Jeff Burton, driver of the No. 99 CITGO Taurus, is a two-time winner at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series capturing back-to-back victories in 1999 and 2000. Burton, who finished 11th at Daytona and 12th at Rockingham, held...
Jeff Burton, driver of the No. 99 CITGO Taurus, is a two-time winner at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series capturing back-to-back victories in 1999 and 2000. Burton, who finished 11th at Daytona and 12th at Rockingham, held a Q&A session in the infield media center prior to Saturday's practice sessions.
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JEFF BURTON - No. 99 CITGO Taurus:
WHY HAVE YOU BEEN SO GOOD HERE AT LAS VEGAS? "To be honest, I really don't know. Obviously, I like the race track, but I think most drivers like this race track. I certainly have driven really good cars. Mark came out here and tested the first year that there was a race here and I think that test really helped all of us. That first race, I think Mark and I ran first and second. He had a really good test and we raced off of those notes for a couple years and then we've continued to evolve the notes as things have changed. But to get us going, Mark's test in that first year was really productive and brought a lot of information home to us that we were able to use right off the bat. I thought that helped us the first couple years. Last year, we ran OK here. I think we finished fifth or seventh (ninth). I ran OK, but didn't run great. The year before that I wrecked on the second or third lap. I don't know. I like the race track. It's a fun race track to run on. The groove opens up. You can run the top. You can run the bottom. It's a real fun race track."
WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN BEING IN A HOT STREAK AND A COLD STREAK? "The first thing you do when you're in a streak like we've been in is you hide all the bullets in your house. That's the first thing because it's not fun. When you're on a streak, you certainly have more confidence. You certainly don't second-guess yourself as much. When you have a bad race, you look at it as an anomaly rather than something that happens all the time. You just shake it off and you go to the next race. When you have a streak where you're not running very well, you start to second guess. 'Are we doing this right? Are we doing that right?' You're not as aggressive in your thought process. You try to get back to the basics, so to speak. It's certainly a different feel and, certainly, the other one is better. However, even when we were winning a lot of races, I never felt like just because we were winning, we were guaranteed that we were gonna have a chance to win. I have always respected a great deal how hard it is to be competitive in this sport. But I think it's more of a mindset, it truly is - it's a confidence thing and through confidence you make decisions that are different than when you make decisions when you're not confident. Those decisions aren't really from a driving standpoint, but they're from a, 'What are we gonna do to the car? How are we gonna change the car?' And your goals are different. When you're contending to win most weeks, you come into every single race with a goal to win. When you're running 15th every week, you come to the race with a different goal. If your goal is to win every single week when you're running 20th, you need to understand that your first goal needs to be finishing 10th. So it changes the mindset of the team and what the team feels like they can achieve."
IS IT HARDER TO GO BACK TO THAT OLD MINDSET? "I think the mindset changes with the results."
WHAT'S IT LIKE TO SEE YOUR TEAMMATES COMBINE FOR 10 WINS LAST YEAR AND YOU NOT BE A PART OF THAT? "Why it didn't happen for us is because we didn't do as many good things as they did. We made some decisions we shouldn't have made on how we were gonna build our cars and it seemed like we got behind and we were never able to catch back up. Even towards the end of the year when we started to do things more like they were doing and paid attention to more of what they were doing, we started running better. So I think it was a little bit of hard-headedness on our part. I think it was a little bit of too much confidence based on the year before. Remember, you can't forget that the year before we had more success than all the other Roush teams. We were the only Roush team to win. We were the only Roush team to finish top 10 in points, so when the year started we didn't look at our teammates as a great pool of information. I think every team kind of felt like they had to pay attention to what they were doing and not really what their teammates were doing because there was no help. Nobody was having success.
"So we went into the year thinking we were the best Roush team and we were doing things differently. It took us a good 30 percent of the year before we woke up and said, 'They're kicking our butt.' By the time we fully got the full understanding of everything that was going on, it was halfway through the year. And then when we figured out how to use that stuff, we were five more or 10 more races into the year, so it snowballed on us. There are a couple of things that go on when you have a team that's performing worse than the other teams. In our case, we were a team that's been very successful within Roush. We weren't a new team. We weren't a new combination. We were a combination that had been very successful and we weren't having the success other people were having. So I think that's looked upon differently than a new team. I think the pressure is higher when you've had success and you're not having it. One of the things that drives me is I like for my peers to respect what it is that I can do and respect what my team can do. When you don't have that, it's hard to walk in the garage on Friday mornings and Saturday mornings and Sunday mornings. It's a complicated answer. It's not a cut-and-dry answer. That's the thing about sports - there really are no cut-and-dry answers in many cases. The fact of the matter is we just weren't effective. At the end of the day, that's why we weren't having success."
