Chicagoland: Pole winner press conference

JEFF BURTON , NO. 31 CINGULAR WIRELESS MONTE CARLO SS WINS POLE Q: On your lap, did you leave anything out there? JEFF BURTON: I told Scott when we got done that I thought we got all there was; I didn't know that it would be enough but I...


Q: On your lap, did you leave anything out there?

JEFF BURTON: I told Scott when we got done that I thought we got all there was; I didn't know that it would be enough but I thought we got it all. The pick-up from practice was a pretty large pick-up. I think we were fifth-fastest in practice so I felt pretty good about it, but I also knew there was a lot of cars left to go. At the end of the day, it's just a good effort. My guys are really doing a good job, everybody's really focused and working hard on what we have that's good even better. Real proud of the dedication and commitment to excellence, not mediocrity, but excellence and just real proud to be a part of it."

Q: How rewarding is winning this pole at Chicago compared to winning the pole for a restrictor plate race?

JEFF BURTON: Certainly the pole at the Daytona 500 was a really big deal for our team, but there are a lot of qualifying tricks that you can play to get qualified there, especially in a deal where it's not an impound race. Here we did our deal three quarters of the practice work on the race trim and then we converted over to qualifying and it went well.

You know, I think the thing that I'm happy about the most is that we have qualified well pretty much all year. Obviously this is the first pole that's not on the plate race, but we've put good qualifying efforts out there, and I'm proud of that.

Qualifying is like racing; if you continue to qualify well, you'll eventually get your poles, and the same with racing. If you continue to race well, you'll eventually get your win.

Our focus is on trying to qualify as well as we can and trying to race as well as we can because we know if we do those things, then good things will come to us.

But without a doubt, one of our goals was certainly to sit on at least one pole and one of those to be a non-restricted plate race. Today was good for us because it's a mile and a half race track, or whatever it is, close to a mile and a half, and getting a good qualifying run in there is something we've really struggled on in the past, and this year we've been able to be strong on it. So yeah, it is very rewarding.

Q: You talked a little bit this morning about consistency week after week after week. Has your team gotten to a point yet where you can think about good track, bad track? Obviously you have some places where you have run great. Can you focus on the tracks that you always run great at again and go back to we'll have a better chance to win there than other places, or has it not got to that point yet?

JEFF BURTON: You know, I've never done that. Even though we've won four races or whatever it is at Loudon, I've never looked at Loudon and said, hey, I can run well there. I am just arrogant enough that I think I can run well everywhere. I've never like circled dates on the calendar and said, hey, here's some good races and here's a good race. That's not my mentality. I think for us to be one of the contenders, we've got to be able to run well at all kinds of race tracks.

And by the way, if you go back and look at how we ran at Richmond, we did run very well, and typically I run well at Richmond. We didn't have a good finish but we had an honest chance to win the race, but a few weeks before that at Phoenix we ran terrible, and Phoenix is a certainly a place that based on the record, you would think that I would go there and run well.

It's so competitive today, if you're off at all anywhere, then you can't win. You know, certainly we're putting a lot of effort into Loudon, but we're putting the same effort into Pocono and we're building a lot of new cars and just working hard to ratchet it up the next notch yet, and Loudon is certainly one of those race tracks that we're trying to do that at, but I will tell you we're doing the same for Indy and we're doing the same for all the race tracks coming up.

Q: There's a couple guys in the garage who seem to be struggling, who have been around five, six, seven years, who seem to be struggling with what they've got under the cars now, just can't flat can't get it around the race track. It doesn't seem to be bothering you, or do you not have that junk under your car? Which way is it going?

JEFF BURTON: Well, for me personally, I've had to back away. I've had to come to the realization that people are smarter than me and that I can't put the time and effort into developing a chassis setup and aerodynamic setup, those kind of things that I used to be very successful at.

I will tell you that I'm a good example of -- Dale Jarrett hasn't forgotten how to drive, and Jeff Gordon hasn't forgotten how to drive. A lot is made about the older guys drive something that's different, and they can't drive it -- it's my opinion, and I could be wrong, but it is my opinion that a driver doesn't care about the ride of the car; he only cares will it turn and will it have good grip.

No matter how old you are or how inexperienced you are, that side grip that you have that creates grip is what every driver is searching for. When I couldn't be successful two years ago, it's because I didn't have it. I couldn't run the same setup that Matt Kenseth could be successful with because I didn't have the same overall package that Matt Kenseth had. And what I learned was that -- and by the way, neither could Mark Martin. So what we learned was that things that we thought were small differences that meant nothing were big differences.

