JEFF BURTON, NO. 31 CATERPILLAR CHEVROLET met with members of the media at Homestead Miami Speedway and discussed the championship battle, the future and past at Richard Childress Racing and other topics. HOW DO YOU FEEL GOING INTO HOMESTEAD...
JEFF BURTON, NO. 31 CATERPILLAR CHEVROLET met with members of the media at Homestead Miami Speedway and discussed the championship battle, the future and past at Richard Childress Racing and other topics.
HOW DO YOU FEEL GOING INTO HOMESTEAD THIS WEEK? "This is my last chance to win a race this year. It's been a year with a lot of promise, but a lot of those haven't been fulfilled. This is our last chance and that's kind of what we go into it with the mindset of -- we need to win this race. It's been a real frustrating Chase. Obviously for us, at the same I hate to see the year end. I feel like the more we race, the better we would be. This is it and we need to go out on a big note."
DO YOU FEEL BAD FOR CLINT BOWYER BASED ON HOW HIS CHASE STARTED? "Certainly feel bad for Clint (Bowyer). That whole thing was obviously a difficult chapter in his career. He'll be stronger for it. I think all of them learned something from it and it's unfortunate. I do really feel bad for Clint and his entire team; really, everybody at RCR (Richard Childress Racing) for us being 11th and 12th. We got one that's contending for the championship and we got the other two that are 11th and 12th. That's not the kind of balance that we need. When I say that -- we don't need to pull the No. 29 (Kevin Harvick) down, we need to raise the other two. I don't feel like, stupid to say because numbers are numbers, but I don't feel like we're a 12th place team, I feel like we're better than that which is really what's frustrating is that we're sitting there in 12th and I feel like we're a lot better than that. We've just messed up in a lot of areas. When I say we, I mean me too. We've messed up in a lot of areas to put us in this. Again, I like to think that we're going to learn from it and we can use in going into the next year. It's exceptionally frustrating to be 12th."
DO YOU THINK NASCAR WILL STILL MAKE CHANGES TO THE CHASE? "It's going to be interesting to see what happens. I don't know what NASCAR does. I think this is exactly what they've been looking for and exactly what they've been hoping for. All of us have; all the fans and everybody has been hoping for a tight race coming into Homestead. We certainly have it this year. It will be interesting to see if NASCAR makes changes after this year. I don't know. I don't know what they will do. They seemed pretty set on making some changes based on what Brian (France, NASCAR chairman) said a couple months ago. I don't know if that's going to change or not. I feel like it's probably not going to change. I feel like they will proceed because if it's the right thing to do, it's the right thing to do no matter what happened this year. Still if changes are better for the sport then changes are better for the sport."
IS SOMEBODY GOING TO GET THEIR FEELINGS HURT AT THE END OF SUNDAY'S RACE? "There's going to be two that have their feelings hurt a lot -- there's no way around it. There's only one guy going to win it. That means everybody else has to face the music, including the people that have already been eliminated. We had to face the music four or five weeks ago and we had our feeling hurt then. The two guys that don't win it are going to be exceptionally disappointed. They are definitely going to have their feelings hurt. That is what makes this sport fun to watch. It's what makes it fun to participate in. You don't have the high emotion moments and emotions are good -- there's good emotions and bad emotions and if you don't have that, why watch it and why participate in it. It's why we're all here, it's why you all cover it, it's why we do it, it's why the fans watch it, it's what sports are about. I'm a Duke fan and the people that watched the NCAA final game last year, it was a great game, but not everybody left there with a team they wanted to win, win. They still watched it because it was compelling and it's what makes sports work."
DO YOU THINK THE THREE CHAMPIONSHIP CONTENDERS ARE GOING TO GET TOGETHER ON SUNDAY?: "Listen, it's been an interesting two or three weeks. I never remember a time in our sport where there's been this much talking. It's been pretty interesting. I almost feel like we're going to a boxing match, you know what I mean? There's been a lot of talking, there's been a lot of attempted mind games, it's been interesting. I think that they're all three charged up and I think they're all three running on tilt and there's a lot on the line. When there's this much on the line, things can happen. I think they're all going to go out and race the best way they know how. They have to be aggressive. There's not one of them that cannot afford to be aggressive. That means that if they're running fourth and they need to be running second, they're going to do whatever they have to do to get where they need to go."