HOW IS THE MINDSET THIS YEAR AND CAN YOU FOLLOW UP ON THE RESPECT ISSUE? "The respect thing may be more perceived than it is fact. When you're running well, your competitors come and talk to you because they're fishing for information. That's what we do. When you're running well, you have a lot of people that want to talk to you - media, fans, competitors. And when you're not, you can feel the distance grow. I don't like that. I like to be in the middle of things. I like to be part of the conversation. I like to be able to express my opinion and I like when people ask for my opinion, so it's a lot perceived but it's some of it is also fact. Some people don't care, but I happen to care that people want to talk to me and want my opinion about things. As far as the attitude, I feel like we're a new team. I've used this earlier in the year, I feel like we're a young college team. We have experienced people on our team. We have very inexperienced people on our team. We have a mix of all kinds of people from all different kinds of places. We're different than we've ever been and through that we're gonna have some growing pains. We've managed our year. We were not very fast at Daytona, but we still finished fifth in the 125s, which is a great run for us. We finished 11th in the 500, which was decent. And then last week I thought the lack of practice really hampered our team because our team has built all new cars, a whole new philosophy and no practice last week really hampered our team, but we still finished 12th. So the potential is there. I really see potential and I really see the ability to get things going, but we've got to get it going. Results are results and lack of results are lack of results. Even this morning, we're in a conversation about how we're gonna set our race car up and I've got in my mind, based on experience, what won't work. Well, Paul is like, 'That will work,' so we're still figuring each other out, too. I want to be wide-open. I want to try anything that he wants to try, but when I have experience that something doesn't work, then I don't know when to step in and say, 'No, I know that won't work,' or to say, 'Hey, if you think it works, let's make it work.' So we're still feeling each other out. The way we did things in the past, if I didn't feel like it would work, it wasn't going on the car. I mean, it just wasn't gonna go on the car. I had the authority and the ability to make that call. I still have the authority and maybe I have the ability to make that call, but I'm trying not to make that call. I'm trying to be way more wide open at what it is that I'm willing to try because I think my lack of willingness to try new things and my lack of ability to drive a car, to manage a team, to set up race cars, to build race cars, isn't what it could have been five years ago based on all the pressures that are on a driver today. The feeling of our team is optimistic, but we're cautiously optimistic because we're so young. We're a new team. I fee like I'm driving for a new team, I just didn't have to leave Roush Racing. That's exactly what I feel like."
DID SOMETHING HAPPEN TO CHANGE THE COMPLEXION OF KURT'S TEAM LAST YEAR? "They started having results. I don't think Kurt woke up one day and learned how to drive. I don't think Jimmy Fennig fell out of the bed and learned how to set up a race car. I think they grew as a team and did some testing that was very effective for them. They found the feel that Kurt was looking for and off they went. When we talked about confidence earlier, they are very confident at what it is they're doing with their race cars right now. They're confident because they're having results with it, but I don't think it's a mindset or a difference of philosophy or anything like that, it's just they've put everything together. Kurt's a very talented race car driver and Jimmy Fennig is a very talented crew chief. They've got a lot of very talented people on that race team and they're taking full advantage of all the resources that Roush Racing has. They're just getting everything out of everything they can get and that's why they're having results."
A LOT IS MADE OF EXPERIENCE THESE DAYS. "I don't know what the hell experience means anymore, to be quite honest. You look at Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman, Tony Stewart. People forget but Tony Stewart hasn't been racing stock cars for very long. You look at all those guys and I'm not sure what experience matters. I don't think those guys could have had the success they're having today 10 years ago because the sport is so different today than it was 10 years ago. Experience just isn't as big of a factor as it used to be. So, if you asked me five years ago would that happen, I'd say no. But if you asked me in today's environment if it can happen and does it surprise me, then I would say, 'No, it doesn't surprise me.'"
CAN YOU LEARN FROM A YOUNG GUY LIKE KURT? "Oh, there's no doubt. I've learned more from Greg Biffle than Kurt at this point because Greg and I worked together so close with doing the Busch thing together. There is no doubt that every driver on our team, including the youngest and least experienced, can bring things to the table that teach us things. It may be true that Rusty Wallace has learned more from Ryan Newman than the other way around, but what isn't true is that the technology that Rusty and all the stuff that went on before Ryan got there, has put Ryan in the position to benefit and have success. You couldn't plug a young driver into a team with no resources and have success. Young drivers are wide open, willing to try anything. They don't know what's wrong. The conversation I had with Paul Andrews 20 minutes ago would not have happened if I had never been here before. If I would have never won. If I would have never had success, that conversation wouldn't have happened. But that conversation happened because I've won here twice, I've won in a Busch car and everytime we've come here I've run good, so I know what I want. That's where experience gets in the way sometimes. It's a fine balance between saying, 'This is what we've got to have and this is what we've got to have.' One of the arguments is based on experience while the next argument is based on advancing our program into the future. You walk a razor blade every week as to how aggressive you want to be. Do you want to race off last year's notes or do you want to build notes for next year? That's what we do."