Daytona 500: Top two qualifiers, top rookie, part 2

Continued from part 1 JEFF BURTON WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR INPUT AT RCR? "Well, part of my role at Childress is not so much to tell them 'Hey we need to be to be a certain way to build cars'. It is more the idea of me to be a part of the process to...

Continued from part 1

JEFF BURTON

WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR INPUT AT RCR? "Well, part of my role at Childress is not so much to tell them 'Hey we need to be to be a certain way to build cars'. It is more the idea of me to be a part of the process to figure out what the best way to build cars is. How to best use our aero group. How to best use the engineering group. How to make sure we are getting the most out of the tools we have. We have enough tools at RCR to compete at a high level. We have to make sure we utilize those tools and use them to the best of our advantage. That is something that we were not doing and the results showed it. One of the reasons Richard wanted me to come to RCR was to help with that. And that is what I have tried to do. At the same time I have tried to be very focused on the Cingular team in particular. But for us to excel, we needed to have better equipment than we had last year. So part of my role is helping build the structure and format to go build better cars. As far as how they are going to draft and race, this car and the other car we had down here at the test both drove about the same but this car was a good three 10ths quicker. So we brought this one as the primary car. I have won down here once before and I have come down here an awful lot of times and I only sat in one car that was fast enough to win. We need all talk about our car needing to drive well and I am a proponent of that. But a good driving car that is slow won't win. You have got to have a fast car that will drive well. And we have a fast car and now it is up to us to make sure it will drive well. I think that it can.

HOW DO YOU AND RICHARD TALK ABOUT THINGS AT RCR? "Well Richard is a pretty informal kind of guy. We don't have a whole lot of scheduled meetings where you get a notice that says there will be a meeting at 2:00. We have a lot of informal conversations, much more than we do have structured formal meetings. I certainly been part of my fair share of formal, structured meetings, but my time with Richard is generally him calling me when I didn't know he was going to call or me calling him when he didn't know I was going to call.

WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO DO WHEN YOU HAVE A CAR FAST ENOUGH TO SET ON THE POLE TO GET PREPARED? "In all honesty, it is a matter of me not messing up. Make sure you run the right line on each lap. I have seen people forget what lap they are on and go into turn one on the last lap and take the high line instead of the low line. And those kinds of things. But today had nothing to do with me. The only impact I had today was to be a warm blooded person to mash the gas and turn left. I think it was Michael Waltrip said a drunk monkey could do it. So today I guess I was the drunk monkey.

DO YOU HAVE ANY FRIENDS IN THE DRAFT? "I walked in on what Jeff Gordon was saying and he is 100% correct. You have teammates and you do your best to work with them. The conversation Jeff said he has with his teammates, I have the exact same conversation with my teammates. You can help each other as long as it doesn't hurt you. At the end of the day, this is a self serving sport. When you get it in your mind that you are only going to help him no matter what he does, you are just going to hurt yourself and that is just how it is. A lot has been made about Michael (Waltrip) and Dale (Earnhardt, Jr) and all that. But only one of them that worked out for. You do want to work together but you do want to do what is best for you and your team. I know you guys watch it and I have watched restrictor plate races with very race intelligent people. They are like "He hung him out, he hung him out." and it just isn't that way. You have to do what you have to do for you and your team and that is just how it is. And you can't get upset when you make a move and somebody doesn't go with you, because if they go with you and it is wrong for them, they loose 15 spots. I was part of a deal years ago when Dale Jarrett won the race - Johnny Benson was leading, Mark Martin was running second, Jarrett was running third and I was running fourth. Mark thought he had a deal with Jarrett and he thought Jarrett was going to go wherever he went. So Mark went high and Jarrett went low and before I knew it they were side-by-side. So then I had a decision to make. What am I going to do? I am going to be in a line of eight cars, on the outside the second car in line and when this group clears me, I am going to be running last in this group. I could not do that even though it hurt Mark, a person I care about tremendously. But it was going to put us in a position to lose a ton of spots. He was going to get passed anyhow. So if I stayed with him, it was going to put us both in a position to get hurt, but I was going to lose the most. I stayed with Jarrett and I caught some flack from that. I did what I thought I had to do to give myself a chance to win the Daytona 500. It wasn't a good situation but man it is hard. You can't be willing to slit your own wrists. On the last lap if you can push your teammate across the start finish line he wins the race and you finish fifth, that might be an acceptable thing, but if he finished fifth and you finish 20th, that doesn't work. Mark said he wasn't mad at me , I went and found him in his office and he said he understood why it happened the way it did.

