Ford Daytona test - Jeff Burton interview

The Roush Racing trio of Jeff Burton, Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch represent three of the five Ford teams present during the first week of testing at Daytona International Speedway for next month's Daytona 500. All three visited the speedway's ...

The Roush Racing trio of Jeff Burton, Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch represent three of the five Ford teams present during the first week of testing at Daytona International Speedway for next month's Daytona 500. All three visited the speedway's infield media center to discuss the 2003 season.

JEFF BURTON - No. 99 Citgo Taurus:

COULD THIS BE THE YEAR OF JEFF BURTON? "We've certainly been disappointed with the last couple of years. We're a team that likes to believe that we're gonna contend for race wins and championships and those kind of things and we contended for hardly no wins last year and the year before that the wins we contended for were maybe two or three and we pulled off two of 'em. So we've got to put ourselves back in position to win more races. We've got to put ourselves in position to be faster than we were. If we're not, then it won't be the year of Jeff Burton or the Citgo team. We've just got to go faster. Paul (Andrews) came on board and I think he's done a really nice job. We've built a lot of new cars. Everything we have is new this year. We really worked hard on changing some stuff and making it better. The whole emphasis is speed. Paul's done a nice job of concentrating 100 percent on the cars. He's turned some other things over to different people in the shop and he's just concentrating on the car part of things. I think that's really gonna bode well for us."

YOU SAID LAST YEAR YOU'D LIKE TO JUST CONCENTRATE ON DRIVING DURING RACE WEEKENDS, MUCH LIKE YOU DO IN THE BUSCH CAR. DO YOU SEE THAT HAPPENING? "We're not going to the race track yet, so right now I feel like I'm inundated with things that have everything to do that aren't necessarily about being on the race track. That's part of the sport too. You've got to learn how to juggle all those things, but the emphasis this year is on testing a lot and spending a lot of time at race tracks around the country and trying to get our program back where it needs to be. I'd like to think we can turn our program around in a year. I don't know if we can or not. We've dug ourselves a pretty large hole. Maybe we can dig out of it in a short period of time, but I don't know if we can. I feel like we have an honest shot at it, I really believe that. The little bit of time Paul was on board last year, I think everybody saw positive results from that. We went to Homestead and ran really well. We went to Rockingham and ran really well. We went to a lot of places and ran very well. One of the first races he was with us was at Kansas and we were running third when we broke. I saw a lot of gains and just a new attitude and new way of looking at things. Hopefully, we can carry that into this year."

DO YOU LIKE TESTING? "No. To be perfectly honest, testing here for the driver is like acupuncture in the eyeballs. Yesterday, this is what I did. I got in the car at 9:10. I got out of the car at noon. I got in the car at 12:45 and got back out of the car about 3:45. I got in another car, got out of that one and back in the primary car and got out at 5:00. So I spent seven hours in the seat yesterday. Some people might say, 'Wow, that's exciting at 185 miles an hour.' It's not exciting here. You can just about go to sleep. We made some gains yesterday and we started to run better and we started making improvements with our primary car, so I never felt compelled to get out of the car and never felt compelled to get bored because we kept making gains. But when you're here and you're slow and you're not making gains and you sit in the car all day it is awful. I mean, it's the worst kind of testing for a driver."

IS TESTING MORE ABOUT THE CAR AND CREW? CAN THE DRIVER LEARN ANYTHING? "It's primarily the car and crew here as far as testing. There are some things that the driver can pick up on and the driver is part of making the car go fast - not in the sense of how he drives it so much, but in the sense of what is he feeling and what is he seeing. One of the best things a driver can do here is when he's in line waiting to go out. There are all the other cars around him so he can be spying on what other people are doing. As silly as that sounds, he can relay that information to the crew because the crew is so inundated with what they're doing, they don't have a chance to really check out and see what else is going on. I see them making changes on their car and I'll relay that information. Really, a lot of the technology in the garage happens like that.

"Somebody will see somebody else doing it and they copy it, but when we go test at Kentucky next week a lot of it is the driver and it changes. We're going to Kentucky. We're going to Lakeland. I think I'm gonna go test my Busch car at Vegas and I think we'll go to Kentucky again before Rockingham, so those kind of tests, certainly, the driver gets much more involved in."

