Jeff Burton, driver of the No. 99 Citgo SUPERGARD Taurus, came into the Bristol Motor Speedway Infield Media Center to talk about his season to date. Burton is scheduled to start 32nd in tomorrow's Food City 500. JEFF BURTON --99--...
Jeff Burton, driver of the No. 99 Citgo SUPERGARD Taurus, came into the Bristol Motor Speedway Infield Media Center to talk about his season to date. Burton is scheduled to start 32nd in tomorrow's Food City 500.
JEFF BURTON --99-- Citgo SUPERGARD Taurus
WHAT ABOUT YOUR YEAR SO FAR?
"My year has gone just the way it looks it's gone. It's certainly not been what we hoped it would be. We have done way more wrong than we've done right, there's no question about it. It's not because our team is struggling from a performance standpoint. Some people want to make a big deal out of our qualifying, but I contend our qualifying is the same as it's always been. Unfortunately, we haven't improved that. We surely hoped that we would improve it, but we haven't showed any signs that we have. We're in the position we're in in points because at Daytona we got in a wreck where I was one of 17 cars that got in the wreck. There was no way to prevent that from happening from a team standpoint. We ran very well at Rockingham and I ended up getting the car in the wall. We were very fast in practice at Vegas and I ended up getting the car in the wall. At Atlanta we went with the belief that we needed to come out of there with a 15th-place finish or better to stop the bleeding and we were in line to do that. That's exactly what we went there to do. Obviously, we want to go to every race and win, but with the year we had we thought if we just went there and knocked off 500 miles and stayed on the lead lap that we'd get a top-10 out of it. We ended up -- with everybody that we were running with in the race -- we would have finished from eighth to 12th and we broke a valve spring. We get valve springs in huge bunches, I think bunches of 3500 or something like that. That was the first one that broke out of that and we're halfway through it, so that's just bad luck. Then last week we were running fifth, I believe, and we pitted and had a tire roll across pit road. So there's our year. None of those are for the fault of running poorly, it's because the driver made some mistakes. We had a mistake on pit road, we had a part failure and we got in a wreck that couldn't have been prevented, so that's why we're 35th in points. I'm disgusted that we're 35th in points, but I'm as excited about my team as I've ever been. I think we've got the best people we've ever had. We're having awesome pit stops. We're working better together as a team than we ever had and as ugly as it's been, I'd rather be 35th in points understanding what it is we've done wrong, than be 10th in the points just lucky to be knocking off top 15s because I think we have the ability and we've shown the promise to be able to win races and get ourselves back in the points where we need to be."
THERE HAVE BEEN RUMORS ABOUT YOU RECENTLY. IS THAT JUST THE WAY IT GOES IN THIS SPORT?
"There are worse things in the world than being in a rumor. This is about the first rumor I've been in in about five years. Richard Childress and I, the truth of the matter is, we have not had a single conversation about me driving for him in the future. That is the truth. If I were in the position to want to go somewhere or needed to go somewhere because my car owner didn't want me to be there anymore, Richard Childress Racing would be a place that I would love to go because I respect what they've done over a long period of time. We're not in that position. I love where I work. I have a great relationship with Jack Roush. He said to a person interviewing him yesterday that the only problem he had with me was the fact that I wanted his job and that he may not want to give that job up just yet. That's the relationship that I have with Jack. When I quit driving I intend to be at Roush Racing long after I drive. I have some equity built up in my program. I am very content with my program. I have no reason or desire to leave. I love where I work. I have found it interesting that we've had the start of a bad year. This year hasn't gone well and now all of a sudden we're in a rumor. I have found that interesting. I really and truly don't know where it got generated from because the fact of the matter is Richard and I have had zero conversation, other than I have had conversation with him but not concerning me driving for him. Who knows? Maybe somebody saw us talking, I don't know what starts those things, but it can be a distraction if you let it. I've kind of found it humorous. Jack and I haven't even spoke about it. He hasn't asked me and I haven't felt compelled to go and talk to him about it because we have a relationship that I don't think I even need to explain it. He knows I'm not going anywhere and I guess that's the end of it."
