BEHIND THE HAULER CHAT WITH JEFF BURTON, NO. 31 CINGULAR WIRELESS MONTE CARLO SS: Note: Burton crashed in practice and will go to a back-up car, which is his 2006 Daytona 500 pole winning Monte Carlo SS: HOW GOOD IS YOUR BACK UP CAR? "It's the...
BEHIND THE HAULER CHAT WITH JEFF BURTON, NO. 31 CINGULAR WIRELESS MONTE CARLO SS:
Note: Burton crashed in practice and will go to a back-up car, which is his 2006 Daytona 500 pole winning Monte Carlo SS:
HOW GOOD IS YOUR BACK UP CAR? "It's the car we ran in the (Daytona) 500 and it's the car we ran fourth with at Talladega so it's a good car but the car we planned on running had quite a bit more downforce and we built it especially for this race. We'll do what we can do. This is a great race team and they bring good race cars. It's an unfortunate break. We just cut a left rear tire. This is a great race team and we'll overcome it."
ARE YOU PLEASED WITH YOUR SEASON SO FAR? "Yeah, I think we've run very well. I look back on some of our other races. I look back on the Daytona 500 and we didn't run very well. I was trying real hard to make something happen there at the end and ended up getting in a wreck. We just had those three races in a row, with really no fault of our own (that we finished poorly). We were running really well at Atlanta and had a problem that wasn't our fault. We had wrecks two weeks in a row that weren't our fault. Those were big races and I wish I had those back but every team out here could say the same thing. I think our performance has been good. I feel like we are a top-10 team for sure. I think you could make a case that we're a top-five team. When you look at speed, I think the 17 (Kenseth), 16 (Biffle), 9 (Kahne), 20 (Stewart), 48 (Johnson) have been a touch better than we have and we've been right there with them putting the pressure on. In some cases we've been better but for the majority of the year I think we've been a touch off of them but as the year has gone on I think we've gotten closer to them. It's just a matter of us continuing to improve and trying to build better cars and do a better job with them. If we can continue to do that, maybe we can continue to get better."
ON THIS BEING A 10-RACE CHASE IN ITSELF RIGHT NOW ESPECIALLY WITH SEVERAL OF THE DRIVERS BEING CLOSE IN POINTS: "I'm not telling you exact numbers but if you look at where we are, we're sixth in points, and you can't tell me we couldn't finish third or second, third mainly. But you also couldn't tell me we couldn't finish 15th or 16th. It's really close and there's no time to let up. There's no time to breathe. We are in the midst of it. Certainly (in) these next 10 races a lot is going to happen. What's gotten us here is just paying attention to every race one race at a time and that's what we're going to continue to do.
We can't change anything other than work hard and keep trying to make our cars better and try to do the right thing with them and that's what we're just going to try to do."
HOW DOES ONE TRYING TO GET INTO THE CHASE GET THROUGH THIS NEXT STRETCH OF RACES ESPECIALLY WITH IT BEING SUMMER AND IT BEING HOT?" I think that conditioning is really important. If you are worried about conditioning this point of the year, you're three months too late. I think that having a good state of mind is good. I think being there and (having) done that is good and understanding that is physically draining and it is emotionally draining. As long as you prepare for that and understand it, it's nothing you can't deal with. For me personally, I think being able to step away from it every now and then and catch a little bit of a break is a good thing. In the summer I'm able to do that a little bit more. Really staying involved to me has as much to do with it as anything. I find the more that I'm involved and the more that I'm in it, the better that I tend to stay emotionally in it. I think being in shape is really important and getting over the bad days. When a bad day happens (you) walk away from it and go on to the next thing and also when a good day happens. Getting over that for me personally is all about going on to the next thing. Whatever you've done is done. It's over. (You) learn from it, take from it what you can and then go to the next thing."
