BEHIND THE HAULER TALK WITH JEFF BURTON, NO. 31 CINGULAR WIRELESS MONTE CARLO SS AND RICHARD CHILDRESS, RICHARD CHILDRESS RACING: CHILDRESS: ON THE CURRENT STATE OF RCR "We've made a lot of improvement. We still have a lot of work to do....
BEHIND THE HAULER TALK WITH JEFF BURTON, NO. 31 CINGULAR WIRELESS MONTE CARLO SS AND RICHARD CHILDRESS, RICHARD CHILDRESS RACING:
ON THE CURRENT STATE OF RCR "We've made a lot of improvement. We still have a lot of work to do. I feel the cars have been running really well in the Busch and the Cup. We've really concentrated a lot on our engine program and our bodies. We've some personnel changes all over the place, and with those changes, I think it's really beginning to show up."
BURTON AND BOWYER ARE DOING WELL, BUT WHAT ABOUT KEVIN HARVICK. ISN'T HE SUPPOSED TO BE YOUR LEAD DRIVER? "I never look at it as having a lead driver. I look at it as one big team with three drivers. Right now, Kevin has had a couple of tough breaks at Daytona; we got a little behind there with that carburetor sticking on us. We still came back and had a great finish. Clint is just having a phenomenal year for a rookie out there and Jeff is right in there. He has a lot of leadership. He's helped us in a lot of areas. I think we're going to have a great year and win some races with all of three of them."
ARE YOU FEELING GOOD ABOUT THE SEASON? ARE YOUR JUICES FLOWING? "I truly left Daytona feeling better than I'd felt in years. I'm not a pom-pom cheerleader kind of guy. I'm a give me the facts kind of guy. And the facts said we were doing a lot of good things. So my juices were flowing there. I told my wife when we left California that I felt like I used to feel."
HOW MANY RACES IN, OR HOW MANY DIFFERENT RACE TRACKS DO YOU HAVE TO RUN ON TO REALIZE YOU'VE REALLY GOT IT TOGETHER LIKE I THOUGHT? "I think this race at Atlanta is important. Texas is important. And then the strength of our program, Martinsville, Bristol and those tracks are important too. If we improve on those, that will be where we can really take advantage. For us, every race is important when you've been knocked back on your heels and you're trying to get back in the fight. If we can complete the circle of California, Las Vegas, and Atlanta and can say we did well at all three, then we can say all right, we're in the right direction. But we still need to improve. But if we come here and really run bad, then you could get off base a little bit."
ON BEING IN THE TOP 10 IN POINTS? "It is early. But it's better than being 20th. Right now, we're not having to dig ourselves out of a hole. Although this time of year, with two races you could be digging yourself out of a hole. I'm smart enough to know that. I know that being 10th in the points right now doesn't mean we're going to be 10th in points 24 races from now, which is what we need to do. But, if we keep running the way we're running, we'll get our wins and we'll do what we need to do in points. Our priorities have to be going fast. That's what we couldn't do last year. That's what I couldn't do the year before, or the year before that. That's what I have been able to do this year. When you go fast, then you can continue to improve on going fast but then you can start working on all the little stuff that makes the difference. If you look at the No. 48 and the No. 17, they've been very fast, but they've also done the little things right. They've put themselves in position. The No. 48 didn't run a bit better than we did at California. Not one bit. Matter of fact, we ran better than he (Jimmie Johnson) did all day. And he had a great chance to do what he needed to do at the end of that race. So, because we haven't been the position enough lately, we haven't been able to fine-tune the way they've been able to for two years. And now we're just starting to do that. I think we'll see an advantage to being able to fine tune."
WITHIN THE ROUSH AND HENDRICK ORGANIZATIONS, THERE SEEMS TO BE A SENSE OF CAMARADERIE. BUT AT RCR, IT SEEMS LIKE THREE DIFFERENT TEAMS WORKING SEPARATELY: "I don't that's fair. We are all three much more similar than we've ever been there, for sure. We're all three working together much better than ever before. Some of the togetherness of those companies is hype. Some of it's true and some of it's hype. I've been to Roush and I know for a fact that if Jimmy Finnig wants to do something he's going to do it how Jimmy Finnig wants to do it. Just because Robbie Reiser does it, that doesn't mean Jimmy Finnig is going to do it that way. But, they all have very good crew chiefs and drivers. If Jimmy Finnig is doing something, and Robbie Reiser knows what Jimmy is doing, Robbie takes that and uses what Jimmy's doing and vice-versa. They all work together but they all work separately. We do the same thing. We have no issues whatsoever. Gil (Martin) and Todd (Berrier) worked together on the same team. Scott (Miller) and Todd worked together on the same team. They've all worked together before. Now they're all three doing their own deals and I think that's made it work better."