WHAT IS YOUR OPINION ON GOING BACK TO TALLADEGA?
"I wish we could do something different. If I were in charge I would do something different. However, I don't know what that is. The fact of the matter is that people complained about Talladega before these rules. These rules maybe made it a little bit worse, but Talladega has been a problem for a long time. This is not a new conversation. This is a conversation about this set of rules, but we'd be having this same conversation if we didn't have the rules. The week of Talladega, all of you guys would be asking the drivers and all the drivers would be saying that the first priority is to miss the big wreck. I think that will be the same answer with these rules. I wish we wouldn't go back because I think that we'll be four-wide and three-wide more with these rules than we would have been with just normal restrictor-plate rules, but the big wreck is waiting to happen in either set of rules. That's the only way I can say it. I think we took a problem we had at Talladega to Daytona. I think these rules rolled the problem to another race track. Handling is so important at Daytona, it appeared that wasn't the case in the Daytona 500 because everybody could run in the front. So we took a problem that we've always had at Talladega since I've been in Winston Cup and we made that at Daytona and I think that's why it's such a sensitive subject because after Daytona when we got into an 18-car wreck, in my opinion it's more of a Daytona problem than a Talladega problem."
IS IT FRUSTRATING WHEN THE FANS AND MEDIA SAY THAT TALLADEGA RACE WAS THE BEST WE HAVE SEEN?
"There's no question that last year's race at Talladega was a great race. I'm not gonna deny that. I'm not gonna say that it was a bad race. I went back and watched the race and it was a hell of a race, so it doesn't bother me that people say it was a great race because I think it was a great race. I just don't know that we've always got to try to have the best race we've ever had. We had great races at Talladega before. We had exciting races at Talladega before. At what point do you draw the line? I don't know. I'm glad I'm not in the position to have to make the decision on what to do for Daytona and Talladega because if you came to me and said, 'What would you do?' What I would do is make the race boring. Well, nobody wants that. In 2000 when we went to the Daytona 500, drivers were complaining, the media was complaining, the fans were complaining so we changed the rules. Now the only people complaining are the drivers, so I guess we took two of the three out. It's a tough situation. I don't know if you'll ever make those three groups happy."
ARE YOU SATISIFIED WHERE THE SAFETY DISCUSSIONS ARE AT THIS POINT?
"I think that we're certainly working together better than we ever have. There are unilateral efforts between teams trying to make things better. NASCAR is out there trying to make things better. I'm an overachiever, so I want to see things get done faster than they're getting done, but I have a little bit unrealistic expectations from time to time, so I'm pleased with the effort. I'm pleased with the dedication from all parties. I do always think there is room for improvement. If there's not room for improvement, then we as a society aren't always trying to make things better. That's why we argue about whether or not we need the street paved. We need to make things better than they are and I think there is a concerted effort from all parties in Winston Cup racing to make them better."
SHOULD NASCAR MANDATE THE HANS?
"I don't believe NASCAR should make the HANS device or any other secondary safety device mandatory. The way I think it should work is that all the drivers and all the teams ought to have information made available to them, not by the manufacturer of the product, but by an independent group of people. Then they can take that information and do with it what they want. If we make things mandatory, the fear I have in that is -- look at the developer of the HANS. (If that is mandated) then he's got the market cornered. Maybe there's something better out there, but that guy can't get in the door, so I think competition is a great thing no matter what you're talking about. For safety, for racing, whatever -- competition is a good thing. When we start making things mandatory people can get lazy. I want the guy that's building the next product to be able to come to me and say, 'Hey, look what I've got. Let's go test it and see if you like it or see what's wrong with it.' I'm not gonna do that if I can't run it, so I don't believe in mandatory decisions. I do believe in us having all the information made available and not from the manufacturer of a product. I don't think we can get 100 percent honest answers from people that are trying to sell us something."