DID YOU THINK YOU COULD BE ON THE POLE FOR THE DAYTONA 500? "I thought we had a legitimate chance, I thought we would be in the top-10, but I didn't know we could run that fast. I really didn't know. Although I will tell you, that during testing, we made a qualifying run and for whatever reason, it didn't make the times. I don't know why. It was the last day in drafting practice and it didn't show up because they weren't showing individual times. But is was only like a 10th off of what the 38 had run and I went ok, we got something now. We knew we had better engines coming and lots of other stuff coming so I knew we might have a chance.

CAN YOU EMPATHIZE WITH THE PRESSURE OF THE GUYS WHO HAVE TO RACE THEIR WAY IN. "Last year Kevin Lepage got in the race and Robby Gordon didn't. Robby Gordon finished seventh in the 150 and went home. Tony Stewart was leading, I was second and Robby was behind me. He was content to stay in line and finish third and got knocked out of the way and went home finishing 7th in the 150. That is a tough deal. I have been lucky enough to never miss a Daytona 500 field, we did have a situation once when I was driving for the Stavola Bros when we came down here and I was slow slow slow. That was when you could keep on trying to qualify. That was like the 20 days of qualifying at Daytona. On the last day, we posted a speed that might kinda sorta get us in if it didn't work out for us in the 125. I came in on a rookie group that was as big and as talented as the one this season. Ward went home, Nemechek went home, I thinki a lot of the rookie class went home and I think I was one of them to make it. I know how hard it is and it is harder today if you are not in the top 35 because there is so few spots available. It is hard for them.?

LOCKING YOURSELF INTO THE 500, DOES THAT CHANGE YOUR APPROACH? "No not at all, we have to do our work to make sure we are ready. This is the only race where we have a race before the race. It is a huge opportunity to learn everything you can. So we will go into the 150 trying to win it, we need to have a good pit stop, we need to know what happens when we need the thing, we need to know what will happen when we are not leading, we need to learn what we need to learn for the Daytona 500. We won't change our approach to that race one bit. Because we are here to win. HOw many 125 did Dale Earnhardt win? HOw many poles and outside poles? You have to go into that race and try to win, you have to attack it."

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR LAST POLE? "Our last pole was at Richmond and there was a Bush race right after that. They were yelling at us to take the pictures quick quick quick because you have to go change for the Bush race. So we really didn't have time to enjoy it or celebrate it. No time to celebrate because we were back in a car racing. It happened that fast. In fact, I was looking at some pictures and there I was standing there at the board while they were taking the pictures and I kept thinking, darn I have to go. That is what I remember about that.

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE RCR PLATE ENGINE PROGRAM? "All I am going to say about that is the effort that has gone into turn the entire engine program around, to lead NASCAR racing in horsepower as well as reliability, we have made huge strides. We dropped in our 2006 engine here at the test and I am telling you it wasn't a small change, it was a big change. We did the same thing at Vegas with our Bush engines and it was the same thing. It was a lot better. It was more than I thought you could pick up. It was a lot. Before that we were running well before, which I was ecstatic with and we dropped that in and now we are about a third or fourth place car. It was a significant change when we put it in.

RICHARD CHILDRESS , OWNER OF RCR:

ON JEFF BURTON WINNING THE DAYTONA 500 POLE: CHILDRESS: "We just had a lot of positive changes at RCR. Every race is important. We want to come here and win the Daytona 500. But today, winning the pole, was a big plus. Everybody has worked so hard at RCR -- including the drivers. These guys get a lot of credit for getting us going at RCR. I'm just proud of everybody and proud of Jeff getting on the pole today. It's really great to see RCR back up front. We've won a lot of poles here and been up front a lot. We're just excited to be here."

DO YOU FEEL THAT THIS IS A MAKE OR BREAK YEAR FOR THE NO. 31 TEAM? BURTON: "It's a no-excuse year. Richard has provided us with the funding and the people and the plan and a lot of things we didn't have last year. We had some legitimate excuses last year, but this is a no-excuse year. If that means it's a make or break, I'm okay with that. As previously being part of a company that has won a lot of races over the last 7 or 8 years, and seeing the way they do it -- we're not going to compare what we're doing now, but I'm really comfortable with it. I know that every race is not going to go the way we want it to go. There are a lot of people that want to kick our ass every Sunday. But I also know it's going to be hard. It's harder today than five years ago. But we need to perform."