HOW DO YOU FULFILL THE PROMISE OF YOUR TEAM FOR NEXT YEAR? "We have to be better in several areas. We have to have better pit stops. We have to. I have to do a better job at making decisions on the race track. Todd's (Berrier, crew chief) got to do a better job at making decisions on the pit box. We collectively have got to find a way to bring the speed to all the weekends that we have on some of the weekends. These are big factors, but those are the things that jump out to me that we need to be better at. I really think that we can go fast enough to win the championship next year, but we've got to find the little speed that we lost through the summer. We showed it at Phoenix, we showed it at Martinsville, but we haven't shown it on the big tracks as of late and we've got to get that back."
DO YOU THINK OTHER DRIVERS WILL HAVE TO DRIVE NEAR THE WALL ON SUNDAY AND ULTIMATELY SOMEONE WILL HIT THE WALL? "I think some people are going to run out by the wall and some people are going to be running on the bottom. If you go back and watch the race from last year, ultimately the two fastest cars were the 11 (Denny Hamlin) and the 31 and we ran a majority of the race right on the bottom. The 11 ran a lot of the race on the bottom as well. There's a case to be made that running the very bottom was a good thing, there's also a case to be made that it's going to be more time in the daylight because I think last year's race obviously started later, we ended in the night. This year it's starts at one o'clock. The track is going to be slicker, which tends to move you up a little bit. It's a distinct possibility that the line could be a fair amount up. This track offers a lot. It offers the bottom. It offers the middle, it offers the top, I think everybody will be using all of those, but you're certainly going to see some cars right against the wall."
CAN YOU DESCRIBE THE LAST 10 YEARS AT RICHARD CHILDRESS RACING? "Obviously it starts with Dale's (Earnhardt) death -- that was a huge impact on that company. Personally and professionally. There's so many people there that had so much respect for Dale, not just as a race car driver, but as a person. Dale was a lot softer than people realize -- he was a good person. He didn't show that, but you knew that when you needed something, he was there. I think that when Dale was killed, that left a huge gaping hole that can never be filled. And then there seemed like there was this transition, like how do we do our program from here. We have to expand, we have to expand and the 29 (Kevin Harvick) was always the car that ran the best. The other cars really never could run with him. Then as the company got better and there was more talent in there -- crew chief talent, driver talent, talent throughout the shop, engineering talent -- that performance started spreading through the shop in the other cars. That was the first thing that happened to get RCR to where it could be a contender is that it was more than one team could be successful. Then it went downhill a little bit again last year obviously. Currently we are very technically based, I think a lot of people think we're in Welcome, North Carolina and we're not in the center of NASCAR world. I will put our technical capabilities up against anybody and that's our future. Our future is to become a highly technical, highly skilled workforce that can do a lot of work prior to cutting a piece of steel. That's the way forward. We've made a major investment in that over the last 18 months and those investments are the investments that we believe we have to continue to make in order to put us where we need to be three years from now. Obviously the expansion with Paul (Menard) coming in we believe is a good thing. We had four teams last year and it didn't work very well. It didn't not work well because we had four teams, it didn't work well because we weren't prepared. We wouldn't have been good with two teams last year. We think that Paul's deal coming in is going to help us, it's going to be a benefit to us in a lot of areas. We feel like we have the resources to make investments we need to make to move us to the next area where we need to be. We feel really strongly about the future. As a matter of fact, I think when we made all the investments we made going into this year, I didn't think the benefit would be seen until 18 or 24 months and we saw immediate benefits. I feel really strong about the future."
