JEFF BURTON, NO. 31 CATERPILLAR CHEVROLET, met with members of the media at NASCAR Media Day and discussed his contract, Dale Earnhardt's death, the new points system and other topics.
THE MODERATOR: Questions.
Q. (Question regarding staying at RCR).
JEFF BURTON: Very few have asked that question.
You know, fully my intention and RCR's intention is to be back after this year for sure. That's pretty much a foregone conclusion that we're going to get all that done. I feel good about my future at RCR, look at it as the place where I want to spend the rest of my career. I'm real comfortable there. I really like Richard. It's difficult because our job is difficult. But you'll see me at RCR next year.
Q. Do you see anything that could change that plan?
JEFF BURTON: Well, I've done this long enough to know that anything can change. But I don't anticipate a change. It would take a special set of circumstances, a really odd set of circumstances, for me not to be at RCR next year.
Q. Clint is also a free agent. Anything about that being a distraction?
JEFF BURTON: I don't think it will be a distraction. I'm not going to speak for Clint. For me it's not going to be a distraction. I'm going to be at RCR next year. My future is at RCR. Clint is a free agent, the way I understand it. Clint will be a highly desired driver. A lot of people are going to want Clint to drive their racecars. There's no question about that. That's one of the negatives to having a lot of talent. We are going to have to do what we have to do to keep him.
I really want to see Clint stay at RCR. I like Clint. I think he's got the talent, he's got the ability, he's got the personality. He makes me a better racecar driver. I really want to see him extend his contract.
Q. What is your take on the points system?
JEFF BURTON: Well, you know, an analytical view of it is I think you're rewarded more for winning races than we have been in the past. If you look at the percentage of points paid, the three bonus points, then the opportunity to make more bonus points, then on top of that, if you win races, have an average year, you're going to be in the Chase, that means that winning races is more valuable than it's ever been.
The penalty for poor races is huge. If you finish last, depending on the bonus points, how all that works, you're getting 46, 47, 48 times less the number of points than the guy that won. That's huge.
So poor finishes really bites you. Good finishes, if you finish fifth, seventh, 14th, I don't think it's real different today than what we've had in the past. Certainly the wins mean more and the poor finishes mean more.
Q. (Question regarding the economy and size of teams.)
JEFF BURTON: I think that's fair. I think if you ask the people at RCR, we have more sponsor involvement today than we did 12 months ago. We have more people wanting to be involved in the sport, wanting to be involved with us. I know from my standpoint when I talk to companies, they're excited about NASCAR.
But right now we're still going through a period of recovery. We're not where we were four years ago. I'm not saying that. I do believe we're experiencing a recovery. But when you are going through a recovery, there's people that are going to be affected by that, there's people that aren't going to be affected by that. There are people that are going to cherry-pick exactly how they want to do that. We're going to go through that. Just like the real estate market. Right now in the real estate market, there's a hint that it's getting better, but the people that are selling are still getting bit. It's real painful. But there are people starting to buy.
It's kind of the same thing with us. Sponsors are going to get involved with their terms. There's not as much pressure on the sponsors as there was three or four years ago. It's definitely changed the way that the teams are going to have to do business. You're going to have to learn how to operate at a high level with less. I think that's just how it's going to be.
Q. Do you think the fans are going to buy into what NASCAR is trying to do now?
JEFF BURTON: You know what the fans want to see, is they want to see good racing. The points system, the only thing that does is it makes it easier to follow. That's the only thing it does. It really doesn't do anything else.
I don't think that's going to have a major impact. I think the biggest impact is what the races on Sunday look like. If we have races like we had last year, our sport's gonna be fine. We didn't have those races, we didn't have horrible races, but we had better races last year than we did the year before.
We had a lot of change in a short period of time. I think we alienated some people because we had so many changes. At the same time a lot of people were watching for the first time and the races weren't as exciting as they could have been for a lot of reasons, and you can debate those reasons all day long. You have to earn those people back. They don't come back and turn the TV on or come back to the race and say it's all fixed. They're still skeptical. We're going to have to earn that trust back.
I'm very confident that when people see the racing and they see what's going on that we're going to be fine, we're going to be fine. Richard said, Rome is not burning, and he's right. We are experiencing a high level of pressure, as every business, every sport, the economy is feeling. But the base of our sport is solid and strong and it's going to be okay.
Q. Do you find yourself doing more for your sponsors than you would have five or ten years ago?
JEFF BURTON: I've been through that transition already in my career. Being perfectly honest, not many people would say this, but you start to take this for granted, you really do. You start to think that you're always going to have a sponsor, people are always going to want you to drive their car, you're always going to win races. You almost have to experience bad stuff to realize that's not the case.
