Daytona 500: Jeff Burton Media Day interview

JEFF BURTON, NO. 31 AT&T IMPALA SS met with the media and talked about improvements at RCR during the off-season, his fitness routine, restrictor plates, the importance of the Daytona 500, and more: ON THE IMPORTANCE OF DOING WELL ON 1.5 MILE...

JEFF BURTON, NO. 31 AT&T IMPALA SS met with the media and talked about improvements at RCR during the off-season, his fitness routine, restrictor plates, the importance of the Daytona 500, and more:

ON THE IMPORTANCE OF DOING WELL ON 1.5 MILE TRACKS: "I think that obviously when we start the season there are so many 1.5-mile race tracks it's really important to be successful on the 1.5-miles, so some people say the real season starts at California. I don't believe that. I think the real season starts Saturday in practice, but certainly with the way the points are paid and we have so many races on the 1.5 and two-mile tracks, if that part of your program isn't solid you don't have a chance of competing for the championship. So, it's a part of the program that we have worked exceptionally hard on and I hope we have done it well enough. The effort has been good, we'll just have to see how we stack up."

OVER THE WINTER WHAT HAS RCR DONE TO STEP UP AND NOT ONLY PUT YOU IN CONTENTION FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP, BUT TO WIN MORE RACES? "We were a step off, there's no getting around that. We look at the laps that we led and the times we put ourselves into position to win races and we didn't have the kind of year we had hoped to. We finished ahead in points of some people who actually performed better than we did when you only look at the stopwatch. We take pride in ourselves in being able to take advantage of situations that present themselves, but the key is to have cars that are fast enough and drivers that are fast enough so those good opportunities present themselves more often than not. So, we worked exceptionally hard on figuring the Car of Tomorrow out. We haven't worked on one type of race track, we just worked on the Car of Tomorrow. We worked on trying to figure out and learn as many things as we can about that car so that we can apply that throughout the whole year. We feel like for the most part we were a little bit off with the Car of Tomorrow, not off a lot but a little bit and our focus has been on making the cars drive better. We worked really hard again, as we did in '06, and looking at every part of our company, every department of our company how to do it better. How do we have better pit stops, how do we do a better job of engineering, how do the drivers do a better job, how do the crew chiefs communicate with each other better, we just looked at our whole program. We haven't tried to fix just one single thing, we tried to work on all of them and work on every department to make improvements which ultimately should lead to better results."

HAVE YOU STARTED TO SEE ANY TANGIBLE BENEFITS AS A RESULT OF THE COMBINED ENGINE DEAL WITH DEI? "Well I think those things are in the future. I believe that when we go to California and Vegas that we are going to see some results. I think we are going to see some results here. Time will tell. Any time you have a situation where that many things are changing, there are going to be some things that won't work as well as others. But for the most part I think we have made some improvements on the engine department and I think more improvements will come."

HOW DO YOU ASSESS YOUR CHANCES FOR THE DAYTONA 500? "I don't know. I honestly don't know. I can tell you that we came here and worked exceptionally hard at the test, everybody did. We did spend the last day and a half working exclusively on race setup. Any time there was a drafting pack out there we were out there with them. We feel like we learned a lot. I feel like I am much more prepared than I was. However, we really don't know what we have our hands on until we get out there with 42 other cars. It is very difficult to simulate race conditions without being in a race. So, we think we have a package that is going to allow me to do the things I want to with the car, but until we really get out there with everybody we are not real sure."

ON THE FACT THAT SEVERAL DRIVERS HAVE SAID THEY THINK THE DRAFT PACKS ARE GOING TO BE MUCH SMALLER THIS YEAR. "I think that's fair. I think that what we are going to see smaller packs until cautions come up and then we are going to see large packs of course. Then handling is going to come into play. It's going to look a lot like the Fourth of July race -- I think that is what it's going to look like. I think you are going to see the car that is the last car in line, have a difficult time keeping up. But some of that is based on information with 10 cars on the race track. When you get 42 out there that changes it quite a bit. So, I think this race is going to look a lot like the Fourth of July race."

ON CLINT BOWYER'S SUCCESS LAST YEAR AND HOW IT AFFECTED RCR OVERALL "We put three cars in the Chase, which was a good thing. Clint and the No.07 team were able to execute better than we were. If you look at top-fives and laps led and those kinds of things, we all three had very similar years. Clint and those guys toward the end of the year were performing a little better than the other two teams were. So we all fed off of that. That is what happens when you have multi-car teams and someone is typically doing better than the other ones. When you do that, then the other teams are trying to catch up a quickly as they can. And the team that is doing well is providing a lot of information to help, because one day it's going to turn around. You know, not any team is always the best team at any company and having that respect and that ability to compete off of each other is real important to the overall success."

HOW OFTEN DO YOU WORK OUT AS FAR AS PHYSICAL FITNESS? "Six days a week when I'm not Nationwide racing. And when I'm Nationwide racing, five days a week."