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR MINDSET ABOUT THE CHANGES YOU MADE AT RCR? CHILDRESS: "I look back at 2004 and I spent some time at a couple of shops and I knew we needed to get things turned around and get going. I made a lot of decisions for change. We made a lot of changes and brought new people in. I'm just excited about the whole year. Today is wonderful with Jeff getting the pole and getting a shot at winning this Daytona 500. That's something every team out there has worked all winter for. But I'm excited about going to California and Vegas. After the test we had at Vegas, it just excited me about all the things I've seen and how our drivers and teams are working together and have pulled together. Hopefully this will be our year."

WITH SO MANY VETERANS ON YOUR TEAMS, HOW TOUGH WAS IT TO REORGANIZE? CHILDRESS: "It was tough when you've got to take people who have been with you for 20 years and move them into different positions. The business has gotten so tough. I used to walk around and know everybody's family and kids names. Now, I've got to ask if that guy or lady works for me. The business has grown so much. And you've got to keep it personal because that's what we're all made of. But at the end of the day, we've got to have results. We didn't have them for the last couple of years. We made some changes and this year we should have good results." BURTON: "The people that have been there for 20 years are still there. And that place has talent that is second to none. There is a really big group of a lot of committed people and Richard has stayed committed to them. People are there that don't deserve to be there, I can tell you that. Before I went to Richard's people whispered in my ear that he kept people around because he was just too nice. But those people who are there are there for a reason because they are damn good at what they do. We are blessed with a lot of people with a lot of experience."

HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO GET BACK TO THAT LEVEL BEFORE DALE EARNHARDT'S ACCIDENT? CHILDRESS: "Well, we've been competitive in some races, but nothing like we have in the past. We've got to work hard. The level of competition today has really stepped up. You've just got to step up to the plate. We've definitely got everything it takes to get the job done. We've just got to pull it all together as one big team and make it happen."

ON BURTON COMING OUT OF NOWHERE TO WIN THE DAYTONA 500 POLE: CHILDRESS: "It's great anytime you can win a pole or a race. I feel like we've let Jeff Burton down over the last couple of years that he's been with us. We had high expectations. We had the equipment and everything, but we just didn't get it all put together. I think it is something we should have done a long time ago."

YOU GAVE BURTON A HUGE BEAR HUG WHEN HE WON THE POLE. WAS THIS MORE EMOTIONAL THAN SOME OF YOUR PAST POLES HERE? CHILDRESS: "I think it was. We've been up front. Kevin (Harvick) has led a lot of laps and Jeff maybe led some laps last year and was up front. But we've just got to put it all together and we've got to win."

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT JEFF BURTON AS A PERSON AND ABOUT THE DRIVER HARMONY HE BROUGHT TO THE GROUP? CHILDRESS: "Jeff came in and fired me back up. Knowing some of the ideas and things he's brought to the table -- he's just good for the whole organization. He can look and day hey, I know we're off here or there in aero or wind tunnel or horsepower. We've just made a lot of changes."

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE LONG-TERM IMPACT THAT DALE EARNHARDT HAS HAD ON THE ORGANIZATION? CHILDRESS: "When you lose a great driver and a great friend like that, it takes time. We came back in 2002 and Kevin won rookie of the year and finished 9th in the points and won a couple of races. Our whole company went into shock and probably will always be. But it's guys like Jeff Burton and Kevin Harvick that have made it a little easier. It's tough on all of us -- the loss that we all went through. Hopefully he's up there looking down and proud of what the sport has done and where the sport has gone and the many things that have happened in this sport. Five years later...it sure doesn't seem like it."

DO YOU THINK THAT BOTH THE NO. 31 AND THE NO. 29 TEAMS WILL STEP UP TOGETHER? CHILDRESS: "I think you'll see our whole organization move up. I've got high expectations for Clint Boyer and Gil Martin (too). The thing that made me feel so positive is that I went to Las Vegas and watched the test. That's been one of our weaker points is that type of race tracks. They were all up front. We had a team meeting and I told them that what we planned was to win the championship. We finished second in 2002 to Jeff (Godon) and I think Jeff Burton was third that year. I feel good about our whole season -- our road course and short track programs and our engine program. We have a lot of positive things going on at RCR."

-gm racing-

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Tony Stewart , Kevin Harvick , Kevin Lepage , Robby Gordon , Johnny Benson , Mark Martin