JEFF BURTON, NO. 31 CATERPILLAR IMPALA SS, met with members of the media at Lowe's Motor Speedway and discussed his thoughts on the status of his team, how the rain affects drivers mentally, the new restrictor plate for Talladega and much ...
JEFF BURTON, NO. 31 CATERPILLAR IMPALA SS, met with members of the media at Lowe's Motor Speedway and discussed his thoughts on the status of his team, how the rain affects drivers mentally, the new restrictor plate for Talladega and much more.
TALK ABOUT MAKING YOUR 850TH CAREER START THIS WEEKEND: "I never really thought about to be honest. I have always wanted to do this since I was five, six, seven years-old. I look forward to being able to do it with really great people. It is a lot of fun. I still enjoy doing it. I love doing it for that matter. Every driver says that their goal is to do it for a long time. I have been real fortunate to drive a lot of good race cars and be around a lot of good people. I am real fortunate to get to do what I love to do. I am just real fortunate."
DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOUR TEAM HAS SORT OF TURNED THE CORNER AND YOU GUYS ARE SORT OF BACK ON THE UPHILL CLIMB SINCE MISSING THE CHASE? "I think we've made a swing. I don't think we are where we need to be by any means but if you look at individually our teams are starting to run better. Collectively we are starting to run better. On every weekend over the last couple of months one of our teams has been a strong top-six, seven team. We haven't gotten to the place where we are all doing that yet but there is certainly a trend toward running better and getting where we need to be. We're not there yet. We're still not leading laps and doing the things we really need to be able to do on a consistent basis but I think we're gaining on it without a doubt."
HOW CLOSE WOULD YOU SAY YOU GUYS ARE TO RESOLVING THE CREW CHIEF SITUATION ON THE NO. 31 FOR NEXT YEAR? "We're real close. I don't have a definite date but we're real close to having all that figured out. There's a lot of things that are changing at RCR. There's a new way of doing business going into next year and in the midst of that crew chief search for the No. 31. We're really optimistic that we have that put to bed and we'll be able to talk about that fairly soon."
WHAT KIND OF FLOW IS THERE NOW THE CHASE IS HALF-WAY AND HOW DO TEAMS LOOK AT IT? "It has the feel of the year where Jimmie (Johnson) and Jeff (Gordon) put together just that incredible run. Jeff had a Chase that was worthy of a championship but Jimmie had one that was just a little better. Clint was right there knocking on the door and I kind of look at that this year as Jimmie and Mark (Martin) being the two that are putting just incredible Chase's together and (Juan Pablo) Montoya is the guy that's keeping pressure on them. That can shift in the matter of one race or matter of two races.
"The year that we came in here leading it, the talk was about us being consistent and us trying to find a way to knock out finishes and other being weren't being known to do that. Ultimately we didn't win it because we went to Martinsville obviously and had a problem and then went to Texas and had a problem. Right now it feels like you've got to run in, well the top-five isn't good enough it's got to be top-three. That's the feel it has right now but it can change. You've got Talladega coming, you've got Martinsville coming. You've got Phoenix, there's a lot of stuff that's going to happen but right now that's the feel it has to me."
HOW DISHEARTENING IS IT TO LOOK OUT AND JUST SEE THE RAIN, WHAT EFFECT DOES THAT HAVE ON YOUR MENTAL STATE? "One of the things that happens in the rain is part of this game is emotional and part of this game is psychologically being ready. When you look at your schedule it's clear that right now there is no schedule. You're going to have to change gears and be in condition to go at any point but you don't know when that point is. When it's not raining there is a clear schedule and you know that at 11:30 you're going to do this, 12:00 you're going to do that. Today, especially since we have lights here, you have no idea what the schedule is going to be. It requires emotionally flexibility but in some ways days like this are relaxing and in some ways you just spend time with your team talking about things that you really didn't have time to spend this week. For us with as many things we have going on right now we could use the day and be really productive believe it or not."
