Phoenix II: Burton - Friday media visit

JEFF BURTON, NO. 31 AT&T IMPALA SS met with media and discussed racing at Phoenix, the election, the Lucky Dog rule, and more. ON RACING AT PHOENIX "First of all, good morning. We're optimistic about this weekend. We did not run as well here in...

JEFF BURTON, NO. 31 AT&T IMPALA SS met with media and discussed racing at Phoenix, the election, the Lucky Dog rule, and more.

ON RACING AT PHOENIX "First of all, good morning. We're optimistic about this weekend. We did not run as well here in the spring as we needed to run and we kind of struggle here to be quite honest. The other two (RCR) teams have performed at a pretty high level, but we haven't been able to do that. So the way we ran at Richmond and the way we ran at New Hampshire, I think we ran much better than we've been running on these kind of race tracks. Because of that, I'm really optimistic about what I think we can make happen this weekend."

OBVIOUSLY YOU'RE RACING FOR WINS AT THIS POINT. HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO FINISH AS HIGH UP IN THE POINTS AS POSSIBLE? "I think it's a big deal. Anytime you're competing you want to finish as high as possible, whether you're racing for points or for a particular race. There's a tremendous amount of money involved, which helps the team to be able to do the things it needs to do to be the best they can possibly be. There's a tremendous amount of pride involved. Finishing second is a lot better than finishing fifth. And finishing fifth is a lot better than finishing ninth. Definitely the better you can finish, the better chance. Again, it would be hard for us to win a championship right now, but you never know what can happen. And the guys in front of us could get in wrecks the next two weeks; anything can happen.

"So until we're done, we're not done. And I know it doesn't look very good for us right now, but you just never know what can happen. But we need to be as close as possible in case the unthinkable does happen."

IN CASE THE UNTHINKABLE DOESN'T HAPPEN AND JIMMIE JOHNSON WINS THREE CONSECUTIVE CHAMPIONSHIPS, WHERE DO YOU THINK THAT PLACES HIM IN HISTORY? "I don't know. Jimmie and his team have done a remarkably good job. Jimmie has been the most successfully consistent driver over the past three years, and really maybe even beyond. To win three in a row is huge. It's only been done once before and that speaks to itself on how hard it is. I don't think today's drivers are good at ranking today's drivers. I think that yesterday's drivers are better at ranking today's drivers.

"And we'll be better when we're retired. I think we can look at it from a different perspective. It's hard to rank people that you're competing against, but I certainly have the utmost respect for what they've been able to do and where it puts them, I don't know, but certainly pretty high up there."

ON THE ELECTION "I've been watching for a long time to figure out what this country was going to do. I think it's an exciting time for our country. I think there are a lot of people that are nervous, a lot of people that are excited. And it would be that way no matter who won. To me, it's cool that in some ways I'm really excited and looking forward to what could happen in the future, and in other ways I'm really nervous about it. There are a lot of good things that I see there and there are a lot of things that concern me. I don't know. Time will tell and we'll look back on it and determine what happened here, but I think for our country, and even for the world, it's a remarkable thing for a young guy like that with little experience to be elected president, and of course the first African American to be elected president. That's some special stuff. That's real special stuff."

LOOKING TOWARD TO 2009, WHERE DOES YOUR PROGRAM NEED TO IMPROVE TO BE CLOSER TO WHERE CARL EDWARDS AND JIMMIE JOHNSON ARE? "The thing that they've been able to do, and we've had a lot of conversations about this at RCR, is that it seems like when they come to the track, they're just a little closer. Consistently, if you look at the speed charts on Fridays and on Saturdays, particularly on Saturdays, those two teams are always in the top four speeds. They've just been able to consistently bring speed no matter what type of race track or weather, they've been able to bring the speed. As you guys all know, this thing begins and ends with speed. So that's the thing we're working on is trying to figure out when we run really well at Charlotte, what do we need to do that's the same or what do we need to do that's different when we go to Atlanta. We won Charlotte. You can make the case that we didn't have the fastest car, but we certainly had one of the three fastest cars. I think that's safe to say. And we did pass for the lead. I know we won on because we didn't put tires on, but we pitted with the lead because we passed the leader and we came out with the lead because of strategy. So we had a fast car, but we took that same car, same driver, same team to Atlanta and got lapped. So those are the things that we've got to find a way to figure out. That's what our focus is on."

AT TEXAS LAST WEEK YOUR NAME CAME UP AS SOMEBODY WHO COULD POSSIBLY RUN NASCAR. LET'S SAY 10 YEARS FROM NOW, WHERE DO YOU SEE YOURSELF AND HAVE YOU SPOKEN TO RICHARD CHILDRESS ABOUT WHAT HE'LL DO WHEN HE RETIRES? "We have plenty of people, well, not plenty of people, but we have people running NASCAR that need to be running NASCAR and I don't see my name on that list (laughs). They work way to hard for me. But I have an interest in this sport and I want to be involved in this sport, for sure. What that is, I don't know. I think I have six or eight years of driving left. I am seriously, honestly not even looking at what I'm going to do six years from now. I know I've said something about politics but I could do that when I'm 70. I'm not thinking about it; I don't even want to think about it. I just want to pay attention to this."