So, you know, I changed my way of doing business the last year I was at Roush and we struggled with sponsorship, we struggled with racing, how we were running. That really made me gain a perspective that I didn't have before.
So I really don't act differently today than I did three years ago. But I act differently today than I did seven or eight years ago.
Q. Can you describe Harvick's speech last week and what the reaction was like.
JEFF BURTON: You know, Kevin showed some emotion, showed that he cared about the history and the heritage of RCR. I think a lot of people appreciated that. We have a lot of people there that were there during the Dale Earnhardt era. You cannot be part of RCR without understanding what Dale Earnhardt meant to RCR and to our sport.
I think his emotion showed a lot of people that he understood that. I think a lot of people appreciated it.
Q. Yet it took him a long time to embrace that connection.
JEFF BURTON: It's hard to be in the shadow of somebody. There's no way that Kevin Harvick steps into that car after the tragedy without being in his shadow. You know, that's hard. I don't want to speak for Kevin, but it takes a little while to separate yourself from that. Kevin understands the history of our sport, he respects our sport more so today than he ever has. He really by his actions can tell you how much he's involved in the sport, how much he cares about it. I think he showed everybody that he respects the history of RCR, what went on well before he got there.
Q. Can you and Jeff Gordon laugh about what happened in Texas now?
JEFF BURTON: Yes.
Q. Do you talk about it?
JEFF BURTON: We've laughed about it several times. It was something in my career that I'm not proud of. At the same time after it all went down I thought I did all I could do to man up and be a man about it. That's really all I can do.
I have the utmost respect for Jeff. Jeff and I, we raced against each other for over 20 years. I can count on my hand the number of times we had issues. The deal at Darlington years ago where he won the million, beat me on the last lap of Darlington, I was upset about it because I thought we should have won the race, you know what I mean? At the same time, I wasn't mad at him. I was mad about it, but in retrospect, he didn't do anything wrong. We've had a few run-ins, but no more than you have with anybody.
Jeff has been, in my opinion, when he came into our sport, he did a lot. He had a great deal to do with our sport growing. He was young. He was a different look. He was a different sound. He was the reverse of Earnhardt, but he could win. You know what I mean? That attracted a lot of people to our sport. It attracted a lot of young people to our sport, it really did. And Jeff has always conducted himself in a fashion that's a championship fashion.
Like I told all y'all, it didn't bother me that he wanted to fight about it. Hell, I didn't blame him. If I was him, I'd want to fight about it, too. I never once felt bad about that. I don't.
The fact that two 40-year-olds care about what they do, have a passion for it, that's a great thing. Richard Petty told me, When you quit caring, you need to quit.
Part of that was cool because it showed everybody, even though we've been doing it for a long time, we both care a great deal, we both have a fire and a passion. But the part of actually how we got there wasn't cool at all.
Q. Is that what NASCAR needs, a Jeff Gordon, a young guy to come in and revitalize the sport?
JEFF BURTON: Listen, our sport is a constant change of people. Rusty Wallace isn't here anymore. He's not driving anymore. Harry (indiscernible) isn't driving anymore. Richard Petty isn't driving anymore. Cale Yarborough isn't driving anymore. There's a constant evolution.
I hear people saying, The problem with NASCAR is there's no personalities. What? That drives me nuts. I mean, are you not paying attention? There's a tremendous amount of personalities.
What our sport needs is competition. Competition brings everything else. When it's highly competitive, it's highly passionate, it's physical, it's everything NASCAR is supposed to be. When the competition on the track isn't like that, then all the other stuff goes away, too.
When you're racing just yourself and the cars are all spread out, that's a whole different ballgame than when everybody's bunched up and you're racing each other. It's a different passion. Even though it's passion both ways, it's completely different. The more competition you have on the racetrack, the more close racing you have, the more all that other stuff goes on.
You can't create it. I saw something Dale Jarrett said the other day. You can't build that. It has to happen naturally. And he's right. But what makes all that stuff happen naturally is good, close, competitive racing. You know, when you have that, you're going to have all the other stuff that comes with it.
Q. Do you think everything is in place for that competitively?
JEFF BURTON: I think it's definitely in place for that. I think if you look at what Goodyear has done with the tires, if you look at how we've learned more about these cars, if you look at all those things, I think, yes. We saw it last year. We saw it last year. I think you'll see more of it this year.
Q. What about all the changes planned for the cars?
JEFF BURTON: The long-term forecast, you hear 2013, we've got to be back to these cars being cars people drive on the street. We've got to get back to a Chevrolet being a Chevrolet. You know, we took a step toward that this year, we really did. These cars look a tremendous amount better. They look more like cars.
