Charlotte II: Jeff Burton - GM Top-10 interview

BEHIND THE HAULER CHAT WITH JEFF BURTON, NO. 31 CINGULAR WIRELESS MONTE CARLO SS: ON THIS WEEKEND'S RACE AT LOWE'S MOTOR SPEEDWAY: "This is an exciting weekend racing here at Lowe's, it is always a lot of fun. I really like this race track. At...


ON THIS WEEKEND'S RACE AT LOWE'S MOTOR SPEEDWAY: "This is an exciting weekend racing here at Lowe's, it is always a lot of fun. I really like this race track. At the same time, because we had such new conditions in the spring with the tire that we had, it is almost like going to a new race track. We have a new left side tire, the race track has set for five months, or whatever it has been, so this event has a lot of feel of not knowing what to expect when we first go out on to the race track. A little bit of anxiousness about what the track is going to be like. On top of that, the schedule is a bit bizarre. We practice all during the day, no night practices, and then we race all at night. The first thing today is learning what the track is like, what your car is like on the track with the new left side tire to affect handling to build a strategy for tomorrow. That is what is on our mind right now. This weekend has a feel a lot like it does when we go to a new race track."

THOUGHTS ON WHAT HE WOULD HAVE DONE IN CIRCUMSTANCES AT THE END OF LAST SUNDAY'S RACE AT TALLADEGA: "I think anything other than trying to make the pass to win would have been wrong. You gain the most points by winning the race. Jimmie (Johnson) was sitting there with a big run on the No. 8 car and anything other than pulling out wasn't an option because the line was pretty far back from them so if the move didn't work it, he had Brian there with him, was probably going to push him, Jimmie Johnson was probably going to win that race if he cleared Earnhardt. Jimmie did without a doubt, 100% what I would have done. There is a point at Talladega where you are in protection mode. The position we were in, we were sitting there running fifth, we weren't going to pass four cars to win the race. Our best chance was to try stay in line, to hope someone in front of us made a move they shouldn't have made in an effort to try and win the race, and then pass that guy. There is a point when that comes in to play. But when you are the second place car with a run on the leader, with one lap to go, you have got to make that mood. "

ON WHAT TRACKS MIGHT PRESENT ISSUES AFTER LOWE'S IN THE LAST FIVE RACES OF THE CHASE: "I feel good about all the tracks that we have coming up from a personal standpoint and a team standpoint. I think that the tracks we have coming are tracks that we have really run well on. The only one that we haven't really is Homestead. I haven't been to Homestead under the new configuration with a team that is performing at this level. We go to Homestead and test next Monday and Tuesday. We are taking two brand new cars there down there, one of them is kind of the same as we have been running, the other is a new version. We are going there to try to learn, to try to get better. That is really a track that we haven't run well on. I am looking forward to testing there.

"I think Martinsville, much like Talladega, have the opportunity to affect a lot of people in the Chase. It is a short track where mechanical issues come up quite often, it is easy to get wrecked, it is easy to have things happen that aren't good there. I think Martinsville is a track that potentially could affect a lot of people."

ON BATTLING FORMER TEAMMATE AND FRIEND MARK MARTIN FOR CHAMPIONSHIP: "I think you are insinuating that as Mark retires, I am soon to be crowned the most pessimistic person in motorsports. (LAUGHS) I reluctantly take that banner. Mark is the kind of person you would like to surround yourself with. He is honest, straightforward, very to the point; He is truly a good person at the same time, ultra competitive. He wants to win races and win championships as badly as anyone I have ever seen. We have not had a conversation about the situation we are in. We did at Richmond before the race when we were pretty neck and neck for the top-10. We both said that they wished it wasn't the other they were trying to beat tonight. But we also understood that it was our job to go out and do the best we could for ourselves and our teams. The same goes here. We are working exceptionally hard to win the championship. If we were to find a way to win it and if we were to find a way to beat Mark for it, I would take that as a tremendous compliment. At the same time if we weren't able to find a way to do it and Mark was, I would feel really good for him. But this is a self-serving sport. This is a sport; all sports are, where there is a level of selfishness, there is a level of self-centeredness that is acceptable. If you give me my choice, I am going to pick me. At the same time, I consider Mark to be a very very close friend and I have the utmost respect for him."

ON IF ANYTHING ABOUT LOWE'S RACE FAVOR ONE TEAM OVER ANOTHER: "The No. 48 team's record at Lowe's is stellar. They left here finishing second in the spring race this year and were probably pretty disappointed. That is an amazing thing. Any time there is a change, I don't know who it favors, but it favors someone and some people adapt to that change quicker than others. This is a different facility than it was in years past. We have a new left side tire so the people who did their homework the best are the people who are going to do well this weekend. We practice under conditions that aren't anything like what we are going to race under, so the people that can best slide that information from daytime to nighttime will do the best job. Who that is, I don't know but anytime you have adverse or different conditions, someone will benefit from them."

