Jeff Burton interview

Rain pelted the New Hampshire International Speedway Friday morning delaying practice. Jeff Burton, driver of the No. 99 Exide Batteries Taurus, held a Q&A session in the infield media center to discuss some of the issues concerning ...

Rain pelted the New Hampshire International Speedway Friday morning delaying practice. Jeff Burton, driver of the No. 99 Exide Batteries Taurus, held a Q&A session in the infield media center to discuss some of the issues concerning restrictor plates and safety.

JEFF BURTON --99-- Exide Batteries Taurus --
WHAT DOES THIS RAIN MEAN AS FAR AS LOST PRACTICE TIME WITH THE RESTRICTOR PLATE? "Losing a day of practice with the plates, obviously, makes it a little more hectic, but at the same time, part of being in Winston Cup racing or in any form of racing, being prepared and having your stuff together when you get to the race track is real important. So, the disparity between first and fifth may be bigger than what it normally would be, but we tested at Milwaukee for a full day on Wednesday so we're hoping that's an advantage. We don't mind the rain so much, but it is a bad day for it to be raining for everybody because we could be learning a great deal today and it appears right now that we're not gonna have much chance to learn anything."

WORST CASE SCENARIO, WHAT IF IT RAINS TOMORROW? "Based on what I saw at Milwaukee, I don't think there would be any problem in dropping the green flag and racing with no practice whatsoever for anybody. Obviously it's different, but it's not so different that people couldn't adapt during the race. It wouldn't be dangerous. Some people would have a competitive advantage over other people because some people would be better prepared than others, but that's really no different than any other week."

WERE YOU SATISFIED WITH THE MILWAUKEE TEST? "After two laps at Milwaukee I felt that NASCAR had done the right thing. I called Mike Helton and expressed my gratitude to him. I told him that it was going to be a different weekend for us, but that from what I saw and felt in the car that the speed had come down. I felt that it was an unrealistic expectation -- you know I was one of the first ones to jump up-and-down and say we've got to do something different and all of my thought process was in the walls. As you get a little bit more into the wall theory, you understand that it's a difficult fix. It's not a fix that you're gonna make in three months, so, having said that, the next best thing was what they came up with and that was restrictor plates to slow the cars down. Certainly they've slowed 'em down in the middle of the corner. You're not gonna be anywhere near running wide open like some other people have talked, I mean it's not even gonna be close to that, and the quality of race will still be here. At the end of the day, that's why we're all here is to have a good competitive race. As a race car driver, I don't care if I go 180 miles an hour or 120 miles an hour, I want to be involved in good racing. I want to have the opportunity to compete against people and beat them all under the same set of rules. At the end of the day we're gonna have a competitive race, a good race and it's gonna be safer because we're gonna be going slower. To do anything else would have been a knee-jerk reaction, I really believe that, so I applaud them for what they've done." WILL YOU BE ABLE TO PASS? "Busch cars pass. If Busch cars can come here and pass, we're maybe 40 or 50 horsepower off of a Busch car. They put on great races here, so if they can pass we oughta be able to pass."

SHOULD THEY DO PLATES AT OTHER SIMILAR TRACKS? "If we leave here and there are other race tracks that we feel like we have problems with and this seems like it would help, then yes, this could be something we could use at other race tracks. I do want to emphasize, however, that it's a short-term fix. Going slower is not a bad thing, but we still have to improve the walls. This does not take any pressure off of race track owners or off of NASCAR not to continue to improve the structure of the walls. This is fix for the short-term. This is the only thing we had available to us. This, along with improved safety that the teams need to create and improve safety that race tracks and NASCAR need to create, this is just part of the puzzle."

CAN YOU LIVE WITH THIS AS A LONG-TERM SOLUTION? "Drivers shouldn't be the ones that make the decisions when it comes to quality of racing. We are a short-sighted, short-minded group of drivers. We're all competitive people. When we look at things we look at how it's gonna effect us on a competitive basis. We aren't the ones that oughta make those decisions. Putting plates on the cars is gonna make it a hassle for the teams, it's gonna make it expensive for the teams. For a driver who is not full of bravado, I'm full of competitiveness. I don't care how fast I'm going, I want the opportunity to compete. Well, that means I want the opportunity to compete next week as well, so, if a driver has a problem with the rules that NASCAR has made they don't have to come, they can stay at home. If a driver feels that what we're doing isn't safe, they don't have to come, they can stay at home. For people to complain that they've done something which will make it safer is ludicrous to me. I have a five-year-old and this is how simple this is to me. I want my five-year-old to have fun and I want here to enjoy herself, but I don't want here doing something that is dangerous when, at the end of the day, she could be doing something else that's very, very similar to that with no danger. So, if we can minimize the effects of a wreck to a driver or to fans or to anybody, without it impacting the amount of fun the fans have, the amount of competitiveness the drivers have and the amount of competitiveness the teams have, how is that wrong? I just can't imagine how that's wrong."

