Martinsville II: Jeff Burton - GM Top-10 interview

BEHIND THE HAULER CHAT WITH JEFF BURTON, NO. 31 CINGULAR WIRELESS MONTE CARLO SS: ON HIS FEELINGS HEADING INTO THIS WEEKEND: "This track is always a huge challenge. I think it's one of the hardest race tracks we run on all year with typically a...


ON HIS FEELINGS HEADING INTO THIS WEEKEND: "This track is always a huge challenge. I think it's one of the hardest race tracks we run on all year with typically a one groove race track. It's very difficult to be patient here. (There's) a lot of tremendously good competition. I think it's one of the biggest challenges of the year. It's also a physically demanding race. I think a lot of people don't understand that actually the smaller the race track the more physically demanding it is. This race lasts forever. It seems like it's one of the longest races of the year. We got into it with really high hopes. We're excited about it. At the same time we have a tremendous amount of respect for how difficult it is. But I do consider it one of my hometown tracks and I take a lot of pride in being from Virginia so I look forward to the race."

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON WARD BEING BACK? CAN YOU TALK ABOUT WARD'S COMMENTS FROM EARLIER ABOUT NOT TRADING PAINT WITH YOU BUT THAT HE PROBABLY OWES YOU? WHY DO YOU BOTH TALK DIFFERENT? WARD MENTIONED THAT MAYBE YOU HAD GONE TO ARTICULATION SCHOOL. CAN YOU GIVE US A DEFINITIVE ANSWER ON THE DIFFERENCE IN ACCENTS? "Speeching school in his words. I went to speeching school (laughs). I don't know why we speak differently. Like I said before, the blood tests are definitive. We are brothers. No one really understands it. My parents don't understand it. I don't understand it. I'm glad he's back since now I don't have to ask 'Where is he?' I don't have to answer 'Where's Ward?' What I want for Ward and anybody in my family is for them to be happy. Happiness is worth its weight in gold. If Ward wants to be back then I want that for Ward. I care much more about that then I do anything else. Ward seems excited to be back. I think when Ward first got out, I don't really think he thought he'd miss it as much as he has. I talked to Rusty about it and I talked to a few people about it. When you do step out it's a huge change. You're used to living your life a certain way, now it's totally different. I think that happened to Ward. The great thing for Ward is he does have something else that he has a passion for which is the Wildlife Foundation. He's done a really good job with that. I'm glad Ward is back because Ward wants to be back. And I probably owe him a few also."

ON HAVING A NICE PERSPECTIVE ON THE CHASE. WHERE DOES THAT CALMNESS COME FROM? "I don't know. I've been doing this for a long. I've race my whole life. I've tried to be a broader person than just motorsports. I think the older I've become the more I've matured and the more I've appreciated the opportunities that are in front of you. Also the more I understand that there are things in life that perhaps are more important in the grander scheme of things. That's not to say that I don't have a tremendous passion for what I do. That's not to say that when I'm doing it, it doesn't receive 100 percent of my focus because it does. I'm extremely focused and I'm putting forth every effort that I can. I know there's a lot of people in the world that are having problems with things. There's just a bigger perspective. I don't know if it's right or wrong. I've been criticized a little bit about it because people are saying 'If the championship isn't the main thing in his whole life, why should he be doing this?' But I actually think that some of the best athletes in the world are able to understand that there's a professional athlete and then there's the normal person. If you run your life the way a professional athlete has to behave on the field or on the race track, you're destined to be pretty much an ass because you have to be self-centered. You have to be selfish. You have to have cockiness. You have to be arrogant. You have to do a lot of things that aren't the best personality traits in the world. I think it's important from my perspective to understand that there's a race car driver and then there's a person. You can't be both. You can't just live your life like a race car driver. If you do, you are destined to die a very lonely person. That's the perspective that I have about it. Again, I've been criticized a little bit about it but that's OK. That's who I am. To me, it provides calmness. It provides perspective and that's a good thing for me."

