This Week in Ford Racing April 20, 2004 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Jeff Burton, driver of the No. 99 Roush Racing Taurus, will be trying to turn his season around this weekend in the Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway. In addition to ...
This Week in Ford Racing
April 20, 2004
NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series
Jeff Burton, driver of the No. 99 Roush Racing Taurus, will be trying to turn his season around this weekend in the Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway. In addition to forecasting what type of race he expects on Sunday, Burton spoke about the quality of racing this season and addressed the persistent rumors surrounding his status with Roush Racing.
JEFF BURTON - No. 99 Roush Racing Taurus
YOU HAD A GOOD CAR AT DAYTONA BEFORE HAVING SOME MECHANICAL PROBLEMS. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THIS WEEKEND?
"We feel real optimistic. Since then we feel we've learned some other stuff to make it better. It seems like to me we do our best restrictor-plate racing when we're able to keep taking the same car back and you keep making it better and better. This past Speedweeks was the nicest Speedweeks I've ever participated in up until the Daytona 500, but the whole week leading up to that was really great and enjoyable. I'm looking for that same kind of weekend and, of course, I hope the race ends up better than Daytona. I'd say we're real optimistic. I think we needed to find some more speed because we weren't quite as fast as we needed to be, but we were right there."
WHAT KIND OF RACE DO YOU FORESEE AT TALLADEGA?
"I wouldn't expect to see the same kind of race at Talladega that you saw at Daytona. Daytona is much about how well your car handles and that's not nearly as important at Talladega. At Daytona we saw the packs get spread apart. We didn't see a lot of three-wide and all that stuff, which, by the way, is a good thing. We don't race anywhere else like that, so why do we have to race at Daytona like that? I think NASCAR did a great job of making the race so that if you handled well, you could run well. I personally have no problem with that. The problem is people have come to expect that three-wide 10 rows deep is normal. That's not normal. So I thought Daytona was good. It was more of a normal race. Now, granted, I'll give it to you that it's not as exciting as watching three-wide. I understand that, but there's something fundamentally wrong when the car that's running fifth can go up in the air and land on top of the 28th-place car. There's something wrong with that. But you will see much more large packs at Talladega than we saw at Daytona, there's no doubt about that."
WHAT IS YOUR TAKE ON THE QUALITY OF RACING THIS SEASON?
"To me, it feels a lot like it's been. I just don't see that big of a difference between this year and any other year. I think the media and the fans will have a desire for more competitive racing no matter how competitive the racing is and I think that's OK. But I don't think it's any less competitive than it's been. In some cases, people are wanting and expecting unrealistic things. I think in many cases people think that every race you should see side-by-side battles for the lead and you should see this or you should see that. I think that's unrealistic, the same way it's unrealistic to expect every basketball game to be close and every football game to be close, which is why we race. We race to make it not close. It's our mission to make it a boring race because you outran everybody. I think in many cases there is an overwhelming desire to have races that really aren't realistic. To have ultra-competitive 500-mile races every single race I just think that's unrealistic."
DO YOU THINK HAVING SOME OF THESE CLASSIC RACES ON TV ADDS TO THAT DESIRE BECAUSE PEOPLE SEE SIDE-BY-SIDE RACING AT BRISTOL OR A SLINGSHOT MOVE AT DAYTONA?
"The thing that interests me about that is when I go back and watch those races they're no better than the races we have today and in most cases they're worse. By the way, those are the 'greatest races.' So they go through and selectively pick some of best races that we've had and then they want to compare them to every race that you run. Now, without a doubt, Bristol has turned into a one-groove race track. I don't know what that's all about, but it's a one-groove race track now. If you compared Bristol to what it would have been 10-15 years ago, it was better. There's no getting around that, but, to me, it's better at Rockingham today than it's ever been. It's better at Darlington today than it's ever been. It's better at a lot of those race tracks than it's ever been. Then we now run more mile-and-a-half races than we've ever run. You can't expect to lose two races at North Wilkesboro and replace them with two other races and have those races be as competitive as North Wilkesboro - nor would they be as competitive as at Richmond or Bristol or somewhere else like that. So some of the issue about having good, tight competitive side-by-side races isn't the fault of NASCAR or the fault of something other than the track. The tracks have to be able to run two-wide. The tracks have to offer that. When you go to Texas, there's not a whole lot of that. It's getting better, but there's not a whole lot of that. There's none of that at Bristol, so that's really the issue in my opinion. The other thing is in order to run side-by-side, you have to have two cars that run close to the same speed and I would say from first to 25th it's more competitive today than it's ever been. I think that's fair."
DUKE CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL WILL BE ON THE HOOD OF YOUR CAR THIS WEEKEND. THAT'S A PLACE YOU'VE REALLY BUILT A STRONG RELATIONSHIP WITH ISN'T IT?