I screwed three years of my career into the ground chasing after stuff that -- and I was part of the guilt of it, of not having the same stuff. But I don't believe that any driver that is a high caliber driver -- if you poured Mark Martin over into Jimmie Johnson's car, he'd go fast in it; if you poured Dale Jarrett over into Jimmie Johnson's car, he'd go fast in it. By the way, if you poured Denny Hamlin into it, he'd go fast, too. I'm not saying Jimmie Johnson isn't a great driver; he obviously is. But he manages a race exceptionally well, he can go fast, do all the things that it takes to be a great driver, but there are a lot of guys in the garage that are, too.

It's hard to put your finger -- the hardest thing that we have in evaluating drivers is you don't understand what they're driving, and you can't watch football -- I've said this before, you watch a guy step back and throw the ball, he can either hit the guy or he can't, he can either make the reads or he can't. He can either do it or he can't. In this deal you can't watch a car go over a race track and decide that guy can't do it because you don't understand all the intangibles. It's very difficult to watch it and decide who can and can't do it.

Q: I was just going to have you take a little bit of the microcosm of the season. You've really run well the last 10 or 11 or 12 races and really been under the radar a little bit. With that consistency, could you give a little bit of perspective to that?

JEFF BURTON: We've run very well pretty much all year. We went through a stretch at the Daytona 500, we sat on the pole obviously and we had three, four, five, six, seven, eight laps to go running 11, and then we went to Vegas and Atlanta and California and Vegas and ran really well there. Then we went three races in a row that -- we ran exceptionally well at Atlanta, ran in the top four all day long, broke a tire late in the race, finished bad. Went to Martinsville running 7th, pulling out of Kurt Busch's way, and he just made a mistake and wrecked us, and then wrecked in front of me with 100 to go running 10th at Bristol, and the guy behind me didn't get slowed down and got wrecked there, so we had three races that we were running in the Top 10 -- actually running 11th at Bristol, but running 3rd, 7th and 11th in those three races and had things happen to us that were none of our doing. That's how we've run all year long. There's been races that we've had a chance to win races, there's been races that we ran 15th and found a way to finish 8th. We have certainly been a Top 10 team.

I think it's fair to say that by the same token, I think the 9 has been a step ahead of us, I think the 48 has been a step ahead of us, I think the 20 has been a step and I think the 17 has been a step and maybe the 16 has been a step. Just a step ahead of us. We're aware of that, we are understanding -- we understand that, and we're trying to ratchet our program up to get to where they are, because the true analysis, when we truly, honestly do the analysis, we are a step behind. We aren't the best car, we aren't the best team, and we've got to catch up a little bit.

Q: Do you think you can win Sunday?

JEFF BURTON: Yeah, I think we can win Sunday. I think our team has progressed to the point where when we come to the race track I think we have a chance to win, I really do. I think when we went to Sears Point and Daytona, those things are -- you all know what they are, they're crap shoots. Obviously there's some people that do really good at it and some people that do mediocre at it and some people that don't do terrible at it. For us trying to get through the last two weeks was about not having real bad things happen to us, and that's what we did.

But going into Pocono, I thought we could win; going into Charlotte I thought we could win; going into Dover I thought we could win; coming here I think we can win. I'm not saying we're going to win, I want to be clear about that. I'm not saying that by any means, but I think our team is strong enough and the support systems around us are strong enough that if we continue to put ourselves in position the way we have thus far, yes, I think we can win.

Q: I want to get your thoughts on -- some of us saw the Will Ferrell movie last night. What are your thoughts about this marriage between NASCAR and Hollywood and what it's done for the sport?

JEFF BURTON: Well, I haven't seen it, but I'll speak of another movie. My kids loved Cars, and I watched that movie, and I was like -- I was in the movie theater thinking, you know, this is pretty cool. We have progressed to the point where Cars is pretty much a NASCAR-oriented -- Richard Petty, and we had -- it's really cool that we've progressed to the point that we are becoming mainstream and that it's not ridiculous for someone to feel a movie -- by the way, it doesn't have to be a Top Gun-type movie. It can be a comedy, a serious movie, and people will enjoy it. I think that's really cool.

I think that only strengthens our sport. I think it opens the doors -- in the case of Cars, I think that movie will help generate interest by millions of kids. I mean, think about that, millions of kids. Some of us have been around for a while remember the NASCAR cartoon thing that didn't seem to go over very well, but this movie, this Cars movie in particular, will attract millions of kids to have interest in NASCAR.