THE SHORT TRACKS ARE CONSIDERED THE WILD CARD OF THE FIVE RACES REMAINING. KASEY KAHNE SAID THAT WE COULD HAVE A DIFFERENT POINT LEADER AT THE END OF THE WEEKEND. WHAT'S YOUR TAKE ON THAT? "I think he's exactly right. We could have had a different point leader leaving Charlotte too. We've seen it in the Chase. It's been very, very out in front of us. Jeff Gordon the last three weeks has had things not go his way. Kasey Kahne got off to a slow start. Those races happen and the same things can happen to us. This track has potential to affect a lot of people in the Chase. Every track has potential to obviously affect the Chase. We've yet to go to a race that we didn't have several people in the Chase have problems. This race track along with Talladega and Phoenix as well really have the opportunity to affect a lot of people. All you have to do is go back and watch a race this year. It's easy to get in a wreck. It's easy to have a mechanical problem. It's easy to lose your track position. This is a very tough race. It can affect a lot of people and it will."

WITH THE RISE IN THE COST OF THE SPORT IS IT DIFFICULT FOR YOU AS A DRIVER TO KEEP IN MIND WHO IS ON YOUR CAR? IS IT MORE DIFFICULT TO DEAL WITH THE EXTRA PEOPLE INVOLVED? "Certainly this sport has changed. We used to deal with one or two sponsors. Today we have, I don't know the number because I've never counted them, but it's a lot. I don't have trouble remembering who they are because the way we run our sponsorship programs at RCR, we're very involved with the sponsors. So I'm working with all the sponsors on their cars. I've worked with all of the sponsors a lot. I don't have a problem but it does create a situation where the primary sponsor, they still want the same amount of time they were given 10 years ago. The associate sponsors want their bit of time. It's created a situation where the drivers are gone a tremendous amount. There's a lot of pressure coming from more places than it used to be. I'm not talking about pressure about performing. That to me isn't an issue. The pressure is we want to make sure that we're doing all of our sponsors a good job. We want to make all of our sponsors are receiving what they expected and by the way, what we sold them. We work especially hard to do that but that requires a certain amount of effort and a certain amount of time. I'm convinced that's one of the reasons that we have the testing limits today. To be honest, I don't know how we could do it. I honestly don't know how we could do everything that we do if there were no testing limits. I couldn't do it. It pulls you in a lot of directions.

"I looked at some stats from a few years ago. There was a media kit lying around. I looked at my year in 1995 or '96. I looked at the number of races that we ran and I went 'Wow, that's quite a bit fewer than we have now.' I looked at the amount of time that we did that in and then I started thinking about how many days you used to have compared to today. It's a huge difference. The added races along with the added sponsorship commitments have changed the way -- it's unbelievable how different it is. You don't realize it because you're in it. You're in the flow. But when you step back and look at how your life was eight years ago from where it is today, the work has increased twice. That'd be my guess. I'm not complaining. There's no way that I can complain about what I do but it has changed a lot."

BEING IN THE CHASE FOR THE FIRST TIME, ARE THERE SUBTLE DIFFERENCES ON OR OFF THE TRACK OR THINGS THAT YOU'VE NOTICED THAT YOU HADN'T EXPERIENCED IN THE CHASE BEFORE? "I haven't noticed different stuff on the track. I really haven't. It's a whole different perspective when you come to Martinsville with five races to go and you're 15th in points versus leading the points or (being) fifth in points. There's a lot more pressure on a lot more people. I know that Jeff Gordon will stand up here and say he's out of the Chase, but honestly behind closed doors they're not saying that so everybody still believes they have a chance. You go to every race no matter where you are in points doing the very best you can but you can't say it's not different knowing you still have a chance to win the championship. There's another level of intensity that goes with that. The biggest thing I felt is how teams it has affected versus me coming in here in 1999 fourth in points 300 points out (thinking) there's no way (and that) we're just going to go race for wins. It's just a different perspective."

ARE YOU DOING THINGS TO ALLEVIATE THAT EXTRA PRESSURE? "I'm not doing anything differently. I believe that the way you win a championship is you race one race at a time and you prepare for that race the best way you can. I believe that anything other than that is a mistake. If I'm worrying about Homestead today then my mind is in the wrong place. There are times that I catch myself worrying about things I don't need to worry about and I bring myself back and I get myself on this week. To me you race on Monday. You talk about it on Monday. You try to learn from it. By Monday if you're still on the race you just ran, you spent too much time on it. It's time to go to the next one. I'm really not doing anything different. We're just trying to go to the next race."

