NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Teleconference Jeff Burton, No. 31 Cingular Wireless Chevy May 10, 2005 This week's NASCAR NEXTEL Teleconference featured Jeff Burton, driver of the No. 31 Cingular Wireless Chevrolet Monte Carlo. Burton discusses the season...
NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Teleconference
Jeff Burton, No. 31 Cingular Wireless Chevy
May 10, 2005
This week's NASCAR NEXTEL Teleconference featured Jeff Burton, driver of the No. 31 Cingular Wireless Chevrolet Monte Carlo. Burton discusses the season and upcoming American Revolution 400 at Richmond this weekend.
WHY DOES EVERYBODY LIKE RICHMOND SO MUCH?
"Richmond is the perfect balance of the size of the race track, how many grooves you can run, the fans are close to the action. Bristol is fun to watch, but in all honesty, it's a lot of wrecking with not as much racing as Richmond. I think it's the best compromise of all things: speed, competition, and being close to the action.
"If you asked everybody - teams and drivers - what is their favorite place, Richmond would be in the top five. It's such a cool race track. We all grew up racing on short tracks, but not on short tracks that are that nice. For the drivers, it's just fun when you can run different grooves and search around and find places where your car likes to be more than others. It's really competitive there. The restarts are really fun and competitive. It's just really the best balance and mix of everywhere we go."
WHAT DID YOU BRING TO RCR THAT SEEMS TO HAVE HELPED OVERALL WITH MORALE AND ATTITUDE?
"It's always difficult to ask somebody what they've done. I can tell you what I've tried to do. I've tried to instill that we can win and that we can be successful. I've tried to let everybody know that just because RCR hasn't won a championship in X-amount of years doesn't mean that we can't. I've just tried to bring confidence back to everybody. When you have a lot of success and then you don't have it, it's harder than if you never had it. Everybody's confidence was down a little bit. I've tried to be honest and open and very straightforward in the things I think we need to do. I've tried to be constructive in finding a way to make those things happen. I think they lost that a little bit when we had so many different driver personalities - very strong personalities there at the same time - everybody was always butting heads. We just said hey, we're not doing that anymore. It's not constructive to anybody. We've just tried to calm things down a little bit.
"The other thing is that when you work at a company for a period of time, you know the bad about it. You know the things that not everybody else knows. You know what doesn't work. Well, I didn't know anything about that at RCR. So I came in and when somebody would say to me we can't to this or we can't do that, I wouldn't just say, 'That's how it's always been'. I'd say, 'Well, let's fix it.' And I'd try to fix it. It's good to have new people sometimes. My willingness to get in there and not accept that it's always been that way. And then sit down with Richard or whoever and say this is the concern and ask how we can do better at it. And then something would happen. All those things helped us a lot.
"The other thing is that I respect Kevin Harvick a great deal. His talent is unspoken. He can drive his butt off. He's a very intense person and I have a lot of respect for him. I think he feels that respect and I feel it back from him. That goes a long way."
LOOKING FROM THE OUTSIDE IN, WHAT WOULD BE THE BIGGEST THING THAT WOULD SURPRISE US AT RCR?
"The level of technology (would surprise you). RCR has a persona of being out in the middle of nowhere and doing things it was done when Dale Earnhardt was at his peak. That's what people think. I think people don't understand the amount of technology and engineering support and the amount of tools we have to work with in comparison to our competitors. That would be the biggest surprise. When perspective employees come to visit, they always leave saying, 'My goodness, I had no idea this was going on up here.' They're always surprised with how much stuff we do have."
WHEN YOU GET A LITTLE BIT BEHIND, HOW HARD IS IT TO CATCH UP? ARE THINGS ON THE RIGHT TRACK AT RCR?
"They really are. When you get behind from a technological standpoint, there's no immediate help coming. It truly turns into having to grind your way through it. It's very difficult. There are a lot of ways to get behind. You cannot have enough cars or technology or money and all those things are different. But when you get behind in technology, the only thing you can do is grind it out so to speak in an effort to get the point where you can competitive enough to start gaining in technology. And it's very difficult. It's an uphill battle all the way. That's the biggest danger that you face - whether you're doing well or not doing well - is being able to have the technology so that you can compete at the highest level."
WITH THE RICHMOND STOPS BEING THE 11TH AND 26TH STOPS ON THE TOUR, WILL TEAMS THAT ARE ON THE BUBBLE BE TAKING MORE DETAILED NOTES ABOUT THE CARS THIS WEEKEND?
"I hope we're utilizing everything we can every single week anyway so that when we go to Richmond we're smarter when we go to Charlotte. However, when you're going to the same track twice, you look at your notes from the first time to see what we did well and didn't do well and what we need to do to improve. Those things are based on your during event notes and post event notes. At every race we have a post-race meeting where we talk about things we wish we would have done differently. Certainly, without a doubt, the information you take from the first race will be a huge factor in how well you perform in the next race there. But we try to do that every week. I don't think we can do it any better than we're doing it now as far as effort goes. We don't always get the results that we want, but we're putting all the effort we can into it. I don't know how to change that."
