isn't like most race tracks where turn one and turn two are hooked together and how you do in turn one determines how you do getting off the corner. This race track almost has a little straightaway between turn one and turn two, so you're approaching turn two at a high rate of speed, then you have to make another turn to get off the corner. It's a very difficult corner, but it's not as hard as turn four. Turn two looks exciting and it's faster in turn two, but, really, the hardest corner at Darlington is turn four."

CAN YOU ASSESS THE OVERALL PERFORMANCE OF ROUSH RACING THIS YEAR?

"There's not one thing that we've done that's made our teams better. We have continued to work together with an effort to make all the teams better. There is a tremendous amount of cohesiveness and willingness to work together in the shop. Roush Racing is a nice place to be right now. We've got great employees. We've got a lot of desire. We've got a good group of drivers that all get along. We have everything from a real experienced driver to a guy that has very little experience and it's just a fun place to be right now. There's a lot of excitement around Roush Racing and I think that breeds more excitement. I can't really speak to why the teams are running better other than we have just kept working. Specifically, with the 99 team, we've run great since May. I won't apologize to anybody for how we've run since May, but we've not gotten the finishes we should have gotten. Since May, I think you could make a case that we've been the strongest team at Roush, but our finishes don't indicate that."

WHAT MAKES DARLINGTON ONE OF YOUR FAVORITE TRACKS?

"First of all, I love the history of our sport. I have a lot of respect for what Bobby Allison did and what the generation before him did. What they did made it possible for guys like me to come into this sport and make more money than I should ever make and, on top of that, have so much fun. Darlington, to me, represents all those things. It's kind of like stepping back in time when you go to Darlington. You go into the offices on the back straightaway and I used to tease Jim Hunter that his office was like a time machine. When you went into his office, you stepped back about 20 years and the whole race track is like that. It doesn't have the great suites and it doesn't have all the pretty grass. It doesn't have all that junk, but what it has is it has a facility that was built a long time ago and it's put on a lot of great races with all of NASCAR's great drivers. It's what racing ought to be. It's hot, it's slippery, it's difficult, it's what the intent of racing is and I respect all of those things. I have a lot of reverence for it and that's the biggest reason I like Darlington."

WHY CAN GUYS IN RACING STILL BE SUCCESSFUL IN THEIR MID-40s WHILE GUYS IN OTHER SPORTS CAN'T?

"I think there are a lot of reasons. It used to be that your entry into the Winston Cup level was at a later age than it was into the NFL or into the NBA, so the amount of time you can succeed may be close to the same but you started at a later date. Experience matters in this sport. Your reaction time doesn't slow down the way that your legs slow down when you start reaching 45. There are things that don't affect you as much compared to a professional basketball player. They talk about Michael Jordan being old and can he do it. Well, he's not old in our sport because it isn't about how fast you can run up and down a court, it's about how well can you drive a car. It's two totally different things. From a physical standpoint, there's no reason you can't drive a car successfully up into the50s. Now, there are things that start happening to you from a psychological standpoint when you start to get older, I think, and you're not willing to risk it all the way you were perhaps 38 or 40, but there's no reason from a physical standpoint that you can't continue to be successful into your40s."

HOW IMPORTANT IS CONDITIONING AND WHAT DO YOU DO TO STAY IN SHAPE?

"I think nutrition and fitness are not something you can mess around with. You've got to be prepared when you get to the race track. If you start worrying about being prepared for Darlington on the week of Darlington, you're about three months too late. I'm certainly no physical specimen of muscle, but I have a lot of endurance. I like to think of myself as kind of like a marathon runner -- I'm not real strong and I'm not real big, but I have a tremendous amount of endurance. I think that's important. The heat doesn't bother me very much and that's your biggest enemy. Heat and exposure to g-loads are the two biggest things that drivers have to deal with, so your physical training and physical ability is different than it is with a basketball player or a football player. I'm sure there aren't many football players that could sit in a car that's 140 degrees for four hours and be able to concentrate. It's the type of training you need to do for your sport and that's what I work real hard at. I try to eat what I need to eat, so I can be good at what it is I do. I try to hydrate myself. I drink a lot of Powerade and a lot of water. During the race I stay hydrated. It's important to stay hydrated before the race and during the race, but anybody that doesn't think conditioning is important is behind the times because it's very important."

