JEFF BURTON, NO. 31 AT&T IMPALA SS, AND DALE EARNHARDT, JR., NO. 88 AMP ENERGY/NATIONAL GUARD IMPALA SS, met with members of the media following cancellation of qualifying for the LifeLock 400 at Michigan International Speedway. Full transcript ...
JEFF BURTON, NO. 31 AT&T IMPALA SS, AND DALE EARNHARDT, JR., NO. 88 AMP ENERGY/NATIONAL GUARD IMPALA SS, met with members of the media following cancellation of qualifying for the LifeLock 400 at Michigan International Speedway. Full transcript follows:
JEFF BURTON, NO. 31 AT&T IMPALA SS, STARTS 2ND: HOW DID PRACTICE GO AND WHAT WILL BE YOUR FOCUS TOMORROW? "I thought we were pretty decent. We worked on race trim the first half or practice and I thought we were decent. We weren't great. We feel like we learned some stuff. A lot of times we unload more on a research project and not necessarily seeing how fast we could go and that was the case today. I think we have something to start on tomorrow, that hopefully will be pretty close. I actually feel pretty good about it."
WITH AS WIDE AS THIS TRACK IS, WILL BE IMPROVE THE RACING AND PUT ON A GOOD RACE ON SUNDAY? "I think the fact that we do have more grooves offers the opportunity to run different places and not get the aero push we always talked about. It will give us some options. Then as Junior (Dale Earnhardt, Jr.) said, running the top builds a lot of speed on the straightaway. Some people will be on the bottom, some people will be on the top and a lot of people will be in the middle. Finding a way to run where other people necessarily can't or most people can't, that is going to be important. We saw it last week at Pocono, we had one groove in turn three, unless somebody messed up, it was really hard to pass. You don't have that case here; here you have a lot of options to create some opportunity that some race tracks don't create."
YOUR MEDIA AVIALABILITY WAS BEFORE THE MEETING THIS MORING. WHAT WAS YOUR IMPRESSION? WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE MORE OPPORTUNITIES LIKE THAT FOR YOU GUYS TO MEET WITH NASCAR IN THAT MANNER? "Well, as I have said before, I think communication is important. I don't think drivers have any power, but we do hold that information that could be valuable to NASCAR. Of course, NASCAR holds a tremendous amount of information that can be valuable to us. A lot of times, we don't fully understand, we are complaining about something, but we don't fully understand how NASCAR got to where they are or for that matter, how the teams even got to where we are. Drivers today, including myself, are much more apart from the race team; apart from the mechanics of what a race car is all about and how we build race cars, than ever before because of engineering and because of the way things work. So I think that communication is really important. We at times complain about things and we think we are the only ones who understand it, when in fact, other people do understand it. There are also times that we see things that people don't understand. So I think it is a good idea to communicate and I think it is a good idea that we were able to listen to NASCAR. They can explain things to us and they need to listen to us and we can explain things to them too. Whether we need a formal setting to do that, I don't know. But I do believe that communication is the key to any business. I think our athletes can provide some insight that NASCAR could use to the fans benefit.
"I guess you could have heard in today's conversation, you could have heard whatever you wanted to hear. I believe a lot of people knew what they were going to hear when they went in there and that is what they heard. I bet if you asked every driver what they heard, they would probably say something different. What I heard, was 'Hey look, let's don't forget that things aren't all that bad and let's also don't forget we can make things better, let's work to find a way to make them better and let's communicate. Let's work hard to make things better.'
"You know it is a frustrating thing, because our perception, teams and drivers perception is that NASCAR gave us this car and we had little input in it and you know, that is true. But, it falls on us to make it work. So, when you have a tough day and things don't work or whatever, then you want to point the finger at them and say 'Well, it is their fault.' It is our job to just do it better than everybody else.
"I have told you guys to begin with that I don't care what we run. I don't care if it is the COT, whatever, I don't care. The only thing I know is that it is my job to drive it better than everybody else and it is my team's job to set it up better than everybody elses. That is what we do, it is our job. When we don't, we can't blame that on NASCAR because somebody wins the race. I think we lose focus on that and I do think that NASCAR has become the point of contention for everybody pointing their finger and saying it's their fault. When in fact, there are some issues we could help make better."