CAN YOU LIVE WITH IT FOR NEXT YEAR? "I can live with whatever we have to do to make racing safer. If it takes away from the competitiveness of it and it makes it so it's no fun to watch and no fun to participate in, then I can't live with that. There is an element of danger in automobile racing, there is certainly an element of danger. We have to know when we're exposing ourselves too much and when it's normal exposure and that's really, really difficult, but we have to set that bar high. We have to set it on the safe side of things rather than on the dangerous side of things and if we have to live with going slower to make it safe, then I would do that and be proud that we're doing it."

THERE WERE SOME HARSH WORDS LAST WEEK ABOUT THE DRIVERS WHO WERE OUTSPOKEN. DID YOU TAKE OFFENSE TO THAT? "I took offense to it. First of all let me say this, if there is a set of drivers that don't want to be in the forefront of safety, they want to rely on other people to do that, I don't have any problem with that. People have different personalities and people do things differently. I have an aggressive personality when it comes to fixing problems. I want to go out and help try to be a part of fixing the problem -- not everybody is like that. That doesn't mean that I'm wrong or that they're wrong, that just means that we're different. However, when drivers complain that other drivers complain because the facts are in front of us that we could be doing it safer, that doesn't make me mad it just confuses me. It confuses me because if we can do it safer and still put on a great race and still be competitive, I just don't see what's wrong with that. Just because it inconveniences us and it makes our guys work on the dynomometers 24 hours a day and it makes us go test a day and it makes us go do all those things we had to do this week to get prepared doesn't mean we're doing the wrong thing, it just means we're having to work harder. Well, tough shit. So we're having to work hard, get off your ass and go to work."

JACK WAS ONE OF THOSE WHO WAS OUTSPOKEN. DID THAT CAUSE ANY PROBLEMS? "Jack has never been outspoken about the fact that he wants it safer. Jack didn't know that putting restrictor plates on the cars was gonna make it safer. Jack was looking at it just like everybody else in that 'how is this going to effect us.' Jack's been a leader in safety innovation. Jack was disappointed that we couldn't find another way to do it, but, I'm telling you, since Monday all Jack has been involved with is figuring out how to make this work. It surprised all of us. It was like, 'wow, this is a big deal, this is a big rule change,' but Jack isn't opposed to it in the fact that it's making it safer, he was opposed to it because he wasn't real sure how it was gonna effect everything. After our Milwaukee test I tried to call Jack a couple of times and never got in touch with him, but when I brief Jack with what went on with our Milwaukee test, Jack will be 100 percent in favor it. None of us knew. That's why we went to Milwaukee. I wanted to know what it was gonna do and what I saw in Milwaukee (on Wednesday) was very encouraging."

WHAT DID THE CAR FEEL LIKE? "The car feels like a Busch car that's not running great. It just feels like you don't have much power. It's a little bit less than the Busch car (from a power standpoint). After the first run that I made, I just forgot about the restrictor plate. I started worrying about 'which shock do we need on the left-front, which shock do we need on the right-rear, which springs do we need, which rear-end gear do we need.' Once you start thinking about it, it just turns into a race car. It's now the same thing that it is every single week it's just less power. I run from one garage to another with a 200-250 horsepower change in each car. When I go to the Busch garage I don't have to put on a totally different brain and say I've got to drive this car 100 percent different. You do have to drive 'em different, but you're still looking for the same thing. You're looking for what makes your car feel the way it needs to feel so you can run in the front. Just because we have a restrictor plate, that doesn't change anything. This is gonna be a race on Sunday just like any other race, it's just gonna be different for the drivers and the teams but it's gonna be a race. The way you're gonna win this race is because the driver does a good job driving it, the crew does a good job setting it up, you have good pit stop strategy, you have some luck, you have some things go your way and that's gonna be the guy that wins the race just like every other race running in the country this weekend."

IS THERE ANY MORE APPREHENSION ABOUT RACING HERE AFTER THE TEST AND ALL? "I haven't spoken to any other drivers since the test. Steve Park was there and we were both so busy we never even said hi to each other. I feel much better about things after the test and, as far as I'm concerned, I don't care what anybody else thinks because they weren't there and they don't know what they've got. They don't know what it's gonna feel like just yet, so, for me, what Steve Park's opinion is and what my opinion is, I value those two opinions because we have opinions based on facts and research that was done."