CAN YOU CONTRAST WHAT'S EXPECTED AND WHAT'S ALLOWED AT BRISTOL AND THEN A WEEK LATER GOING TO DARLINGTON, WHAT'S ALLOWED THERE?

"No one has ever asked me like that, but that's perhaps the best way to ask. That's a well thought-out question. You know, Ken Schrader walked down pit road a couple years ago at Bristol and he apologized to everyone before the race for hitting them (laughing). That's pretty much the way it is. People do things at Bristol that they don't do anywhere else and they say, 'Oh, it's just Bristol.' What I say is, it's still a driver's responsibility. Drivers don't have to run into each other. When a wreck happens five cars ahead of you and then that accordion effect happens and you get in the back of somebody, that's Bristol. It's very hard to pass. You tend to push things a little harder because it's harder to pass. There's no room for error, so all those things do make any little mistake that a driver makes have bigger consequences, but I don't think there's any doubt about it that driver's go into Bristol saying, 'I can get by with stuff here that I can't get by with anywhere else because I can blame it on the race track.' I don't think there's any doubt about it."

DID YOUR EXPERIENCE AT SOUTH BOSTON SPEEDWAY HELP YOU AT ANY CERTAIN TRACK?

"I don't know, that's an interesting question. I don't know how racing at South Boston and Orange County helped mold me to make me do some things good and some things not so good. I think the main thing is the competition -- not so much where you're doing it but the competition you're doing it against. When I was racing there, we had some pretty formidable people that we raced against. If you were gonna beat those guys, you had your work cut out for you. I think the competition is more important than where you're doing it and I think they taught me a tremendous amount even though they didn't know they were teaching me. The taught me to lose, they taught me to win, they taught me humility and they taught me a lot of things they didn't set out to teach. They were just wanting to kick my butt, but when you race and you race against good people, you learn a lot from them and I think that helped me more than anything else."

COMPARE THE DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY AT DARLINGTON WITH OTHER TRACKS.

"Bristol is very difficult and Darlington is very difficult. We back up to each other two of the hardest race tracks that we go to all year. The thing about Darlington that I think is misunderstood is that to be successful at Darlington, you have to attack the race track. You can't be afraid of the race track. Through all of the hype and all the discussion about how difficult it is and how hard it is, you can't think about it. You've got to go and you've got to say, 'I'm gonna kick your butt, race track.' You've just got to attack it. You've got to not be afraid of it. You've got stand in that gas and run hard. It's one of those things. I heard Darrell Waltrip say on TV that he couldn't understand how the younger drivers just came here and didn't respect the place. You have to have respect for it, but you've got to attack it. You've got to be aggressive and you've just got to go after that race track as if it's any other race track. It's hard, but if you treat it like it's hard, you won't have any success there."

HAVE YOU SEEN A NOTICEABLE DIFFERENCE IN JACK ROUSH SINCE THE ACCIDENT?

"Jack's real close to where he was. Certainly, he's been hurt. Even though he's tough, he doesn't want to admit he's been hurt, so physically he's not been 100 percent. I think Jack wants to let everybody know he's OK, so he's working really, really hard right now to show everybody he'sOK. My relationship with Jack has always been good and I've never had a problem in talking to Jack. I've always had great luck in spending time with him and explaining things the way I saw it and him explaining things the way he saw it and that hasn't changed for me. For a while he was different because he was still hurt, but, in all honesty, I think Jack is Jack. That's why I work for him and I hope he doesn't change."

