Jeff Burton, driver of the No. 99 Citgo SUPERGARD Taurus, held a question and answer session in the Daytona International Speedway infield media center prior to Wednesday's test. He spoke about last season and his hopes for 2002. JEFF BURTON ...
Jeff Burton, driver of the No. 99 Citgo SUPERGARD Taurus, held a question and answer session in the Daytona International Speedway infield media center prior to Wednesday's test. He spoke about last season and his hopes for 2002.
JEFF BURTON --99-- Citgo SUPERGARD Taurus
YOU'RE TAKING A DIFFERENT APPROACH TO THIS YEAR AS FAR AS YOUR TESTING SCHEDULE. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THAT? "Historically we've tested more in the second half of the year than we have the first half. We've built a tremendous amount of momentum from the halfway point of last year coming into this year, so, in an effort to not let go of that, we're gonna go do some testing early in the year. We want to try to improve on the lessons we learned last year, plus we have some tracks early in the year that, historically, we run very well on. We want to go to those tracks and test because we feel really good about those tracks and we want to be able to take stuff that we know works at tracks that we really know well and try to apply that to some tracks that we've struggled on. So, with the Busch schedule and the Winston Cup schedule, there are 14 tests scheduled that are written on the schedule and then there are an additional 10 tests that we're gonna do at race tracks where we don't race in Winston Cup. We're gonna be testing just about every other week in 2002. It's gonna be a grueling schedule. I can't tell you I'm looking forward to it. Testing is harder than racing. When we go to Vegas to test or Martinsville to test or wherever we go to test, we will run more laps in practice than we will in the race. For a driver, it doesn't matter that it's not a race because it's the same thing. Physically, it's gonna be a hard year. I'm not looking forward to that part of it, but I'm trying to get myself in shape for it because it's what we need to do. We've got to do better than what we've done in the past. We've never tested the Busch car more than three times in any one year and I've got 10 tests scheduled with it right now, so we're really gonna get aggressive this year and try to stop our downward spiral."
CAN YOU CARRY THAT MOMENTUM FROM THE END OF LAST SEASON TO THIS YEAR? "It's easy to forget the good and the bad. It seems like it's been a long time since the last race, even though it hasn't been. The longer you're in the sport, the more you realize that different years are really just a continuation of racing, it's just a different point-paying year. When the year ends, it's kind of like you exhale and then you start getting ready for the next year. But, really, you're getting ready for the next year based on what you did from the year before, so it's applying all the things you learned from the year before. When I go back and look at the races we ran last year, what immediately comes to mind is that nobody knows what we're gonna do at Daytona because these are new rules. We ran terribly at Rockingham in the fall, which really, really surprised me. At Vegas, I spun the car out on the third lap. At Atlanta, we ran pretty decent in the fall, so the first four races we're not really sure what we've got. Even though we did build a lot of momentum last year, when I look at the first four races, it wasn't in those kind of races. We're very anxious to get the year going and see what's gonna happen. I'm not a big believer in being able to carry a tremendous amount of momentum from one year to the other because I've experienced having a lot of momentum and feeling like you're on top of the world and then getting knocked on your butt. It's really just a matter of how well you do in 2002 by learning and applying the things that you did from 2001."
WOULDN'T IT BE NICE NOT TO HAVE TO DIG YOURSELF OUT OF A HOLE? "Of course. The goal is to start in the top 10 in points and try to keep it there. That's certainly the goal, but I don't know what the year holds. I know that we've worked really hard and we're gonna do a lot of testing. I believe we're as prepared as we've ever been. I say that every year, but everybody has worked all winter long to make their teams better. Some people have succeeded and some people haven't, and we have to make sure we're one of the teams that has succeeded."
WHAT AREA HAVE YOU WORKED ON MOST? "The biggest area we've worked in is just speed. We've got to go faster than we did last year. We didn't lead enough laps last year. We probably won enough races. I mean, you always want to win more races, but in the year we had last year with so many different winners, winning two races was very respectable. Some great teams only won one and some great teams didn't win any. We were able to win two, so that was certainly acceptable. Maybe one more would have put us over the top there, but we didn't lead enough laps. To win races, you lose a lot of races. Last year, when we had opportunities to win races, we won half of the opportunities that we had. What that means is that we only really had about four opportunities to win and that's not good enough. We've got to put ourselves in position to possibly win 15 or 16 races. When you start doing that, then you can win five or six races. We did a great job last year of finishing off things. There weren't many opportunities last year that presented themselves to us late in the race where we fumbled. We did a nice job of that last year, the problem was we didn't put ourselves in position enough."
THERE WERE SO MANY DIFFERENT WINNERS LAST YEAR. CAN ANYONE DOMINATE AND WIN 10-12 RACES? "Well, everytime somebody says that in whatever sport or anything in the world, it turns around and happens so I'm not gonna say it's never gonna happen. What I think has happened is that the multi-car teams have raised the level of competition. Everybody feared the multi-car teams were gonna hurt racing. If you like different winners and if you like a lot of different people having a chance to win, multi-car teams have been incredible because they've given the opportunity for more drivers to compete for the win and I don't see that trend stopping. Every team, every year either rebuilds or reloads and coming to the next year they've improved their team, so competition changes every year. I don't know that we'll see that many winners again in the near future, but I also don't know that we'll see a case where two guys both go in and win a majority of the races by a lot. Even last year, Gordon didn't dominate the year. What happened was that other people took themselves out of it. Dale Jarrett didn't have the typical Dale Jarrett year. We didn't have a typical year. Bobby Labonte didn't have a typical year. A lot of people didn't execute and they did, so it made it look like he dominated, but he dominated more because they did a good job and other people did a poor job."
SO WHAT'S YOUR PHILOSOPHY FOR THIS YEAR? "Here's the way I look at the year. I'm not even real sure what the race is after Atlanta. I think it's Darlington, but we look at it as going and doing the best we can at whatever race we're at. You win championships and contend for points by paying attention to the races that you're running, so when we come to Daytona -- through practice and qualifying and all those things, we'll evaluate what kind of car we have and try to improve that for the race. During the race we'll do that same thing and try to get all we can out of each and every race. That's how I do it. I don't look at building a plan for the upcoming year. I do think it's important for a team to understand how hard it is. I went into 2001 with not enough respect for how hard it was gonna be. From the three or four years before, I was used to qualifying 29th and just driving up through the field and it was harder to do that last year. It was harder just to drive up through the field, not only because we weren't running well, but because a lot of other people were running better. I'd get to people that historically I would just blow by and I couldn't pass them. It drove me nuts. It's got to drive you nuts. You can't ever get like, 'Okay, I'm not supposed to pass that guy.' You're always supposed to feel like you're supposed to pass everybody, but you also need to understand that people have made their teams better and it's gonna be harder every year to succeed than it was the year before."