DO YOU HAVE YOUR OWN EQUIPMENT AT HOME OR DO YOU TO A GYM? "I have a gym at home but for the last two years I have worked out at the local YMCA. I've gotten to feel like one of the group there and they have more equipment than I do. My fitness coach enjoys being there, so that's where we go."

DO YOU DO CYCLING, JOGGING OR SWIMMING OR ALL THREE? "I don't swim, I swim like a rock. The fish see me coming and they are like, yeah! For cardio stuff I mostly do elliptical and treadmill stuff and then the way we lift is pretty cardio related too. But when I retire I'm going to do a triathlon. I've made my mind up about that. But right now I don't have the something for it, I don't know what that is -- the time."

DID YOU PLAY HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS? "I did. I played basketball and soccer."

HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO BE PHYSICALLY FIT TO DRIVE RACE CARS? "I think it becomes increasingly more important. I think there was a time when . . . it's different than it used to be. Years ago you had to be strong to do this. If you look at Cale Yarborough, you look at those guys, not that they were 6' 4", but they were hefty guys. The cars were different then than they are today. Today it's more about because the competition is so much greater. Fitness has become an issue because the small things mean so much more. If you're off just a little bit it's a bigger cost because there are so many teams that are good today. So I think it's actually in some ways physically easier to drive the car than it used to be, but the cost for making a mistake is bigger than it used to be."

LOOKING AHEAD AT THE DAYTONA 500, IS THERE ONE PARTICULAR THING YOU ARE MOST CONCERNED ABOUT THIS YEAR? "Handling. Getting the cars to drive well and making sure your car drives good in comparison to the guys you are racing against. That's our primary focus -- is how the car drives and handles in all kinds of situations. The guys that typically win the Daytona 500 are the guys that can put their car anywhere it needed to be any time they needed to be there. I believe that is going to be harder to do this year than it's been so that becomes my primary focus."

AND THIS TRANSLATES TO ALL THE TRACKS INCLUDING THE 1.5-MILE AND ONE-MILE TRACKS? "What we've seen with the Car of Tomorrow is that it seems that the car drives better on the big tracks than it does on the little tracks. All of us tested at Vegas, and everybody left Vegas saying these cars drive good and went to California and went uh-oh because Vegas has so much grip, it's a high-grip race track that the COT drove really well and when we went to California and the track got slick it became more of a challenge. So success in this sport, as long as I have been involved in it, is there is one part of the race track you have to be good in and that's the corner. You can give up straightaway speed but you can't give up corner speed. Obviously the best teams can do both, but the car and the people that can make the cars drive best and stay consistent the longest, are the ones that are going to have the most success."

WHAT'S IT LIKE TO DRIVE ON THE EDGE AROUND A TRACK LIKE DAYTONA? "When you are by yourself, Daytona doesn't give the sense of being on the edge at all. When the rubber meets the road is when there are 42 other guys out there and there's a hole that you need to fill and you're driving into Turn 3 and you are going quicker than you were and trying to get that car into that spot and stay in your lane. That's when it gets hard. That's when you make a mistake. The price for that is huge because there is a bunch of them behind you and they're coming with nowhere to go. It's really not in a sense, like at a 1.5-mile track or three-quarter mile track where you're always on the edge every lap. Here you are on the edge in certain situations. The problem is in those situations when something goes bad the cost is high. So that is the best way I know to describe it."

SOME PEOPLE SAY YOU CAN ONLY HAVE REAL RACING ON SMALL TRACKS. HOW DOES THAT COMPARE TO RACING ON A SUPERSPEEDWAY LIKE DAYTONA? "We all grew up racing on small tracks, dirt tracks whatever it happened to be. Racing go-karts, quarter midgets whatever and that's much more closer related to racing at Richmond than Daytona is. When Daytona gets going and the track starts to slicken up and the car is starting to not handle well, it's a handful. It's not an easy thing to do. It is a different kind of racing than racing in Charlotte or racing at Richmond but it's not that it's not real racing. But it is different racing."

ON THE AERO PUSH IN THE DRAFT WITH THE NEW RACE CAR "I didn't experience that to be any greater than what we've had to be honest. I think that there are some differences from the old car. There is no question. I didn't experience that being greater than what we have had in the past."

DALE JARRETT HAS SIX MORE CUP RACES LEFT BEFORE RETIRING. HAS HE INFLUENCED YOUR CAREER AT ALL? "Dale is one of those guys that reminds me of a little bit of Eli Manning. Dale's father obviously had the success he had in our sport; championships, and did those things fairly quickly. It took Dale a little bit longer to have that success. I know that Dale could hear those whispers and I know that people were questioning him. When you look back on it he has won over 30 races, I believe that's correct, and he's won a championship. He's a survivor; he's a guy that has talent. He's a guy that did a lot of work to try to produce and provide the right image for NASCAR as well as the sponsors and his team and I have a lot of respect for him. He's a Carolina fan and I give him a buy on that. But in my opinion he's done it the right way. He's a guy that races hard, races clean and I think the sport is better for having him here than it would have without him."

