JEFF BURTON, DRIVER OF THE NO. 31 PRILOSEC OTC IMPALA SS, met with media members at Texas Motor Speedway and talked about what to expect in Sunday's race, his conversation with Michael McDowell, RCR's announcement this past week, the RCR...
JEFF BURTON, DRIVER OF THE NO. 31 PRILOSEC OTC IMPALA SS, met with media members at Texas Motor Speedway and talked about what to expect in Sunday's race, his conversation with Michael McDowell, RCR's announcement this past week, the RCR operation, and more.
ON THIS WEEKEND'S RACE: "Well I think it's going to be a really interesting race. Yesterday in the Nationwide car I thought the cars made much less grip than what we're used to seeing here so I think that will certainly be the case with the cup cars too. Good handling car is going to be really important. It's going to make the difference between winning and finishing 20th, I can tell you that. Big challenge ahead of us this weekend, I think and I'm looking forward to it. If you go back and watch the races from Vegas and California and even Atlanta with the issues we had there, I thought the races were really interesting and I think you will see the same kind of race this weekend."
HIS THOUGHTS ABOUT TIRES AND IF THERE WILL BE SIDE-BY-SIDE RACING IN SUNDAY'S RACE. "I don't know. I certainly don't want to say it's a tire issue. Race tracks change, every time we come here it's different. The track changes a lot, which is one of the reasons we've only seen one repeat winner is the track changes a lot. I'm not pointing the finger at the tire saying the tire is the problem. I think it is lower grip, probably a little lower grip tire than what we've seen in the past, but I think some of that is probably by design. This has been a very difficult race track for tires. This has been a place where tire failure has been fairly common, I don't want to say common, but it's happened so they've come with a tire that is probably more durable and I support that decision. I don't want to make an assessment on where we are with tires based on the Nationwide car because they are completely different cars but I do suspect it's a little less grip."
ON WHAT HE REMEMBERS ABOUT DALE EARNHARDT, JR'S FIRST WIN AT TEXAS IN 2000 AND WHY HE THINKS IT'S BEEN SO LONG SINCE HE'S WON. "Actually I got in the helicopter leaving and his dad was in there, you know Dale was in there. I'm like what the hell are you doing, you ought to be in Victory Lane and I remember him saying man this is his day not mine and I thought that was cool. I know he came to Victory Lane but he must not have hung around very long because I remember him being in that helicopter. I remember the comment about this was his day, it wasn't his dad's day, it was his day. I thought that was pretty cool. I'm surely not going to make an assessment on why one particular driver, one particular team haven't won other than to tell you it's very difficult. This is a hard sport, there are a lot of really, really good race teams with great equipment and great crew chiefs, engineers and it's very competitive. It's hard. Junior's run really well this year, he's been probably the top performing Hendrick car so far as seen by me. Their wins are coming, there's no question about that."
ON HIS CONVERSATION WITH MICHAEL MCDOWELL AND WHAT HAPPENED IN LAST WEEK'S RACE. "We had a great conversation. I didn't know whether to feel good about or be mad about him calling me Mr. Burton. I'm like, man I'm not that old (laughs). I wanted to tell him you don't have to call me Mr. Burton, he's making me feel bad. We had a great conversation. I told him and I mean this, I should have called him Monday morning rather than expressing my opinion after the race. I probably did that wrong. I think he understands now a little more about etiquette in a cup race late in the race. We had a great conversation, I was real impressed with him, by the way I thought he did a really good job Sunday. I thought he made a mistake at the end of the race but I thought he did a really good job Sunday. It's a difficult thing, being a Lucky Dog. Racing for the Lucky Dog is a difficult situation and I respect the position he was in. I understand the position he was in racing to try to be the Lucky Dog. I understand that position; at the same time it gave me the opportunity to explain to him that these are long races.
"When there is a race for the lead you have to go out of your way to make sure you're not in that, if you're not in it, if you know what I mean. And on that particular day he was not in the race for the lead and I just let him know, as seen by me, it was imperative not to be part of it. To get out of the way and let the leaders go at it and he understands that too. I made a mistake on Sunday after the race and he made a mistake during the race. We both had a conversation about that and I think we both learned from it."
DID YOU CALL HIM OR DID HE CALL YOU? "He came looking for me Sunday after the race and then he called me again Monday and it was Tuesday some time before I was able to get back to him, so he was the guy who reached his arm out to try to explain his side of the story and also in his words to learn so he could do it better in the future."