WHY DO YOU THINK THE TV RATINGS ARE STILL DOWN? "I've told you before, I honestly don't know, but I will say this and this popped in my head, somebody asked me the same question last week and it popped in my head as I was answering the question. If we alienated some fans over the last three years, let's just say two or three years, for whatever reason and we can debate that forever. Let's say we alienated them for whatever reason. They're not going to come back overnight. We have to earn them back and if we ever have a chance to earn them back -- it's now because the racing has been good. We have a good championship battle. There have been compelling stories on the race track. I do think that when you lose people, they don't pick up the paper one day and say, 'It is a good point race, let's start watching again.' I think you earn them back a little bit at a time. So that's what I want to believe. I want to believe that. You can't deny that viewership is down, you can't deny that. I think we need to understand that and at the same token, I think we need to understand that it's going to take some time to get it back. I don't think they're going to come back overnight. I don't fully understand why we alienated them, but I do believe that people still want to see competitive racing and people still want to see this type of racing and I think you will see the viewership start to grow again as we build trust back with the fans and they know they are going to see good racing. Ultimately that's what they're going to see. I don't think they don't want to watch racing, they just must not like what they were seeing. Surely they have to like what they're seeing now."
HOW TRICKY IS GETTING ON AND OFF PIT ROAD AT HOMESTEAD? "I think we enter pit road off of turn four now. I don't think we enter it off of turn three off the access road. I think we changed that last year or a couple years ago. That's not as big of an issue as it used to be when we entered off the access road, every time there was somebody going through the grass. It is a difficult transition because the degree of banking from the pit road and the race track is pretty severe and then pit wall is quite a way around turn four so you have to check yourself getting on pit road. The access road leaving is interesting because on the green flag, you have to be going, that becomes a race track and you have to be going full tilt. There's no banking, it's slick, we've seen a lot of people make mistakes down there because you have to go at full speed. When you miss it, there's nothing to miss, you're in the grass. It is a difficult, but I believe we enter off of turn four now."
ARE YOU ABLE TO KEEP MORE SECRETS WITH THE SHOP IN WELCOME, NORTH CAROLINA? "It's very difficult to keep the things that you learn, there's always an effort to buy knowledge from other teams. When I say that, it's hiring employees, there's a lot of that that goes on. There's a lot of feelings that are hurt, there are more feelings that are hurt on that on a weekly basis then there are on the race track. We have some distinct advantages being in Welcome and we have some disadvantages being in Welcome. We have a lot of talented, highly-skilled people that live in our area that don't want to move to Mooresville, don't want to move to Concord, love where they work and we don't have to battle to keep them as hard. However when we want to get somebody from Concord or Mooresville, it's harder for us to get them because there's a drive involved. We get some advantages and we get some disadvantages. Being isolated, with the way technology is today and the way word spreads today, I think you could be in Arizona and it wouldn't matter. That part of it is not as big of an issue as you would think because people talk, people get hired away, people come in. It's always going to be a problem. Again, we have distinct advantages and disadvantages from being there."
DO SOME OF THE YOUNGER DRIVERS KNOW WHAT DALE EARNHARDT MEANT TO THE SPORT EVEN THOUGH THEY DIDN'T RACE AGAINST HIM?: "I think that you'd have to be in a hole to not understand the impact that Dale (Earnhardt) had on the sport. I will say that it is a different perspective from being at RCR (Richard Childress Racing) because you never do anything that you don't hear about Dale. The fans, obviously they're Dale's fans and always will be, but they are Richard's (Childress, team owner) fans too and they're pulling for Richard Childress as well. It's a different perspective. was lucky enough to race with him and see that side of it, but at the same time, being at RCR, it's hard to understand the passion the fans had, even still today. We have fans in there all the time that are there to see Dale's stuff. It's a different perspective. For me, I like it, it's cool. It was a great part of our sports history and legacy and to be, when you drive for Richard, you drive for Dale's car owner and Dale's partner and Dale's buddy and being there you still feel that and the fans really hold onto that."
-source: gm racing