WHAT DID YOU THINK YESTERDAY OF THE FIRST HALL OF FAME CLASS AND WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE HALL OF FAME IS GOING TO BE? "I think it's real important for every major sport to have a hall of fame. I think it's important to recognize the people that have made a major impact on the sport and have moved this sport and done things that have made it what it is. The easiest classes are going to be the first three or four. There was nothing you could debate. Well this guy should have gotten in or that guy shouldn't have gotten in but you couldn't debate they all didn't deserve to be in. By the way you couldn't debate that some of the people that didn't get in this first time they deserved to be in as well. This first two or three processes are going to be pretty easy then they are going to get a little more challenging. I think it's a great first class. It's real exciting to see.
"The interesting thing for me is that with the exception of Bill France, Sr., I know all those people. If you think about other sports and the people that are participating in those sports, I'd be willing to bet that there's a wide receiver that's a one-day hall of fame wide receiver that didn't know hardly any of the opening class of the NFL. I feel real fortunate to know everybody but Bill France, Sr. that's in that first class. I think it's a hell of a cool thing. Every one of them deserved it. Every one of them has had a major impact on the sport and to me it's real special."
DO YOU THINK RICHARD CHILDRESS WAITED TO LONG TO REPLACE MIKE DILLON? "One of the things that I have to explain is what has gone on with Mike, Will Lind and Scott Miller. It's not a matter of replacing; it's a matter of just shifting what their jobs are. We have structurally been really strong but we haven't been as strong as we needed to be. It wasn't because we didn't have good people. In some cases it was just because the way the management was set up. This new structure allows us to have people that are more dedicated and more committed to specific areas in our company.
"Before we had less people trying to do more things and it made it harder for them to specialize and to focus on one thing. This allows people to really focus on what it is that their job is. It's more measurable. There's more accountability. The hardest thing that I think in any business with the exception of looking at the bottom line which ultimately is the best measure of success, is measuring how each department is doing is very hard in our sport. Because at the end of the day what really counts is where you finish but you can finish really poorly and have two of the 10 departments in your company doing really good jobs. So the definition of what is going well and what isn't going well is always very difficult.
"Our new management structure is going to allow us to have a much stronger focus on our engineering group, a much stronger focus on our aerodynamic group, much stronger focus on being able to break the company down into departments and have measurements to determine how each department is doing. By the way that includes the drivers. The drivers need to be measured as well. This I think is a major step for us getting to where we need to be. One of the hardest things to do when you're having success is to change. We were the only team in the sport to put all their cars in the Chase over the last three years. We followed that up with putting nobody in the Chase which shows that we didn't act quickly enough. The no testing policy this year although I supported the policy much the way I support the double-file restarts has really hurt us because we relied on testing a great deal and we didn't have the structure and quite the support that we needed to in a time where how you get fast changed and it changed a great deal for us.
"We tested a lot and not being able to do that has really harmed us so we had to regroup and restructure. For us at this time it's the right thing to do. Two years ago that's not where we were but as things change in the sport we didn't change quick enough and we're all guilty of that. That's not Richard's (Childress) fault. Richard relies on the people that work for him to provide him with the insight. The owner of the company can't always be the guy that looks and sees what's going to happen three years from now. He has to have help from the people in the company and we collectively didn't do a good job at that so we're playing catch up right now. We will catch up but we are behind at the moment."
DO YOU THINK THAT THE GOODYEAR TIRE TEST IS GOOD FOR A TEAM OR AND ADVANTAGE FOR A TEAM AND HOW MUCH TESTING HAVE YOU BEEN ABLE TO DO AT THESE OTHER TRACKS YOU GO TO? "We haven't done a lot of testing. It's debatable what kind of return we get for the investment when we go testing on the wrong tire on the wrong race track. We're still sorting through that. We're going to test a little more next year than we did this year for sure. I still don't know what kind of return that's going to give us. At the end of the day you can at least look yourself in the eye and say you worked as hard as you knew how to work. You always want to work smart but sometimes you've just got to work harder and smarter. The Goodyear tire test is a necessity. I think it's important for us to have Goodyear tire tests. I'm not real proud of the way it's done today with the distribution amongst manufacturers rather than teams. I've expressed that to NASCAR. They know how I feel.
