JEFF BURTON, NO. 31 CATERPILLAR IMPALA SS, met with members of the media at Atlanta Motor Speedway and discussed pushing engines to a limit, the status of General Motors, start and park teams and much more. YOUR THOUGHTS ON HEADING IN TO RACE ...
JEFF BURTON, NO. 31 CATERPILLAR IMPALA SS, met with members of the media at Atlanta Motor Speedway and discussed pushing engines to a limit, the status of General Motors, start and park teams and much more.
YOUR THOUGHTS ON HEADING IN TO RACE WEEKEND HERE AT ATLANTA MOTOR SPEEDWAY: "Certainly last weekend (Las Vegas Motor Speedway) was a nice weekend for us after California, and Daytona for that matter. It was nice to lay down a good race, we had a solid race, did a lot of good things. That felt good. It is another ball game this week. We struggled at California and that means we could potentially struggle here as well. This is a race track that gets really slick, looses a lot of grip. I think it is like a split personality race track. In qualifying it is extremely fast but in the race it gets very very slick, very very low grip. It is the kind of race track we need to be able to perform well on because at the Michigan's, the California's and those kind of race tracks are very similar, not in shape, but in the degree of grip that they have. It is an important weekend for us, hopefully, we can come and perform well."
WITH THE NEW TECHNOLOGY AND NEW CARS IS MARTINSVILLE STILL AS TOUGH ON EVERYTHING AS IT USED TO BE? "It is. If you look at Martinsville I think it's fair to say that we have more mechanical problems still there today than we do at most race tracks. You know it's really demanding on rear end gears. It's really demanding on brakes. It's demanding on engines. It's demanding on drivers. That's one of the places where if you catch a warm day, even if you don't catch a warm day the cars get really hot. It's also fairly early in the year so we're not as much in race shape as we are in the later part of the year.
"So it takes a toll on you. If you look at carbon monoxide reports, the smaller the race tracks the worse that problem is. The transmissions get hotter. The rear end gears get hotter and all that stuff. The brakes get hotter so the inside of the car is hotter. So physically it's difficult and of course it's emotionally difficult too because it's such close quarter racing all day. You really have to stay focused. It's real easy to get frustrated and kind of lose your cool there. It's physically tough and it's mentally tough as well."
ON THE ENGINE PROBLEMS AND IF THERE IS A VERIFICATION PROCESS IN TESTING THAT THE TEAMS ARE NOT GETTING NOW. "I can't speak specifically about each team and the engine problems that they've had, but I will tell you this as technology has changed we have become much more reliant on bench testing. We do a lot of endurance testing on dynos, on simulation materials as far as simulating a race on an engine. There's a transition there where you build a lot of faith in it and then it lets you down. One thing that testing does do, it does allow you to go and run an engine, tear that thing apart, look at it.
"There's a lot of times that stuff was going to break that didn't break and the teams were able to see that and make changes based on a practice session or a test session. We don't have that available to us today. Nobody went to Vegas or to California or to Daytona thinking they were going to break and engine. They were probably all surprised about it. Whether testing would have caught them or not, I don't know. There are some situations that it probably could have but then there are other situations that it probably wouldn't have."
DOES IT MEAN ANYTHING THAT THE TWO GUYS THAT FOUGHT IT OUT FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP LAST FALL AND WERE THE OVERWHELMING PRE-SEASON FAVORITES THIS YEAR, JIMMIE JOHNSON AND CARL EDWARDS, ARE OFF TO RELATIVELY SLOW STARTS? "You got to be careful to not look at points all though points are very important. You have to look more at how people are performing. I think the No. 48 and the No. 99 have performed well. I know when I was leading the race last week the No. 48 was running me down for a period of time. I know the No. 99 has run well too so I think sometimes you have to overlook the points, this time of the year especially, and look at who is running well. Those guys are going to be just fine. There's no question. If they have a lot of bad luck they won't be just fine but on the other hand I wouldn't take them off my list just yet."
EVEN WITH SIMULATION IS THE DRIVER A LITTLE BIT MORE IMPORTANT THIS YEAR THAN MAYBE LAST YEAR WITHOUT THE TESTING ON THE SET UP? "There's two ways at looking at that. Without testing the simulation may be more important. There's two different ways of looking at it and I can tell you that when the year is over you're going to have teams that were successful that had very good simulation programs and you're going to have teams that were successful that had mediocre simulation programs. I think to really be right you've got to be able to do both. I believe one thing you are seeing is all though we've all been working hard on simulation, I think it's coming to a much greater focus this year without being able to test.
