This Week in Ford Racing November 4, 2003 NASCAR Winston Cup Jeff Burton, driver of the No. 99 CITGO Taurus, goes into this weekend's Pop Secret Microwave Popcorn 400 at North Carolina Speedway in 13th-place in the NASCAR Winston Cup point ...
This Week in Ford Racing
November 4, 2003
NASCAR Winston Cup
Jeff Burton, driver of the No. 99 CITGO Taurus, goes into this weekend's Pop Secret Microwave Popcorn 400 at North Carolina Speedway in 13th-place in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings. Burton, who has one series win at Rockingham, was this week's guest on the weekly teleconference, along with crew chief Paul Andrews.
JEFF BURTON - No. 99 CITGO Taurus -
I'M SURE YOU'D LIKE A WIN THIS WEEKEND. "Yeah, certainly. Rockingham is a lot of fun. It's one of my favorite race tracks. It's a real fast one-mile race track, but it has a lot of short-track characteristics to it. It gets real slick. It's hard to keep the rear wheels from spinning and hard to keep it turning and then you have so many different grooves to run on, so I really like Rockingham. It's fun to go there. It's one of the first places I ever ran a Busch car and I really enjoy going there."
WHAT'S IT GOING TO FEEL LIKE NEXT YEAR AT THIS TIME WHEN YOU'RE NOT GOING TO ROCKINGHAM?
"I don't know, to be quite honest. I will say that Rockingham - as long as I've been racing, you went to Rockingham twice a year, whether you were in Busch cars or Winston Cup cars. It's certainly gonna be different. It's a fun race track, like I said earlier, and to me it's tradition. I do understand the need to progress and to make new traditions, but it is sad. It's sad in some ways, but exciting in others. To me, it's a little bit of a loss because I enjoy the race track so much, but I also understand the need to move on."
WHAT DOES IT MEAN AS AN ORGANIZATION TO GIVE JACK ROUSH HIS FIRST WINSTON CUP CHAMPIONSHIP?
"Well, let's don't jinx it. It's not done yet. She's warming up and getting close, but it's not done yet. Jack has put a lot of effort into Winston Cup racing and he's always done it the best that he knew how to do it. He deserves a Winston Cup champion. He deserves to be a car owner that's been able to do that. It's great, if it happens, that Roush Racing is able to pull that off. Maybe it's one of those things too that it's taken us so long to get there, maybe once we do get there we can look back on it and say, 'Boy, that really opened the door up to be contending for more championships.' Mark and I have put ourselves in position to win several championships and we just never did everything that we needed to do to get it done. It's good to see that the hard work has paid off and it feels good. We need to get it done first. It's not quite done. That's one thing, too. I think a lot of people look at it and say, 'What do the other teams feel like?' We're proud. We feel like we've been a part of it. We feel like we've helped accomplish it. Certainly each team would prefer it to be them. On the other hand, we're really, really proud that we've been able to be a part of it. Matt and Robbie and that whole group deserve it. They've done a great job in a year that the opportunity was there and they've taken the opportunity and run with it."
IS IT IRONIC THAT CONSIDERING THE SUCCESS THE ROUSH CARS HAVE HAD, RIGHT NOW NONE OF THEM HAVE RUN THAT WELL THE LAST COUPLE OF MONTHS?
"Yeah, there has been a trend really. Of course, we make up a majority of the Ford cars and I'm not whining about this, but there really are no Fords that are contending to win these races, especially on the big tracks. If you go back and watch the races on the small tracks where aerodynamics aren't quite such a big advantage and horsepower is not quite such a big advantage, we do pretty well. We do real well. But on the big tracks the Fords just can't seem to run with them right now. Next year there are a lot of new rules coming out and we get our new nose and new tail and our new body that the other teams were able to get before we were, and we feel good about going into next year. But the big race tracks are really a hindrance to all the Ford teams and it shows up not only at Roush, it shows up with every Ford team. If you go back and watch Richmond, you go back and watch Martinsville, you watch last week - you watch those kind of race tracks and we've been right there knocking on the door. But at the big tracks we really don't have much of a chance."
IS TOO MUCH BEING MADE OF THE 17 TEAM BEING MOSTLY FROM WISCONSIN?