ARE YOU FEELING ANY PRESSURE? "The pressure of being in the top 10 and trying to continue to go up in points is the kind of pressure you want. There's a lot of different kinds of pressures in life and for me pressure is when people don't consider you a threat. That's way harder than when they do. I really believe if the Chase started right now today, we would have a legitimate chance to win the championship. What that means to me is that we have to continue to improve. We have to continue to put ourselves in position to get ourselves in the Chase but we would truly be one of the favorites based on the way we've run. There's no guarantee that's going to continue. We have to make it continue. We have to go out and make it happen and take advantage of this position we've put ourselves in."
JEFF GORDON, JIMMIE JOHNSON AND DALE EARNHARDT JR. HAVE REALLY SEPERATED THEMSELVES FROM THE PACK HERE. HOW CLOSE ARE YOU TO THAT? "I don't know. We've worked really hard on our plate program. We didn't race very well here in February. We did finish fourth at Talladega. We come to this race with different stuff than we were here with in February that I'd like to think is better. If you'd ask me after Talladega where we are, we're not as good as they are. We certainly have some to grow but we've tried to do that between then and then."
HOW HAS CHICAGO TREATED YOU IN THE PAST AND HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT GOING THERE? "I'm excited about Chicago. We've worked really hard on our program this winter trying to make that program better. I feel like we've done that. I think we've made huge gains with the fast 1.5 mile tracks. Certainly Chicago is one of them. I look forward to it. I look forward to getting there and seeing if we can continue to run well at that kind of race track."
IS THAT TRACK A COOKIE CUTTER TRACK? "I do know that a lot of tracks look alike hence the phrase cookie cutter but they all drive totally different and Chicago is its own race track. There's no question it requires different setup. It requires a different driving style than other race tracks that look like it. For us even though they do look like cookie cutter tracks they're really not."
ON RACING IN ATLANTA: "Atlanta has some of the best racing of anywhere we go. It's a great race track. It provides a lot of side-by-side action, a lot of really close finishes. It's a fun race track to run on. It's extremely fast in qualifying trim. I think that track changes more from qualifying to racing than anywhere we go. It's a very, very slick demanding race track in race trim where in qualifying there's so much grip you can't believe it. There's a lot of change between qualifying and racing there."
YOU'VE HAD A LOT OF TOP-15 FINISHES. OBVIOUSLY CONSISTENCY IS IMPORTANT BUT ANOTHER KEY IS RUNNING FIRST THROUGH FIFTH. WHAT MAKES YOU FEEL LIKE YOU'RE A CHAMPIONSHIP TEAM? "I think if you do go back and look at the races, if you go back and look at Charlotte, we had an honest legitimate chance to win. If you look at Dover, we had a legitimate chance to win. If you look at Pocono, we had a legitimate chance to win. We've put ourselves in position to win more races over the last two months than we had in the previous two months. Richmond we had a great chance to win and we had a problem. I think that we have been a team that's put ourselves in position and really we've had a lot of races where we've had finishes way worse than we deserved. We've had more of those than we've had of the other way around so if you watch one particular team, you understand more of what they're dealing with than if you just look at finishes. I honestly believe that if you look at the problems we had in comparison to the 17 (Kenseth), 48 (Johnson), 9 (Kahne), 8 (Earnhardt Jr.) and the 6 (Martin), we've had way more bad races than they've had yet we're behind them in points but not that that far behind. I think that all those things add up to be giving me a lot of confidence that we can succeed and that if we get ourselves in position we will be a threat."
BRIAN FRANCE TALKED TODAY ABOUT POSSIBLY MAKING SOME ADJUSTMENTS TO THE CHASE FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP. IS THERE A CERTAIN WAY TO EXPAND THE 10? "I don't know how to do it. I'm just making some arbitrary numbers but I personally like the idea of allowing 20 teams into the Chase based on points with 15 races to go. Then with 10 (races) to go, you whittle it down to 10. With five (races) to go, you whittle it down to five so it's like a play-off system. You let more in but you continue to eliminate them. I think that's not a bad idea but again I think it works really well the way it is right now. I do know that there's more teams that have a chance to win the championship today than if we were in the old system. I think that's good for the sport. I think it's good for the fans and I think it's good for the sport."
