Charlotte: Jeff Burton - GM Top-10 interview

BEHIND THE HAULER CHAT WITH JEFF BURTON, NO. 31 CINGULAR WIRELESS MONTE CARLO SS: ARE YOU WORRIED ABOUT A LOT OF STOPS FOR FUEL IN THE RACE? "The biggest thing about the pit stops is the field being separated. Pitting under green with everybody...


ARE YOU WORRIED ABOUT A LOT OF STOPS FOR FUEL IN THE RACE? "The biggest thing about the pit stops is the field being separated. Pitting under green with everybody all bunched up like you saw in the All-Star race is very hectic. But I don't think you'll have a whole lot of that. I don't think the smaller fuel cells are going to make as big of a difference as everybody thinks. It's certainly going to make a difference. But at the end of the day, whoever has the fastest car and the best pit stops and the best strategy is going to win the race -- which, by the way, is what happens every week anyway. Having good pit stops will be a huge advantage."

THE NUMBERS FLOATING AROUND ARE ANYWHERE FROM 12 TO 20 PIT STOPS ON SUNDAY: "With this tire, there is probably no disadvantage. A lot of places we go, if you pit too late, you give up so much speed to the guys who pitted early because they have on new tires and they're going so much faster. Here, the deal is going to be to stay out as long as you can. The people who have good gas mileage will have an advantage. Having good fuel mileage is going to be paramount. If you're on pit road earlier than everybody else all night long, sooner or later you're going to get caught."

IS IT POSSIBLE THAT WE'LL SEE JUST GAS AND GO GREEN FLAG STOPS AND MORE TIRE CHANGES DURING CAUTIONS? "It's possible but unlikely. I think people will most likely put on two rather than just gas and go. But I think you'll see a lot of different strategies. New tires aren't going to be as good as old tires for the first five or six laps. But if you get old tires on the car and have to run 35 or 36 laps on them, they aren't going to be as good as new tires.

"So, really, when you look at runs, it's how you net out with speed, not how fast you can go at the beginning or the end. If you get a caution, then being able to go fast early after putting tires on is very important. So a lot of it is luck. Knowing whether to put stickers or scuffs on is really determined by when the caution comes out after you've made your change."

ON CUP DRIVERS RUNNING IN THE BUSCH SERIES -- DO THE BUSCH DRIVERS ASK THE CUP GUYS FOR ADVICE? "I think that most of the Cup guys that go over there still think they're part of the Busch Series -- not separate. There is more made about the Cup guys going over there by people other than the Cup guys. Most of the Cup guys want to fit in and want to be part of the Busch Series and go over there to race and race hard. So, do have Busch drivers talk to me and ask me my opinion about different things. But it's less today than it was eight years ago. Eight years ago the Busch drivers were much more receptive to asking the Cup guys questions and really getting involved in it. Today there seems to be more separation than there used to be."

IS IT SORT OF A CATCH 22 TO HAVE BETTER RATINGS FOR THE BUSCH SERIES IF CUP DRIVERS PARTICIPATE? "No, I don't feel bad for the Busch drivers. I really don't. When you walk through the Cup garage, the largest percentage of people in the Cup garage came from the Busch garage because they had a chance to compete against the Cup guys on weekends the Cup guys ran in the Busch Series. There are a lot of guys in this garage -- including me -- who have limited success in the Busch Series but got to show car owners that we could be competitive with the Cup guys. That's the only reason we're here. So I don't have any sympathy for the drivers. I do have sympathy for the owners. It's very difficult for a Busch owner to be successful in the Busch Series against all the Cup owners. So I feel bad for those guys and I'd like to try to find a way to bridge the gap a little bit. But it is a Catch 22. I'm proud to run the Busch Series. If I thought I was hurting it, I wouldn't do it. I enjoy running it, and as long as they let me, I'm going to keep doing it."

WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE BUSCH SERIES GOING TO CANADA NEXT YEAR? "I think it's wonderful. I think Canada is a logical step for us. Mexico was good, but I think Canada will be better. When you go to Canada, or even if you get close to Canada, there is a tremendous amount of NASCAR fans in Canada. It's huge. They want it. They're crazy about it. And on top of that, their economy is strong. They have a tremendous amount of buying power. And for our sponsors to be in Canada I think is hugely important. And the Canadian fans are avid about this sport. So I think Canada is a great place for us to go. It's where we ought to be."