AS WELL AS YOU HAVE RUN THIS YEAR AND AS CLOSE AS YOU ARE TO THE POINTS LEAD, IS THERE A SENSE OF INDIGNATION OR WISHING THAT THE NO. 31 WOULD GET A LITTLE MORE RECOGNITION? "It is interesting at times to run third or fourth and get out and you are leading the points or are second in points and there is one person from the media and there are 40 at other cars. That is interesting. It doesn't concern me. We are here to win races and compete for the championship. To be quite honest, I don't have to have the media to do that. We don't feel like we are being short changes, we understand that there are some other teams that are a little more glamorous. There are some other drivers that are more glamorous and get more attention, but you know, I don't care. Doesn't matter to me. We are here to do a job. I think we have done our job really well up to this point. That is really all I care about. I don't get caught up in looking at how many times my name was mentioned or how many times I did an interview with the media. I think I have the respect of the media, I want to believe I do and I have a lot of respect for the media. I understand there are other drivers and teams for whatever reason, get more attention. I don't think that is done out of malice or anything, it is just the way it is. I don't have a problem with it. It is there but it doesn't bother me."
WAS THIS A MEETING MORE OF A REMINDER OF THE PARTNERSHIP THAT A DRIVER, THE SANCTIONING BODY AND THE WHOLE SPORT HAS WITH EACH OTHER OR WAS NASCAR ASKING ITS ATHLETES FOR MORE HELP AND SUPPORT? "I got both and I got more than that. I got a reminder that this sport is bigger than any one person. This proven to be over time bigger than any one person. We got a reminder that we are all in this together. We got a reminder that is we have got a problem there is a way to go about it. I don't think there is anything wrong with speaking to the media about the issues we are dealing with. I think that our fans deserve to know what we are dealing with. I think there is a way to do it that is constructive. I do believe that NASCAR has become...we all point our finger at NASCAR anytime something happens.
"I mean, how many times has a driver speeded on pit road and said "Yea, I did it.' (LAUGHS) They're the...I am raising two children. I have a 13 year-old and a seven year-old and every time I tell them to do something, they don't want to do it. Every time I tell them they did something wrong, they say they didn't do it wrong. It is the same. They (NASCAR) is our authority. They are the authority figure. When we question them all the time, because that is human nature I guess.
"I thought today's meeting was kind of a reminder of that we are all in this together. It was a reminder that if you have a problem, let's be constructive. It was reminder that don't think that anyone person is bigger than the sport. Mike (Helton) showed his openness and willingness to look at finding a way to always make things better.
"To be honest, I watch the races from my seat. I don't watch them from those seats (points to grandstands), ok. We have had some races this year that I didn't think were very good races. We have had some races this year that I thought were really good races. I betcha if we went back 15 years ago, we could say the same thing. I think what is going on today is because the car of tomorrow has received... the car of tomorrow was kind of thrust upon us, this is what you are going to run. It was all new, so anything that didn't work, we pointed the finger and said this is a piece of junk. This car does this, this car does that, this car does this. I think it has gotten to the point it hasn't been constructive. I hasn't produced better the car or for the racing. So, we are at a point where something needs to change. I think that NASCAR understands that and I think, not in the sense that the car needs a change, but the attitude about the car needs to change. The car doesn't drive as good as the old car. I mean, it doesn't. But, that doesn't make it wrong. It is different than the old car, that doesn't make it wrong.
"What matters is what is the quality of the race. I believe racing is like any other sport. If anybody thinks that every single race we are going to go out and have a three-wide battle for the lead on the last lap, you are mistaken. By the way, I watched the NBA finals the other night that was a blowout. It is sports. Sometimes people get on a role and they kick everybody's butt because they are going a better job.
"Listen, I led every lap of a 300 mile race in New Hampshire, I led every lap. That wasn't celebrated. It wasn't 'Wow, that was a history making deal, it was great, it was this, it was that', it was boring. The race was boring. The part about history being made and all of that, that meant nothing. The only thing that mattered was that nobody passed for the lead, so the race was boring. That the world we live in. Every race isn't going be what somebody thinks is a great race. Not everybody is going to think that every race is a great race. We have good races this year; we have had races that weren't so good. Then people talk about in the good ole days, just bring you some of those films out and we will show you the good ole days, I mean.
"We have as good of racing today as we have ever had, on average, that is my opinion. I may be wrong, but my view is that on average, we have as good of racing as we have ever had. And...this car is still an infant. Think about it, this is the first time we have had this car at Michigan. It is the first time. We are going to be better when we come back next time. We are going to be better with it when we come back the next year.
"I think the thing that the teams and the drivers have become frustrated about is that NASCAR hasn't been willing to change anything about the car. If you go back to six years ago, when they changed something every four months, that drove you nuts too.
"So, NASCAR is in kind of a tough spot. If they don't change anything they ridiculed, if they change stuff, they get ridiculed. They are in a touch spot. I respect that. I do believe that we could make the car a little better. That we can make it drive just a little bit better, it might produce better racing, that is my opinion. Although, I don't think the racing we have today is bad racing. That is the way I view it.