WERE YOU SURPRISED WHEN YOU RAN THE CAR AT MILWAUKEE? "No. When a driver sits in a car, the first thing that a driver does is try to make the car do what it is that he wants it to do. After I ran a lap-and-a-half, I started concentrating on the car and what the car needed me to do as a driver -- not what the car was doing to me as a driver. I want to effect the car rather than the car effect me, so 'to hell with the plate, to hell with whatever's in it, let's make it do what we need it to do.' There will be 45 of us doing that whenever we start running." SO ARE YOU STILL APPREHENSIVE? "I was really apprehensive and I'm still a little bit apprehensive because I think we have short-term, I've said we had a fix to the problem, I don't know that we have a fix to the problem we are helping the problem because we will be going slower and when we impact the wall we will impact the wall at a different angle. If something happens, whatever happened in the fatalities here, whatever that was that caused that problem, if that happens tomorrow it'll happen later in the corner which means the angle in which you impact the wall is going to change. It can't be worse than it was."

THE BUSCH NORTH GUYS WERE CONCERNED ABOUT GOING DEEPER IN THE CORNER, BUT THAT WILL CHANGE THE ANGLE. "Sure. I mean, a one-inch plate will effect them. What I compare it to is I have a lot of experience in Busch Grand National racing and I have a lot of experience in Winston Cup racing, and I know that I can drive my Busch car deeper in the corner than I can drive my Cup car in the corner and I know I can get in the gas quicker. But I also know that there are some people out there making 800 horsepower in qualifying. When you've got 800 horsepower, I don't care what anybody says, you're going faster than you are when you have 500 horsepower, so we are gonna go slower and we will impact the wall slower and, I believe, we will impact the wall at a different angle. Now, we don't know that impacting the wall at a different angle is better. What we do know is the angle at which they impacted the wall was 100 percent wrong, we do know that, so this will at least change that."

SO THERE ARE STILL SOME UNKNOWNS? "Adam Petty, I respected Adam Petty so much. I thought he was one of the coolest guys in the garage. I never got a chance to really know Kenny, but I made it a point -- I'm 33 years old and I made it point to go see Adam, who was 12 years younger than me, in the Busch garage because I thought he was cool to talk to. When you have a friend or a guy that you really respect and think is a neat guy and you have another guy whom you respect as a race car driver -- I just didn't know Kenny very well -- but when you have two people like that that you see get killed, if that doesn't bother you then there's something wrong with you. You have to have enough sense to look at it and say, 'something's wrong' and that's not because I'm a wimp, that's not because I'm scared, that's because I'm smart. I've got a five-year-old and I've got a wife and I've got brothers, a mother, a father, I've got things I want to do in my life and if I can make it safer, I'm gonna make it safer. If you're not willing to look at what's happened to other people and learn from it, that doesn't make you brave, it makes you dumb. It makes you dumb."

WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE PEOPLE WHO SAID NASCAR REACTED ONLY BECAUSE DRIVERS AND THE MEDIA FORCED THEM INTO IT? "I don't buy that. I really don't buy that at all. They didn't jump up on the week that everybody started complaining and come up here and test. That test was planned well in advance and we know that NASCAR has never been a group to react really quickly to things. I think they'll admit that. They are a group that tries to look at things in a methodical fashion and I think that's what they've tried to do in this process. They've tried to look at it in methodical fashion and not react to it rather respond to it. We could debate all day if they did they did the right thing. We could debate all day if they could do it better. Surely they can do it better. Everybody can do whatever they're doing better. Surely NASCAR can do what they're doing on safety better and I believe that they're looking at every single thing to try to make safety better. I've said this before and this is the best way I know to put it. I consider Mike Helton not to be just somebody I work with, I consider him to be a friend. I'll go talk to Mike Helton in the motorhome lot. I'll go talk to Gary Nelson in the motorhome lot. I'll go talk to Kevin Triplett. I respect those guys. I wouldn't respect them if I didn't think that they had safety at heart and that was one of their main missions. I wouldn't respect them if I didn't believe that."