"If you were using simulation as a verification tool, then this program probably doesn't work very well for you. Specifically with us we've been working very hard, the No. 31 team we try to use a lot of tools not just simulation to help us build our set ups and the drivers comments are real important to that because at the end of the day what really matters is the way the car feels to the driver. It doesn't matter how it feels to an engineer or how it feels to a computer. What really matters is what does the driver feel like in the car. At this level if you make the drivers comfortable they're going to perform. And by the way, what makes one guys comfortable may not make another guy comfortable and there's a whole other element of technology that's very hard to figure out. Why does Kevin Harvick like a particular set of parameters that Clint Bowyer doesn't like. That's very difficult to figure out. So any time you put a human element in there it changes the game but I think it's becoming a huge part of NASCAR racing, technology is, simulation is, the gathering of information and understanding of information is a big business right now."
WITH GM'S LATEST ROUND OF WOES, HOW BIG OF A CONCERN IS THAT IT MAY TRICKLE DOWN AND HAVE SOME KIND OF NEGATIVE IMPACT ON YOU GUYS? "My biggest concern is more that people aren't going to look at cars. Honestly my biggest concern is if the overall economy doesn't allow people to go look at vehicles to purchase them that's more of what I'm worried about because that impacts us in a great deal of ways the same way it impacts General Motors. My experience with Chevrolet in particular and their new vehicles, if people go sit in them and drive them they're going to buy them. They've made huge improvements. So my biggest concern as it relates to Chevrolet is freeing up credit and giving people the security that they want to buy a car, that they have a job. We can talk about Chevrolet but the real key is what is the overall economy? Chevrolet has shown for years that they're very committed to racing and that commitment is not going to go away. But if our economy doesn't get jump started, if credit doesn't get freed up, if people don't feel secure about their jobs then not only is Chevrolet going to have a problem there's a lot of manufacturers of a lot of different products that are going to have major problems. So I have a much more concern about that."
REGARDING START AND PARK TEAMS, WHAT DO YOU THINK THE RULES AND REGULATIONS SHOULD BE ABOUT ALLOWING CARS TO DROP OUT OF A RACE ESPECIALLY IN TOUGH ECONOMIC TIMES? "Well listen, in a perfect world we have 43 teams, and I've preached this for a long time, we have 43 teams that are well-funded, that can bring a hundred percent effort to the race track. When we don't have a perfect world it's okay to try to be building something. This environment has created an opportunity for some people to have ownership that wouldn't have had it before. If those guys can go and do whatever they have to do to get through this tough time and that ultimately lands them sponsorship then good for them because ultimately that's good for our sport. It's NASCAR's business because this is their business. If there is, and you guys can tell me better, who has started and parked this year? I'm honestly asking the question. I don't have the answer to that. All the teams I've seen have worked hard to make the race. I haven't seen anybody park but I'm watching it from my perspective not from somebody else's. I know I tried to run every lap at California and I was hoping more people would park because I was running in the back and I didn't see many people pulling in. I don't think it's as big of an issue that some people are making it out to be. You've got to do what you've got to do to get through tough times. What do we have 47, 48 cars here today? It is what it is and I don't think there should be a whole lot of concern about it."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT WHAT IT MEANS TO COME OUT LAST WEEK AFTER GETTING IN TROUBLE IN DAYTONA AND STRUGGLING IN CALIFORNIA, AND HAVING A STRONG RUN, NOT JUST FOR YOU BUT ALL THE RCR TEAMS? "Points are important and just to be clear you can put yourself in a position where it's very, very difficult to catch up and finish in the top 12 this time of year. I'm not suggesting that points don't matter because they do. But if you're the No. 48 and you're 19th in points, you can still make the Chase. For us in particular, what I'm trying to focus on is how we are running. If we can't run well we want to maximize our opportunity, if we do run well we want to maximize our opportunity. Last week we finished third, we ran well, we led laps. I thought we deserved a third to fifth place, we got a third and I was happy with that. The week before that we were the slowest race car at the race track. I was really concerned about that more than I was where we finished because we were so pathetically slow. You have to pay attention to points because if you want to win a championship you have to do that, but what will ultimately make you points is how well you run. If you can maximize running well you'll get a lot of points. There are days that you're going to run bad and you've got to get everything you're going to get and on those days you're racing for points too."
-credit: gm racing