JEFF BURTON, DRIVER OF THE NO. 31 AT&T IMPALA SS, met with members of the media at Bristol Motor Speedway and discussed his win at Bristol in the spring, young drivers moving into the sport, having an extra weekend off in next year's schedule and...
JEFF BURTON, DRIVER OF THE NO. 31 AT&T IMPALA SS, met with members of the media at Bristol Motor Speedway and discussed his win at Bristol in the spring, young drivers moving into the sport, having an extra weekend off in next year's schedule and more.
TALK ABOUT YOUR WIN HERE IN THE SPRING AND HOW IT WILL HELP YOU IN THE RACE ON SATURDAY. "Well it was an exciting race for us. We pretty much rand third to sixth all day. We had a real competitive car and just kind of kept ourselves in position. Obviously we didn't win it by just brut force. We had some things go our way at the end. We had a good car all day and that's really how you win these races. Just being in the position to win them and that's what we were able to do on that day. It was pretty cold when we raced here in the spring, track temperature is going to be up a quite a bit. The track is going to probably have less grip than it did when we were here then. We've got to adapt to that but this has been one of our stronger race tracks really and hopefully we can continue to do that."
READ A LOT THIS WEEK ABOUT BRISTOL BEING TAMER THAN IT USED TO BE, HOW MUCH DOES THE DATE ON THE SCHEDULE WITH THE CHASE CUT OFF COMING TWO WEEKS LATER RESULTED IN LESS AGGRESSIVENESS FROM YOUR STAND POINT? "We talk a lot about the Chase and how it affects the racing here at Bristol especially. If you really think about it there's probably two or three cars that pretty much know they are in the Chase. There is a great deal of cars that are not going to be in the Chase and there's another two or three cars that feel pretty good about where they are in the Chase. By far the majority of the people that are in the race either know they are not in the Chase or know they're going to be in the Chase. So when you think about it the six, seven cars that are still battling that out, eight cars maybe, those eight cars are in a position where finishing twelfth is way better than finishing thirty-eighth. Most of the cars in the field are kind of in a don't have anything to lose situation so I don't really buy that so much. Obviously if we didn't race for points at all then every race that we go to would be different than how we race today. I don't think of that as having as big of an impact as people make it out."
A LOT OF GUYS ARE EIGHTEEN, NINETEEM, TWENTY-YEARS-OLD MOVING UP INTO THE SPORT, LOOKING BACK COULD YOU IMAGINE HAVING BEEN AN EIGHTEEN, NINETEEN, TWENTY-YEAR-OLD RACING AT THIS LEVEL? "The way that I did it I think was better than the way it's done today. Me having time to grow up as a race car driver but more importantly as a person I think was better than throwing a kid nineteen, twent-years-old into this. I'm not saying it's wrong doing that, I just think it served me personally fine to do it the way I did it. I thought running the Nationwide Series allowed me a chance to mature. I ran it full-time for like four or five years and that was a great experience. I learned a lot. It enabled me to mature and made me a better race car driver. It made me a more mature person before I moved up into this. Then when I moved up into this I drove for a team that really didn't expect to win. They were very happy running fifteenth, twentieth was a good day. It's a whole other criteria that I was doing compared to what they're doing today. To me I think the way I did it was in some ways better, in other ways it was harder but it allowed me to grow and get a better understanding of what goes on here."
AFTER FINISHING ONE-TWO-THREE HERE WITH RCR IN THE SPRING, ARE YOU SURPRISED THE ORGANIZATION HASN'T WON MORE? "We haven't put ourselves in position to win more. That's just the just of it. We haven't led enough laps. We haven't knocked off as many top-fives. We haven't done those things as well as we need to do to win more races. When you don't do those things you're not going to win a lot of races. We came into the year last year after our testing feeling like we were a touch behind from the Gibbs cars. Thought we had made some ground up on a lot of teams. Thought the Gibbs cars had done a better job. Thought maybe the Roush group had done a little better job. We've been kind of playing catch up on that the whole time. I don't think we've fallen further behind. Some days I think we're caught up and other days I think we haven't. We just haven't performed at that level where you can go out and win four or five races a year. That's not to say that we're not going to but we just haven't done it to this point."