WOULD YOU HAVE BEEN DISAPPOINTED IF THEY HADN'T DONE ANYTHING? "I would have been very disappointed if they had not done anything. That's what was so funny about last week. The week before we had all these people saying the better do something. This is the way it happened. 'They better do something, they better do something, they better do something. Why in the hell did they do that?' This isn't a perfect world. There is no easy answer. This is not an easy answer. They had to do something and the research that they did, if you talk to them about it, the research that they did -- the easiest thing and the cheapest thing in the world would have been for them to put foam blocks in front of the wall. Do you know how easy that is. Think about that. They could do that in an hour, maybe, at the most. That's easy. How much does that cost? Nothing. They chose a harder route. They chose a route which they're gonna get beat up on. They chose a route that is harder for 'em and mentally harder for 'em, but they did it because they thought it was the best thing to do. Had they not done something it would have been 100 percent wrong. They had to do something."

HOW MUCH HORSEPOWER WILL BE SCRUBBED OFF HERE? "It depends on who you're looking at, but as much as 300 horsepower."

DID YOU SEE PROBLEMS AT THIS TRACK EARLY ON? "This is just like any other race track -- if you hang a throttle or if you have a catastrophic problem where you cannot control your car and you're gonna hit head-on, this race track is like many other race tracks in that you're gonna hit really, really hard. Long straightaways, tight corners, that's a recipe for a head-on collision that produces bad results. Indianapolis has the potential to have bad things go on. This race track was built prior to some of the problems that we're having now because we're going faster. The increase in speed has brought some problems out that weren't here before. That's what I believe.

"As everybody knows, this has been my favorite race track for a long time and it still is. When I think about coming to New Hampshire I get a smile on my face, I like this place, but that doesn't mean we can't improve it. When you've had incidents like we've had, you can't ignore 'em. To ignore 'em would be wrong. Some of the best track owners in NASCAR are the Bahre's. I believe if there was an easy answer to this problem, they would have torn the damn race track completely up and built it again before we came here. I believe that, it's just not an easy answer."

WOULD ANOTHER LONG-TERM SOLUTION POSSIBLY BE SLOWING THE CARS DOWN 20 MPH EVERYWHERE? "Robert Yates has been talking about it for a long time. I have mixed emotions, just like I've always had about it. There are some race tracks where my Busch car goes faster in the corner than my Cup car does -- at a small spot. I think going slower for a bigger period at a time is safer overall, I do believe that. But people get hurt in late model cars at South Boston Speedway. We are out here in the forefront because we're going faster, we're on television, but track safety is a nationwide problem. It's not a problem just for Winston Cup racing, it's a problem for every form of racing. The slower you go the less chance for major impact. In the case of Daytona and Talladega, we've slowed the cars down and we've created more impacts. We're going slower when we do it, but we're wrecking more so is that good or is that bad? I don't know. Every race track is different and slowing the race cars down at every race track may or may not be the answer. I do believe going slower at Charlotte would be better. I believe going slower at Atlanta would be better. What would going slower at Martinsville get you? I don't know. What would going slower at Rockingham get you? I don't know. There are some tracks that I don't know going slower, because we're in a speed range already, it may not effect you as much."

TODD PARROTT , Crew Chief --88-- Quality Care Service/Ford Credit Taurus -- "We worked hard on the car and did some different things than what we normally do for a place like Loudon -- more like what we do at Daytona and Talladega, so we spent more time there working on that stuff. We studied gear ratios and all that stuff, so we've come up here and I think we're pretty prepared. We're looking forward to it and I hope it's the right answer for slowing the cars down and fixing the problem whatever the problem is here. I think you've had two unfortunate deals happen up here this year and it's really opened a lot of eyes to a lot of things. It's sad to say that sometimes it takes things like this to make things better in the future or for the long haul. I hate that it happened to two kids that really meant a lot to me. I was close to them and good friends with both of them. I grew up with one of them and felt like the other one was like a brother, somewhat, being a teammate. It's just sad that had to happen and NASCAR had to do something. I love restrictor-plate racing because restrictor-plate racing has been very good to Robert Yates Racing."

WHAT IF PRACTICE IS LOST FRIDAY AND SATURDAY? "I guess we'll all be guessing, but we had a situation in Dover a few years ago with a tire problem. They brought tires in on Sunday morning and they gave us some practice because we needed that for gear ratios and stuff, and that's gonna be the thing here. Nobody in the garage knows what gear ratio to pull and if they tell you they know what gear ratio to pull they're lying to you because they don't know. It's a guess for everybody, a lot of guesswork. If we don't get any practice today or tomorrow, maybe NASCAR will consider opening the track up for an hour practice session Sunday morning. I don't think there would be any harm done and it would give everybody a chance just to figure out gear ratios."

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Adam Petty , Steve Park , Robert Yates , Mike Helton
Teams Yates Racing