ON THE GREEN-WHITE-CHECKERED FINISHING SYSTEM "I'm good with it. I don't want to see us throwing a caution for no reason. I'll be honest. Last week (at Las Vegas), I was pretty convinced they (NASCAR) did until I came off of Turn 2 and I saw all the rubber. But we can't fabricate green-white-checkers. They need to be because there is a real caution. So far that's been the case. What they need to do though when they're going to have it, is get us back out (after the caution) as quickly as possible. They need to get in that practice so that you're not running a 508-mile race because of fuel. And when you're racing for points, the thing about the green-white-checkered is the fuel. If you run out of fuel and finish 35th rather than 5th, that's a big hit. They need to really look at how the green-white-checkered works. The other thing they might consider doing in a green-white-checkered is that if there's been a caution and you've only run 10 or 12 laps, they shouldn't let you pit. Just keep it fair for everybody. Don't let the green-white-checkered let somebody come on pit road running 20th and go finish 10th."
THEY SHOULD CLOSE PIT ROAD THEN? "Well, when was the last pit stop? When was the last caution? If the caution was 10 laps ago and you had a chance to pit then, well that was your only chance. Or something like that. If it was 40 laps, and everybody needs to pit, then let everybody pit. But I just don't like the green-white-checkered in that the race gets extended. Somebody hits pit road and changes tires and then had a huge advantage, that's a little dicey. But you can be running 20th and have it work for you, then it works both ways.
"We just got to get going back fast. We need to practice at doing that. It's not NASCAR's job to keep up with our fuel mileage. But if they get in the practice of having the race go back to green as quickly as possible, then it'll come natural to us and it'll keep somebody from running out of fuel."
HOW WELL DO YOU DRIVE THIS ATLANTA RACE TRACK AND HOW COMFORTABLE ARE YOU GOING TO BE IN THIS RACE ON SUNDAY? "Oh, I don't know. We've ran 8th and 15th here last year and I think we have much better cars (now). And I'm as comfortable as the car will let me be. If it's driving good and we can do the things we need to do to win, then I'll be very comfortable. If we're running 20th and the car won't drive good, then I won't be comfortable. But I like this race track. I've never won here but I've been close. I think racing here is one of the most fun race tracks we go to as far as racing."
WHO ARE THE GUYS TO BEAT HERE? "The No. 48. The No. 17. The No. 99 and No. 6. The No.16..the guys who have been running well all year. The No. 9 will run well. But somebody else will jump up that hasn't been running well and run well here -- as they will next week and the following week. But the cast of characters that you've seen consistently -- that's who you'll see on Sunday."
ARE YOU FEELING LESS PRESSURE TO TRY TO DO SOMETHING? HAS THE TEAM REACHED A POINT WHERE THERE IS LESS PRESSURE? "Running bad sucks. I do pretty well at separating my professional life from my personal life. But at the end of the day, when you run bad it's miserable. I have a little bit of an ego. I want people to understand that I can still do it. And when you drive in the corner and the car won't do it, you can't do it no matter who you are. Jeff Gordon didn't forget how to drive last year I can guarantee you. You've got to have equipment that can do it. When you have equipment that can do it, it's a different kind of pressure. When I came to Childress, I knew that it wasn't what it needed to be. I knew we had a lot of work to do. I was in there trying to help and to do my part. There is a tremendous amount of pressure of me -- not from Richard or Cingular or anybody -- but me. I'm with me every minute of the day and there is nobody who puts pressure on me like I put pressure on me. And when we don't run well, it sucks. There is no other way to say it. I don't do this because I like being hot -- spending Sunday's at 130 degrees going around in circles. I do it because I love to compete. When we can't compete, I don't love it. I don't like doing that. When you come to the track and you're not having fun, it's a long weekend. I've had fun this year because we've been competitive."
YOUR ENGINES ARE COMPETITIVE AND YOU SEEM TO HAVE A HANDLE ON THE WAY THE CARS ARE SUPPOSED TO DRIVE. AT SOME POINT NOW, IS IT UP TO THE DRIVERS TO DO BETTER? "Oh, yeah. It's on the drivers every week. We are the computer. We're the ones who can tell them what needs to happen or what doesn't need to happen. We're the ones who give them the information. The better the stuff is, the easier it is on the drivers. The guy who does the best job on Sunday will finish 25th and nobody will ever know it. But he took a car that somebody else might have finished 40th in and he found a way to finish 25th. I can't tell you the number of times that I got out of my car going to the airport on Sunday and looked at my wife and said, 'I drove my ass off today and nobody will ever know it.' When I have the stuff and it's right, I'm as good as anybody out here. That's just how it is.
"There are a lot of people who've never raced with me when my stuff is right, and they'll find out. If they want to compare themselves with me any day, I'm ready for it."
WHAT'S THE KEY TO DOING WELL AT ATLANTA? "What worries me about Sunday is how well we're going to handle. Handling is everything. Everybody talks about engines here but that don't mean anything. What matters is handling. If we can be in that gas earlier than somebody else, you outrun them bad. It's one of those places where you can outrun people bad. You can get lapped easy here and you can lap people because this place is so much about handling. And when you lose it, you're lost. For me, my biggest concern for Sunday is making sure it drives good, not doing something stupid, and making sure we don't make mistakes. If we do those three things, we will have a chance in this race."