HOW DO YOU THINK PEOPLE HAVE LOOKED AT HIS LAST COUPLE OF YEARS AND THE MOVE TO MWR? "I think that obviously they were extremely disappointed last year with the way things went. I think the fans are smart enough to understand that most of the Toyota teams struggled and it wasn't just DJ's team. I think the fans will respect that and appreciate that."

DO YOU THINK THAT THERE ARE GOING TO BE ANY KIND OF PENALTIES THIS YEAR LIKE THE ONES HANDED OUT LAST YEAR? "Oh yeah. I think we'll see less of them, but I think we'll see them. I think people are keener to the way the rules are going to be enforced to how strict the enforcement of the templates is. NASCAR made it really clear to everyone last year that this is how we are going to do it, no if ands or buts. It was different than the way we were doing it but this is how we are going to do it and I think that people learn from that and we'll see less of that. But anytime you have a machine with this many parts and pieces on it and each and every one of them produces an opportunity to have an advantage over your competition we're going to be working. And sometimes we push a little harder than we should. We'll still see penalties, but I don't think we'll see any many as we have seen."

ARE THE TOYOTAS GOING TO BE A MAJOR FORCE THIS YEAR? "I think so. All the focus on Toyota has been with adding Gibbs, but I believe the other teams are stronger too. You know Toyota came in and increased the car count, made it tougher for everybody including themselves. Every team has had to respond to that and every team has had to be stronger to that. If you look back on it, I'm not sure there was a Toyota team at any point that was really locked into the races so they had to pretty much earn their way in every week. I think that we will see some of those teams reverse that course this year. Now we know there's three locked in and that alone is going to make them much more of a threat and their teams are stronger and will be more difficult to deal with."

ON THE 20th ANNIVERSARY OF THE RESTRICTOR PLATE AND ITS IMPACT AT DAYTONA AND TALLADEGA. "I certainly think it has changed the way that the races happen here and at Talladega. I think it's changed the perception of what a good race is at Daytona and Talladega. Not for the better by the way. I'm not sure there is a way around it. I think that we have to keep the cars speed down. We can't run 240mph -- there's nothing good about that. You can do it a lot of different ways. You can put smaller engines in the cars, you can do a lot different things but at the end of the day there has to be something that slows the cars down. It's created a perception that normal racing is three-wide for 500 miles rather than that being extraordinary. It's changed a fan's perspective of what a race at Daytona and Talladega should be and I don't think that's been a good thing. I think the fans have an expectation of something that the restrictor plates created and when they don't get that they think it's ordinary to run three-wide for 500 miles when in fact it is not ordinary."

DO YOU THINK THE INFLUX OF OPEN-WHEEL GUYS IS EVENTUALLY GOING TO BE A GOOD THING FOR NASCAR? "I think it is important to have drivers from around the world that have a lot of different skill sets that bring energy to the sport. I do believe, without trying to sound bias or whatever you want to say, that the American fan wants to see Americans have success. There is nothing wrong with saying that because I think that is what we have seen with the motorsports fan. I think that one of the things you hear from IRL fans and CART fans, or Champ or whatever it's called now, is that there is not an American driver to pull for. So I think most American fans like to see Americans have success and we have to understand that. This sport is an open sport to anyone that has an opportunity and has proven that they can drive. They have as much right to be here than anybody."

HOW IMPORTANT ARE THE ACTIVITIES THIS WEEKEND LEADING INTO THE DAYTONA 500? "I think it is important for the guys in the Shootout. I think that they are going to learn something. They are going to be smarter than they were before the race. For the rest of us it has pretty much very little impact on the 500. Saturday night's race is a great learning opportunity."

ON THE IMPORTANCE OF WINNING THE DAYTONA 500 "Any time you are involved in something you want to be remembered as being really good at it. You want to win the big events and the Daytona 500 is obviously a big event. To be able to win the 500 puts you in a league, a fraternity that's a unique fraternity. It doesn't make a career -- to say that I've won the Daytona 500 that doesn't make a career. But it certainly enhances it and makes it better in retrospect. If you said to me you have to give back two trophies to get one Daytona 500, I wouldn't do it. I think the Daytona 500 is the biggest race of the year. I think it's extremely prestigious and I it's the race that everybody wants to win because of what it is. But

I don't think you can just stand there and say hey I've won the Daytona 500. That's not enough."

WHAT'S YOUR MOST MEMORABLE DAYTONA 500? "As a participant, my first one. The one I remember the most as a fan, was the one that Cale Yarborough and the Allisons fought. That was a pretty unforgettable day."

-credit: gm racing

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Cale Yarborough