Daytona 500: Burton - Friday media visit



TELL US ABOUT YOUR PREPARATIONS THIS WEEK AND YOUR THOUGHTS GOING INTO THE 500. "Certainly after qualifying on Sunday we were pretty down with the speed we were able to lay down. But my guys are a pretty resilient bunch. We felt pretty good about racing yesterday pretty well. Hopefully we'll bolt in a little more horsepower for the 500 and we'll try to make the car drive even better than it does. So far the car has driven really well and I feel really good about our chances. I feel optimistic about the 500 and I feel very optimistic about the year in general. We'll see: this race has a habit of odd things happening pretty consistently. We just want to go out, stay out of the way and get in the middle of it when we need to and when we don't, don't - position ourselves to have a chance to win the Daytona 500. It's something I've never been able to do. I have a huge desire to make it happen and I think I've got as good a chance as I've ever had."

HAVE YOU FOLLOWED THE SITUATION REGARDING RULES VIOLATIONS THIS WEEK AND WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT IT? "First of all, I'm a proponent of big penalties. I think that in any sport the more severe the penalty, the more prone people are to do the right thing. Any time you have a competitive nature and you have a competitive group and winning or losing is at stake, if you don't make people do the right thing then they never will. I learned that at a very early age with my father cheating with me as a seven year old (did I just say that?). It's just what happens. Competition brings out the best in people and it brings out the worst in people. So NASCAR's job is to make sure it's a level playing field for everyone and when someone steps out of the bounds, whack them. I believe the bigger the hit the less it happens. I know personally - we have conversations about what we're willing to do and what we're not willing to do - and because the penalties are so large we're willing to do very little that we think can get us into trouble. This is a risk-versus-reward business and the higher the risk the less opportunity for reward. So I'm a proponent of big penalties, I'm a proponent of points (penalties) and a proponent of suspensions - but I think points are the biggest.

"I say this now as I know it's coming: the 24 car not having points taken away. I was concerned about that this morning, the part was confiscated so I went and looked at the part and it's my opinion that what happened to the 24 car was a screw-up. And I'm also of the opinion that probably on the race there wasn't much performance gain. Because on the race track the car's different than it is in the high sticks. When you look at the part it was beat up pretty badly. It wasn't machined to work one way which I suspected it was until I went and looked at it. It seemed by me to be an honest mistake. So the question is: what should the penalty be? There has to be a penalty. Mistake or not, there has to be a penalty. My concern was that the penalty wasn't steep enough in relation to the other penalties. So . what was the advantage? It seemed to me that the advantage was he won the race - they took that away - then should there be points and a suspension?"

ACTUALLY HE KEPT HIS WIN. "Well, so did Richard Petty - I don't know how that works. That's how it's always been, I'm not saying that's how it should be. At some stage they're going to say 'It's not like that any more, if you get caught, you're not going to get the race and we're going to penalize you.' I don't know how you win the race but that's the way it's always been. "It seems to me that the penalty met the crime. I really do and I believe that one of the worst things that can happen to anybody in life or anything else, you have to look at each situation for what it is and I'm not defending Jeff Gordon and Steve Letarte. I'm looking at what the situation is. It's my opinion that if you look at what Michael Waltrip's group did and what the 17 did - if the 17 got 50 points, or whatever the penalty is, then the 55 should have been 10 times that. In this case (the 24) I don't think they deserved a point penalty or suspension because there was probably a negligible gain on the racetrack and if you look at the part it wasn't intentional. So . it probably wasn't much of a gain, it wasn't intentional, it's not like they set out to intentionally cheat which should be dealt with differently if they did. So I went in there very uncomfortable about the penalty. After looking at the part, I'm very comfortable with the penalty. Because I think they looked at the situation for what it was, the way it happened, they looked at all the evidence and made the decision based on that. In some ways I'm very proud of them for that because they held - I'm sure they had a lot of pressure on them to (fine) points too following the week's incidents. But I'm sure that after looking at it, they've done the right thing.

DID MICHAEL (WALTRIP) GET OFF TOO EASILY? "Yes. In comparison to the 17 and 9, it's my opinion . you can make the case that the 17 and 9 were penalized too harshly, you can make that case. But I'm not going to say that - like I've just said, I believe in harsh penalties. But based on their penalties I think the 55 got off exceptionally easy. That's nothing personal against Michael - that's nothing to do with it - I just think they got off exceptionally easy in comparison to the other penalties."

WITH THIS SITUATION AND ALL THE MEDIA COVERING EVERYTHING BUT WHAT'S HAPPENING ON THE RACETRACK, HAS THIS BEEN A BAD WEEK FOR NASCAR? DO YOU BUY THE "THERE'S NO SUCH THING AS BAD PUBLICITY" MANTRA"? "I don't buy that . I think it's been a bad week for our sport. I believe that you can make the case that NASCAR has done the right thing in most instances. Again the difference in penalties between those teams was too small, I think it should have been a bigger difference but I think NASCAR has taken a stance in saying: 'Hey, this is wrong and we're not putting up with it. You broke the rules, you're going to be penalized.' Anything else might be worse. Now we may not know about it but if NASCAR didn't take a stand and do the right thing, then that would be worse than them taking a stand and doing the right thing. So I think it's been a bad week for our sport, I don't think it's been a bad week for NASCAR."