DO YOU HAVE THAT DIVERSE GROUP NOW?
"No. Not all of us are looking at the same thing. We have many different people looking at a lot of different things. We don't have a group of people where they say, 'Here's what your role is and this is what your role is.' We don't have that, but we do have a group of people running off in different directions. We need to find a way to pull all of that information together."
DO YOU BELIEVE IN THE UP AND DOWN CYCLE MARK TALKED ABOUT YESTERDAY?
"There is a case to be made for that. I don't think we ought to be content to fall victim to that cycle. I know he doesn't either, but if there weren't cycles, then Richard Petty would have won every championship he was involved in. Jeff Gordon would be winning all the championships that he hasn't won. Dale Earnhardt would have won 12. The fact that people hit it and are better, they make other people get better so there are certainly cycles. It's like that in every sport. The Yankees don't win every World Series. Sometimes the Yankees are terrible. I know that's hard to say now, but sometimes they just are no good because other people are doing are better job based on the fact they had to do a better job to keep up."
CAN YOU STILL HAVE A GREAT SEASON?
"I think for us to have a great season what we need to do is start doing the little things right. We've never been a team that went out and ran the fastest lap in practice. We've never been a team that went out and sat on the pole. We've never been a team that went out and did those kind of things. What we've done is nag the hell out of people and win races because we've been persistent and that's what we've got to get ourselves in position to do. We have to quit wrecking, number one. And number two, we've got to quit breaking parts. If we do those things and we have the pit stops like we've been having, with the exception of what happened at Darlington, we're gonna be fine. We are in a period where things are evolving fairly quickly. The last two years have been amazing to watch how things have evolved and we have to make sure we're on the good side of that. There are times where I think we hold on too tight to the things that have worked for us in the past, but for us to get where we need to be, we need to get to where we're knocking off top fives. Once we can do that, then we need to get to where we can win. As far as speed, we're close to being able to knock off top fives. Once we can do that, then we can win our races."
"There is no favorite anymore right now as to who is gonna win these races. The championship favorite is the guy that runs well on a consistent basis, but doesn't break and doesn't wreck. If you go back and look at what Dale Jarrett did and what Bobby Labonte did and what Jeff Gordon did with his last championship, neither one of them just won the most races and did all those kind of things. They ran real well and won their share of races, but they also didn't break and didn't have other problems. We're in a period where funding is fairly equal among the teams. The multi-car teams have made racing more competitive. The fear years ago was that multi-car teams were gonna make racing boring. Multi-car teams have spread knowledge throughout the field and made more cars competitive. I don't think it matters that DEI owns two of the cars that have won five of the races. I don't think that matters. What matters is he's produced two winning drivers. It doesn't matter who owns the cars, it matters how many cars are competitive on a weekly basis. If Jack Roush owned every car in this field, but they were competitive races and there were 12 winners and you never knew who was gonna win, it wouldn't matter. The other thing multi-car teams do is they spread knowledge to the teams that they're not supposed to be spreading knowledge to because you lose more people. You started out having 50 people on your employee list and now you have 200, so if you lose 10 percent of your people you lose 20 people. Those 20 people go to other teams and take your knowledge with them, so multi-car teams have done a great job of making the competition better throughout Winston Cup racing."
HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH FRUSTRATION?
"Everybody deals with frustration differently. Sunday after Atlanta I punished myself and I watched Andy Griffith on TV Land until 3 o'clock in the morning. That was punishment. Then I got up and took my daughter to school and it was over for me, I got on about our business. I tend to get over it on Sunday night. On Monday morning, it's past me and it's gone. That's whether we win or lose. When we win, I wake up Monday morning thinking about the next race. My team has done a great job of handling this. I get frustrated, but I tend to handle things fairly well. I was worried about the guys that day-in and day-out that have to work and claw -- they do all the work -- and I was worried about those guys, but they've done a great job handling it."