WHEN YOU LOOK BACK AT THAT '97 BATTLE WITH JEFF GORDON. IS THERE ANYTHING YOU WOULD HAVE DONE DIFFERENTLY?

"I've watched that tape several times because I got so tired of hearing all the fans saying, 'I wish you would have wrecked the 24 car.' No, I wouldn't have done anything different, looking back on it at all. I made the decision that I made for a couple of reasons. The first reason was that I don't think, if I would have driven in the corner with all four wheels on the flat, which I would have had to do, that neither one of us would have made it through the corner. So, that wasn't in my best interest -- to prove a point so go wreck. I don't have that personality. The other thing is, I truly believed I was gonna pass him anyway. I was so much faster than he was, but I what I didn't account for was that when I had gotten so low on the race track, I picked up all the debris on the tires. But there was no doubt in my mind that he had blocked me, but when we came off turn two I was just gonna pass him anyway. So I was looking to avoid contact because I had two more chances to get by him and there was no question in my mind I was going by him because we were that much faster. But when I drove into one, I picked up all that debris on the tires and I couldn't go anywhere. I didn't factor that in, but, no, I wouldn't do anything different today than what I did then."

DO THE YOUNGER DRIVERS HAVE A SENSE FOR THE HISTORY OF DARLINGTON OR IS THE SOUTHERN 500 JUST ANOTHER RACE TO THEM?

"I don't know. I hate to group all the young drivers together. I think some of 'em probably do and some of 'em probably don't. There are some older drivers that don't care it's the Southern 500. It's a personal thing. I don't know that it's an era thing or a grouping thing, I think it's a personal thing. To me it's special, but to other people I know, that I'm real close to, they could care less about it. For them, it's just another race but I'd hate to put all the young drivers in one big group and say that none of 'em care about it because I don't believe that. I think some of 'em would and some of 'em wouldn't."

GETTING BACK TO JACK. HAVE YOU NOTICED ANY CHANGE IN THE DAY-TO-DAY JACK?

"With no disrespect, I don't like discussing personalities. I think Jack, certainly, has to look at things differently than he did before this. There's no way you go through a situation that he went through, which is really unusual, and not wake up in the morning with a different attitude. There's no way in the world you don't do that. I prefer not to get into the conversation about how I see he's different and how I don't see he's different because I just don't know if that's appropriate, but there's just no way you can go through an incident like that without it having a major impact on your life and it has had a major impact on Jack's life, there's no doubt about it."

WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO PREPARE FOR RICHMOND?

"We went up there and tested the Busch car in the spring, even though we didn't race in the spring we're gonna race it in the fall. We thought we had a great test with the Busch car and we're racing the Busch car at this race. The main thing we're doing is we're looking at our notes from what we did in the spring to try and apply that in the fall. We ran very well there in the spring. We had a great chance to win and I cut a tire and ended up getting in a wreck and still came back and finished third. We were really happy with our effort in the spring and we'll have the Busch car up there and try some stuff on it Thursday afternoon and Friday and, hopefully, we can use that stuff on the Winston Cup car, but we don't have a test there even though we did test there in the spring."

WHAT ABOUT TRACK SETUP FOR RICHMOND?

"The track did a lot of different things this last race there. The top groove never came in. The track had a tremendous amount of grip, but when you got out of the groove, you didn't have any grip so that changed the way you set your car up. If the track does the same thing again, it will surprise me. I think the track will open up and get the high groove working again, so that will change your setup. But if it doesn't do that, then the setups that you ran there in the spring will work again in the fall."

FRANK STODDARD --99-- Citgo Taurus -- YOU'RE PRETTY PASSIONATE ON PIT ROAD. WHAT WAS IT LIKE AT BRISTOL?

"You go through a lot at Bristol. We worked ourselves up into the top five and thought we had a good car and the next thing you know, you're in an accident that we couldn't do much about. Then you're frantically trying to stay on the lead lap and try to salvage what you can of a finish, so it's a range of emotions."

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT PREPARING A CAR FOR DARLINGTON?

