This Week in Ford Racing July 9, 2002 NASCAR Winston Cup Jeff Burton, driver of the No. 99 Citgo Taurus, comes into this weekend's Tropicana 400 at Chicagoland Speedway in 13th place in the NASCAR Winston Cup standings. He recently spoke...
This Week in Ford Racing
July 9, 2002
NASCAR Winston Cup
Jeff Burton, driver of the No. 99 Citgo Taurus, comes into this weekend's Tropicana 400 at Chicagoland Speedway in 13th place in the NASCAR Winston Cup standings. He recently spoke about a variety of issues, including the current 20-week stretch of consecutive racing and the success of first- and second-year drivers.
JEFF BURTON --99-- Citgo Taurus
HOW DO YOU GET THROUGH THIS STRETCH OF RACES WITHOUT A BREAK?
The way you get through it is to go race to race. You don't get caught up in where we are in points or where we're not in points or how many points behind we are, you just go race. From a driver's standpoint, you don't think about five races down the road, you think about the race you're in at that moment and then you think about the next race. That's as far as you go. If you do that, then you find yourself halfway through it pretty quickly. Really, that's how you contend for championships and that's how you win championships, in my opinion, is putting together a lot of good races and to do that, you've got to concentrate on each race. I think that's what you've got to do to get through this stretch no matter where you are in points."
IS IT HARDER FOR TEAMS TO STAY MOTIVATED IF THEY'RE NOT IN THE CHAMPIONSHIP RACE?
I think there is so much made about points that a lot of people believe the only reason we're racing is for the championship and that's not true. The championship is big. Where you finish in points is big, but I don't go into this race thinking about, 'Where can we come out of here in points?' I go into this race thinking, 'How can we get our best finish?' So, there's always plenty to race for. The race that you're at right now today is the race that you're racing for. You're not racing for the overall goal until after the race, and then after the race you can look at it and say, 'OK, how did that affect us?' But when you go into the race, the pre-race, it's all about, 'What do we need to do in this race?' So that keeps you fairly focussed. Most teams won't be contending for a championship right now and that's why you'll still see a team that's 15th in points win a race, and why you'll see a team that's 25th in the points win a race because they're not worried about the points, they're worried about that race that they're in. I think that's what Sterling Marlin is doing. I think that's what Matt Kenseth is doing and Mark Martin -- all the teams are worried about this race and then that will help take care of the overall thing."
HOW DID YOU HANDLE IT LAST YEAR WHEN YOU WERE STRUGGLING?
At this point last year, I don't know where we were in points, but I would imagine it was in the high teens or maybe in the twenties. We just worked. I mean, it was hard. It's been hard this year. You lose your confidence. You lose momentum. You don't respond to things as quickly, you react to them and there's a difference in that. Reacting is you think about it and then you do something. Responding is it just happens and when you aren't doing well, you really don't know why you're not doing well. Some people are really confident in themselves and they believe if everything around them is right, they could be doing the right thing. I'm not that way. I think I'm part of the problem as well as I'm part of things when they're going well -- I'm part of that, too. So, you lose a little confidence and you lose a little decision-making ability because when things are going well, you make a decision just like that. You make it and you're done. When you're not doing well, you make a decision and then you go back and you think about the decision and you question a lot of things rather than just doing them."
IS IT HUMAN NATURE TO COMPARE YOURSELF TO THE OTHER GUYS UNDER THE ROUSH UMBRELLA?
I think you have to. I think you have to be realistic in your expectations and in comparing yourself to your teammates, that allows you to be realistic. Last year, we were the best-performing Roush team for the most part. We won two races. We were the only Roush team to win a race and we finished highest in the points, which was only 10th, but we did finish highest in points. So, even though that was an off year, we had something at Roush going on that wasn't right. This year, there appears to be a lot going on at Roush that is right and we aren't doing any better than we did last year. We haven't won this year and, at this point last year, we had won. So, as our company has improved, we've gone the other way."
MAYBE YOU'VE JUST PLATEAUED?
Maybe we did plateau and just stay the same, but when everyone else improved that makes you feel like you went the other way. That's possible, but I think you have to use your teammates for comparison in a lot of ways. Look at Sears Point. If you qualified 30th and everybody else qualified fifth, sixth, seventh, you have to look and say, 'Man, what was that all about?' You also have to do that when you put a lot of races together. You have to look and say, 'How did they have success and we didn't? We've had less success than every other team.' And that's not just because we haven't won. There have been many times where Jeff Gordon has had a lot of success this year, but he hasn't won. That doesn't mean he's had an unsuccessful year."
BUT NEITHER HAVE YOU. YOU'RE 12TH.
Twelfth is 12th, but it's not what it ought to be and it's not up to our standards. We're not living up to our expectations, nor anyone else's expectations and when our teammates have exceeded some expectations or at least meeting their expectations in some cases, then that means we're doing a worse job."
ARE YOU BEATING YOURSELF UP?