IT'S MY UNDERSTANDING THAT THE TIRE THIS WEEKEND IS THE SAME TIRE THAT YOU GUYS RAN AT TEXAS LAST YEAR "I don't know that that's true. I don't know that it's the same. I don't believe it's the same left side tire but I'm not 100%. Stop right now, let's don't start talking about tires. I made a comment about grip level. I wasn't saying it was going to be a terrible race, I didn't say we weren't going to have any side-by-side racing, I didn't say any of that. What I said was that the grip level was going to be down from what we're used to and in addition to that with the Car of Tomorrow we're gonna have a little less grip so it's going to be a challenge. It's going to be a difficult race. I didn't start off saying the tires are terrible, I started off saying it had a little less grip. In no way was I comparing this to Atlanta. You can ask your question but I was just wanting to stop the conversation."
HOW DOES RUNNING DIFFERENT TIRE COMPOUNDS AFFECT YOUR TEAM'S ABILITY TO BUILD FROM WHAT YOU'RE LEARNING ABOUT THE CAR OF TOMORROW WEEK-TO-WEEK? "The fewer tire compounds we could have from a team stand point the better it would be because it would allow us to build a base line, it would allow us to build what I call a center and work off of that depending on what race track we're on. At the same time, as technology develops and as cars change and as conditions change then Goodyear has to change tires. We can't run the same tire at Vegas that we run here, I'm just making those race tracks up. We do have to have specific compounds for specific race tracks, but whenever there is an opportunity to overlap that's what we need to do because it allows Goodyear to produce fewer tires, which I think is a good thing for them, and it allows us to have to do less diagnostic on tires and I think that's a good thing for us."
IS THE SAFETY OF THE NEW CAR IS AT A POINT NOW THAT CONCENTRATION CAN BE SHIFTED TO THE HANDLING AND ADJUSTABILITY FOR THE CAR SO THE DRIVERS CAN RACE IT BETTER AND FEEL MORE COMFORTABLE IN IT? "I think that we can do both. I mean I think we can continue to push to make it safer and we can also continue to work to make them so that we can race them better. I have to tell you that I think the racing to this point has been pretty good. I believe it has, maybe somebody can raise their hand and say it wasn't. I know Atlanta was not the best but everywhere else I think the racing has been really good. My view of it is we can do both. We can continue to look at it for what it is, where we are right now today from a safety standpoint. Continue to try to push to make that better but also continue to look at the car from a development standpoint on what changes we can make to it so that the car itself is better.
"NASCAR has had their feet dug in the sand about making changes to the car, putting it on the teams to make the car drive better which I support. I think that one of the things that's been difficult for the teams for a long time is that there's been so many changes that we spend so much money reacting to those changes that we're better off making less changes. I by no means believe that the car that we're racing today is the same car that we're gonna race three years from now. I'm sure that there are changes coming from a safety standpoint and a performance standpoint. I believe we can do both, I also believe we got to continue to look at race tracks. We saw at Vegas that there was a race track problem, there's other race tracks that have to be fixed too. Pocono has been going on for a long time, the back straightaway at Pocono is ridiculous. Davey Allison got in the grass and flipped on the guard rail 15, 18 years ago. It's the same guard rail, same grass with the exception the guard rail has dirt behind it. It's time for them to step up and fix it. We've been trying to get it fixed for years. The race track needs to step up and my point in saying that is we need to look at everything, we need to look at all of it. We've got to find a way to make this car safer, we've got to find a way for the driver's equipment to be safer, for it to be safer for the fans, pit crew, we can't stop on that. But I believe on the car we can do both."
ON SPEAKING OUT ABOUT ISSUES IN THE GARAGE AREA AND IF OTHER DRIVERS SEE HIM AS A LEADER IN THE GARAGE. "I can't say that drivers ask me to speak on a topic. I won't say that's never happened but it doesn't happen on a consistent basis by any means. I do have conversations with drivers about the condition of whatever we're talking about and how it can be better. I talk to a lot of people about that. I don't know if I'm a leader in the garage or not, I mean that's for those guys to decide but I do like being involved in it. I think that if you're going to be part of something, you need to be part of it. I feel like I'm part of this sport and I don't want to be just a driver. I want to be more than that, so I enjoy being involved in it. I enjoy, to a limit, there's a point where I don't want to be involved in everything. I want to be involved in the things that I think I can help at. I do enjoy that."
