WARD BURTON (No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge Intrepid R/T) NOTE: Burton is the defending champion of the Mountain Dew Southern 500. He also won the 2000 spring race at the 1.366-mile egg-shaped oval. The 2002 Daytona 500 winner, Burton also won this ...
WARD BURTON (No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge Intrepid R/T)
NOTE: Burton is the defending champion of the Mountain Dew Southern 500. He also won the 2000 spring race at the 1.366-mile egg-shaped oval. The 2002 Daytona 500 winner, Burton also won this season at New Hampshire in the Bill Davis Racing Dodge. He holds the qualifying record of 173.797 mph at Darlington set March 22, 1996. Burton finished 37th Saturday night at Bristol and ranks 27th in the NASCAR Winston Cup Standings with 12 races remaining on the 2002 schedule.
"It's been a real rocky and inconsistent season. It all started, and we know how momentum gets us going in this sport. When we won Daytona, obviously we had a huge amount of momentum. Then we had some driver errors and we had some things unfortunate happen and we had 11 mechanical errors. The mechanical failures not only didn't give us decent finishes but we didn't get to learn during the race because we were in the garage. I think the combination of all those things got us behind. Just like last weekend, we know we can run well. We can run anywhere from Sears Point to Daytona to New Hampshire. We've just got to work hard in some areas. At some tracks that have normally been our cup of tea, like Michigan or Charlotte or California, places we run fast, have been the places where we've been struggling. That's where we've really got to work hard.
"This will be the year the 22 Cat team won the Daytona 500 (when looking back at 2002).
"Jeff (brother Burton) hadn't been in Halifax County since last Christmas, so he hasn't seen my (Daytona 500) trophy. Jeff has obviously been successful in this sport. I hope when we finish racing we get accused of being successful, too. I'm happy for all his successes, and I'm equally happy for ours. I've got 42 other guys to compete against and not just Jeff. If I can't win, I don't want to see anybody win. Past that, I want my brother to do good.
"Kenny Wallace has been around longer than I have. He had Birdie (Steve Bird) as crew chief when I first started racing against him in the Busch Series. Him and Bobby Labonte and Steve Grissom and guys like that are who we had to beat. I think Kenny brings a lot of expertise in some areas and I think he brings a lot of hunger as well. This is a good shot for Kenny. We've talked about it, and I told him there's no question he's going to have every single thing the Cat car's got. At the same time, I think it's a good deal for Bill Davis and our race team down the road. At the same time, obviously, I'm feeling for Hut (Stricklin) as well, so right now I've got mixed emotions about it. We're hoping it's going to be something that works out good down the road and I don't think there's going to be any problems with my personality and Kenny's meshing just like it wouldn't be with Tommy Baldwin and Philippe's (Lopez) meshing because they're about as night and day different as Kenny and I are.
"This track is always important to get a lot of practice time on. But not even NASCAR can control Mother Nature. So we'll do with it the best we can. Hopefully it will stop raining later this evening or tomorrow morning so we can get going.
"As you're sitting there driving the race car or watching the car, you can see the car get a lot of grip in the nose for a couple of laps. Then sometimes that car will lose that grip and a car that didn't run as quick at the start will come on. That just shows the characteristics of that particular car. This track and Rockingham, I guess because of the soil being so sandy and the wind blowing and the weather, it gets the tar between the rocks and gravel and it starts to disappear and it makes it really course. It's actually a quarter inch or more you can see down below those rocks and that's where the tires eat up so much, but it adds to the challenge to Darlington of course.
"Obviously I had some pretty high emotions. In life it doesn't matter if you're a race car driver or doing anything else, the experiences you have obviously we learn by them and wish we could go back and handle them differently. Last weekend was last weekend and I'm real focused on this weekend on concentrating on getting the best finish we can for the Caterpillar Dodge team. Hopefully we'll have the car handling well enough and be there in contention fighting for the win at the end of the race.
"I've been on both spectrums. It seems like this year and most of last year, when there was a wreck and I was involved I was the one that got wrecked. I'll give you an example of something that happened with Dale (Earnhardt Jr.'s) daddy back at Talladega a few years ago. I instigated a big crash and it was my fault. They went through an 18 or 20-car crash at Talladega and I was on the phone Sunday night to Richard Childress and called Dale on Tuesday and acknowledged it was my fault and also to see how he was doing. I have not heard from Dale (Jr.) and I feel like it's his place to call me. What happened last week obviously, we're trained in this country to seek justice. To be honest with you I thought about it. I've have a lot of time to think about it all week and that single word - justice - comes to my mind every single time. Ya'll know as well as I do if I go seek justice Sunday, what's going to happen to the 22 car. So, I've got to try to leave what happened last weekend in the past. I have not had the opportunity to speak to Dale, but that Dale won't seek me out when he has the opportunity to see me and we'll discuss it or go from there, but I feel like it's his place to open up the dialogue about what happened last weekend. I wrecked Johnny Benson up here in turn one two years ago. I didn't mean to hit him. It was a very similar incident to what happened to me the other day at Bristol. He was irritated about it. He was mad. I talked to him and his crew chief about it the following week and they were both still mad and I couldn't blame 'em, but that's the way I handled it. Dale will have to handle it the way his conscious tells him to handle it.
"John Darby and I were talking about it this morning. He and I had some time to reflect on it. I think as much as the sport has grown in just the last couple of years, there's a lot of people riding in that race car with me, not to mention 140 guys that work on my car, my family, our sponsors, everybody that makes this sport go on a weekly basis is riding in that car. I feel like most of these guys are my allies, not my enemies. You're going to see the best and worst of those emotions come out, particularly as big as this business has got. In the heat of battle, if you could go back and have time to reflect on it and react differently, definitely what I did Saturday night by walking up in the race track and throwing my heat shields and saying the wrong word instead of throwing, shooting, I would undo all those things, but I can't. I think most of the time I'm very aware that children look at us like Batman and Spiderman and Super Heroes and we want to be good role models and keep that on their mind all the time.
"I didn't handle myself good when I walked up the track, and that's what I got fined for. I think they should have fined me. They need to stop me and anybody else from doing that. As much as NASCAR as done to try to make us safe, that would have been horrible for me or anybody else to get up there and get run over. That was dumb on my part. I thought I did a pretty good job of not saying the things I wanted to say during the interview, but at the same time I did say one word that I shouldn't have said and I didn't mean it the way it sounded. It is tough right in the middle of the incident to handle it correctly, but we don't get time to cool down. There's either a radio or live TV right there at the moment. We know that, and we know that going into it. It's our responsibility to handle it the best we can. Like I said, parts of it I handled well and parts of it I would like to do over."