Darlington: Burton - Friday media visit

JEFF BURTON, NO. 31 CATERPILLAR IMPALA SS, met with members of the media at Darlington Raceway and discussed the Southern 500, physical fitness, Indianapolis and more. TALK ABOUT THIS TRACK "This is certainly one of my favorite racetracks. I...

JEFF BURTON, NO. 31 CATERPILLAR IMPALA SS, met with members of the media at Darlington Raceway and discussed the Southern 500, physical fitness, Indianapolis and more.

TALK ABOUT THIS TRACK "This is certainly one of my favorite racetracks. I love the history of it. The prestige of winning the Southern 500 is really big. It's always exciting to come here. I pulled in last night and saw the red and white walls and thought that was really cool. This is just always one of my favorite weekends and I'm looking forward to it."

ARE YOU AT ALL PUZZLED THAT TONY STEWART HASN'T WON A CUP RACE AT THIS PLACE? "Well, you know, there are a lot of circumstances that go into winning races. It's not that Tony's not capable. Earnhardt not winning the 500 for all those years, it wasn't that he couldn't do it; it was just that he hadn't been able to find a way to do it. When you start singling out a race and saying, 'Why haven't you been able to win this particular race?' - The Brickyard, or the Southern 500 or the 600 or whatever it happens to be -- a lot of it is circumstances. When Tony's all done, I'll be surprised if he hasn't won a Southern 500."

DOES IT HAVE TO BE LABOR DAY TO REALLY BE THE SOUTHERN 500? "I don't think it has to Labor Day. I think, to me, this race ought to be 500 miles. It should be but I don't think it has to be Labor Day. I know a lot of people are calling for it to be on Labor Day and I think that a lot of people are forgetting what it used to be like here on Labor Day. It's a little hot. I can remember thinking 'I don't know how in the world we're going to run 500 miles.' Burning up in practice and, oh my God, it was hot. So, I'm good with the race a little earlier in the year. I think if we're going to run here one time it ought to be 500 miles. I don't think it matters if the Southern 500 is in January or August or May. The same with the Daytona 500. If the Daytona 500 were in November, it would still be the Daytona 500."

WHAT KIND OF A WORKOUT PROGRAM, IF ANY, DID YOU HAVE BACK WHEN YOU FIRST STARTED? "In those days I was pretty young. I was still fresh off of playing basketball and doing all those things, so I still did a lot of cardio and would run, but I wasn't doing any lifting or any isolated training. As far as the commitment, I don't want to talk about the physique of the drivers, but as far as the commitment, there's certainly a real commitment now to being in shape compared to 15 years ago. About everybody has something going on now and most people didn't have something going on then. You see a lot of drivers having food brought to them now and you see a lot of drivers, if you watch closely, it's not that they're being catered to or someone is serving their food, it's that someone is bringing the right food.

"You see that a lot more today than you've ever seen in the past. I used to be that you'd just run over to the grill in the front of the hauler and eat whatever they were cooking. So, there's just much more of a commitment to it and it should be. We're paid like professional athletes and we ought to act like them."

IS THE CHANGE IN THE COMMITMENT TO PHYSICAL FITNESS OVER THE LAST 15 YEARS AGO AMONG THE MOST SIGNIFICANT CHANGES AMONG THE DRIVERS IN THAT TIME PERIOD THAT YOU'VE SEEN IN THIS SPORT? "That's a hard question. I've never thought about that one. I will tell you, there were some people that were pretty committed to fitness. Ricky Rudd, no one ever talked about him, but Ricky Rudd was as committed to it as early as anybody. Obviously Mark [Martin] was committed to it. I remember reading where Dale Earnhardt said he didn't need a fitness program because he was lifting hay and he didn't need to do that. He may have been right. There have been a lot of changes. It's a hard question because we're in a weird time right now. I think that because of the economy, I think all of the drivers are a little more focused and have a little better understanding right now, which is a good thing, of how important our sponsors are and how important our fans are. I think we're doing really, really well at that right now. Not that we did poorly earlier, but I think we did things because someone was telling us we had to do it. I think today we have a much better appreciation of why we're doing it. So, that's been a major change in a short period of time. The fitness thing and the nutrition thing has certainly been a change. I don't know if it's the biggest change, but it's certainly been a change."