"The biggest thing you fight at Darlington is that the tire wear is generally real excessive, so to try to get a car to stay real consistent throughout a run is very difficult. You shock package and your spring package is something you really have to work on a great deal, and then one of the other elements of Darlington that you really have to put an emphasis on is making sure that your radiator doesn't get plugged up with all the rubber that gets chewed off the tires, so to speak. You run a little bit different grille screen than you might run at other race tracks and you take and make sure you clean your radiator a little bit after practice, which you normally wouldn't have to do at other race tracks. That's probably the biggest factor that's different from other race tracks is watching over the radiator at Darlington."

HAS IT BEEN FRUSTRATING TO DIAL IN THIS TIRE AT DARLINGTON?

"It's made it real difficult. All of the setups we used to use, I mean, if you pulled out something you ran three years ago and showed somebody, you'd just absolutely laugh at it. It's not even close to what anybody runs today. People that haven't been in this sport for the last two or three years, if I went up to a guy like Tim Brewer, who was a winner forever, and showed him what we run today, he'd be like, 'There's no way you're running that.' He wouldn't believe you. So it's been a huge change of pace and it's been very difficult to adapt to in a lot of areas."

YOU HAVE WON TWO STRAIGHT AT PHOENIX. WHAT IS IT ABOUT THAT TRACK?

"I don't know. For whatever reason, that track is a little bit like Loudon. We've always run fairly well at Loudon and have always run well at Phoenix. Even though we've won the last two races out there, looking back at it throughout all my notes, we've had a car good enough to win probably five out of the last five races out there. We've always run well out there, but haven't got the finishes to show for it. It's a track that Jeff really loves because there's nothing special that I do, other than put the setup in the car that he feels good about. When they drop the green, he just seems to find his way to the front."

IT SEEMS THAT TRACK HAS A LOT OF OBSTACLES.

"I think one of the things about that race track is that the two ends of the race track are so different. It takes a really nice, smooth driving style. I think there are a lot of ways you can get in and out of the corners, but when you find that absolute perfect spot to get in and out of the corners that is real fast, then being able to duplicate that time after time, lap after lap, probably makes a big difference. I think Jeff is able to do that. He's as smooth as anybody that I know and watch and I think once he finds the line, he's able to run within two inches of that line for 50 to 100 to 250 -- whatever it is -- consecutive laps and that's probably a big part of it as well."

DO YOU HAVE ANY UPDATE ON THE NEW RESTRICTOR PLATE RULES?

"Not really. I talked to John Darby a little bit after they went to Daytona a few weeks ago. The last thing they were working on and started to see a little progress on, I guess they didn't get to run because it rained so they're getting ready to go back pretty soon. They're gonna go to either Talladega or Daytona again and try to simulate what they wanted to do the first time and didn't get to finish. I think they're certainly looking at some things. Obviously, we've got the fuel cell deal we're gonna be debuting at Talladega this time. That ought to be some of indication of how that works will carry over to the Daytona 500, I guess."

WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE INVOLVED IN SOMETHING LIKE THAT?

"The last deal they had, Gary Nelson actually asked me to go. We had originally planned to go to Bristol and test around that time, so we weren't gonna be able to do that one. It is something we like to do. At the same time, it gets to be frustrating because when you get all the manufacturers together, everybody has their own idea and every manufacturer is out to get the rules to best suit themselves, so I have no fun in that."

SO IT DOESN'T MATTER IF YOU PARTICIPATE OR NOT?

"If something is gonna be really worthwhile out of the event, then, certainly, I always want to be there to participate in it."

-ford-

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Bill Elliott , Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Darrell Waltrip , Jeremy Mayfield , Tony Stewart , Rusty Wallace , Ken Schrader , Robby Gordon , Kurt Busch , Tim Brewer , Marvin Panch , Bobby Allison , Cale Yarborough , Jim Hunter , Mark Martin , David Pearson
Teams CIP