Daytona Preseason Thunder - Burton press conference, part 1

CHEVY NSCS AT DAYTONA PRESEASON THUNDER TESTING DAY ONE, SESSION TWO JANUARY 14, 2008 JEFF BURTON, No. 31 AT&T Impala SS, met with members of the media in the Daytona International Speedway Media Center during day one of the second session of ...

JANUARY 14, 2008

JEFF BURTON, No. 31 AT&T Impala SS, met with members of the media in the Daytona International Speedway Media Center during day one of the second session of Preseason Thunder Testing and 50th anniversary of the Daytona 500, on the affect of winning the Daytona 500, expectations of running the Impala SS full-time in '08, expectations for Daytona in the Impala SS and other topics.

HERB BRANHAM: We now have the driver of the #31 AT & T Mobility Chevrolet, Jeff Burton. You always want to win the Daytona 500. Maybe give us an idea what would it mean to win it this year, 50th running of this great American race.

JEFF BURTON: Over Christmas I went to Ward's (Burton, his brother) house, and his Daytona 500 trophy was in his house there. You know, I don't know what it was about it, but I saw that trophy and it was like it was the first time I had ever seen it. My son was down there, he's seven, and I said, "You know what that is?" He's like, "Yeah, that's the Daytona 500 trophy." It was pretty special seeing that trophy.

As a guy that-- Ward is obviously not in a position to have a ride right now. Having that trophy sitting there, that's the biggest race you can possibly win in our sport. That's something that no one can ever take away from him, and that's something that he'll always cherish and his family will. That's a special thing.

Any win is a big win, but when you can look at-- if you look at a trophy like that and have that sitting in your house, that's a different kind of win. It's one of those that lasts forever, and it has so much meaning, the importance of it.

The 50th anniversary only enlightens and enhances that. It would be really special.

Q: Elliott Sadler last week said the bumpers match up so well that he expects bump drafting to be even more of an issue here than it's been in the past. What's your position on that?

JEFF BURTON: I think he's probably right. The great question is honestly how the car is going to handle. My inclination is that they're going to handle bad enough where I don't think bump drafting is going to be a factor. I think the factor is going to be who can put the car where they want to put them.

Bump drafting really becomes a problem when you have the 43-car packs with no other option to pass somebody other than get the bump draft thing going. I think this is going to be a different kind of race. I think handling is going to be really important.

The other thing about the bump drafting when the bumpers do line up, it doesn't cause the problem that we saw with the other cars. We had a lot of wrecks in the other cars that people said were bump drafting when it was just wrecking. There's a difference. Running into the back of somebody isn't bump drafting, that's running into the back of them. Those mistakes won't show up as much in this car because the bumpers do line up.

You think about Martinsville in the spring, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson racing, Jeff gave me some pretty good shots and nothing happened. Had he done that with the old car, something would have happened. Bump drafting is going to always be an issue. I think it's actually less of a negative with this car because the bumpers do line up, which of course that means we're going to do it more, which of course that means might put us right back in the same spot.

Ultimately the bumpers lining up are a good thing, but I honestly believe that handling is going to be so important after 15, 20 laps that bump drafting is not going to be the major issue.

Q: Bump drafting aside, and it's early, and handling obviously is the issue, your impressions of this car on this racetrack at this point?

JEFF BURTON: Well, it's too early for me to really give an impression. We've been doing single car runs. We haven't done any race runs. I'll be much smarter or more confused tomorrow afternoon; I'll let you know which one it is.

I don't think that any of us right now have enough information to really go on. They certainly drive differently than the other car, and their ride is much more harsh than the other car. But what really matters is how they race. I don't have an impression on that yet.

Q: Much was made last year about the TV ratings being down and live attendance down. Is there an issue with this? Do you see this as something to be concerned about, or is this cyclical, just part of the cyclical world of professional sports?

JEFF BURTON: Well, to be clear, any time that attendance is down or TV ratings are down, we should be concerned about that. I'm not smart enough to know why the ratings are down. I'm not smart enough to know if that's something that's going on throughout television in general. I don't know. It's nothing that I can control, nor is it something I can impact, so I don't spend a lot of time worrying about how to fix it.

You know, I think that we have more competitive teams today than we've ever had. We have more competitive drivers today than we've ever had. You can talk about the good old days all you want. The racing today is better than it's ever been. Those are facts, and those are things that I do know.

If there's something else that has caught the attention of spectators, given time I believe we'll get them back because ultimately we do have good racing. Ultimately we do have competitive racing. And I think that if we continue to do those things, we'll get our fans.