In the future, I think that's where our sport's heading. Our sport's heading back to what made it special. People take pride in owning a car. When you see your car out there racing on a racetrack, that's cool, and we lost that a little bit.
Q. Speaking of your heritage and history, how would you explain what makes this place special to someone who might not know?
JEFF BURTON: Well, if you didn't know a thing about NASCAR, if you didn't know a thing about Daytona, what you'd have to do is say, Look, years ago they used to race on the beach. Race on the beach, come down and run the asphalt, turn and run up the beach. Bill France decided to build a two-and-a-half mile racetrack. Think about building a two-and-a-half mile racetrack at that time. That's incredible. Today we're used to it. Can you imagine what he said, You know what I'm going to do? That was insane thinking.
This is where NASCAR was born. This is where it all went down. The racetrack is here because of the people that formed NASCAR thought it was a great idea. That pretty much sums it up.
Q. This is the 10-year anniversary of Dale's death. We'll make a big deal about that.
JEFF BURTON: You've had 10 years to think about it.
Q. Is it different for you guys as a team? Is this going to be tougher?
JEFF BURTON: I think it's a little more for our team than other teams because of Richard. You know what I mean? I wasn't part of RCR. None of the drivers were part of RCR. Well, Kevin was. For Richard, I think it means a great deal. I think that it's hard for Richard, it's really hard for Richard. He really doesn't want to talk about it. He feels obligated to talk about it for obvious reasons.
For Richard it means a great deal, so that means that it means a great deal for us. Dale and Richard were tight. You know, it wasn't just boss. It was two friends. And they supported each other through good and bad. We tend to glamorize. They had a lot of bad times, too. Richard tells a story of him saying, Look, man, I can't put you in the kind of cars you need in right now, you need to go drive somewhere else. Dale is saying, No, I drive for you. We're going to work it out. I'm your driver. He has so many stories of Dale doing things to make the company better. They respected each other.
When Dale was killed, he lost more than a business (indiscernible). That means a great deal to him.
Q. What does it say about Richard and his organization saying you guys are here and stronger than ever?
JEFF BURTON: Well, there were definitely some times after that that RCR went the wrong way. I think they really missed Dale's leadership. They really missed some direction. They really missed Dale standing on the table and saying, Damn it, boys, we need to do this.
It had to change. Richard Childress Racing had to become something it wasn't in order to be successful. It's the thing that as you get older becomes harder to do.
But Richard has adjusted. He's determined for that company to be part of NASCAR in a big way forever. For him, it's a legacy. It's not about just being successful today, it's about being successful 20 years from now. He's adjusted. He's adjusted.
A lot of car owners haven't been able to do that. A lot of great car owners have not been able to make that adjustment. Richard has done that. I think that says a lot.
Q. When you look back 10 years, is it hard to believe how many safety advances have been made?
JEFF BURTON: If you were in my shoes 10 years ago, 11 years ago, and you asked me, said to me then, 10 years from now all these things are going to happen, I'd say, You're nuts, there's not the willingness, the mindset, the dedication, it will never happen. I would have been wrong. We take for granted a lot of stuff. Drivers coming in today have no concept of what this was like 10, 11 years ago. No concept.
NASCAR really had to change. I credit Brian and I credit Mike for saying, You know what, we got to do it different. When they said they were going to do it different, boy, they went and did it different. They didn't half-ass do it different, they went full force at it. I never believed that was going to happen.
Q. You pointed out some of the younger drivers. Is it so safe right now that it's almost cartoon or video game?
JEFF BURTON: I don't believe that. I don't believe that. It's safer today than it's ever been, but it's still not safe. You spend enough time investigating it, you understand what actually happens internally when you hit something. This is not a safe endeavor. It is safer, but it's still not safe.
Q. So you think those guys have somewhere...
JEFF BURTON: There's no question. I've heard the concept floated by me that because it's safer, drivers are willing to do more than they've ever done. I don't buy that. I don't drive differently today. Jeff Gordon doesn't drive differently today. Tony Stewart doesn't drive differently today. We drove hard then. Part of this sport is accepting that you've signed up. That doesn't mean that we can't continue to improve in safety. But you have to accept the risk.
Q. Looking forward to the rematch then of Carolina?
JEFF BURTON: We just won the game. Don't talk about rematch left. I get at least two days (laughter). I guess every team is like this. Duke can't create their own offense inside. This is my ignorant ass talking. Duke can't create their own game on the inside. So when they don't hit their shots, it really hurts them because the way their guys get points is the court gets spread. Also when you miss long shots, long rebounds, there's breaks, the other team scores easily.
-source: team chevy