JEFF BURTON, NO. 31 CATERPILLAR IMPALA SS met with media and discussed Daytona 500 strategy, tire management, Mark Martin, the economy, and much more. ON SPEEDWEEKS IN GENERAL "We've had a few more incidences than I would like to have had at...
JEFF BURTON, NO. 31 CATERPILLAR IMPALA SS met with media and discussed Daytona 500 strategy, tire management, Mark Martin, the economy, and much more.
ON SPEEDWEEKS IN GENERAL "We've had a few more incidences than I would like to have had at this point. We broke an engine before the Shootout. Historically we don't have a lot of engine problems, but we feel pretty sure we know why we had that. We got in that wreck in the Shootout. And then yesterday, I didn't go a good job of driving early in the race and kind of got us put to the back. And then after that, we finally worked our way back up to 8th or 9th or something and had that last caution and had an electrical problem with our tachometer and the tachometer was reading wrong, so I was speeding on pit road. I feel like we've learned a lot. Unfortunately it seems like we always learn the hard way. I left the race yesterday, even though we finished 14th, feeling much better about how I think we can run on Sunday than I did going into the race. So that's a positive. It hasn't been the Speedweeks we've been looking for so far. But all that can be erased pretty quickly by having a good Daytona 500 and that's what our focus in on."
WHERE DO YOU WANT TO BE WHEN THE WHITE FLAG FALLS IN THE DAYTONA 500? "Well, that depends on what's going on in the race. Obviously we had the lead last year with two or three laps to go, and then ended up finishing 14th or 16th or wherever we finished. It really depends on the situation. If it's a green flag deal and everybody is kind of single-filed and that kind of situation, I think leading is where you want to be. If you're leading and it's a restart with three or four (laps) to go, I'm not sure that's real good. So really it's situational. Being out front isn't always the best thing. But if you're out front in the right situation, it is. Actually, sometimes when it's a late restart, starting in the back is almost an advantage, especially when you have a high-groove situation because you can go three-wide and you can be progressing and making stuff happen. On a restart, I'd want to be third, fourth, fifth, sixth, or seventh with a few to go; single file, I want to be leading."
WITH NO TESTING, WHAT DO YOU THINK WILL HAPPEN WHEN YOU GET TO CALIFORNIA, LAS VEGAS, AND ATLANTA? "I think it's going to be really interesting. I don't know what to expect. I don't think anybody knows what to expect. We've worked very hard on our cars. Every team has worked very hard on their cars. Some people would have made improvements and others would not have made improvements. If you improve three percent, and somebody else improves five percent, you've lost two percent. Until we get to California and really put it out there with our competition, we truly don't know what we have. It's going to have an affect. Some teams are able to be productive without testing. Some teams are very test-reliant; I am in no way saying the No. 48 (Jimmie Johnson) can't win the championship this year because I believe they obviously can, but if you look at what they did last year, they struggled early in the year. They went and did a lot of testing and got a lot better. If you didn't have that testing, what could you have done in that situation? I think every team is looking really hard at how, under these rules, can you be effective. We got a lot of benefit from testing last year. We worked very hard on testing. I thought the No. 38 team and the No. 31 team and the No. 29 team tested as much as anybody. And doing that wasn't good enough for us. So we've got to find a different way to do it. And some teams are going to do that better than others. So I think that will have a huge impact."
ON TIRE MANAGEMENT, DO YOU ASSUME LONG RUNS AND THEREFORE TRY NOT TO ABUSE YOUR TIRES? HAVE YOU GONE OVER "What typically happens here is that the tire wear gets better and you have fewer problems as the weekend goes on. One of the things about not testing here is there are many days when we don't have rubber being put on the race track. I don't anticipate tire problems late in the race. I think we could still see some tire problems, potentially in the Truck race or the Nationwide race and maybe early in the Cup race. But the longer we run, the better the tire problem will get. So we're not going to race the tire problem. Honestly, there's not a lot you can do about it anyway. All you can do is make your car handle as well as it can handle and hope for the best."