ON WHETHER RACE DRIVERS REALLY ARE ATHLETES? "If you look at the definition of what an athlete is there's no denying that we're athletes. Am I the same athlete that a Michael Irvin was, that a Charles Barkley, I don't know. If you look at a center verses a point guard they're two completely different athletes playing the same game. If you look at a lineman verses a wide receiver, its two different types of athletes playing the same game. We have a skill set that enables us to be successful at this sport. I don't believe that I'm in the same condition as one of our premier wide receivers, one of our premier point guards. I'm not in that same physical stature that one of those guys are but just because I couldn't do what they do as well as they do, I'm willing to bet they can't do what I do as well as I can either. Because I'm not a basketball player that doesn't mean I'm not an athlete and because they're not a race car driver doesn't mean they're not an athlete. I would turn it around and say you come sit in my car for four and half hours when it's 140 degrees and do what I do and until you do that I don't think you're an athlete. That's absurd because they are athletes. You don't have to be the same type of athlete to be successful in this as you have to do to be successful in the NBA."
WHEN YOU LOOK AT THE CHASE WHAT DOES IT SAY TO YOU ABOUT THE LEVEL OF COMPETITION WHEN YOU HAVE SIX THROUGH FOURTEEN REALLY CLOSE? "Yeah it's really close. We debate all the time the quality of racing that we have. We debate is it as good today as it was back in the day. We have that debate all the time. It's really a stupid debate. If you watch the racing today verses the way it was fifteen years ago there's no comparison. The racing today is ten times better. Competition is way more competitive than it used to be. There's just no doubt about it. If you go back and you look at twenty-five years ago how many cars finished on the lead lap, how many cars led laps compared to what we have today. With no disrespect to the history there's not time in our sports history compared to the modern day area that has been more competitive. That's just how it is. It doesn't surprise me that things are as close as they are because the teams are so competitive. That's what one of the fears about multi-car teams was they were going to take competition away from the sport it's actually increases competition because Jack Roush has five really good teams. Joe Gibbs has three really good teams. Hendrick has four really good teams. That makes the racing more competitive and it shows up in the points."
WE'VE RACED THE NEW CAR FOR A YEAR AND A HALF NOW, HOW MUCH BETTER IS IT THAN IT WAS WHEN IF DEBUTED HERE A YEAR AND A HALF AGO? "It's still really easy for it to get away from you. If you listen to teams during races and you watch teams during practice you can hear the frustration. This is a very difficult race car to get your hands around. It just is. It's got a high center of gravity. It's heavier. Aerodynamically it's quite a bit different than what we were accustomed to. It's a huge challenge. We've made improvements on the car. The teams have made improvement in learning how to set them up there's no question about that but if we could whip out a car two years old and wear this thing out we just could. It is a huge challenge for the teams. It just is. Not a negative commentary on it, it's just so different that it's harder to make work than the old car."
IS IT AS MUCH OF A STRUGGLE TO GET THE SET UP RIGHT FOR THE WHOLE RACE? "I think it's a struggle for the whole race but you see some teams being able to do it. That means it can be done. And it's more of a struggle from week-to-week. You see some teams run really, really well then a week later run not so well. It's hard to have a base line and always use that base line."
COULD YOU COMPARE THE CAR OF TOMORROW FROM LAST AUGUST TO WHEN YOU RACED IN MARCH AND WHERE IT'S AT NOW? "Honestly it's the same car. There hasn't been any major changes that NASCAR has done to the car. Any improvements that have been made have been made in the teams learning how to work with the car. There's some teams that would walk in here today and tell you that there's been no improvements because they haven't been able to make improvements and there's would be teams that would tell you it's a lot better because they've been able to make improvements to how their car drives and that's just going to vary from team to team in how their answer is."
HAVING SAID WHAT YOU SAID EARLIER, IF YOU OWNED A CUP TEAM AND YOU HAD A SPOT WOULD YOU PUT JOEY LAGANO IN IT, OR IS HE BEING PUT IN TOO EARLY? "I'd put him in it in a heartbeat. How do I say this without being rude, when I say that I think it was better for me to do it the way that I did it that doesn't mean you can do it like that today. If you've run in the Nationwide Series for four or five years and haven't had much success, there's not many people like that getting cup rides today but that was common when I did it. It's common now to take a kid you think has talent and put him in it. If I were the Gibbs group and that seat were available that would be my candidate. I'd put him in there and I'd put my arm around him and say we're with you, it's going to be hard, it's going to be tough but we got your back. Don't try to do more than you can do and I'd send him on his way.
"He's going to have a great advantage getting into equipment that is really, really competitive right now. They're not going to have to be searching for something as he's learning. And don't forget, I don't know how many laps that kids has in the car of tomorrow but it's a lot. Everywhere I go to test he's there. He's got a lot of laps in these cars. The biggest adjustment is going to be how competitive it is. When you run eighteenth in a cup race you're in the middle of a dog fight. When you run eighteenth in a Nationwide race you're running really poorly. It's a whole other world. The competition from top to bottom is just so much more competitive. Adjusting to that is going to be the biggest thing."