ON THE LUCKY DOG RULE "I think it's important to note why we have the Lucky Dog rule. We've got to go back and remember why we have it. When the caution comes out, we lock the field. No more passing. That took away the opportunity to race the leader back to get your lap back. That was the beginning of the Lucky Dog rule. The Lucky Dog rule has some other advantages that are competition advantages, keeping more cars on the lead lap. And listen, in the last two weeks, I've used the Lucky Dog. So I can't complain a whole lot. But in some ways, it's very frustrating because you do put a lot of people down. And then late in the race you start getting a lot of cautions and you get a lot of people back on the lead lap and in some ways that's frustrating. But I think it's real important for us to remember why we have the Lucky Dog rule. Over time, we sometimes forget why we have this rule. We have the rule because it took away the opportunity for you to race the leader through a wreck to beat him to the start/finish line to get your lap back. It took away that opportunity, so it's real important to remember that's why we have the Lucky Dog rule."

WHAT WAS THE MORE SIGNIFICANT ASPECT OF LAST WEEK (AT TEXAS), CARL EDWARDS WINNING OR JIMMIE JOHNSON PULLING OUT A DECENT TOP 15 FINISH? "I'll tell you in two weeks. If Jimmie Johnson finishes in the top five in the next two weeks, it's of no consequence. Well that's not true. It makes top 15 more important, that's correct. If Carl Edwards finds a way to win the championship by a narrow amount, then it would be Carl Edwards winning the race. So it's hard to tell just yet until we have all the facts."

LAST WEEKEND, A F-1 CHAMPIONSHIP CAME DOWN TO THE LAST TURN ON THE LAST LAP OF THE LAST RACE WITHOUT A PLAYOFF OR A CHASE, AND A BLACK MAN WON IT WITHOUT A DIVERSITY PROGRAM. WHY WON'T THAT WORK IN NASCAR? "It will, but not every year. Not every year is going to have a championship that goes down to the last lap and last corner. Some years will and some years won't. This year the World Series was won in five games, I believe. It didn't take seven (games). Last year's Super Bowl was a compelling Super Bowl. There have been many of them when I went to sleep halfway through the game. It can happen here and it will happen here, but it's not going to happen every year.

"The diversity thing, to me, I don't understand everything I need to understand about it. This is what I know beyond a shadow of a doubt. I know the more young people that we can get in Motorsports, no matter what race or gender, the more young people we can get into Motorsports, the more opportunity we have to have more diverse drivers. I saw a race when I was seven years old. I bet you that almost everybody that comes in here this morning (media center) started racing when they were five, six, seven, eight, or nine years old. We can't take a minority driver at (age) 17 and say hey, let's put him in a Cup car. It doesn't work. He's 10 years too late. We've got to find a way to bring this sport to all young people. That's where it starts. How we do that, I don't know. I do not know.

"I know for a fact that this sport is open to all people. How we extend the arm to bring in more young people and involve them in Go-Karts and Quarter Midgets and motorcycle racing, I don't know. But that's the beginning of fixing the problem. We can't fix the problem with an 18 year old. We've got to fix the problem with a five year old."

IF YOU HAD TO PICK THE DRIVER OF THE YEAR RIGHT NOW, WITH TWO RACES TO GO, WHO WOULD BE YOUR CHOICE? "Kyle Busch would be my choice."

WHY? "When you say 'driver', I look at a broader scope and what he's done in all three series. Ultimately I just think Kyle has done a remarkable job this year even though he's not going to win a championship. He walked into a new situation; a situation that hadn't really had success for a while and immediately that car started winning and running in the front. And everything he's sat in this year has run fast, so to me, that would be who I would award it to."

HOW DO YOU CHANGE YOUR MINDSET WHEN YOU'RE NOT IN IT ANYMORE? BECAUSE THE CHAMPIONSHIP IS SO TIGHT, THE TOP FOUR GUYS REALLY CAN'T DO ANYTHING FOR NEXT YEAR "I think we can be doing stuff for next year. I think that first of all, what makes you better next week is being good this week. This thing just builds on itself. We have to maybe work a little bit harder. I don't think we're in the position where we can't be making ourselves better for next year. When you decide that you can't win the championship, what happens to people? I don't know.

"For me, I take a lot of pride in finishing as high as we can. We aren't' out of it right now, although I understand it doesn't look very good for us. But my mindset is that you never know what can happen. That's what's woken me up the last three weeks and I hope that wakes me up next week too. That's all you can do."

SO FAR THIS SEASON, THERE HAVE BEEN 12 DIFFERENT WINNERS, WHICH IS THE FEWEST NUMBER SINCE 1999. HAS THE IDEA THAT 15 OR 20 GUYS COULD WIN ON ANY GIVEN WEEKEND BECOME A FALLACY? "Although that's probably not going to happen this year, I think it's much more likely to happen next year. I think it's important to note that with the Car of Tomorrow, there is a dynamic that's been going on the last 18 months of learning the car and understanding how to use the car. When you figure that out, you have a distinct advantage, as always, in Motorsports. But I think the longer we have the car, more people are going to have opportunity to be successful. Short term, my fear of the Car of Tomorrow is actually less competition because anytime you do something new, some people hit it and some people don't.

"Long-term though, I think the Car of Tomorrow has the potential to created even more opportunity for more people to win. So I think that's what we're seeing and why that number is lower, is I just think it's a component of the Car of Tomorrow although I do believe long-term, the Car of Tomorrow will present more opportunity for more people to win."

-credit: gm racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Jimmie Johnson , Carl Edwards , Kyle Busch