ON NASCAR HAVING A TRAVELING SAFETY TEAM AND ON HOW NASCAR IS DOING WITH SAFETY AS A WHOLE IN RELATION TO WHAT BILL ELLIOTT'S NEW BOOK CONTAINS: "I haven't seen or read the book although I am looking forward to doing so. I think Bill's perspective is a perspective that should be looked at and respected. Bill has seen it 20 years ago and he has seen it as it is today. I don't have that same perspective. I certainly see it as it is today. I can honestly tell you that I feel that the healthcare that NASCAR provides is at an all-time high. Is it good enough? It is pretty high. Could it be improved? I am sure it could as everything in life could be improved. I am not one of those people that believe you have to have a traveling safety team that has a staff of 20 or whatever. I do believe that we have to have a group that travels to each and every race that understands the challenges that are unique to our sport.

"When we can couple the local knowledge of what we do with the knowledge of a guy that five or six days a week deals with trauma issues, I think that is best of all scenarios. If we have a guy that travels to the track with us, or a group of people that travel with us, that means they no longer have the opportunity to spend the bulk of their time working on trauma cases, I think we start to lose something there.

"I think extraditing people from the cars in the proper in our vehicles. I think there are certain components of what we do that having a group that has an intimate knowledge of would be very beneficial. At the same time, there is a tremendous amount to be gained from someone who has under-the-fire experience. Who was just two days ago working a major trauma case, I think we are benefited from that as well. I see both sides of the story. I am comfortable with where we are today; I am comfortable with the fact that NASCAR has taken up with great seriousness the fact that we could do it better. I also believe that NASCAR has no reason to do it, any way other than right.

"There is no reason for them to say let's not do it the right way. I think they are doing it the way they believe is right. I know from experience that from a constructive, well thought out argument, NASCAR is willing to change. I don't have a problem the way things are being handled today. I will tell you 10 years ago it wasn't like that. It was a different ballgame 10 years ago than it is today."

ON MEDIA' S ABILITY TO CHANGE NASCAR'S MIND: "NASCAR's opinion has been changed by the media more than once. Not only in medical issues, but in competition as well. Years ago, one of the great games was to cause as much stir as you could about how your manufacturer could no longer be competitive and get that thing swirling and then NASCAR has to address it. I am not saying this as an insult to NASCAR, what I am saying is NASCAR and your job is competition or your job is to provide safety and someone starts the conversation and the swirl gets going. You have little choice but to deal with it because you guys aren't going to let them off the hook. In my opinion, the have a reputation, especially when it comes to competition, in the past of yielding to that pressure.

"I will tell you however, that as they have become a more open group, more willing to have conversation, become more of a debate rather than an argument on a particular issue, they have become way less prone to move because of what you guys are talking about. I think that is a good thing. It has been my experience over the last four years that NASCAR has been extremely open to any discussion I want to have with them on any subject. I am not saying we always agree and we don't always agree. I have always told you guys that I am not afraid I am going to wake up with a severed horse head in my bed because I disagree with NASCAR. I don't believe that is the case today. I believe that it is very much more open than it used to be. I have all of Mike Helton's numbers, I have direct access to Mike, Robin (Pemberton), John (Darby) and I have never once been in a situation where I called them and they didn't take my call and take whatever amount of time I want to take concerning whatever I issue it is.

"Are we always going to agree? No, we are not. By the way, if you put 20 people in this room and asked what is the best way to provide medical assistance to a driver, crewmember, and fan - it is not just 43 drivers. I have been in the infield care center on a Friday night and there are six people who have fallen off of motorhomes, or are too drunk -- by the way they want autographs there too -- they have a lot more going on than you realize. If you put 20 trained specialists in this room and said, let's figure out how to do this, there would be 20 opinions on what is the right way to do it. In retrospect you can say, you can step back and say, 'Hey guess what, I told you that you were supposed to do it like that'. It is easier to do in retrospect; it is harder to do before the fact.

"I am comfortable with the way things are currently, I have zero issues with the way things are. But at the same token, I think that safety, in any form or fashion is a goal that can never be reached. If we get to the point where we say we are doing it good enough, you better strap your helmet on because bad things are going to happen. We have got to always be pushing to do it better, better ideas, brighter ideas, quicker ideas, we have to always be pushing for that. If we ever lose that, we have big trouble."

ON CHANGES HE HAS FELT IN AN IMPACT WITH NEW SAFETY FEATURES NOW IN PLACE: "There is no question it is different. With all the effort that has gone in to the safer barriers, Humpy (Wheeler) and his staff have spent a tremendous amount of time and effort trying to find a better way to do the safer barriers, is what needs to happen. One day, we will find a better system than this. This is just the best thing we have right. Technology for seats, head and neck, walls - all of those things have made it way better. I don't know how to describe the difference in feel, but it is different. Don't think for one moment it is a 'safer' barrier. Anytime you strap yourself in to something that will go 200 mph, weighs 3,500 lbs., that isn't the safest thing to do. It is still an exceptionally dangerous sport. The advancements that have been made, make it much more acceptable."