I beat myself up when we're doing well, much less when we're not doing well. I just think there are so many things to improve. I think there are several different kind of race-car drivers. I'm the kind that believes that I'm part of all of it -- it doesn't revolve around me. Some guys believe, 'Hey, if I was driving the 24 car I'd have won four championships and every single race he's won I could do that, too,' and that's not always the case. It isn't always because of talent. A lot of times it's because of things other than talent -- communication skills, the ability to determine what's right and what's wrong with the race car -- all of those things. A lot of it doesn't boil down to just being able to sit in a car and go fast. A lot of it boils down to understanding and relaying that understanding. So, having said all that, when you're not doing well, if you're not willing to look at yourself as part of the problem, then you can't do analysis to try to figure out what the problem is."
DOES IT SURPRISE YOU JEFF GORDON HASN'T WON YET AND DO YOU THINK HIS PERSONAL PROBLEMS HAVE HAD AN AFFECT?
He drove well enough to win. If he just wasn't competitive and was qualifying poorly and running poorly, then maybe you could make a case that his personal problems have hindered him, but I haven't seen that he's run poorly. I've seen he's run well. The 48 has run better than they have this year, I think, but he's still run well. They've been in position to win some races and not been able to capitalize on it. If two of those races had changed and he won those two races and he was third in points, we wouldn't be having the conversation. I don't want to get in Jeff Gordon's personal life, nor do I want to get in anyone's personal life, but I don't think that's hindered his performance."
COULD SOMETHING LIKE THAT BE A DISTRACTION THOUGH?
Sure. I think the thing that's difficult is determining when you have a distraction. There are people that say I was distracted last year through some things and I don't believe that. I don't believe I was distracted at all, but maybe I was. If I knew I had a distraction and I knew something was bugging me, I'd take myself out of that position, but many times I don't think you understand that you're being distracted to the point of hindering your performance. Certainly, if I knew I had something that was out there, I would try to eliminate that pretty quickly. Now in Jeff's case, you just don't make that go away. There are some things that just won't go away and you've just got to deal with them. Through dealing with them you're eating up time and with those things you just have to know how to handle them."
ARE THESE YOUNG GUYS HAVING SUCCESS BECAUSE THEY DON'T HAVE NOTEBOOKS TO FALL BACK ON?
Let me say this, and I want to be clear. I have a lot of respect for what the young guys have been able to come in here and do, but it's not like it was four years ago. What going around the corner was about was getting the right springs and shocks in the car just to make it handle well. Now, aerodynamics are so important now that drivers without a lot of insight, a lot of understanding of the car, can be successful because the aerodynamics are so important. Don't take that the wrong way. The best race-car driver in the world may not have to have an understanding about his car, I don't know. But I do know that what used to work doesn't work anymore. The tires are different. The aerodynamics are different. There are a lot of things that are different that a Rusty Wallace and a Mark Martin and me, when we've had success doing things a certain way, it's hard to change that. The other thing the young guys have really been benefited by is the fact that they aren't driving for A.G. Dillory and they're not driving for a Stavola Brothers team that doesn't have enough funding. They're driving for teams that are part of a multi-car team with proper funding and proper staffing and all those things and that's been a tremendous benefit, too. It used to be that a rookie driver didn't get that stuff and that makes a huge difference. I know Kurt Busch, for example. When I'd look around and I'd see all the things going on at Roush Racing, he's been able to take advantage of that. When I look around and look at what Ward drove when he was a rookie, what I drove when I was a rookie, what Steve Grissom drove when he was a rookie, what Kenny Wallace drove when he was a rookie. Man, there is no comparison. Bobby Labonte, I mean there is no comparison. The fear of the multi-car team hurting competition has been 100 percent wrong. Multi-car teams have helped competition and the young drivers are reaping the benefits of that. Having said all that, don't take that the wrong way. Jimmie Johnson is driving for the same team that Jeff Gordon is driving for and he's been outperforming a four-time champion. Man, that's awesome."
BUT THEY DON'T HAVE TO THROW AWAY THINGS THEY BELIEVE IN BECAUSE THEY DON'T HAVE THAT KNOWLEDGE TO BEGIN WITH.
It's always been that way, but the last two years the technology and the amount of change in this sport has been huge. It has been huge and I think the fact they didn't have any expectations has helped them because it's changed so much in two years that they had no expectations. They had no feeling. They had no past input. They just get in there and stomp the gas and off they go."
WHY HAS STERLING DONE SO WELL THIS SEASON?
Sterling's team has performed very well early. If you think about it, though, they haven't really run, performed well the last six weeks. They haven't run near as well as they did early in the year. I think Sterling was one of those drivers that wasn't having success. Sterling wasn't a driver over the past four years that you looked at and said, 'There's a guy that's gonna have a good chance to win this week.' So I think the fact he wasn't having success actually helped him. He got with a team that understood and grabbed a hold of a trend that was going on in Winston Cup with different kind of setups and those kind of things, and he knew the way that the teams he was with, they were doing it wrong. He didn't go over there and say, 'We've got to do this and we've got to do that.' He wasn't having success and when things started changing around, he was out there wide-eyed looking for something better and I think through looking for it rather than trying to hold onto something that hadn't worked in the past, I think that's benefited him."