HAVE YOU GIVEN ANY THOUGHT TO THE NEW SCHEDULE NEXT YEAR AND CAN YOU GIVE SOME PROS AND CONS IN YOUR MIND OF HAVING THAT BREAK AT THE END OF THE SUMMER RIGHT BEFORE THE CHASE? "Maybe ya'll can answer a question for me, how did we get an extra weekend off?
IT'S WHERE LABOR DAY FALLS. "So are we running longer?"
IT'S JUST THE WAY THE CALENDAR FALLS. "Well I like the calendar falling like that. I was torn between looking at it and seeing four weekends off and thinking we're running an extra week -- anyway. I don't care if the weekend off is before the Chase starts or before this or before that, the thing I haven't liked about our weekend's off prior to this year is you would run two races then get a weekend off, run two races get another weekend off then run two marathons. That's herendous for all of us. All of us need to spend a little more time with our kids, a little more time with our wives. I know it sounds silly but having one off weekend more is huge in being able to spread that thing out and just kind of get back centered to what's really important in life. I wouldn't care if we raced from late January to late November and raced the same number of races and have more weekends off. To me I think that would make all our quality of life would be better because of it. From a performance standpoint and competition standpoint I don't think it really matters. From a personal standpoint and giving our crew members, the media, NASCAR and everybody where they could spend one extra weekend at home a year I think that's a real good thing."
DAVID RAGAN IS A GUY WHOSE GONE FROM THE EDGE OF THE TOP-35 TO EDGE OF THE CHASE THIS YEAR AND IN THE PROCESS HE SOMEWHAT BUCKED THIS KNEW TREND OF MAYBE TEAMS NOT HAVING MUCH PATIENCE WITH YOUNGER DRIVERS, CAN YOU TALK ABOUT HIS PROGRESS? "David's done it the way that I think it should be done. He came in, got to prove to the world and he had to figure out how all this worked and he backed it down and he became much more concerned about running well but also understanding they were 500-mile races. He had backed it to the 500-mile races. He's done it in a way that's been quiet. To me I think he deserves a tremendous amount of respect for that and a tremendous amount of accolades for that because he's made huge improvements and he's done it in a quiet way. When I say that, you can have several approaches in how you do this but one thing you have to understand is you make the rules for everybody else. So the way you drive is the way everybody else drives you. His first few races I don't think he got that but he did learn it really quickly. I think he's done a remarkable job. I've been exceptionally impressed with what he's been able to do and I'm proud of his sponsors, of Jack (Roush), everybody involved, Jimmy Fenning of being able to just say look David here's what we want from you and David delivering. That's how it should be. It's like having a three-year-old and being mad because that three-year-old acts like a three-year-old you can't have a young driver and then give up on them because he acts like a young driver because he's a young driver. Once you make that commitment you've got to be willing to see it through and help him mature and it looks like all parties did that. He deserves the most credit because he's done the work and I think it's been really cool to see."
THIS IS THE FIFTH YEAR OF THE CHASE FORMAT DO YOU STILL FEEL LIKE IT'S THE BEST WAY TO DETERMINE THE CHAMPION? "I'm a big fan of the Chase. I think it creates excitement. As in any playoff type system you can always say well that team won twenty games and they should have won whatever and they didn't because they lost in the first round of playoffs. It's about being right at the right time of year. It's about positioning yourself and getting it done when it counts and that's who the champion is. I think it's the best way to do it. I think it's the most exciting way to do it. If there's a way to make it more exciting I'm all for it. I'm a big proponent of it. I think it's the right thing to do."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT SCOTT WIMMER, LOOKS LIKE HE'S GOING TO BE THE ODD MAN OUT AT RCR? "Well I'm not aware of Scott being the odd man out. Scott's done a really good job not only in the Nationwide car but in a lot of testing. He's been a guy that's been willing to do whatever the company has asked him to do. He's put in a lot of hard days at race tracks when nobody knew he was there. He certainly wasn't doing it for the glory or the pay check, he was doing it because he was committed to our company. He drove more races than I did last year and we won a championship. He's done a great job. Currently today he's one of the guys running Nationwide races at Childress' this year. I was really impressed with what Scott did last year and he's done even more this year. I'm a Scott Wimmer fan. I think he's done a great job."
-credit: gm racing