AT WHAT POINT DO YOU GET OVERKILL WITH TOO MANY PEOPLE? "I don't know. Ten is tight, I'll tell you that. From my perspective this year, we're not far behind fourth; by the way we're not far ahead of 15th. It's really tight, really close. This is a performance-based business. The results are really the only thing that matter but if you go through and look, why does the 31 deserve to be in it anymore than the 5 (Kyle Busch)? Or, why does the No. 6 (Mark Martin) deserve to be in it any more than the No. 99 (Carl Edwards)? We've all run very similar but it is a performance based business and finishes are really all that count at the end of the day." ON HAVING A POSSIBLE WILD CARD SPOT FOR THE CHASE AND IF THAT'S FAIR: "I don't know. I just haven't thought about it at all. I would need a little time to think about it. This is the first time I've heard just five minutes ago that there was even a conversation about changing it so I've put no thought into it."
ON BRIAN FRANCE SAYING HE WAS SURPRISED THAT MORE DRIVERS DIDN'T GET IN BASED ON BEING WITHIN 400 POINTS OF THE LEADER: "There should be no surprise because if you go back in history and look, all you have to do is go back and look. If you looked in the past with 10 races to go how many people were 400 points ahead there should be no surprise there. If you go back and think about it when all that was said, the 400 points was explained to us as 'Well that's not really ever going to happen but if it does they deserve to be in it.' I don't really think he's as much surprised. I think what happened in this thing and I've heard a lot of fans talk about it, once the teams learn how this works there will be more that get in it. That's crazy. The way it works is finishing good no matter what the point system is. You can't manipulate something based on what the points are. If the point system was like it was last year or three years ago, would anything be different today? Would anybody be in any different position in points? They wouldn't. The racing on the race track is the same. The points are what you earn based on where you finish and everybody does their very best to do the best they can and then they look at the points. It doesn't work the other way around. The Carolina Panthers don't say 'Hey we're going to get in the Super Bowl because we're going to go beat 14 teams' and then just go do it. You've got to earn it. You got to go do it. It's crazy to think that just because we know the rules that we can find a way to manipulate it. It doesn't work like that."
ON THE EMPHASIS BEING DIFFERENT ESPECIALLY RIGHT NOW IN THE HEART OF THESE RACES: "The importance of being in the top 10 with 10 to go is more different than it used to be but how you get those points is no different. The way you get those points is by finishing races and finishing well. If you said to the 9 car 'The points are going to be back to where they used to be.' What would they have done different? They would have gone to every race, prepared the same. There's nothing you can do different. We're here to race and get the best finish we can. That's all you do. I don't think it should be a surprise that no more than 10 are in it because that was the whole case when they first did it. I think there was only one person over the last 10 years that would have gotten in so I don't know why it'd be a surprise."
IF YOU DIDN'T KNOW BRIAN FRANCE WAS THINKING ABOUT MAKING ADJUSTMENTS TO THE CHASE WOULD YOU RECOMMEND ANY CHANGES? "I think that everything is always able to be improved. I do like initially more teams in. I also like more teams being eliminated. The cool thing is the Chase for the top 10 has made the racing this time of year really, really, really important. If it were backed up another five races or seven races and it was a race for the top 15 or 16 and then six races later it was the race for the top 12 and then six races later for the top seven, you'd have three of those which is what's really cool about the NFL playoffs where you get "X" amount of teams in and then after the first week the wild card teams. Some advance, some don't. The next week some advance, some don't. It makes the level of intensity really high and what makes fun out of sports is high intensity levels. The athletes having to be intense and having to fight hard is what makes it fun to watch."