"They've listened to me. They're looking at it for the future. I just think that they should be randomly picked the same way we pick qualifying. I think they ought to put all the names in a bingo thing and roll them out and whoever the four or five cars are that's who comes out. Once you've been drawn you can't be drawn again. You just follow a rotation. So I think that needs to be equally dispersed in a way other than through the manufacturers. Obviously every time there's a Ford test, there's a Roush car there. I know its Roush-Yates but they provide all the engineering, they provide all the cars, they provide all the service so every time there's a Goodyear test there is a Roush car there. I can't say that I feel disadvantaged because of that and it wasn't set out to create a disadvantage for me but anything we can do to make sure it's fair is always the right thing to do. So I think the way they distribute the tire test should be altered.
"To be clear, the Goodyear tire testing thing in my opinion has always worked very fairly. I never felt before this year that I wasn't given a real fair share shake. This year because of all the team mergers and because of all the things that have gone on it changed the landscape. A year ago looking at tire testing it didn't seem to be a problem but as the landscape has changed so much now the way they're dulled out is a problem so it needs to be addressed today much more it did a year or even two years ago."
HOW MANY TESTS HAVE YOU DONE? "I did Texas. I did Indy. We're going to Daytona after Talladega. I think pretty much everybody went to Indy. I guess I've done one but RCR has participated more than that. And you have to excuse me that's the only one I remember doing was Texas. It could be another one in there that I don't remember. I remember going to Indy and I remember going to Texas and we are going to go to Daytona. But RCR has had more than that. That's just the No. 31."
DID YOU SEE KEVIN'S (HARVICK) INTERVIEW ON THE PRE-RACE SHOW LAST SUNDAY? "I did see it yes."
IT SEEMED TO APPEAR THAT HE HAD ALREADY MADE UP HIS MIND THAT HE WOULD NOT STAY AT RCR BEYOND 2010, IS THAT A GOOD THING OR BAD THING GOING INTO A SEASON WHEN YOU KNOW A TEAMMATE IS IN THAT SITUATION? "I think everyone has to be professional enough that it doesn't matter. I don't know that we've always been there but I think we are there now. I think it's important for RCR to do everything they can to put all their teams in the best shape to win races and it's important for Kevin to be in a position to win races. Kevin has been a really good teammate to me. We have a very good working relationship. I have a lot of respect for Kevin and I believe he has a lot of respect for me. He has through this whole process not changed his attitude toward me and how he works with me in any form or fashion. It is a stressful situation for he and Richard to deal with and for he and his team to deal with. There's no question about it. "At the same time I think the hard part is over. I think going through what was gone through last summer and all that makes now easier if that makes sense. Sometimes you are just better off going to the dentist and getting it over with. I think that everybody is behaving in a very professional manner and everybody is understanding that Kevin has a year left on his contract and he's going to do everything in his power to do the best job for RCR. RCR is going to do everything in their power to do the best job for him. Clint and I are going to continue to work with Kevin the same way we always have. Our teams are going to continue to work together and I think we are going to work together better actually, not because he's leaving but because we need to. Things change. Kevin may look around eight months, 10 months from now and say you know what things have really changed here and I really think this is the place that we're going.
"By his interview he indicated that wasn't going to happen but you never know. The reality of it is if you lose a driver the caliber of Kevin Harvick, we have to have a seat available that a Kevin Harvick caliber driver wants. The only way we're going to do that is to put a race car out there that's highly competitive and shows the people that are looking for rides that you need to come here. And by the way as Kevin is out there looking for his next thing it's in his best interest for owner's to be looking at him and saying we've got to have him. So at the end of the day it's about performance. Everybody's mindset is the same even if for different reasons and that is the reason we have to be successful."
