Burton, Harvick, Johnson - COT transcript, part 1



THE MODERATOR: We're pleased to be joined by Jeff Burton, driver of the No. 31 Cingular Wireless Chevrolet. Jeff, I know you tested the car numerous occasions. Talk about your impressions out there today. In the laps that you ran, how did the car feel?

JEFF BURTON: I think all in all, from a driver's perspective, once you get in the car, it's just a car. It's a matter of getting the car to do the things you want it to do. Obviously there are people that are faster than others. That's what we do.

In my world, it's no longer about the Car of Tomorrow; it's just about a car, trying to do it better than everybody else. I know that's probably not what y'all are wanting to hear. In my eyes, that's where we are.

The Car of Tomorrow is here today. We've been working hard on it. There are a lot of interesting things going on here today. There are people that are here to win the test, there are people that are here to test to learn, to try a lot of different things. They come back; they can make the best guess on what they want to do. There's people getting their first shot at the Car of Tomorrow. A lot of things going on today.

For us in particular, we're just trying to build a database that we can start, you know, compiling information so that when we do come back here, when we go to Dover, other places, hopefully we can be as good as we need to be.

THE MODERATOR: We'll take questions.

Q: Jeff, the talk from Daytona on has been that the RCR cars, when you get to the Car of Tomorrow test, are somewhat better off than all the rest. Can you see other people struggling out there more than y'all are? Since you're the most circumspect of the drivers, a commercial question for you, as this thing actually goes into effect, do you feel a car manufacturer can benefit from such a uniform car?

JEFF BURTON: Before we go too far, can you define, what was that word, 'circum' what?

Q: Circumspect.

JEFF BURTON: What the hell does that mean (laughter)?

Q: Viewing all around you with great perception.

JEFF BURTON: Okay. I'll take that as a compliment (laughter). I forgot your question I was so tuned in on that word.

No, I started hearing, you know, down at the media tour in Daytona word that RCR was going to have this grand advantage because we were working on the Car of Tomorrow. I find that humorous. You think Hendrick has been hanging out at the lake. You think Roush hasn't been working on it or Childress. Everyone's been working hard on it.

For some reason, real early in the game, you know, word got out we were working hard on it. All of a sudden we're going to do better than everybody else.

We never thought we were working harder at it than anybody else. Obviously some of the more under-funded teams haven't been able to put the resources to it that Hendrick or Roush or Childress have been able to.

I don't think we put more effort into it. I don't expect to see more results. I expect it to be just like we saw last Sunday: very competitive with several teams on any given week with a chance to win. I in no way got on the plane coming over here this morning thinking we had such a huge advantage.

I'm proud of the work we've done. I think we've done a lot of hard work, but I didn't think we had done any more than anybody else. As far as the manufacturers, I don't know. I mean, I honestly don't have a perspective. I think it gives -- obviously you can see in some advertising already there's been the Car of Tomorrow featured in the advertisements. I'm not attuned to that, that side of it. I hate to make comment.

I think the manufacturers are a huge part of what we do. We have to have their support. We have to have their involvement from a technological standpoint and also from a monetary standpoint in some cases. It has to work for them. If it doesn't, then that would be long-term maybe not good for the sport.

But I don't see the Car of Tomorrow not working for the manufacturers.

Q: Jeff, you tested here last year. How has your setup changed this time around as compared to one year ago?

JEFF BURTON: It's changed drastically because, you know, as we started this program, we had built a tremendous amount of ideas and thoughts, trying to find different ways to skin the cat, so to speak. Without a doubt, we unloaded completely different here this time than we did in the last time we were here.

I don't know if it's better or not. Only time will tell. Setups will evolve quickly. This is an interesting day. I've never seen such a big change, you know, happen in NASCAR. We're all here at the same time trying to figure it out. People are going to leave here with ideas and come back with other ideas based on what they learned here. Then when they go to Martinsville, there's going to be more ideas. It's going to keep building on itself.

Without a doubt, we have a different setup here than we did a year ago.

Q: The goal of this car supposedly was to make the racing better. Is it going to do that?

JEFF BURTON: Time will tell. I think you're exaggerating the effort of this car. There was a tremendous amount of effort put into the safety side of things, too. I don't think that should be -- that shouldn't be left unsaid. The goal is to have better racing and safer vehicles. That's the goal. I don't have the answer. I do believe short-term we have the possibility of a larger gap from first to last because it's so new. Some people are going to figure it out quicker than others. Long-term I think we have the opportunity for competition to be better because we're restricted in all the things we can do.

Only time will tell. But I think the potential for closer racing is there.

Q: Obviously we know the aerodynamics of the car are going to make it drive different on a superspeedway. Have you noticed any drift difference here at Bristol?

JEFF BURTON: The cars are definitely different. I don't know if that has as much to do with downforce or center-of-gravity changes. The setups we run on these cars are different than the setups we run on other cars. There's a lot of variables. It's difficult to say why that is.

You know, if you ask me what my car does, I'm going to give you an answer from where I want it to be to where it is right now. But someone else may give you a different answer because nobody's handling perfect. Everybody needs to work on their cars, some more than others.

My car doesn't drive like a spaceship, it drives like a race car, but I need to turn better for sure. I'm a little freer on entry than I want to be and I need to turn a lot better. That's probably the same thing I said when we came here last time with the car we're racing today, not the Car of Tomorrow. I mean, that's a common problem. Too lose in, too tight everywhere else at Bristol. That's a common problem.