A COT TEST IS PLANNED AT LMS FOR NEXT -- EVEN THOUGH YOU MAY NOT RACE THAT CAR AT THIS TRACK FOR THREE YEARS. WHAT'S YOUR TAKE ON THAT? "I think next week's test is going to be very important for where the car of tomorrow goes with the wing especially. There is a tremendous amount to learn about the wing on the bigger race tracks.

"We've learned a lot about it on the small race tracks, but the big race track is where it needs to work well. I think Tuesday is going to really be important. It's going to be a huge learning tool to help advance the car of tomorrow so that when we do get to the big race tracks, it's a competitive car and we can put on good races."

IS THIS TEST MORE IMPORTANT FOR NASCAR OR FOR THE RACE TEAMS AND DRIVERS? "Well, I think it's more important for NASCAR, to be quite honest. Once the rules are decided for exactly how it's going to be, then we, the teams, definitely are going to reap the biggest benefit by testing. We are learning a great deal by testing the car of tomorrow. There's no question about it, and we'll continue to learn by being here. But I think by being on a 1.5-mile, fast race track is really going to be hugely important to the future of the car of tomorrow and the rules of the car of tomorrow. So, I think Tuesday's test has more to do with NASCAR than it does me."

WITH THE COT TEST BEHING HELD AT LMS, AND UNDER UNIQUE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE HARDER TIRE AND NEW TRACK SURFACE, WILL YOU REALLY BE ABLE TO GET A GOOD GAUGE OF THINGS? "Well, it's a challenge. Certainly it's a challenge. But we will have come off of a weekend of racing at Charlotte where we will know a whole lot more and we will be able to compare that car with what we've got on Tuesday. I think it will be valuable to be able to do that. So, certainly if we could go somewhere with more normal conditions, that's probably in our best interest. But by the same token, I think we will be able to learn a tremendous amount on Tuesday."

DOES YOUR CAR HAVE THE NEW NOSE ON IT? "We have one brand new car that we're bringing over here. The car that I've got, to my knowledge, has every update on it."

WHAT HAPPENS DURING THE TEST? DOES NASCAR GIVE YOU PERIMETERS TO WORK WITHIN, OR DO THEY LET YOU TRY TO WORK ON THINGS YOURSELVES? "Well, they kind of leave it up to us. They ask for our input. They ask us to zero in on something -- like the wing, for example, or on the wicker or things like that, and try to start eliminating things that don't work. But they certainly ask our opinion a great deal. We have yet to be in a situation where they said not to do something. It's always, 'Do whatever you want to do and give us the information and we'd like for you to head in this direction,' but they've been very open to pretty much anything we want to try."

ON BEING IN THE TOP 10 IN POINTS "The way to be in the top 10 and the way to win a championship is to run well. Our team meetings are more productive today because we talk about fine-tuning our cars rather than trying to get from A to Z. Today, we're a whole lot closer. So our team meetings are much more productive; much more focused. We're able to discuss things between all three teams that are relative, as opposed to last year. Last year, even though we worked well together, on a lot of occasions we had three different directions. This year, we're much closer in our aerodynamics and our chassis so it's much more productive and meaningful without a doubt."

ARE YOU ABLE TO MEASURE THE PROGRESS YOU'VE MADE IN THE LAST YEAR? "We are a competitive sport, obviously, and at the end of the day, results are what matter. When we look at how we've run this year, what we look at is in what position did we run in the race? How do our pit stops compare to our competitors? Do we run best at the beginning of runs or at the end of runs? How is our overall speed? All of those things are better than last year. Obviously we're higher in points than we were last year. And, we've had a whole lot more trouble this year than we did last year. So when you look at the tools we use to measure, we certainly have made improvements. The reason that we measure is to build an understanding of where we need to improve. And, the measurements we take, so far, is that we do still need some speed. We're certainly a fifth to 10th place team, there's no question about that. But there are three to five cars that seem, on a weekly basis, to be consistently better than we are. So we're striving to get there. We're striving to narrow that gap. On top of that, we're striving to make sure that we have the finishes that are indicative to how we've run. So far this year, we've had five races that our finishes have been way off of how we've run. At Daytona we got in a wreck. We got in three other wrecks. The Daytona wreck was my fault. And then there was the Bristol wreck, the Richmond wreck, and the Martinsville wreck. There was nothing I could have done in any of those wrecks; but nonetheless, we had poor finishes because of them. And then we had a tire problem in Atlanta (while) running in the top five.