CAN YOU TELL US HOW SMALL THE GAINS ARE HERE? "I have never seen competition as close in testing as we saw here yesterday. I was amazed. We went out one time and I think we picked up three-hundreths and went from 13th to 11th in speed. That's pretty amazing. I was telling Paul yesterday, 'Just two more tenths, man, and we'll be top five.' And he's looking at me like, 'OK, two more tenths.' It's just so close right now. Then we really had to watch the wind yesterday because the wind could make your car go faster or go slower. That was a big factor yesterday I thought."

WHAT IS AN EXAMPLE OF SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOTICE ON ANOTHER CAR? "I'd rather not say specifically, but here at Daytona people try things that are visual, that you can see. When you go to Martinsville or somewhere else, generally everything is under the hood or underneath the decklid. Here, a lot of things are experimented on the body of the car or on part of the car where you can see what they've done. You just try to be observant and look and see what other people are doing because a lot of things here you don't think would work do work. When you see someone doing something or you just watch what everybody is doing it can sometimes spark and interest in an area you otherwise wouldn't have interest in."

ARE YOU PLEASED WITH YOUR TEST SO FAR? "I was pretty disappointed on Tuesday, as all of us were, but, in fairness, on Tuesday we did some really fine-tuned stuff and some things we really wanted to work on. We stuck to our gameplan and when we left Tuesday we were like 35th and 36th fastest with our cars. Immediately, we took what we believed was gonna be our best car and we started working on it Wednesday morning and right off the bat we made it a lot better. So yesterday I think we ended up 13th fastest, which is not where we want to be, but we're in the ballpark. We've never come to Daytona in testing and left here the fastest car. We have generally come to Daytona and left here being one of the slowest cars. With where we were yesterday, that wasn't bad. We need to be better, but it's not bad."

A LOT HAS BEEN MADE ABOUT HOW CROWDED THE GARAGE IS. ONE OF THE THINGS NASCAR IS THINKING ABOUT DOING IS TELLING DRIVERS NOT TO SIGN AUTOGRAPHS IN THE GARAGE AREA. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THAT? "We have to be careful about what we do. We have to find a way and a proper place to do autographs and spend time with the fans. If we don't find time to do that, then we will be doing the fans and we'll be doing this sport a huge injustice. There is an appropriate time and there's an inappropriate time. We've got to educate the drivers and the fans on what's appropriate and what is not appropriate. I said last year that there is no autograph etiquette. It's a silly statement, but there is no autograph etiquette. There is no proper understanding of what to do and when to do it and how to do it. I think to get an education process started, we've got to make some rules and just stick to 'em. How effective they'll be, I don't know. When a person runs up to you and says, 'Will you sign this for my 12-year-old son?' How do you look at that person and say, 'No, I won't sign that for your 12-year-old son.' That's difficult. So there's no easy answer other than finding a way for separation and finding the appropriate time. I think if everybody understands. Every fan coming in here has to sign in and going through the same process of going to the NASCAR trailer and getting all their stuff. If they understand, if there's signage, if there's a letter given to them when they get their package of stuff saying there will be no autographs in the garage area, then I think that helps. But it won't be an easy process. It'll be difficult. There will be times when people are gonna get mad at you because you say no, but, on the other hand, the only way to get the etiquette correct is to make a stance and say, 'This is how we're gonna do it. We will find time for you, but it's not going to be at this time.'"

WOULD YOU BE WILLING TO DO SOMETHING AT A STANDARD TIME? "I think there's a plan that works in some form or fashion. I can't tell you that I'd be willing on every Saturday morning or on every Friday afternoon or every Sunday because we have commitments that change from week to week that have to do with practice and sponsor commitments outside of giving autographs, so I wouldn't be in a position to commit to a specific time every single week. Although, if you did set a time every week, then that's the time just like practice and everything revolves around practice. So I guess there is a way to do that, but it would take some planning. We do a tremendous amount of sponsor entertaining and a tremendous amount of media and we can't not do those things as well, so we've got to find a way to do it all."