ON NASCAR BEING REACTIVE RATHER THAN PROACTIVE AS STATED IN BILL ELLIOTT'S BOOK: "I like Bill (Elliott) and I applaud him. The great thing about him is when you sit down and talk to him; he is a very opinionated person. That has obviously come through in his book. Without a doubt, 10 years ago NASCAR was much more reactionary than they are today. There is a fine line between being a reactive company and a progressive company. It is a very fine line. The hardest part about what we do as a race team is to know when to quit doing what you are doing. When is what you are doing, no longer the right thing or the right place to do it. That is the hardest part. It is why Jeff Gordon can win 13 races in one year then two years later, he can't. Knowing how to keep that, and what to change in order to keep that is very difficult.

"I have never been in charge of NASCAR nor will I ever be. I don't understand how a company is reactive versus not being reactive. In safety issues, post 2001, NASCAR was tremendously reactive but by the way, so were the race drivers, the race teams - everybody was.

"Walk through the garage and ask teams who was sled testing in 1991 or 2000? A lot of things our sport has done are reacting to things that have happened. In the situation that we had, it was left up to drivers and car owners to take care of themselves and their driver. Anyone who stood around and waited for NASCAR to do that is every bit as guilty as NASCAR not doing it. Whatever the situation is, you have to know it, understand it and be willing to address it. Everybody wants to put all the blame on NASCAR, for everything. When NASCAR is 100% responsible for something and it doesn't go well, then we should put the blame on their shoulders. If I am 100% responsible and I do something wrong, the blame should be squarely on my shoulders, that is where it belongs. In safety, it is my opinion; I am not leaving it up to NASCAR to tell me what I have to do. It is more my responsibility than it is NASCAR'S. I make enough money and should car enough to figure it out.

"I don't want to be NASCAR's defender because God knows I have been willing to get out there and disagree with them. At the same, every time something goes wrong, our society has turned in to society that wants to point the finger and say it must be somebody else's fault because there is no way it can be mine. In a lot of ways, NASCAR receives the brunt of it and sometimes they deserve it and sometimes they don't. Last year at Indy, they changed the name of the race at Indy from the Brickyard 400 to whatever it is. How many letters do you suppose were written to NASCAR calling them names for changing the name of the race? They don't have anything to do with it; it is the track, not NASCAR.

"When it comes to safety and you taking care of yourself, if you want to leave that up to someone else, if you want to say it is your responsibility for me to have the best seat, head and neck restraint - if you want to leave that up to somebody else, that is ok. But then you can't turn it around and say hey you didn't do the right thing for me. Take initiative on yourself. I am arguing with Bill Elliott, that is not what I am trying to do here. I am just saying that in many cases, people want to blame everybody but themselves and it has turned in to a societal issue. That is my opinion."

ON HARVICK'S BUSCH CHAMPIONSHIP BEING EASY: "It is not as easy as he has made it look. Tomorrow night he has to beat a really good competitor to lock this thing up. Obviously he will lock it up in the near future but it isn't a lock for tomorrow night. It isn't as easy as he has made it look. He has beaten Carl Edwards, Clint Bowyer, and Kyle Busch, some body good people by a huge amount. It is not as easy as he made it look and no one else has done it is because they have run very well in every race. They have had almost no races where you could look at it and say they ran poorly. I am sure Kevin would be the first one to tell you that every now and then, things just go your way. They have had the kind of year where someone spun in front of them and they missed it. They have had some good fortune as well as having done an incredible job with performance."

ON IMPORTANCE OF TEAMMATES GETTING ALONG: "It helps. Any distraction you have, is something you wish you didn't have to deal with. Teammates are a necessity in today's time. The better the relationship with the drivers, the better the relationship in the team. What you will find is that all teams will stand shoulder to shoulder and say we all get along, but they are in their separate areas, in many cases, they aren't as together as they appear. That starts at the top with the crew chiefs and the drivers. If the crew chiefs and the drivers don't lead by example, and show the willingness to work together, that trickles right down to every one of the teams. I have been a part of multi-car teams where there was a great amount discussed among team members and both teams are very successful. Long term you have to be pointed in the right direction. It doesn't mean that have to be best friends, go to dinner together every Tuesday, you have to have parties at each other's homes - it doesn't mean that. The word is respect. You have got to have respect for one another. You have truly got to have their best interest at heart. If you exhibit that, it will come back to you. Overall, it is much better if you have it. Short term wise, you can exist without it, long term wise, for extended success, you definitely need it."

-credit: gm racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Bill Elliott , Jeff Gordon , Jimmie Johnson , Carl Edwards , Clint Bowyer , Mike Helton , Kyle Busch