"First of all, Roush Racing deserves a tremendous amount of credit for allowing that to happen. There are a number of things that Roush Racing could have done at that race to promote things, and my wife (Kim) came up with this idea to put Duke Children's Hospital on there and to the credit of Roush Racing they allowed that to happen. That's no small thing - to give a race to promote a charity for a NASCAR Nextel Cup weekend. That's a pretty big deal, so, first of all, they deserve 95 percent of the credit for allowing that to happen. The thought process originally came from Kim, so that's gonna be fun. It is something that's near and dear to my heart and my wife's heart, but it's a worthwhile cause, too. They do a tremendous amount of research for children's illnesses that benefit children all over the world. It is a regional hospital, but its research facility has long-reaching arms. They go all over the world on the research side of things. I think whenever you get involved in something that has a regional feel to it that people think, 'Well, that's just serving the people in Durham,' when, in fact, it has a huge impact on children's health care around the world. That's the thing that really sucked us up into it was the long-reaching arms that it is and the ability it has to impact a lot of different illnesses and a lot of different kids that aren't even at the Duke Children's Hospital. So that will be a fun weekend to go out there and do that. Hopefully, we can bring some awareness and raise some money, so it ought to be fun."
YOU'VE BEEN IN THE RUMOR MILL FOR THE LAST TWO OR THREE YEARS. HOW ARE YOU DEALING WITH IT THIS TIME?
"You know, I actually had a conversation with someone about this the other day because I'm curious how it starts. I really don't read a lot of rumor things on the internet because when it involves me most of the time they have it wrong. But then there's an element of it that is right, too. They can say 40 things and there might be three of those that have an element of possibly being correct, but then on other stories they nail it so you have to pay attention to it. If one member of the media reports something, it forces everyone else to report it. The problem I have with what went on last week is that Richard Childress and I have had zero conversations about me replacing Robby Gordon or me replacing Johnny Sauter. We've had zero conversations about that and that's just the truth. One reporter reported that we were having these conversations and then it went very specific on how these things were gonna happen. It was reported kind of as rumor, but the next phase of it went into factual stuff that was fiction, but it was reported as fact. On Tuesday of last week I had two strangers come up and congratulate me on my new ride. My attorney called me on Tuesday morning and asked me point blank, 'What in the world is going on?' I said, 'What are you talking about?' He said, 'I'm in my car and they just said on the radio that sources confirmed that Jeff Burton would replace Johnny Sauter in the AOL Chevrolet at the all-star race in May.' It was reported as fact. That's when I start having a problem and that's when I started to get upset because every member of this team deserves 100 percent effort from me and I deserve 100 percent effort from them. Every member on this team and my car owner and everybody that has anything at all to do with this team deserves to know exactly what's going on. When these things get going that aren't true, it puts a little bit of doubt and that's not right. A lot of people have made the comment and the claim that Roush Racing has done a poor job of getting a sponsor for the 99 car. I've had a lot of people walk up to me and say, 'They're not taking care of you,' and things like that. But the fact of the matter is that it hasn't quit running. They're running the team out of their pockets. No one has gotten a decrease in pay, so I think Roush Racing deserves some credit for doing the right thing for everybody on this team. Instead, they get negative and they also get people out there talking like the driver is gonna leave and that's not right. If there was truth to some of it, then I wouldn't be up in arms about it. I would be trying to avoid it, but when people start reporting stuff that's factual when it's not, I have a real problem with that."
WHEN THESE RUMORS HAVE COME UP IN THE PAST YOU'VE TALKED ABOUT BEING COMMITTED TO YOUR PROGRAM. IS IT THE SAME WAY NOW?
"That's where we are. We run eight races. What do people want me to say? We're eight races into the year. We're in a situation where we haven't run as well as we need to run. We're in a situation where we're 30th in points and trying to dig ourselves out of it, and we don't have the sponsorship thing finalized. So it is a tough time. This isn't an easy time. This is a time that a lot of people have doubts and a lot of people are concerned about what's going on and I'm one of them, but that doesn't mean that I'm not committed to it. This is hard. End of story. We've had it good for a long time and we don't right now, so we can put our tail between our legs and run and decide that we're just not tough enough to fight it out and not tough enough to get it done or we can just keep fighting. We're gonna keep fighting. That's what we're gonna do and that's as simple as I can put it. I don't know how to put it any more simple. I'd like to think that my actions speak for themselves. I've been in the rumor mill for three years and for three years nothing has happened. For three years I've been hearing this stuff and I'm almost numb to it. I'm almost to the point where I just ignore it because it's like, 'What is this all about?'"