WHAT ARE YOUR HONEST FEELINGS ON THE CAR TOMORROW? "My honest assessment is I think there's going to be a learning period. I think there's going to be things that happen with the Car of Tomorrow that we don't know about. I think some of those things could affect the quality of racing early with the car. At the end of the day, this is what I truly believe though, if you give Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Roush Racing, (Richard) Childress Racing a Pinto and said 'Here's a Pinto. You guys are going to go racing.' There'd be a heck of a race here Sunday. That's what I believe. I believe the race teams will figure out how to make it work. We're all worried about it and talking about it and we're all flipped out about it. A year from now it won't even be a conversation. Is the car safer as intended? I believe it to be. Do I think competition will be better? I don't know. Only time will tell."

HAVE YOU LOOKED AT PAST CHAMPIONS AND THEIR CONSISTENCY? HAS ANYBODY REALLY STOOD OUT IN TERMS OF HOW THEY PUT TOGETHER THEIR TITLE RUN? "Well if you look at Kurt's (Busch) title run, I think he was sitting on the race track spun out seven of those 10 races. One of those races he had the wheel come off. Obviously they ran well but they had a lot of fortune too. From what I've seen that means as much as anything. You can't make your own bad luck. You can't decide that the whole thing is about luck and just throw it up to chance. You have to take responsibility for what's going on. At the same time this sport more than any other sport as seen by me has the element of having things happen to you that you didn't have control of. The thing that we try to do and the thing that any team right now is trying to do is trying to take control of what it is they can control. At the end of the day that's all you can do. You throw it out. You hope you throw the right pitch and hope they don't hit it out the park. It's the same as any other sport. You just got to go do the very best you can every single week. It takes an average finish of somewhere around seventh to do the done. But it's damn hard to finish seventh every week. It's hard. My assessment is you have to run well. You got to try to lead laps. You have to put yourself in position to win races. At the same time you've got to have things go your way. There's no question we've had less bad luck than everybody else in the Chase to this point. There's no question about that. The bad luck we had at Talladega wasn't a 43rd or a 42nd or getting wrecked on the first lap of the race. It was a 27th or a 29th. That's a big difference from a 42nd. We've run well. I'm proud of the way we've run. We've put pressure on everybody by running well but we haven't had as much bad luck as the other guys have. That's the reality."

DO YOU HAVE THE FEELING YET THAT OTHER TEAMS IN THE GARAGE ARE MEASURING THEMSELVES AGAINST YOUR TEAM? DO YOU FEEL THAT LEVEL OF RESPECT STARTING TO DEVELOP? "I think anytime someone is leading the points, people are targeting them and using them as the measuring stick no matter what team that is. That happens to be us right now. Certainly I'm sure that's been spoken about. At the same time what team can't make the comment that they've run well enough to be where we are. If you really look at this thing as gone, the 24 and the 48 car, they both stepped it up for the Chase. I think they've run better in the Chase than they did in the races prior to it. Most teams have stepped it up. I think that every team can truly look themselves in the mirror and say 'Hey, we're doing a good job. We've just got to have some things go our way.' Yeah we are the measuring stick right now because we're leading it but at the same time there's enough evidence for every team out there to say 'Hey, we're doing a good enough job too. We just got to keep doing it and have some things go our way.' And by the way, (Dale) Junior wants a percentage of anything sold with Ice Man on it. Which I don't think is right with as much money as he makes on souvenirs."

ON WARD SAYING HE'S THE GUY TO BEAT AND IT'S YOURS TOO LOSE: "Well that's a heck of a thing for your brother to say. I wish that I could be sitting here today and say to you with all honesty that yes it is ours to lose but I don't believe that. I believe that we've done a nice job of positioning ourselves to have a chance to win a championship. If we go out and grab it, then good for us but everybody else is trying to go grab it too. Again, every race is about putting yourself in position to be there at the right time and every championship is about that too. If you dig a really deep hole, it's hard to get out of it for sure but you can dig the same deep hole late in the year that you could have dug early in the year. Every race pays the same amount of points. We're one way away from being fifth in points. We're not one race away from still leading it. We're one race away from being fifth. One bad race has a way of leading to another bad race. You have to run every race one race at a time, get all you can, go to the next one and hope it all works out."

-credit: gm racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Kasey Kahne
Teams Hendrick Motorsports