"I don't think you can ignore anything that they've done. There are always things that are blown out of proportion and there are always things that aren't talked about enough. At the end of the day they were able to bring a lot of people that they knew and bring them into a Winston Cup environment. The lesson from that is that you don't have to have everybody on your team with a lot of Winston Cup experience. What you need are good hard racers that understand the Daytona 500 is a race. The Southern 500 is a race. It's not a special totally different deal just because it's a NASCAR Winston Cup race, it's still a race. So the key to building a good race team is having racers. Having people that are dedicated or committed. That their families understand the time and the commitment that it takes to be successful and you bring those kind of people into your deal. That's what they did. They brought in people that were not real experienced Winston Cup people. Roush Racing had some people that were already in the system and had Winston Cup experience and those people backed up the lack of experience. But it's all about being racers. It's all about understanding the commitment and the time it takes and then having the ability. If you do that, you don't have to fill your team with Winston Cup experienced people. You fill it with good racing people and that's what they did."
DO YOU SEE ANY SIMILARITIES BETWEEN MATT AND OTHER MIDWESTERN GUYS LIKE ALAN KULWICKI OR DAVE MARCIS?
"Unfortunately, I didn't have a great opportunity to spend a lot of time with Alan. I did race against Dave quite a bit toward the end of his career. It's hard for me to put a comparison out there that would be a fair comparison because I just don't know those other guys well enough to make that comparison."
HOW OFTEN HAS ROUSH ADDRESSED WHAT'S GOING ON WITH THE ENGINES?
"Certainly if you look at the other programs at Roush, the other programs have had more mechanical problems than the 17 car has had. There's always the talk about needing more horsepower and this is what I can tell you about that. The commitment to having a top-notch, industry-leading engine program is here. We are continually looking at how we can make our program better - not only our engine program but all of our programs. We have invested in people. We have invested in equipment. We have invested in time and sweat and energy to take our engine program and make it the very best engine program in Winston Cup racing. I believe that we will get there. If you look at the amount of trouble we've had, and we were a little bit short on horsepower, we aren't there. We weren't there, but we're a whole lot closer today than we were in May. We just had a chassis dyno test at the race track in Phoenix this past weekend and the evidence is there. We are in much, much better shape than we were even three months ago. The commitment by Jack and all the people in Michigan is large. They work a tremendous amount of hours. The effort is there. The finance is there. The desire is there. We will be the best engine program in Winston Cup racing. I believe that, but it does take time and it does take a little bit of understanding from everybody in the company that when something isn't working exactly right it doesn't change overnight. That doesn't just go with engines that goes with everything. I think our engine program is certainly headed in the right direction and I have a lot of confidence in that."
WHERE DO YOU FEEL YOU HAVE TO WORK AS FAR AS HAVING A BALANCED PROGRAM? WHERE ARE THE WEAKNESSES?
"The weaknesses, particularly in our program, our short-track program is very strong and our road-course program is very strong. We've got to find a way to improve our qualifying. I can't go into great detail, but we're making a tremendous investment towards the fall of this year and into the winter this year to making our qualifying effort better. Our big-track program has been our weakness. We just haven't been as good as we needed to be on the big tracks. The short tracks and the Darlingtons, we've done really well on. We've had some finishes that weren't as good as they needed to be based on a lot of different reasons, but if I looked at our program right now, our pit stops are perhaps the best on pit road. The short-track program is really good. The low-grip race track program is really good. Our big-track program needs to get better and that's where we're putting a tremendous amount of effort."
A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO ONE OF THE BIG STARS IN WINSTON CUP RACING SAID JACK ROUSH WOULD NEVER WIN A TITLE BECAUSE HE WASN'T ONE OF THE GOOD OLD BOYS. DO YOU THINK THAT WILL GO AWAY NOW?