WHAT CAUSES A DRIVER TO LOSE THAT EDGE AFTER THEY COME INTO THE SPORT FULL OF SPITFIRE? "I think the realization that this is hard and that this is not a sprint race, it's a marathon. The races are marathons, the year is a marathon. There are a lot of ups and downs. You have to really learn to accept the bad times and enjoy the good times. When I say accept the bad times it doesn't mean you say, 'Oh, we had a bad race, so what,' but you can't dwell on it. You have to focus on what to do better, focus on what you need to do better and what your team needs to do better and move on. So with that mentality comes the realization that when you won, that doesn't mean you're going to win next week. I think that enthusiasm is great, it's awesome, but it kind of wears it out of you. The up and down lifestyle, the high one minute and the low the next, it kind of wears it out of you. You have to learn to be really even keel. I can tell you that I'll watch races and replays of races and listen to what drivers say on television about other drivers. I laugh and think I used to do that too. I was the same exact way. You learn that that doesn't accomplish anything. Just a methodical approach with emotion, you have to have emotion. If you don't want to be here and you don't love this, then you won't be successful at it. You have to have emotion, but you have to learn how to harness it."

DO YOU THINK THAT TONY GEORGE OUGHT TO SHAVE THE SURFACE OF INDIANAPOLIS DOWN SINCE IT LOOKS LIKE THERE'S NOT GOING TO BE ANY WAY TO BUILD A TIRE THAT WILL FILL THOSE GROOVES? "I'm not giving up on the tire thing just yet. We've gone there before and not had tire problems, so we can. The way I see it, Indianapolis and Atlanta are the two problems that we have with tires. Those are the biggest challenges. Would it be easier if the track were shaved down? Yes, it would be easier. On the other hand, that would have some sort of an impact on the IRL cars. I don't know what impact it would have, but it would have some kind of an impact. They've got two races to run there. It's our job to figure out how to do it. Goodyear has put an incredible effort into one race. I've never seen an effort put into one race the way this is. If, after this effort, it comes back and we don't get the result that we're looking for, then we might have to ask the race track to look at it.

"But that's an extremely expensive proposition. The tire test is extremely expensive too. The first way to try to fix it is with the tire. That's the thing that will fix it for everybody and it won't impact the track. Goodyear is trying hard. Last year there was a gain. This year they went back and obviously didn't get the same result. Ryan [Newman] said there seemed to be an improvement although the end result wasn't where it needed it to be. There's still hope. I'm not giving up just yet."

DOES THERE NEED TO BE A LITTLE BIT MORE SHOWMANSHIP IN THIS SPORT? "I'm going to tell you this, one of the things that has baffled me the most, is the comment and the opinion that the drivers are not allowed to express themselves. I don't understand that, I honestly don't. The only thing that NASCAR has told us that we can't do is use profanity. I don't ever remember anybody ever being penalized for getting out and saying whatever they wanted to say, even against NASCAR. When people talk about how we need more emotion, I don't understand what they mean, other than if we cussed and we fought then that would be the next step. Short of that, I mean honestly, what is the next step? I think we're always looking for something that we can do better and there's nothing at all wrong with that. But the thought that the drivers don't have emotion and they're not willing to show emotion and that corporate America's not letting us do it? I don't remember having a sponsor come to me and say you shouldn't have said that. In all the years I've raced I've said things on the radio that my mother would have been ashamed of me for saying, I've said things to drivers talking to them on television, but I've never had a sponsor come to me and say 'You shouldn't have done that,' and I've never had NASCAR come to me and say 'You shouldn't have done that.' There is a level of expectation of professionalism that I think is the right thing to do. If you're mad at somebody, I think it's ok to say it. If you're not mad at them, it's ok to say that too. A few years ago, remember the big push where we're going to have a cool down period for the drivers? That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard in my life. One of the coolest things about our sport is that when something happens, you can get right to them. And the driver needs to get right to you guys too. It needs to work both ways because that's how the fans get their information. So, I'm confused about the whole emotion conversation. I don't know how to answer your question other than to say that the reason I speak the way I speak after a race is because that's who I am. I can't speak for Tony [Stewart] or for Kevin [Harvick] or for anybody else, but I don't have a thumb on me telling me I can't say something, that I can guarantee you. And if I ever do - I'll tell you this right now - if NASCAR ever comes to me and says you can't talk about other drivers or you can't say anything, I'm going to go do something else because the way I view it, I don't work for NASCAR. They sanction the races. I work for Caterpillar and I work for Richard Childress and I have the right to express my opinion and if NASCAR came to me and said you can no longer express your opinion, that wouldn't feel right to me. I live in a country that says I can and that's a great difference than the NBA and Major League Baseball. If you talk about referees, you get fined. Now, I've had NASCAR come to me and say, 'Why don't we talk about this. Let us work on this together,' but I've never had NASCAR come to me and tell me, you can't say that. If they do, you'll be the first ones to know about it."

-credit: gm racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt