Jeff Burton, driver of the No. 99 CITGO Taurus, is a two-time winner at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series capturing back-to-back victories in 1999 and 2000. Burton, who finished 11th at Daytona and 12th at Rockingham, held...
Jeff Burton, driver of the No. 99 CITGO Taurus, is a two-time winner at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series capturing back-to-back victories in 1999 and 2000. Burton, who finished 11th at Daytona and 12th at Rockingham, held a Q&A session in the infield media center prior to Saturday's practice sessions.
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WHERE ARE YOU IN THE PROCESS OF REGAINING THE RESPECT YOU DESERVE? "I didn't say I deserved it. You said that, I didn't. I'll tell you after every race where we are. People respect you and your team because of results. I mean, that's what we do. We're sports and when you're winning and running well, they respect what you're doing and if you're not, they don't. So where we are is I'm sure people are looking at us in the same way we're looking at ourselves saying, 'Where is the 99? Have they made improvements on their team? Are they gonna run better this year?' It's so early in the year that I don't think anybody knows where they are right now. I feel like I have personal respect in the garage, but I want professional respect also. We've got to earn that. They don't just give it to you because you've got to earn it."
IT DIDN'T APPEAR YOUR BUSCH SUCCESS TRANSFERRED TO CUP SUCCESS. "I'm trying really hard to understand what the Busch Series means to Winston Cup success. A driver said last year, 'If you wanted to find the hottest prospect for Winston Cup racing, you find the Busch driver that hasn't won any races, that's 15th in points, and wrecks every week.' That's who you want to get. So what does Busch racing mean? I don't know. It's really odd. I've had people tell me, people that I really respect, say that if you run the Busch Series it's really gonna help your Winston Cup program. I've had people tell me the reason you run good in a Busch car and not a Cup car is you're more tuned to a Busch car. Don't forget, three years ago I won five races in a Cup car and won one in a Busch car. So I don't know what it means. I'll be perfectly honest, I think a lot is made about the Busch program helping the Cup program. Some of that is unwarranted and some of that is very warranted. I know that if I'm running a race car and I'm driving, that helps me. I'm certain of that. How much of the technology we can take from one to the other, I don't know because the cars are quite a bit different. You do drive them different. I can't drive my Cup car the way I can drive my Busch car. I can drive my Busch car sideways. People come to me after the Busch race and say, 'Damn, you drive the hell out of that thing.' That car, I can do that with, but you can't do that with a Cup car. It's a different driving style. But what I think it does is when your car isn't handling well in the Cup car, you've had more experience to know how to drive a Cup car when it's not handling well. But we certainly had a great Busch year, a less-than-great Cup year. I thought there was a little bit of resistance to try some of the things we were learning on the Busch car over to the Cup car, but only a little bit. Then when we did try some things, a lot of it didn't work. So I don't know. Brad Parrott sat on a pole and won the race here in the Busch car last year and they qualified 20th last night, so it isn't always the same by any means. And it isn't that Dale Jarrett can't drive a Winston Cup car, but he could drive a Busch car. It isn't always the same. That technology doesn't always lay over."
BUT IT SEEMS LIKE AN ANAMOLY THAT YOU AND BOBBY LABONTE COULD STRUGGLE SO BAD. "I'm with you. Bobby Labonte and I have had this same conversation more times than I can tell you about. The only thing I can tell you is it's not just Bobby Labonte and Jeff Burton. If you look at the guys that were the drivers that got in there and made decisions on how they were gonna set up their race cars, got in there and made decisions on how they were gonna hang the bodies, how they were gonna build their race cars. If you look at those people, it's Rusty Wallace, it's Mark Martin, it's Bobby Labonte, it's myself. Well, none of those guys really had good years the last couple of years. I know Mark finished second in points, but he won one race and he didn't lead as many laps as Matt and Kurt. He wasn't as good as those other teams. They managed their year better and finished higher in points, but all of those guys - Rusty didn't win, Bobby Labonte won Martinsville, I didn't win, Mark won one race. Times have changed and I don't think that we as that group of drivers that have been instrumental in making decisions for their teams can keep up with all the technology and also drive the car. You can't make the right decision anymore as a driver that wants to set up the race car. You can't do it anymore. It's too much information, there's too much engineering support. The driver that is ignorant to the things that we have learned through years of experience by setting our race cars up and building our race cars and telling them how to build bodies, that guy has an advantage now because he's willing to turn it over to people that have studied it, paid attention to it and that's the only thing they've thought about 24/7. I think we have disadvantaged ourselves in today's environment by being like that. Now, if you made a rule where you said you couldn't have engineers, you can't go to the wind tunnel, you can't test, then we're gonna come back in full force. But that's not the way it's going and that's not the way it's gonna go, so I think that we have to change the way we're doing things. I think that's why you've seen a lack of success in that group of drivers. It's not just me, it's not just Bobby Labonte, it's not just Rusty Wallace, it's all of us. The drivers that are willing to turn it over to other people, they seem to be having more success."