DRUG TESTING IN PROFESSIONAL SPORTS IS A HOT TOPIC. DOES NASCAR DO A GOOD JOB OF CATCHING VIOLATORS?
"The thing I enjoy a great deal about our sport is that on a lot of issues we're in front of them in comparison to other sports competitors. We don't have a players union that stands in the way of a sanctioning body doing the right thing. Having said that, I wish we would get further ahead of this than we are. I'd rather look back five years from now and say maybe we were trying a little too hard rather than saying we weren't trying hard enough. I think it's our duty and our responsibility to show the youth and adults that are watching this sport that it is a drug-free environment. We're operating vehicles at a high rate of speed. We're operating them around pit crew members on pit road. We are the perfect environment to have major problems - whether it be drinking and driving or using drugs and driving. We have that opportunity to take full advantage of the responsibility we have. When Jack Daniels came in I thought that was a great thing because they're going to promote a responsible drinking message. As a sport, I think we can do a better job of having a drug-free environment. I'm not aware of anybody using drugs in the sport. But I wish we were more pro-active in testing. I wish we would do more testing without a doubt and without a reason of suspicion. I wish we'd do random drug testing. When you subject yourself to this sport - whether you're a pit crew member or a driver - you owe it to the people that are doing it with you to be sober, straight, and clean. That's a minimum commitment that you make when you do this. I'd like to see us get further ahead of it. I know it's easier said than done because there are a lot of legal things that go into all that. But I want us to have the best drug policy in all sports - the same way we do a lot of things better than other sports. So I wish we were a little more proactive on it."
HAVING GROWN UP IN SOUTH BOSTON, WHAT MADE YOU AND YOUR BROTHER, WARD BURTON, GET INVOLVED IN RACING?
"Well, it (South Boston Speedway) was there (laughs). From the time I was five years old, I knew what I wanted to do and that was to drive a race car. I grew up going to South Boston Speedway watching Sonny Hutchens, Sam Ard, Jack Ingram, and all those guys race. When you got a chance to race there, that was a big deal. I'll be perfectly honest. I looked more at what Sam Ard and the other guys I just mentioned way more than I did at Bobby Allison and Richard Petty. To me, they were the guys. If you could beat Tommy Ellis, you had done your day's work. So for me, South Boston Speedway was the next step in my racing career. There was good competition. A lot of people came in from Richmond to race. There was some of the best short track racing that I've ever seen or been part of for sure was right there. I grew up there and knew the history of the track and the people who raced there. It was a special place."
NOT LONG AGO YOU WERE FAVORED TO WIN CHAMPIONSHIPS AND THEN THINGS SEEMED TO PLATEAU FOR YOU. DID THAT HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH THE REASON YOU LEFT ROUSH?
"Well, the reality of it is that it didn't plateau, it went downhill. That's the reality. All I can tell you is this: I believe in my heart - and no one questions me more than me - that I'm a better race car driver today than I was when everybody was picking me to win the championship. And there have been days - and I heard Dale Earnhardt Jr. talk about this the other day - that I've run 15th in the last three years and got out of my car and went home and thought there are only a few people in the world who could have done what I did today and finished 15th. People don't understand that because when you watch a quarterback throw a football you know whether or not he threw it in the right place. But you can't watch a race car driver and understand why he's running 15th instead of winning. What happened to me and to my level of success going down, had more to do with technology and the way that we had success in the past compared to the way we have success today. In the past, (former crew chiefs) Buddy Parrot and myself and Frank Stoddard and Tony Liberati would sit down and say what do you think and then I'd make the decisions. The final decision was always mine. Well today, you have to refer to the computers and engineers and it's a much more complicated issue because the competition has had to do that. When we built the No. 99 team, I was the computer. I was the guy who said this is what we need to do. This is how we need to do it because I can feel it. Well today, we have drivers coming in - and I'm being brutally honest here - that don't know one end of the race car from the other. They couldn't bolt a race car together it their lives depended on it. But they can win races. And so for me to be successful in today's environment I have to have engineering support and more support behind me that I did when I was having success. And I didn't adapt to that quick enough. I didn't demand enough out of Jack (Roush). I didn't say I had to have better this and that -- I can't carry the load. I didn't do that because I was trying to carry the load. Well today, I'm doing it different. Today I say to Richard (Childress) that I've got to have more help with engineering and this and that if we're going to compete with Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon and Kurt Busch and all those guys. That's the difference. But if you asked me today if I can drive as well as I did when I won seven races in a year or whatever it was, I could out drive myself today. There's no doubt in my mind."
Continued in part 2