By the way, one thing that is clear to me is that when you're dealing with the fan level that's up here and it comes down a little bit, everybody says, oh, my God, the world is coming to an end, the sky is falling. It's a lot better than dealing with it down here and it falling.

We have great viewership, we have great spectators. We have fans that are passionate about it. We have a high level of expectations from our spectators and our fans, as we should.

I think this sport is pretty solid. The interesting thing to me is when you ask-- and I've done this this fall, I was in a position where I was around a bunch of race fans in some different situations, and I asked them, "What do you think?" None of them ever complained about the quality of racing. It was always other things. It was like, I don't like Toyota being involved, or it's too commercial, or the drivers can't say what they want to say, those kind of things.

All in all, it's the kind of things that really, what are we to do? Our sport has to continue to grow. Our sport has to continue to have sponsorships. Our sport does have to have a sense of responsibility, not in censorship but in-- I don't think using profanity on TV or radio is acceptable.

There's a perception that the drivers are being harnessed in what they can say, and I don't think the fans like that, because I hear that a lot. The reality of it is, what I find really interesting, the reality of it is, our sport is the only major sport which you can question the governing body without being penalized. I've never been told, don't say that. I have been told, don't say that word, and I'm good with that. I think that's how it should be. If my seven-year old turns the TV on, I want him to be able to watch this without me worrying about what people are going to say. I don't think that Tony Stewart or Jeff Gordon myself or anybody has been-- I've never been pulled aside and told, don't you talk about this or that. Never.

Some of it is just our sport has grown and some people don't like the way it's grown. At the end of the day, if we have the cast of characters that we have and we have the competition that we're capable of having, we will-- the fans will ultimately be happy. We're not going to make everybody happy, but the majority of them will be happy.

Long answer, sorry.

Q: The prestige around this race, you've been doing this long enough to know how the prestige of this race has built up over the years, but we didn't always start here. Do you think this race would have as much prestige if it were at the end of the year, if it were the final race that decided the championship?

JEFF BURTON: I don't know. I think there's something unique about this being the first race and the biggest race. I've got to tell you, preseason football bores me to death. I can't imagine sitting and watching a preseason NBA ballgame. We just get right at it.

I think there's something to be said for that. I think that the excitement starting, boom, right now, I think is a great thing. To me the Daytona 500 meaning so much, being the first race of the year, all the enthusiasm and excitement, that's something that can't be replicated by other sports.

I wouldn't want to see that change. I think it's in the best interest of our sport to let the championship, the last race of the year, be a great big race no matter where it is because it's the championship. But the first race of the year being the Daytona 500, that's a special thing. I think it would be-- I think that's one of the things that makes our sport different and unique, and I'd hate to see that change.

Q: You guys placed three drivers in the Chase last year and all three of you had your moments and Clinton finished pretty strong, but by and large the RCR cars seemed to tail off as the year went on. Where do you think you fell behind, if, in fact, you did?

JEFF BURTON: Well, I can speak particularly for the ATfT team. We started the year great. I mean, if you go back and think about it, we finished third here, we had a chance to win California, and I missed a shift late in the race. Jimmie Johnson and I were battling with 20 to go in Vegas for the win, and we broke an engine. We went to Bristol and finished second.

We were running as well as any team on the circuit for five, six, seven races, and then we lost it a little bit. Our stuff didn't drive as well as it had earlier in the year, and I think other people got better. Our stuff didn't really drive worse, it's just other people's stuff started getting better. We weren't able to make a step to get our cars better later in the year.

We kind of started the year with really good, fast stuff that compared to our competition was probably better, and then we just weren't able to continue to make improvements, and some of that was-- I think a lot of teams struggled with the Car of Tomorrow and the old car. Having to continue to develop the old car at the same time you were developing the Car of Tomorrow put a tremendous amount of pressure on all of our resources, not only financially but personnel and every resource we had.

We probably didn't do as well as we could have, it wasn't because we didn't try, in taking the old car and moving it forward. And ultimately that affected our Car of Tomorrow program, too.

I feel really good going into this year. We're way behind in getting ready. We've done a tremendous amount of work and obsoleted our fleet of cars, so we have all brand new cars to build, so we're way behind. But that's our job. It's our job to obsolete the current equipment, to make something better. And we didn't get ahead of that quick enough last year. That's my opinion.

Continued in part 2

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Tony Stewart , Jimmie Johnson , Elliott Sadler