ON HIS THOUGHTS ABOUT RCR'S ANNOUNCEMENT TO ADD A FOURTH TEAM AND WHAT THAT WILL DO FOR THE RCR OPERATION. "Obviously we believe it's going to be a positive. To be able to bring in a company like General Mills that is a very well known company across the country into our stable is awesome. To be able to go try to recruit a top driver to drive, it's going to be a lot of fun. The fact that we're starting it in early April is, I think, a huge benefit to us to be prepared. It's going to be very difficult. There's gonna be a lot of challenges along the way. We have the infrastructure to support a fourth team. We expanded our shops; we did all those things. It was all with the understanding there would be four teams or the hope there would be four teams. But the reality of it is, we don't have enough engineering staff to do four teams, we don't have enough staff for chassis build, for body hang for all those. We certainly don't have a fourth team in place so we have a tremendous amount of hiring we have to do.
"There's going to be an influx of new people, an influx of new ideas and all those things are going to present challenges. So it's going to be difficult, it's going to be hard to do but I believe we can do it. I believe we can do it officially, I believe we can do it well but it's not going to be easy. It's gonna present some challenges, it's gonna be difficult. But with the time that we have I think we can do it and we can do it well."
ON WHAT TEAMS HAVE BEEN BETTER AND WHAT TEAMS HAVE BEEN WORSE THAN EXPECTED SO FAR THIS SEASON AND IF THERE ARE ANY SURPRISES ON EITHER SIDE. "I'll be honest there hadn't been a lot of surprises. I believed on when I looked at the test in Atlanta last fall and I looked at the pre-season testing, I believed that the Gibb's cars were going to be very strong. I, unlike a lot of people, believed that they wouldn't struggle with the Toyota thing, that that team was strong. I thought they were going to have some problems and I still think they're going to have some problems adjusting to the Toyota engine because it's so different. There's still some looming things that can happen but their performance I believed would be strong and it has been.
"A lot of people talk about Hendrick being not as good as they were last year and to this point they haven't been as good as they were at this point last year, but I by no means believe that they aren't going to be very, very good. I haven't really seen any surprises. It kind of to this point looks a lot like it did last year. Right now the teams that ran well last year are running well this year. I don't see any surprises. I thought the 24 and the 48 were better than everybody last year but everybody else you could throw in a hat and they were all very, very, very similar. The Penske cars struggled more last year than you expected them to and they're gonna run well. They're gonna be better this year than they were last year. I believe that in my heart, they're gonna get running better than they did last year and I think that's the big change. Not a big change, but they're gonna be a bigger factor this year than they were last year."
ON WHAT HE BELIEVES MAKES RICHMOND A HARD TRACK TO FIGURE OUT AND WHY SOME DRIVERS HAVE BEEN ABLE TO FIGURE IT OUT AND OTHERS HAVEN'T. "It's a short rack and it takes a lot of different stuff to run well on a short track as it does on a big track. I think things get magnified on a short track. Being off a little bit makes you off a lot more on those tracks. I don't think it's unlike Martinsville or Phoenix or New Hampshire. There seem to be some teams that do a better job of being ready and some drivers that do a better job of being ready for that type of racing because it is different than what we're doing here this weekend. You do drive the cars different, you do set them up different, they are built differently, well not built differently so much more today but they used to be. So there are a lot of factors that go into it. Being prepared for any short track, you prepare differently, you drive differently than you would for Texas or for California and some people that suits better than others and why that is I don't know. That's difficult to put your finger on but obviously having cars that drive well, having a driver that does good on those race tracks they're very important. You can't deny that some drivers do a better job at that type of race track than others. Kevin (Harvick) is a good example, he always runs well at those race tracks and you can't deny that it has something to do with driving."
ON IF HE THINKS THIS YEAR IS SHAPING UP TO BE A CHILDRESS YEAR. "I don't have that feeling. I don't have a feeling that it can't be but I don't have a feeling that it will be. We're six races in, there's still 20 to go to the Chase and then we have 10 after that. A lot happens in this sport in five races much less 20. We've gotten off to a good start. All three of our teams have been good, but that doesn't mean we're gonna be good two months from now, that doesn't mean we're not going to. I think the teams that take what they have today and find a way to make it better are the teams that are gonna be good. You can't run a season without getting better. If you don't get better in this sport, you're gonna fall behind. I by no means feel like this is our year, but by no means do I feel like it can't be our year. It's gonna be based on what we do between now and the end of the year. And more importantly right now, what we do between now and the next 20 races. That's what's critical for us right now."
-credit: gm racing