"So, we've run very competitive this year. Our worst race, we were probably a 15th to 17th place car, but still had a good finish with it. I think we finished 9th. Our best race, we had a legitimate chance to win the race and we got on pit road when the pits were closed. So we did a really good job of making our worst race better and we did a really bad job of making our best race worse."


CAN YOU TALK ABOUT HAVING CERTAIN GUYS RACE FOR THE BIGGER HOUSES, THE BIGGER BOATS, AND THE BETTER AIRPLANES? "That's a bunch of crap in my opinion. I think that people see the big houses and they see the big airplanes and they see nice motor homes and they think that's why you're racing. The reason that we have the airplanes and house and the motor homes is because we can. I'm not aware of any of my friends that when we have conversations about racing that the topic of money comes up. We are very well paid, as we should be. You can make a case that we're overpaid, and I'm okay if people think we're overpaid. I don't care. But I've never sat in a race car thinking, 'This is how much money I'm going to make today.' Just because we make the money doesn't mean that's why we do it.

"We are fortunate to have a sport that will pay us a tremendous amount of money to do it. So, I make every dime I can. And it's because I can. I'm not here because I make every dime I can; I'm here because I love it. It's my passion. It's what I want to do. I have enough money -- I don't have to do this. I could quit today if I wanted to. I couldn't live the style that I live, but could live a damn comfortable life. But I race because I love to race and when I talk to the Matt Kenseths, and the Mark Martins, and the Kevin Harvicks and the Clint Bowyers, money is something that we make because we can. I get a little perturbed about it because just because we have those things, doesn't mean that's why we're here. We make that money because the sponsors and the car owners are willing to pay the best in the business an exorbitant amount of money to have us. And it's the same with a quarterback. People look at that and say, 'He's making too much money.' He's making that money because that sport will allow it to be paid. And I don't feel bad about it one bit."

WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT JEFF GORDON'S COMMENT THE CUP DRIVERS WHO RUN IN THE BUSCH SERIES ARE DOING IT FOR THE MONEY? "Jeff Gordon's wrong. Well, no, no, I shouldn't say Jeff Gordon is wrong. Jeff Gordon's opinion about making a blanket statement about everybody that runs the Busch Series being about money, is incorrect. If Jeff Gordon wants to say that if he ran the Busch Series it would be about money, then that's okay. But no one is going to tell me why I do it. I do it because I enjoy doing it and because I enjoy doing it and because I want to do it. And that's why I do it. As a matter of fact, I don't even know how much money I make driving the Busch car. Bill Patterson said to me -- he's the finance guy at RCR -- we never even talked about money. We ran three or four races and he says, 'Hey, I need to pay you.' And I said, 'Okay.'" I don't do that for money. I do it because it allows me to test more. I do it because I love to be part of a team. I do it because if I can be competitive in a major form of Motorsports, I want to do that. And that's my decision. I don't do it for money and if anybody says that I do it for money is talking without education. It ticks me off when people make a blanket statement about anything. Maybe some people do it for money. I'm sure they do. But I can tell you that Mark Martin and myself and Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth -- we're doing it because we enjoy it doing it. And there are some Busch drivers over there doing it for money too. There are some Busch drivers over there that maybe just do it for money, but I won't feel bad about the money I make. I don't feel bad about the money I make. I make more money than I should, but I make every bit that people are willing to pay me. And if anyone of you were in the situation that I was in, you'd be doing the same thing."

ON SHORTER FUEL RUNS IN SUNDAY'S RACE "Well, it's going to make a difference. You can't bank on getting that long run and working on just making sure your car runs good on long runs. You've got to be able to run well right off the bat. We saw it in the All-Star race. The No. 99 car was exceptionally fast after they were six seconds ahead of him. It didn't do him any good. It looked good, but they were six seconds ahead of him. So that doesn't work. You've got to be able to go and run reasonably well at the start and also at the finish and hopefully you're the best for the majority of the time."

DO YOU THAT WILL BE A STRAIN ON THE ENGINE OR ON THE CAR? "I don't think so, because the speeds are down. If we had small fuel cells with real, real, real sticky tires, then you would turn a lot of rpm's for a short period of time. Then it would start to fall off. But these tires don't take off running fast, you know what I mean? The speed is never way up. So your max rpm numbers will probably actually be less this year than what we would have see if we would have had a different tire."