WHAT ABOUT A TRAVELING MEDICAL STAFF?
"I'm not sure where I fall on that issue. I think there's some merit to the fact of having people with immediate knowledge -- you know, the guy that will take care of me if I wreck this week probably helped take care of a guy that was in a wreck on Thursday night. I think there is some benefit to that. I also think there is some benefit in having available to us someone that understands all that goes on with us from a physical standpoint. I see both sides of the story. I haven't been in an incident where I felt the medical staff at a race track didn't do what I thought they should do. Because I haven't been in that situation, I'm not gonna be critical of it. I've been in some pretty good wrecks and I've felt pretty good about it. I don't get on either side of that issue. I've seen where this works OK. I also can see where having a guy that understood us completely would not hurt us."
DOES KNOWING TOO MUCH HURT YOU IN REGARDS TO SAFETY?
"For the record, I didn't start this interest in safety after the Daytona 500. This has been an ongoing thing for me. A lot of people have said, 'Jeff is too worried about safety and he's too worried about getting involved in these other things.' Well, there is nothing I'm saying today that I didn't say last year. I mean, it didn't seem to bother me last year, so I don't believe so. I do believe that you can get involved in too much and not be able to focus on what it is you're doing, but I'm not in that situation. I don't own a car dealership. I don't own a shoe store. I'm a race car driver. I don't try to be things that I'm not. I work at Roush Racing. I'm a race car driver and I have some other roles at Roush Racing that I pay attention to. I don't really get into anything else, so, for me, I don't think that's the case. You could get distracted, but I don't think I'm there."
ARE THERE SOME THINGS YOU CAN THROW OUT THE WINDOW?
"I think there are some things worth not throwing out the window. I sat there yesterday and listened to a debate on CNN before qualifying about whether you should have armed guards in schools or not. Understanding that we have a problem with our school system of people shooting people versus just ignoring it, doesn't make the problem go away. So, if we're gonna play dumb and choose not to make things better, then there's a price to be paid for that and I think that's an unacceptable price."
IS IT TOO LATE TO GET IN THE CHAMPIONSHIP HUNT?
"We have certainly dug ourselves a hole. There is no question we are behind where we need to be to win the championship. We are benefited because we have two more races than we've had in the past. That won't hurt us. It may hurt us, but in the position we're in we want as many races as we can take. When I look at the points system and the way it works, we'll have to have some races where other people have problems, but no. As stupid as it may sound, I think we're a strong enough team to make a run, I really do. We're gonna have to do some great things. If we do that, we'll be talking about how good we've been over a 30-race stretch, but we have been a team that has proven that when things aren't going our way we don't quite we don't quit. We've always fought back. We qualify 35th and we win races. We have things not go our way and we find a way to win, so if anybody can do it, I think it's us. I think we have the mental makeup that it's never over until it's over and I don't think it's over. I really don't."
DO YOU HAVE TO HIDE YOUR FRUSTRATION TO KEEP THE TEAM GOING IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION?
"I think part of my role is to provide leadership, without a doubt. It's the same thing about the safety, I can't ignore the fact that things aren't going well. I can't just walk in there and bob my head and smile. I want my guys to get their feelings hurt because we finished 35th. I want them to be pissed off. I don't want them to not care. I want them to be upset. I want them to be angry. I want them to get over it. They've got to hate it when we do poorly, but how you channel that is how you make your team work. You can respond to problems and you can react to problems. The difference is when the doctor gives you medicine and it works, you responded to that. When he gives you medicine and it makes you break out and gives you a 104 fever, you reacted to it. That's the way we run our program. How we respond to things when they go wrong determines how well we run. I want them to hate running poorly. I want them to hate the fact we're 35th in points. I also want them to feel compelled to do something about it. That's the way I am and I try to lead by example."