Q: With the changes that have been made from the previous cars to the Car of Tomorrow, do you think they're going to be more noticeable when you get to the larger speedways than at Bristol or Martinsville?

JEFF BURTON: This race is going to be close no matter what. You could put 43 Volkswagens out there and you're going to have a close race. They might roll faster. It's going to be a close race because there's no way you cannot have a close race here. It's just impossible not to. The next race is Martinsville. Guess what? We're going to have a close race there. There's no way you possibly can't. As we go to Phoenix, we went to Phoenix, did the tire test with Goodyear. The 17 was there, the 12 was there. I think we all left with the same impression of: Hey, they're just cars. It's going to be interesting to see when you get 43 of them out there. But we all three left with the impression this can work.

We don't know yet what's going to happen when you're next to somebody. We don't know what's going to happen when you get into certain situations. We honestly don't know. But I don't see some mad demon coming out and biting. I just don't see it right now.

Q: Likes and dislikes, can you name any?

JEFF BURTON: I mean, I like the fact that it's a safer vehicle. I like the fact there's more room for the driver. There are a lot of things about that that I really like. We're racers so we want the opportunity to do more things than NASCAR's going to allow us to do in this. So I don't like the restrictions, although I understand the idea behind the restrictions. I'm a guy that wants to try to, you know, have better engineering and better science and be able to find a way to do it better than the next guy. It's in NASCAR's best interest to not have that. It's in NASCAR's best interest for competition, to be able to not allow a $20 million team outrun a $15 million team just because they have the extra $5 million.

I can't argue with that. I can't argue with that. At the end of the day, it's their job to provide good quality racing for the fans. It's our job to make the race boring. I think long-term we're taking away the opportunity for me and my team to do it a whole lot better than somebody else. It's less opportunity to make the race boring.

Sounds like a good plan if you're on your side of it. It's not a good plan if you're on my side of it.

Q: I think Chad Knaus said that is going to show the disparity in the talent of drivers. Do you agree with that theory?

JEFF BURTON: I'll answer that question after we run. If we run well, I'll say yes (laughter).

You know, I've had the opportunity to drive in the IROC Series for four or five years in a situation where the cars were the same. What we have here is NASCAR's trying to make the cars closer, but they're still not the same 'cause we do have tolerances, we do have -- there are tolerances. You can run whatever front snout within the limits.

There's still things we have a tremendous amount of flexibility to work with. So the teams are going to play a huge role in how well you run. It's not just going to be the driver.

My IROC point is that I've driven IROC cars and I look like Richard Petty. Then the next week, I look like I've never been in a car before. Cars that were identically prepared, purposefully identically prepared, drove totally different. There's no question that out of the 50 cars that are here today, there's a car out there that's better than the other ones. There's no question about that.

I don't see how this is any different than the cars we have today in the sense that one team, one engineering staff, one group of people is going to do a better job of making that car go fast than another. We won't know if it's 'cause that driver is better or 'cause the car handles better. You never know.

I hear what Chad is saying. I do think the closer the cars are, then the more the driver stands out. But there's still huge variables we have in the car that allow the team to have a huge influence on how fast you can go.

Again, if we run well, I'll say, yes, it's all about the driver. If we don't, I'll say it's all about the team. That's what we do. That's what we get paid to do. I just don't see how it's a whole lot different than where we are today.

THE MODERATOR: Jeff, thanks a lot for your time.

We'll bring in your running mate, driver of the No. 29 Shell-Pennzoil Chevrolet, Kevin Harvick. Kevin, talk about your first runs out there today.

KEVIN HARVICK: Got a lot more headroom in my car. Feel good about that.

It's just been a struggle for us. We've had a really tough time just getting going. We came here with a lot of different things. We're just going to work in a different direction here after lunch.

It will be fine. Just had a tough morning.

THE MODERATOR: Questions for Kevin. Contacts:

Q: You said "struggle." Can you expand on that and describe what struggles exactly?

KEVIN HARVICK: Our car is just not handling like it needs to be right now. We're really, really tight.

Q: Bristol being what it is, so much of a chassis track, all this testing that y'all do here, then racing that you do here, are y'all going to leave here knowing a whole heck of a lot more about the Car of Tomorrow for general purposes than when you came here?

KEVIN HARVICK: No, and I think that's -- we haven't tested anywhere of the magnitude of banking that we're on here. We've done all the flat track stuff. We feel really good about our package with that. We hadn't done a whole lot on the bank stuff. We didn't really know where to start. That's one reason why we were a little bit off in the beginning. We'll get it figured out. It's a whole different package. Obviously everything is different on the car. It's just going to take time to get it figured out.

By the time we leave, we'll have it figured out and know where we need to be for Bristol. We feel like we're good for Phoenix and Loudon. Jeff did the tire test at Phoenix. Our cars were pretty good. We had a lot of different ideas coming here. We're just kind of taking a couple steps back.

Q: Kevin, with the Car of Tomorrow that you have here today, how much difference do you see in your setup as far as sway bar, swings and shocks go?

KEVIN HARVICK: We took a 180 approach from what we have normally. We're venturing back towards more what we have normally. Probably not going to be a lot different than probably where we wind up normally. From the inside, you have a lot more headroom. You have a lot more room in the cab. You have a lot of things better inside of there.

Looking out the front windshield, it's really not a whole lot different other than you have more room to move around in the car. I really feel like once we get everything setup-wise where we need to be, I don't think the car's going to really drive a whole lot different here, to tell you the truth. I don't think it's going to be as big a deal as everybody wants it to be.

Continued in part 2

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Kevin Harvick , Chad Knaus