"I don't sit up there though (points to the grandstands). I don't have that perspective."
DALE EARNHARDT, JR., NO. 88 AMP ENERGY/NATIONAL GUARD IMPALA SS, STARTS 3RD: HOW WAS YOUR CAR IN PRACTICE? "We ran a little bit of race trim in practice this morning and I was real happy with my car. Really happy with the laps. The wind was blowing down the back straightaway, so I was a little bit tight in to three, but when I had the wind on my nose going in to one, the car was real good through that corner. We need to work on just getting the car to turn a little better getting in to the center, which I think we can do. But, we showed up really close. I was real happy with that."
WITH AS WIDE AS THIS TRACK IS, WILL BE IMPROVE THE RACING AND PUT ON A GOOD RACE ON SUNDAY? "I thought we had a great race at Richmond. This is a really really fun race track, I really enjoy running on it. I don't have a lot of great finishes on it, but I have enjoyed just about every lap I have run here. In race trim, and I saw most people running in race trim, we seemed to move the grove up really fast in practice today which normally doesn't happen until halfway through Saturday in practice. We are already moving it up. I was hoping that one of just a few guys running around the wall, but it looks like we might have half the field up there trying to use that momentum. I am going to try to work on getting my car to turn really really hard tomorrow and try to run in the middle of the race track. I am going to try to make that happen no matter what, cause from the middle part of the racing surface to the wall is going to be pretty busy on Sunday."
SO FAR THIS YEAR, YOU HAVE BEEN PRETTY MUCH THE TOP PERFORMING CAR AT HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS, BUT THERE HAVE BEEN SOME RUMORS SWIRLING ABOUT CHANGES BEING MADE. IN THE LIGHT THAT YOU ARE RUNNING SO WELL, DO YOU HAVE ANY COMMENTS ABOUT COMMENTS ABOUT RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN YOU AND TONY EURY, JR. IS ONE THAT MIGHT BE HOLDING THE TEAM BACK, BUT THE RESULTS CONTRADICT THAT. "It is hard to explain, really, but I know for sure that if didn't work for Tony, Jr., he could go somewhere and do great things with a different driver, maybe within the same company or a different company. I know that for sure. I know that Tony, Jr. can do great things with someone else for sure. He is a good crew chief. I don't know for sure whether I would be able to match the success I have now with someone else. But, what I do know is how good he is. Do we work perfectly together all the time? No, I don't think we do, I don't think anyone does. I am I happy with Tony, Jr.? Yes. Do I get more out of working with him being that we are family and more like brothers than I would with any other crew chief? Winning with him, eventually when that happens again, and having top-five and top-10 runs is way more satisfying for me personally than it would be with anyone else. Although, winning and running good is great, when you do it with people that you care for and care about and enjoy having involvement in it, it means a whole lot more. I think people jump to conclusions and have opinions and just really don't know the depth of the situation. But, as long as me and Tony, Jr. are cousins and as long as we are like brothers and fight like brothers, we will have to deal with the left side and right side of things. As long as I can keep it the way it is, I want to keep it like it is."
YOU HAVE STARTED DOING THIS THING ON YOUR WEBSITE WHERE YOU ARE WRITING TO THE FANS DIRECTLY, HOW IS THAT WORKING OUT FOR YOU? ARE YOU GETTING REACTION AND FEEDBACK? "I have had about the reaction you would anticipate. The fans that frequent the site, enjoy it. We were able to get it linked to Jayski, which has helped me out tremendously, a lot of people sort of use that site as a benchmark to get abreast of all the news that everyone is covering throughout the country on the sport. That was a big deal to me. It helps me give my side of the story toward those type of questions like we just had and sort of set it straight so that I don't have to answer it often.
"One of the tougher things that I am not sure is quite as necessary, is the top-12 weekly deal we do behind the haulers. I think it is good to give you guys information and keep everybody up to date, but I am not sure it is quite necessary weekly. There are a lot of things we don't cover that I would like to cover in those little jam sessions we do each week. "It (his website) is an opportunity for me to cover that ground. Doing one on one with certain people to give people a little more in depth in the relationship and the friendship and the working relationship to clarify the argument in a lot of people's minds whether me and Tony, Jr. should work together or whether I am enjoying my switch to Hendrick or anything. It just sort of give me an opportunity to have a stage to speak from, we have a pretty good stage as it is, but, there are a lot of times we don't cover a lot of the things in the few minutes we spend with you all behind the hauler and if we don't finish in the top-three every week to get in the media center. It is a good opportunity through the website."
-credit: gm racing