WITH TALLADEGA COMING LATER IN THE CHASE DO YOU THINK THAT'S GOING TO HAVE MUCH OF AN EFFECT ON THE OUTCOME AND DO YOU THINK CHANGING THE SIZE OF THE RESTRICTOR PLATES IS GOING TO HAVE MUCH OF AN EFFECT ON SAFETY THERE? "I think the coolest thing about Talladega is going to be Halloween. I think Saturday night is going to be a pretty good time myself. I'm thinking about dressing up and nobody will know who I am. The whole plate thing, you'll have to excuse me and I know you are going to laugh when I say this but I don't even know which way they're going with the plate. It has a big effect on how you have to manage the car but I don't care if they go down or if they go up you're still going to be in a big pack. The only way they're ever going to change the pack size is to take the plate completely off or to make them where they drive so bad that we can't all run in one big group and that's just not going to happen. I think the plate has minimal impact. You're going to hear a lot today when you ask that question about the cars not accelerating, but they don't accelerate now.
"So taking plate out of them ain't going to make any difference at all. In Daytona it would have a much larger impact than it does at Talladega. You're in a big was, you're in a big pack and it ain't going to change. If they take a 1/16 plate out of it or if they add a 1/16 plate do it. To me it's going to be the same thing it's just going to be the pace is a little slower. That's not the same answer you're going to get form most people but I've been through a lot of plate changes and it just does not have that big of an impact at Talladega like it does at Daytona. That's my opinion."
JIMMIE JOHNSON TOOK THE POINTS LEAD FOR THE FIRST TIME THIS PAST WEEKEND AND IMMEDIATELY THE REACTION FROM MANY FANS WAS OH NO NOT AGAIN, IS IT POSSIBLE TO GET YOUR DUE FROM THIS FAN BASE OR DO YOU HAVE TO ACCEPT THAT THERE'S GOING TO BE SO MUCH PASSION THERE IS ALWAYS GOING TO BE A BACKLASH? "When the Dallas Cowboys win Super Bowls there is a group of people that hate it and there's a group of people that love it. The people in this sport that people don't stand on the fence with are the ones that win the most races and stir up the most controversy. There's not many people out there that say well I kind of like Jeff Gordon. You either really like Jeff Gordon or you don't like Jeff Gordon at all from a fans perspective. There's people that will celebrate Jimmie Johnson's third championship and there's people that will hate it. There's people that will say it's not good for the sport because a guy won three championships in a row, it would be better if we had more people win it. We don't look back at Cale Yarborough's three in a row and so oh my, that was awful for the sport. You never get your just due in the era that you're in. It's always appreciated more later. Because the people you are racing against and the people you are competing against don't want to give it to you. The people that are pulling for you want to give it to you. The people that are pulling against you don't want it.
"They will look back on it later with much greater perspective and much broader view. Anyone that should at the very least appreciate and respect what Jimmie Johnson and that team have done, they're not open minded enough right now. They're just not going to. Unless their guy is going to do it, they're not going to like it. It's been incredible what they've done and from the competitors there is a great deal of respect and I think from the fans there is a great deal of respect too but let's face it, part of the fun of watching college basketball is pulling against Carolina and pulling for Duke. It's as much about pulling against a team as it pulling for a team and it's the same in racing. Pulling against somebody is as much fun as pulling for somebody."
DO YOU THINK THE CHASE IS OVER IF THEY DON'T MAKE A MISTAKE? "I don't by any means think it's over if they don't make a mistake. Mark Martin won a race and he (Jimmie Johnson) won two. So if Mark wins this week and Mark takes the point race back over and Jimmie finishes third did they make a mistake? I think they don't have to make a mistake to win, I think there's enough competition all around them if they don't finish in the top-three assuming other people don't make a mistake then they don't win. So I by no means think it's over. They are certainly if not the favorite one of the favorites but it isn't by no means over."
-credit: gm racing