THE NFL IS A FIVE OR SIX WEEK TOURNAMENT. YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT 20 TEAMS OVER 15 WEEKS. "Again, forgive me a little bit because I just now started thinking about it so my numbers are skewed but just allowing more teams in I think would be a good thing. Again, a second and maybe even a third elimination period to whittle it down would keep the intensity level up throughout the whole year. It's just a thought. I don't know. Again don't lock me on my numbers. You let 18 teams in with 20 races to go. Then with 15 races to go it's down to 12 teams. Then with eight races to go it's down to seven teams. With four races to go it's down to three teams. I don't know. I'm just making something up. But if you just keep eliminating people I think that could be very exciting."
DALE EARNHARDT JR. HAS SAID THIS TRACK IS TOO BUMPY AND THAT THEY SHOULD RESURFACE THIS PLACE. DO YOU AGREE WITH THAT? "I don't care what they do. If I were a stock-holder I'd say no, why spend the money. It is bumpy but so what. It's the same for everybody. The character of Daytona is the bumps in (turns) one and two. Would it be better if it were paved? Yeah, it'd be better if it was paved. Would it put on better racing? Probably not.
At the end of the day the quality of the race is really all that counts. The fact that it's hard on us to get the cars handled, that's not what matters. What matters is the quality of the race. I think that the quality of the race can be there with the way the track is right now."
DALE EARNHARDT JR. SAID IN AN ARTICLE THAT HE'S BEEN INJURED FROM RACING HERE WITH ALL THE BUMPS. IS IT DANGEROUS? "He should have raced the way it used to be with the big shocks and all that. His back would have been injured. These bumps today are nothing compared to what we used to do. We have bad bumps at Pocono. We have bad bumps at several places and I can't imagine somebody getting hurt with these bumps. I don't see that."
HOW EXCITED ARE YOU AND THE REST OF THE DRIVERS ABOUT THE CAR OF TOMORROW? "There's a lot of excitement and skepticism about the Car of Tomorrow. There are a lot of people that are pretty close-minded about it. I think the Car of Tomorrow is an advance in safety. I think that it has potential to be an advance in performance as well. Right now today if we could race cars like they are today and have good racing and I think that after we spend the next six months refining it even more that the racing will be even better yet. I think the quality of racing has the potential to go up and certainly the cars should be safer."
ARE YOU A SKEPTIC ABOUT THE CAR OF TOMORROW RIGHT NOW? "I'm an optimist about it to be quite honest. I think it's going to work very well. I think having the Car of Tomorrow is going to be a good thing for the sport from a competitive standpoint as well as a safety standpoint. So right now I'm a proponent of it."
YOU'VE HAD A LOT OF SUCCESS IN NEW HAMPSHIRE. CAN YOU ASSESS YOUR CHANCES GOING THERE? "I certainly have high hopes going there. I'm real comfortable with the race track. We worked pretty hard at a Richmond test and did not run well at Phoenix. We ran very well at Richmond. We've tried to step up our program and build even better cars for that kind of race track so I go into it optimistic."
HOW IMPORTANT WILL THAT RACE BE? "Obviously as the races get closer to two or three to go before the last 10 we've got a tremendous amount of emphasis put on it however we can't forget that they pay the same amount of points for the third race of the year as they do for the 25th race of the year. So all the work that we've done up to that point is what matters and every race by itself matters a great deal but the emphasis will be starting to be put on races but at the end of the day it's an accumulation of all the points you gained in the first 26 so it really doesn't make that race any more important than any other."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE CHARACTERISTICS OF THE TRACK IN NEW HAMPSHIRE - THE PASSING, THE SLICKNESS OF THE TRACK AND THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE THERE? "The fact that the turns are so flat and the grooves half-a-lane off the bottom. The track has continued to gain grip through the years. It used to be real easy to spin the tires and we didn't have any rear grip but today it is actually pretty good with rear grip. Getting the car to turn is your biggest battle in New Hampshire where it used to be getting the rear wheels to hook up. Today it's getting it to turn. A good turning car could run really well there."