WHAT DOES KURT DO SO WELL? "What will happen is if he stops running well, people are gonna say he's scared, he's scared he's gonna get hurt, he's made more money and doesn't care about it anymore. That's what happens. It isn't that he can't do it anymore. Trust me, that's what I heard. The thing about Kurt is that he is a very naturally talented race car driver, but he's not the only one out here. There are a lot of naturally-talented race car drivers. One of the most talented drivers in the garage is my brother. He's just naturally fast. Mark Martin is naturally fast. Ryan Newman, there are people that are just fast. Putting that with the right team and the right group of people and the right technology makes success. Michael Schumacher would not be winning F-1 races if he was driving for BAR. You've got to have the stuff and you've got to be able to do it. There are people that can do it every bit as good as Kurt that aren't doing it today and there are people that are less talented than Kurt that are having the same success. It's about environment and it's about chemistry. You can do with better support and a better group of people and good chemistry, you can do with less talent in any one area and still have success in this sport, if you get everything working together. So what Kurt's got is he's got a lot of talent, he's got a great crew chief, they're making the right decisions, they're doing everything right. They're not doing just one thing right and that's when you have success and you have success for an extended period of time. This isn't just going to go away this week. If they quit running well, it will be a slow progression to running not as well. It won't just turn off, I can assure you."
WHEN YOU TALK ABOUT KNOWLEDGE, IS IT LIKE SOMEONE WHO READS A BOOK ON PLUMBING AND THEN THINKS HE KNOWS HOW TO FIX THE PIPES? "In some sense that's a good comparison, but the other side of it is that the knowledge we have is not from reading a book and saying I know everything about it, it's from truly believing we understand what we do based on experience and based on success of using that information. You take Rusty Wallace. He hauls ass at Bristol. He goes to Bristol once and gets outrun, he says, 'Oh, we just missed something.' He goes to Bristol twice and gets outrun and he says, 'Well, we just need to go test there. I know we know what we're doing.' He goes to Bristol three times and gets outrun, then he's like, 'Maybe something is going on.' It takes that long to wake up and say, 'They're just doing it better.' I think people appreciate the things that go on around a Winston Cup driver and the amount of things that he has to do, but I don't think they understand it. So when you get all the things that you have to do as a driver and then you put on top of that just the driving part, and then you try to add onto that four hours a day talking to engineers, two hours a day sitting down with the shock guy working on shocks, we've got to spend two hours a day working on how to build chassis that are lighter and flex less. At the end of the day, you've spent 29 hours and you don't have it, so the driver can't make those decisions anymore. The driver can still help make decisions at the race track. We are the computer at the race track and that's where the driver's feel comes in and knowing what he's looking for in a car, but the drivers that are making the calls - and the way I've done it in the past is to say we need to hang this body like this, we need to do this, we need to build the fenders like that - those guys just aren't having success right now. It's not from false belief in your knowledge. The knowledge that you've proved works. It works. I've won here. You can't tell me that it doesn't work because I saw it work. It takes two or three times of getting your ass beat pretty good before you really say, 'God, that just doesn't work anymore.'"
HOW QUICKLY DO THINGS CHANGE? "I can tell you this, if we ran a setup tomorrow like we ran here three years ago that won the race here, we would run so bad. It would be terrible. My Busch car yesterday in practice was just wicked fast. We might run terrible today, I have no idea, but yesterday it was just wicked fast. We were wicked fast here in the spring of last year. It's been a year. The four springs are different, the four shocks are different, the swaybar is different, the body is different, the chassis is different. Everything is different. We came here and tested. They had the car that we won with last year and that car was four-tenths slower than what we built for this year. So you have got to understand. The hardest thing that we do when you're having success is when do you hold on to what works and when do you let go. That's the hardest thing. If you would have told me that we could build a car that's four-tenths quicker than last year's car, I would have told you that you were crazy - no way. But I saw it and watched it with my own eyes. I didn't actually do the test. Stanton Barrett did the test. New car, old car, four-tenths. And the old car won races, but four-tenths. That's how quick things change and that's how hard it is to let go of something. That's where I think I've struggled and that's why we made our changes within the team. We had to get new looks, new ideas, someone else had to run the deal. I hope we see results on it. I feel like we're gonna see results. We'll have to see. Time will tell."