ON DOVER NEXT WEEKEND, WHAT'S THE MOST CHALLENGING ASPECT ABOUT THAT RACE? "Everything. That is a demanding race track. It's hard to get your car set-up to do the things that you need to do with it. The exit of those corners gets very tight. Getting your car to turn well is the hardest thing you can do there and keep the rear wheels underneath it getting off the corners. So that's a very challenging race track. Physically, it's challenging. And it's hard to get your car to handle well. But the exit of those corners is as tight as anywhere we go. And then, if something happens, you're going to hit something hard. There are no easy wrecks at Dover. Staying out of that wreck, because it will be a devastating wreck, and getting the car to really have good bite off the corners is the hardest thing."

DID THE DOVER TRACK LOSE ANY OF ITS CHARACTER WHEN IT WENT FROM ASPHALT TO CONCRETE? "The character changed without a doubt when it went to concrete. Although, there still is a top groove. It's not as high as it was with asphalt, but certainly you can run the middle of the race track there. Concrete has bumps in it but it's different than asphalt. Asphalt has holes. You run through holes. Concrete has a series of bumps that are just totally different. So it's a much more harsh feeling. Asphalt tends to be a smoother race track. And concrete seems to be a little bit harsher. The bumps in an asphalt track are longer. The bumps in a concrete track happen at a quicker rate."

HOW PHYSICALLY DEMANDING IS RACING AT DOVER? "You tend to get a couple of real long green flag runs there and there is a tremendous amount of g-forces that are applied to you at Dover -- not as much as at Bristol, but pretty high. The straightaways are fairly short and the corners go for a long time at a higher degree of banking with a higher degree of speed. When you catch a hot day at Dover, it's a long day."

BACK TO RACING AT LMS, WHAT'S IT LIKE TO GO AROUND FOR 35 LAPS AND THEN HAVE TO SLOW DOWN AND STOP AND MAKE SURE YOU HIT YOUR SPEEDS ON PIT ROAD? HOW IS IT DIFFERENT FROM A YEAR AGO OR TWO YEARS AGO? "I think a lot is made about the 35 laps and obviously it's going to be different. But the key to Sunday's race is having a fast car, having good strategy, not screwing it up, and having good pit stops. That's the key to the race anytime we come here. The big difference is that we're going to be on pit road more often. So if your pit crew is on it, that's an advantage. If your pit crew is having a bad day, it's a disadvantage.

"There will be the possibility for more green flag stops. When you have green flag stops, you stand more of a chance for speeding on pit road. You stand more of a chance of getting hit getting on pit road. You stand more of a chance when you have a bad pit stop of it really hurting you. If you have a three-second bad pit stop under green, that's a tremendous amount of track position. It's huge. So, it will make problems shine brighter. You'll notice them more. At the same time, you'll notice the good things more too. At the end of the day, it's just going to be another race."

IS YOUR CREW DOING ANYTHING DIFFERENT TO TRAIN FOR THIS RACE? "No. We pitted about 18 times in this race last year. We had so many cautions and new tires were better. I'm telling you, we pitted somewhere around 18 times. We pitted a lot. These guys are professionals. They train daily. They're fit. They're conditioned for it. And they'll step up to the plate."

IS EVERYBODY MAKING A BIG DEAL ABOUT THIS BECAUSE NOBODY LIKES CHANGE AND NOBODY LIKES ANYTHING NEW? "I think certainly any time there is a change, it certainly brings up a conversation. But hey, the great thing about this sport is that every race is important. And we're going into a race where the point battle is tight. It's the longest race of the year. And we've got a tire we've never run and a fuel cell we've never run, it's worth talking about. It's not something that we've made up that shouldn't be generating stories. It should be generating stories because it's a lot different. I think a lot of people are complaining about it simply because it's different. I try to embrace it. When we went restrictor plate racing at New Hampshire, everyone went crazy about it. I said, 'Hell, let's just go figure out how to do it.' And we led every lap. So change to me is an opportunity. Whenever something changes, it's going to catch some people off guard. That's you're chance to get on top of it. And that's how we've approached this."

-gm racing-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Kevin Harvick , Clint Bowyer , Mark Martin
Teams CIP