"First of all, I'm not sure about the good old boy theory. What is the definition of a good old boy? Jack Roush has been committed to NASCAR Winston Cup racing for a long time and his commitment and time and energy and effort and money in his Winston Cup commitment is second to none. When people make comments - I heard a driver earlier this year say that Roush had given away a bunch of championships and we didn't know how to win them. People like that are just ignorant. They just don't understand what's going on. Now, have we won as many championships as Rick Hendrick? Without a doubt, we have not. Have we won as many as Richard Childress? Without a doubt, we have not. Do we aspire to and do we have the commitment to do that? We most certainly do. I think people that know Jack and people that understand Jack have a tremendous amount of respect and a tremendous amount of willingness to work with Jack. There are some people that don't know him. People make opinions about everybody without even knowing them, and I think that's happened to Jack some. The Jack Roush that I know is loyal, committed, dedicated, hard-working. There is no one that works harder than Jack Roush and anybody that says that he can't win because he's not a good old boy, they don't understand Jack Roush. Show me a car owner that has been more committed and has run trucks with no sponsors, run Busch cars with no sponsors - done everything he's done to be a part of NASCAR - it's second to none."
ARE WE IN THE PROCESS OF A CHANGING OF THE GUARD AS FAR AS YOUNGER DRIVERS TAKING OVER FROM THE VETERANS?
"The success of young drivers, the success of experience drivers has a lot to do with a lot of different things. Young drivers today have opportunities that the older drivers never had when they were that young. If you put Mark Martin in the kind of car that some of the younger drivers are driving now, he would have run in the front too when he was a rookie. It's my opinion that the advantage the young guys have had over the last few years is their ignorance. That sounds crazy, but the people that have been really successful in the past have been successful because they've done things the way they did them and it worked and haven't adjusted to the new way of doing things. So the experienced drivers, in order to be successful, has got to revamp their mindset and change the way they are involved in the race team. That's why you see a difference. It's not lack of driving ability. It's not a lack of desire or any of those things. Technology invaded our sport at such a rapid pace that it's hard for Rusty Wallace, it's hard for Mark Martin, it's hard for me, it's hard for Bobby Labonte to get out of the mode we used to be in. Bobby Labonte is a great example. He had to step back and turn the thing over - give more power, give more control to other people around him and then he started having success again. You are gonna see the same thing happen with Rusty Wallace, with Mark Martin, with myself. You're gonna see the same thing happen in the future. If anybody thinks that we can't race and run in the front and win races, they're insane and I think that time will prove that."
WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE THE DRIVERS BECOME MORE A PART OF THE RACING BY MAKING THE CARS LIKE THEY USED TO BE?
"Here's my opinion. I don't care what the rule is. If we can have good, competitive racing and the fans like to watch it, that's what I care about. Whatever the rules are, you and your team have to do whatever it takes to take advantage of those rules and you have to adjust whatever it is that needs to be adjusted in order to be the best team in Winston Cup racing. So I don't care what the rules are. I just want to be the best team in Winston Cup racing. What you have to do is you have to look at the rules and figure out how to take the best advantage of those rules. I don't really care what they are."
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE CREW CHIEF SWAP BETWEEN BEN LESLIE AND PAT TRYSON?
"We have two very talented, high-caliber crew chiefs that have worked together in the past. Both crew chiefs and both teams need to improve. Both crew chiefs and both teams are needing to have a new look and this is a way of taking people that are talented and have the ability to get it done to try and surround them with an organization that works for them. I think it's wrong when people don't have success and they don't look at the whole picture and don't understand what was going right and what was going wrong. This is an effort to take highly talented people and put them in positions that they can be successful. That's really all there is to it. It's a shame that neither crew chief had the success this year that they wanted to have, but it's also a wonderful thing that our company is committed to keeping highly-talented, good people and giving them a chance to do what it is that they do best. I think it's a win-win for both teams. The working relationship is already there between both teams and I think this will enhance it. There are no hard feelings. There is nobody upset. It's just an effort to make both teams better."
IS THERE ANYTHING YOU CAN DO TO HELP MATT ON THE TRACK TO WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP?
"There are two races left and we're not gonna change anything that we've been doing. I think that's a huge mistake. It's our job to go out and contend for wins and go out and try to do the best that we can to win races. Our impact on the championship is a Monday through Saturday thing, it's not a Sunday thing. We all work together. We all try to do the best we can to make each team the best it can possibly be, but when the race starts it's a self-serving sport. We don't adjust our strategies or anything else based on the fact that we have a teammate that may or may not be in a point race. We go out and race and we race hard. Certainly, if we have a teammate that's faster than we are, we won't hold that guy up. But, short of that, it's a self-serving sport on Sunday."