ON MARK MARTIN "There is no question he has the killer instinct. The old Mark will come back (laughs). It's early. Mark is really energized by his opportunity. Running a part-time schedule was really good for Mark because it let him stay involved and also showed him that when he came to the races he was highly competitive. I think it reminded him that he could still do it. Watching the races and him not being involved in it hurt his feelings a little bit. And so now that he is involved and racing for another championship with, what is arguably over the last 12 or 15 years the premier team, that's quite an opportunity. Mark has a lot of respect for what's gone on at Hendrick and for how hard it is and I think he views this as a wonderful opportunity to go out and be successful. So he is very optimistic about his opportunity and when Mark is optimistic, he's what he is right now. But he's also very realistic. Mark tells you the way he feels. He typically doesn't tell you when he's feeling good, only when he's feeling bad, to you guys, the media. So he's taking a little bit of a rap for being a negative guy. He's not negative at all. He's very optimistic. He'll be a factor this year. I'd be shocked if he wasn't in the Chase. I'd be shocked if he wasn't a contender for the championship. That would surprise me to no end. He is exceptionally gifted, extremely driven, and he's driving for a great organization. He will be a factor."
NORMALLY THERE IS A CENTRAL THEME THAT USUALLY DEVELOPS DURING SPEEDWEEKS, BUT WE HAVEN'T SEEN THAT YET. ARE WE STILL WAITING FOR THAT, OR IS THERE ONE WE ARE MISSING? "It's not my job to define what the story is. I don't know. There haven't been two drivers yelling at each other just yet. There was a little bit of that yesterday. There hasn't been a defining moment yet, although you can make a strong case that (Jeff) Gordon winning yesterday was pretty big. The way Mark ran and the way the No. 26 has been running, and there have been a lot of things going on down here. All of us, including you guys (media) are kind of getting into your rhythm, you know what I mean? Without the testing, it has changed the way we've come here. But I'm pretty sure about hitting the 500. The story will present itself. As far as I know, there wasn't one car that was caught going through tech (inspection) illegally. I didn't hear of anybody. How long has it been since that happened? At Daytona, the Daytona 500 qualifying, every year somebody gets called for something and none of that this year. So, there is a lot of stuff going on here and I don't know why there's not one big story, but there are a tremendous amount of things going on."
WITH SPONSORS LIKE CHEERIOS, UPS AND CATERPILLAR GRAVITATING TO THE BIG FOUR TEAM, HOW DOES THAT CHANGE THE COMPETITIVE BALANCE OF THE FIELD? "This year is going to be more competitive than it was last year at the front of the field. I think when you look at the top 36 teams; it's more balanced than it was last year. You may not see more wins at Hendrick, but you're going to see more wins by more drivers at Hendrick. I think you're going to see that at Penske. You're going to see more wins spread out throughout the garage. That's my opinion. As everybody gets more accustomed to the CoT, I just think it's going to be more competitive. Now at the same time, it's clear too that 37th, 38th, 39th (place cars) isn't going to be as competitive as it was last year. That's pretty clear as well. The battle for the Chase and ultimately for the championship is going to be more highly-contested than it was last year. As we have fewer sponsors; when the economy takes a downward turn, the teams that have performed well are the ones that end up with the sponsors that are looking. And the teams that haven't produced and the teams that have struggled always end up on the short end of the stick. That's the nature of the beast. That's whether you're a multi-car team or a single-car team. When there's 10 teams and one sponsor, the team that's been the best and has the desired reputation is the one getting the sponsor."
ECONOMY-WISE, IS WHAT WE SEE AT DAYTONA FROM THE FANS, THE STANDS, ATTENDANCE, SPONSORSHIP, AND HOSPITALITY GOING TO BE DIFFERENT OF WHAT IT'S GOING TO BE LIKE AT THE REST OF THE RACES? "I think that's fair. I think the Daytona 500 is such a big event, in and of itself, that it seems like you always have more here than other places. It's hard to compare the Daytona 500 to other places because it is the Daytona 500. We know there are companies who are not doing the hospitality that they did last year and we know there are people who are not going to be able to buy race tickets like they did last year. I think that'll show up more at California and Las Vegas; maybe not Vegas because it's a travel destination. But California and Atlanta, I think we'll see it more. I think that's a fair point."
WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER OR KNOW OR APPRECIATE ABOUT THE 1979 RACE THAT WAS 30 YEARS AGO THIS WEEKEND? "Just to be clear, the '79 race was the one with the Allisons and Cale? (YES). I wouldn't want to fight him (laughs). I'm not good with years, but I actually watched that race. We were on a skiing trip and everybody went skiing except for me. And I stayed in the little condo that we were renting and watched the race. So, I do remember it. And it was big. I was a Cale Yarborough fan so I was pulling for Cale. I was a little upset because I thought he got the short end of the stick. And that was a big deal. I think that passion came through after the race. The race itself was an incredible finish. I don't remember much about the race other than that last lap. But I watched the race and it was pretty cool."
IT SEEMS THAT TWO YEARS AGO, IT WOULD HAVE BEEN LAUGHABLE FOR SOMEONE TO TRY TO PUT A CUP TEAM TOGETHER IN A MONTH AND COME TO DAYTONA AND MAKE THE SHOW. TWO TEAMS DID THAT YESTERDAY. HOW LONG HAS IT BEEN SINCE THE LITTLE GUY HAD THIS MUCH OF A CHANCE? "It was 2001 or 2002 that we came down here and there were only like 44 cars. I don't remember what year that was. There was an opportunity that year. This year, we had a huge field, as opposed to two years ago when we came down here and had a huge field of 52 or 49 teams that all had 100 percent funding to go run the full schedule. That's tough business. What we saw yesterday is that we have 36 or 37 teams that have 100 percent sponsorship to go run all the races. So that means there is an opportunity, number one, for the little guy to come to the Daytona 500 and make a splash. And by the way, some of those guys ran really well yesterday. That is a factor of the CoT. I would venture to say that three years ago you couldn't have built a car. Nobody would have sold a car to a team that was good enough to make the Daytona 500. You would have kept that. With the CoT, there is not a big disadvantage if you have a good car, in giving that one up, because you can build another one like it. We build a lot of CoT speedway cars and we've seen .02-tenths difference in speed in all of them. So, I think that the CoT has been a contributing factor to allow them to come down and run as well as they ran. It used to take us three weeks to hang a speedway body. And then after you'd do that, you'd have to do all the work on the crush panels and the radiator duct work and where the NACA ducts go, and one car would spend seven or eight days in the wind tunnel. Once you got that, you weren't going to sell it. But today, there are so many things that NASCAR makes you do, or doesn't let you do ~ either way ~ that it's not much of disadvantage to sell a car. So, people were able to go out and buy cars that they couldn't have bought three years ago. And that's a factor of the CoT."
ON GORDON NOT WINNING LAST YEAR, DID THE MEDIA MAKE TOO BIG OF A DEAL OUT OF THAT? "Well, anytime a multi-time champion doesn't win in a year, I think it's a big story. Jeff Gordon is an extremely gifted race car driver. He's won more races than Dale Earnhardt. When a guy like that doesn't win a race, that's a story. It's not something you just cover up. So, the attention that was paid to that is justified. The cause of that is always a great debate. You guys that go with us every week know my opinion on that. The thought that Jeff Gordon woke up one morning and forgot how to drive is ludicrous. And the thought the Jeff Gordon had a baby at home and so no longer was able to mash the accelerator is absurd. Jeff Gordon hasn't forgotten how to drive a race car. Being out there racing with Jeff Gordon, isn't that he was just riding around afraid to mash the gas or hit something, he just wasn't in the right situation. Dale Earnhardt has gone through that. Richard Petty went through that. Every body that has ever been successful in this sport hasn't been successful his entire career. That's just how it is. This is a tough sport. It's highly competitive. There are a lot of good teams and a lot of good drivers. If you can't bring you're A-game, you're not going to win. And that's what happened to those guys. They look at our year and we really put ourselves in position to probably win three races and we won two of them. That's a high percentage of capitalizing on opportunity. Typically if you only put yourself in position to win three or four races, you're not going to win them. We were fortunate to do that, so that's the kind of year that they had. They didn't put themselves in position enough. That's how you typically win races. If you look at Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch and all the big winners last year, they consistently put themselves in position to win races. And you're not going to win them all; you had a chance to. But the more times you put yourself in that position, they more you'll get. The No. 24 didn't put themselves in position enough."
-credit: gm racing