ON THE CHEATING THIS WEEK IN GENERAL "I think it's a shame we've spent the week talking about cheating. This is the start of probably the most competitive year we've had in our sport, this is the start of debatably the biggest race of the year, it's the start of a lot of things that are going to happen during the year, yet here we are talking about cheating and it's disappointing that that's where the conversation is. By the way, you guys haven't created the conversation - the topic's been created because there it is. It's in our face - how can you walk away from it? That's why it's been a bad week. We should be talking about competitive the race is going to be, we should be talking about Junior having the wreck . we should be talking about things that have to do with racing. Instead . we've given the perception that we're a bunch of manipulative guys that are out there trying to screw everybody out of a win. That's just not good for our sport."

IS THERE A BIGGER PICTURE THAT NASCAR IS TRYING TO SEND OUT TO FORTUNE 500 COMPANIES, TO FANS IN EUROPE AND SO ON? "I don't know. I'm certainly not involved in closed-door discussions with NASCAR on what message they're trying to send. I'd like to believe that what they're trying to do is make sure the sport is fair. I mostly look at our sport from a competition standpoint. For our sport to be what it needs to be, they need to police it. It's their job to make the rules and enforce them."

ON NASCAR HANDING OUT MORE SEVERE PENALTIES "I may have my timescale wrong, but over the last three or five year they've continued to escalate it. They've continued to make penalties larger, they've continued to make fines larger and suspensions longer. I don't know that they're trying to send a message, other than to say to the competition that it's got to be fair.

"I do believe that when you come to the Daytona 500 with 61 cars (if that's the right number) trying to make the race, that puts more pressure on them to police it even harder. Because it needs to be fair for every single team trying to make the Daytona 500 or, by the way, the 55 cars, or whatever it is, trying to make the race next week - all the competition needs to know, and their sponsors need to know, that it's a level playing field. So I don't know that they're trying to send a message but I believe the message is 'Hey, it's going to be fair.' I don't know if that's a message, other than a philosophy."

IN PROFESSIONAL SPORTS, EVERYONE KNOWS THAT THERE IS A DELINEATED, PROGRESSIVE PROCESS OF PENALTIES FOR, SAY, DRUG VIOLATORS. WOULD NASCAR BE BETTER SERVED WITH DEFINED PENALTIES FOR SPECIFIC VIOLATIONS? "I wouldn't be opposed to that. I wouldn't be opposed to listed set of penalties that this is what we do for this case - I wouldn't be opposed to that. The negative to that is we have many more moving parts than the NBA and what they consider a drug policy: by the way if you get caught smoking dope, you can keep doing it until you get caught the third time. Or maybe it's the second time now, they've really toughened it up. It's difficult to make a rule that says that if it's a shock that holds the car down, this is the penalty. If a carburetor is found to have a hole a 16th of an inch to large somewhere, then this is the penalty. You see my point. There's so many moving parts on the car, there are so many components on the car, it's difficult to pinpoint every single component and say this is always the penalty - there would always be things that were being violated that weren't in the rules. I don't know how you can say this is always going to be the penalty when you don't know what (the violation) is going to be. Flexibility is required and, in some of it, there should be no flexibility.

"The reason I went to (NASCAR) this morning is that I wanted to make sure that the penalties were being handed out consistently. It didn't feel to me like it was. But after I looked at the part it looked like it did. So, everything needs to be looked at individually with, once the determination has been made, this is all the information, this is all the facts, this is the history of what we've done for penalties, it needs to lay within that history. It needs to be similar to that history of penalty and fines. Then if they do that, and they do that consistently, then I think it's okay."

IS NASCAR NATION READY FOR INTERNATIONALIZATION, AND WHAT SORT OF BATTLE WILL MONTOYA AND TOYOTA FACE? "First of all, the sad thing about the conversation is that it's a shame in our society we have to have a conversation about someone being from somewhere different means they have to be looked upon differently. It's a shame that we haven't got to the point where we're all the same, but we're not. As far as NASCAR nation being ready for it, it sure looks like it is.

"There's a lot of enthusiasm about Juan Pablo and I know that some people are upset about Toyota being involved . there's people upset about the new points system, so you're never going to make everyone happy.

"I think the great opportunity we have with Montoya in particular and with Almendinger and people coming from other forms of motorsports is . number one I'm a huge motorsports fan, primarily a NASCAR fan, but I'm also a motorsports fan. The opportunity for NASCAR fans to understand how good a race driver Montoya is . what that will say is that there are a lot of really good drivers that don't race in NASCAR. By the way, when the F1 fans and fans from other series see those guys struggle then they'll say wow, maybe that NASCAR group is a little tougher than we thought it was. So I think the fans are going to gain a greater appreciation for the talent level in both forms of racing. I don't think this sport gets the respect in Europe that it should. And I don't think we give the European sport as much respect as we should. So I think that at the end of the day, when Montoya runs well (and he will run well) a lot of respect will be given to that form of racing and vice versa. Now when he struggles then people will realize that this is difficult. We're viewed in other countries as a very unsophisticated, under-engineered form of motor racing when in fact it's very complicated and very precise.

"I think the fans are the winners in being able to gain an appreciation for how difficult it is to be successful in both forms of motorsports."

-credit: gm racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Michael Waltrip , Richard Petty