You know, on a Sunday when Dad is flipping through channels, they're going to say, hey, there's a race, stop, and that's cool. The Will Ferrell movie, obviously the kind of movies that he does, will bring a whole other group on Sunday when they're flipping through the channels who will want to stop.

It's my opinion that when people stop and look at it that the majority of people like it. Some people will never like it. Not everybody likes everything. But when people watch it, they're inclined to watch it again.

The biggest thing for us to do as a sport, I think at this point, is to get people to watch it. Once we get them to watch it, then I think there's a tremendous amount of interest that will grow with people. So I think that those movies and things like that are a tremendous benefit to the whole NASCAR program. Because I haven't seen the Will Ferrell movie, I think that the Cars movie is a great example of how it's not unusual to be able to do a movie now and reach a broad group of people. I mean, let's face it, who doesn't want to be a race car driver when they're six years old? I know I did. I think things like that are great.

Q: Brian France last week talked about with the points adjustment trying to create more drama and interest so obviously a key to grabbing interest is drama and conflict, so if it's just you guys running around making left-hand turns all day, that's going to lose everybody that you've grabbed.

JEFF BURTON: The thing that makes sports great, the thing that makes watching a sporting event worth the time to do it is the intensity level. Say what you want, I don't mean to offend anybody, but die-hards watch the tenth game of the year of Major League Baseball. A lot of people watch the World Series. Maybe I shouldn't have said that in Chicago, but it is true (laughter).

As things ratchet up, then more people watch. The NCAA tournament -- I mean, how many of your wives don't watch a football game all year long, but they'll go to a Super Bowl party because it's a big event. By the way, they always win the pool and don't have a clue on what the hell they're doing. They always win the money.

Anyway, I think that our sport needs to do that, too. I think that our sport, as long as we have high level intensity that every race means something, then we don't lose the fan. We bring more fans in.

When we have 42 events with a normal points system like we've had in the past, then those races mean less and less and less. The more of a playoff -- and I know I'm not supposed to say playoff, but the more of a playoff system that we have, the more people that are going to watch. The sooner we can have the playoff system start, the more people are going to watch. The more important we can make the games before the playoff mean something, the more people are going to watch.

So the intensity level and the importance of an event is what makes a sporting event a great thing to watch for all but the die-hards. You have some die-hards that will go and watch a game because they love the sport. But there are way more casual fans than there are die-hard fans. If we have a lot of casual fans, then we'll have a whole lot of die-hard fans. But it's all about the intensity level. I think that's what Brian is thinking about is finding a way to ratchet that intensity level up again.

There's no question, no question that right now today, there's a higher level of intensity going on in this race than there would have been three years ago. Look at 3rd to 15th in points. Tell me any one of those people is either, one, locked in, or two, not locked in. That's 12 cars, 13 cars that still have a chance to get into the championship hunt.

No way before would we have that. So the importance for us is to continue to ratchet that up, to continue to make my life more stressful, make my life more difficult, to make my life more pressure-filled. That's what people come to see, and that's what we've got to create.

I think we have it, but we can't get lazy with it and think it's good enough. I think Brian is thinking right. I don't know if I'll end up agreeing with what he decides to do, but I think the thought process is to keep that intensity level up, and that can't be wrong. I mean, who of you are you watching World Cup Soccer? Do you watch any other soccer game during the year? They have to mean something. If they mean something, people watch it.

Q: All the time there's a lot going on in this town, especially this time of year. Do you sense that this event is starting to catch on in this town? Do you sense a buzz in Chicago about NASCAR being here?

JEFF BURTON: You have to understand that we're here for three days, and we do this every week. We don't have an honest way to evaluate that.

I will say that when we go to autograph sessions here, it's a two-hour line. When I go to autograph sessions at Daytona, it's a two-hour line. When I do an autograph session in some cities, it's an hour line. You can feel the intensity -- I judge it by that, and I also judge it by ticket sales. I believe ticket sales have continued to go up, and this is one of the greatest sport towns in America, there's no question about it.

The only way I can judge it is based on how many people come on Sunday, how intense they are before the race, and how many people come to autograph session. That's the only judge I have.

Sunday is not here yet, and I can tell you last night that we had a great crowd for an autograph session that we had, and the fans were very, very enthusiastic, so I do feel that it is taking hold. That's a small snapshot, though. Excuse me, but that's my only barometer.

-gm racing-

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Matt Kenseth , Kurt Busch , Jimmie Johnson , Richard Petty , Denny Hamlin , Mark Martin