AMONG YOUR TEAMMATES, WHO DO YOU FEEL IS A FRONTRUNNER FOR THE TITLE? "Every one of them. Matt consistently was fastest at Roush. Towards the end of the year, Kurt's team was the fastest at Roush. Mark's strength last year was more in consistency than speed. I think that with the amount of competition that we're gonna have next year, that you're gonna have to have both. You're gonna have to have speed and you're gonna have to have consistency. Mark put himself in the position to win the championship based on consistency. If you looked at Mark compared to how fast Kurt went or how fast Matt went, their team wasn't as fast. I think they're gonna have to go faster to win a championship. Kurt, they have to improve their consistency and, of course, the 17 has to improve their consistency. So whichever team can put all that together is a team that would have the best chance. I'm not taking us out of that. Once we got our stuff together toward the end of last year we were fairly competitive and fairly consistent also. The main thing we have to do is go faster. Certainly, if we hadn't broken as many engines and if we hadn't gotten in some wrecks we would have finished in the top 10 in points, but we didn't win any races and we need to win races."

WITH 5 CUP TEAMS AT ROUSH THIS YEAR, WILL JACK SPEND TIME WITH ONE TEAM MORE THAN ANOTHER? "No. He has a philosophy on how he does things and the simple philosophy is you can never have a driver or a crew chief that feels like he isn't getting what he needs to win when he compares himself to his teammates. The minute you get a driver or crew chief that says, 'I'm not getting equal treatment or I'm not getting what the other guys are getting,' you've got a problem. Jack will not allow that to happen. His current emphasis today is so different than what it was six years ago. Jack has so many people working for him now that his role has turned into finding a way to provide to that group of people, whichever it happens to be, the things that they believe they need to be successful. It's much less focussed on one team. Now he still sits on the 6 pit box. Mark is his first driver and they've been through a lot together, so they spend more time together as they should, but I have never felt that I've gotten anything less from Jack because of that. Jack has rolled pretty well with the growth of the company and understanding what his role is and he oversees much more and supports our ideas or challenges our ideas, rather than a person to come with the ideas. That's been a big adjustment for him, but I think he's done it really well."

CAN YOU COMPARE PAUL'S MANAGEMENT STYLE TO FRANKIE STODDARD'S? "I'm not gonna compare. I don't think it's fair to compare people against people. Frank did a wonderful job for us in the period of time he was with us. Frank has some strong things that he does and he does really well, and Paul has the same. I'm not gonna get into the position of comparing people, whether they work for us or they don't work for us anymore. I don't think that's fair. Am I comfortable with the way that Paul does things? I'm 100 percent comfortable. Is it different? Yes, it's completely different but I've seen both ways work. Paul is really car-oriented. He is 100 percent focussed on that car. He wants to be the center of all the energy that's focussed on the race car and all of his effort is put on that. He really tries to utilize the people around him.

He really tries to look at every single little bitty thing that's anywhere on the car. I'm not saying Frank didn't do those things, I'm just saying that's Paul's biggest emphasis. Am I comfortable with it? Yeah. Is it different? Most certainly. My role with Frank was very well defined. We defined that a long time ago. I knew exactly what it was that he needed from me and vice versa. Paul and I are still sorting some of those things out. We're still in our infancy of the union so we have some growing to do, there's no doubt about it. I can't look in Paul's face yet and know what he's thinking and I can't look in Paul's face and know how he's feeling in his emotional state. With Frank, I could look at how he was carrying himself, I could look at what he was doing and I knew what his mental state was and I knew how he felt. I don't have that with Paul yet and I'm not saying that's a bad thing. That's one of the things I wanted different. I wanted totally new energy, I wanted a totally new environment, I wanted a new team. I thought we needed a new deal and we've got that. It's like I went to drive for another team but I didn't have to leave. That's what it's like."

HOW HAS YOUR TEAM CHANGED? "We've changed drastically. PK (Pierre Kuettel), who is our car chief as well as our shock specialist, he is now primarily a car chief. We brought in a shock specialist. We've changed some people in the shop. We have an at-home setup guy that heads up setting the cars. He's new. On the pit crew, we have a new jackman, a new gasman, a new catch can man and two new tire changers. The tire carriers that we had from last year are still with us, so, yeah, we have some big changes."

-ford racing-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Matt Kenseth , Kurt Busch