YOU CAN'T BE STUBBORN AND BULLHEADED ANYMORE TO DO THIS.
I guarantee you, Rusty and Mark and myself, we're used to coming in and saying, 'The car is too tight. Take some right-front spring out of it, put a little right-rear spring in it, pick the track bar up.' That's not the way to do it anymore."
IS THAT GOOD OR NOT?
I don't think it matters. I think the racing has been good. I think the racing has been competitive and that's the main thing. Then it's up to the drivers to adapt. To be in this sport for a long time, you have to be able to adapt to many different types of cars and many different conditions. So, at the end of the day, I don't think it matters. It's part of evolution. It's part of a change in the sport and the drivers have got to be willing to look and adapt, the crew chiefs have to be willing to look at things and adapt to them, and try to be on the front edge of it. As long as competition is good, I don't think it matters."
WITH CHICAGO, LOUDON, POCONO AND INDY COMING UP, WILL AERO PUSH BE A MAJOR FACTOR AGAIN?
It will. Those are certainly the kinds of tracks where we have those problems. If you take Daytona and Talladega out of the equation, we have that every week. You know, everybody talks about the aero push being a bad thing, it might be a good thing. For a driver, it's a tremendously frustrating thing to deal with, but maybe it makes for better racing. Maybe it keeps cars closer together. Maybe the car that's two-tenths a lap faster than the guys in front of him, if he can't pass him, maybe that makes for good racing. I don't know. I go back and watch these races and I think we're having great racing right now. I want something to change about it because it's frustrating from a driver's viewpoint, but from a spectator's viewpoint which I happen to also be, I think the racing is great. I don't know how much they ought to change."
HOW HAS THIS AERO PUSH CHANGED THE WAY YOU DRIVE?
The aero-push is nothing new, but it's becoming worse and worse and worse." HOW HAS THE TIRE CHANGED IT?
I don't know. I don't know how the tire has changed it. I don't know if the tire has changed as much as the understanding. What we've done is we've set our cars up now to go down the race track based on aerodynamics rather than based on four springs and four shocks and grip from traction. We've made grip from downforce. Part of the problem is we understand downforce much more than we used to that we are using setups only from an aerodynamic standpoint. So when you rely on aerodynamics to get you around the race track and you lose the benefit of that, then you've got a problem. So I don't know that anything around the sport has changed as far as what NASCAR has done or what Goodyear has done. I think our understanding of the sport and how to make these cars go around the race track better has made the problem what it is today. The same reason CART has a problem is because they make so much downforce and when you don't have it anymore, your car won't turn. F-1 has the problem. IRL has the problem. They all make a lot of downforce and they all rely on downforce and that's what Winston Cup racing has turned in to -- getting the nose on the ground and using downforce to make the car go around the race track."
WHAT ABOUT CUTTING THE REAR SPOILER OFF THE CAR?
When I hear people talking about that I kind of have to chuckle. I don't know what I think about it. I guess I'd look at it from a selfish standpoint -- 'How would that affect us?' And I would like to believe that would help us, but we did that three years ago with the five-and-five and everybody said the racing was no good. So why would we do that again?"
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT A CAR WITH A BIGGER GREENHOUSE?
I definitely think it's coming. I don't think there's any doubt that it's coming. I don't know how it will change racing. My opinion is that as long as we have multi-car teams and as long as we have 45 sponsors in the garage, that racing will always be good. I think multi-car teams have made racing better. The wealth of knowledge is spread more throughout the garage to different teams. I think multi-car teams, each one having their own sponsors and their own sponsor having high expectations -- the driver and crew chief having high expectations -- whatever the rules are I think it'll be good racing."
WHAT DOES A BIGGER GREENHOUSE DO?
When you make the greenhouse bigger, you get to make the whole car bigger. There would be benefit in taking a car we had today and just making the greenhouse bigger for Michael Waltrip and Dale Jarrett and those guys. Having just that part of the car would be a benefit to them. There would be more benefits if you not only made that part of the car bigger, but all of it bigger. When you make the whole car bigger, it allows you to use more energy-absorbing materials, it allows you to get the driver more towards the center of the car. It allows you to do things with oil lines and fire extinguisher bottles, just a vast array of things. A bigger car opens the door to take advantage of the things we could use and just space -- just having space is a big deal because with that space you can utilize things that are even yet to be developed. If somebody came and said, 'Hey we've got this stuff you put in the side of the car, it's 18 inches wide and if somebody hits you in the door, it absorbs the energy by 50 percent -- we couldn't take advantage of that today. But if we had a bigger car altogether, we could take advantage of that."