Michigan II: Burton - GM Top-10 interview

GFS Marketplace 400 - Weekly Top 10 Behind The Hauler Chat With Jeff Burton, No. 31 Cingular Wireless Monte Carlo SS HOW CONFIDENT ARE YOU TO ENTER THE CHASE AND IF YOU DO, WHAT WILL IT TAKE TO WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP? "I feel good about where we...

GFS Marketplace 400 - Weekly Top 10

Behind The Hauler Chat With Jeff Burton, No. 31 Cingular Wireless Monte Carlo SS

HOW CONFIDENT ARE YOU TO ENTER THE CHASE AND IF YOU DO, WHAT WILL IT TAKE TO WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP? "I feel good about where we are; at the same time, I know that we can get from where we are pretty quickly and go the other way. So we're working hard on staying focused these next four races and we'll run the best we can. That's the way you get points, is by running the best you can and finishing the best you can. That's our focus is first, to get in the Chase and then as we're trying to get into the Chase to be able to improve so that when things go our way and we do get in we're at our very best at the right time. But it requires you to be at your best to get in the Chase."

I'm a realist - I understand that there's going to be teams that are in it right now that won't be in it after the next four races and there are some teams that aren't in it that will be. Confident is a highly overused word. If you're confident you are going to be in the Chase, that's arrogance. That's easily confused with confidence. In my opinion, there are people walking around making comments like they're going to be in the Chase, there's no doubt. I just don't think that's realistic, I think that's arrogance. I've been around long enough to understand that things happen that you don't want to happen; there's good and bad. We're just going to take one race at a time like we've done all year long."

NASCAR IS TALKING ABOUT CHANGING THE SYSTEM AGAIN. DO YOU LIKE THE WAY IT IS NOW? "I like the way it is now and I'd like to see how they want to tweak it before I make comments. But I'm a sports fan and I enjoy watching the intensity. to me the most exciting sporting event as far as the tournament thing goes is NCAA basketball. The reason that's so cool is that you either win or go home. I like that elimination process and I think if we could expand our elimination process it may make it even that much more enjoyable."

DO YOU WANT TO SEE MORE POINTS AWARDED TO THE WINNERS? "I don't care much about that, I really don't. I think whatever the point system is then the people that take the best advantage of it will come out the best. I honestly don't care how they award points other than to say that you always have to keep in mind that these are endurance races. These are long races - we've become accustomed to it and we've come to believe it's normal but if you compare this to most forms of motorsports these are longer races and the endurance side of things is a relevant point. I think you do have to reward consistency and reliability and at the same time winning should be rewarded higher than anything else because you've done everything when you won."

IS BRISTOL THE BIG HURDLE IN THESE LAST FOUR RACES? "I think that going to Watkins Glen, to me there's been several major races this year that came in groups. The Sears Point/Daytona thing, then the Watkins Glen/Bristol thing I think those races coupled closely together have a way of potentially having a major impact on the championship chase. Certainly Bristol is. anything can happen, but anything can happen any week. We've seen every week championship contenders get into something so it can happen anywhere but I certainly think Bristol is a huge hurdle that could affect a lot of teams that are gunning for the championship."

HOW SURPRISED ARE YOU THAT CHEVROLET HAS WON SEVEN RACES IN A ROW? "Well, I am surprised just from a statistical standpoint because that's hard to do. I'm not surprised about the success because of the effort that they put in. The longer I'm with Chevrolet the more I'm impressed with the effort that goes into their motorsports programs. They put it on a high priority, they fund it properly, they are aggressively going after trying to win races and learn on the racetrack. The results are because of the effort that they are putting in but from a statistical standpoint, to win seven in a row is very, very difficult."

DO YOU THINK THAT THE DODGE AND FORD TEAMS ARE GOING TO GO TO NASCAR AND LOBBY FOR SOME HELP? "I think that any manufacturer will always lobby for help but I think that it will fall on deaf ears. At the end of the day NASCAR's done a better job of ever of making things equal. The reality of it is Ford, Dodge and soon to be Toyota, their engine package as compared to ours is in another world. They have a way more modern engine package that we do; they have, by far, better opportunities to succeed with their engine programs based on approval processes that Ford and Dodge have been able to make happen, and next year with Toyota as well. The facts are that at the end of the day, they have the latest, greatest engine package and we're still racing 30- to 40- year-old technology."

STICKING AROUND MONDAY FOR THE TEST? "No, we're not. We've been to pretty much every test; we're not going to be at this test though. NASCAR made some more aero changes to the Car of Tomorrow as well as some chassis changes. We couldn't be ready and at this point we have a lot of information. To get more information that isn't a 100% usable is probably not in our best interest. So we're not going to go to this test just because with all we're trying to get done right now we couldn't get ready and be 100%. We couldn't have the latest aero changes, the latest chassis changes. We're about a week away from really being able to have that so we opted not to come."

WHERE DOES THE FINAL RACE FOR THE CHASE (RICHMOND) FIT IN? IT'S A POPULAR TRACK. "As far as racing goes, I think Richmond is tops. It's side-by-side race action and still small enough to be good short-track racing action but big enough to have the speeds and the stuff that creates a whole hell of a lot of excitement for the fans. I just don't know if you can get a whole lot better than Richmond. I think it's the best all-around racetrack we come to. To have the Chase start there; to have all that action and all that drama unfold at Richmond - a track that has a tremendous amount of that anyway - I think it's pretty cool."

YOUR TEAMMATE KEVIN HARVICK HAS A CHANCE TO WIN BOTH CUP AND BUSCH TITLES. WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THAT? "The Busch thing, they've just been the dominant force. As the year has progressed, certainly there have been teams that could outrun him in a two- or three- race stretch. But for the majority of the year there's been nobody who can run with him. They've earned their championship contention; they've earned their lead. At the end of the day, like I said before, the people that do the best are the people that take the points system and use it. Right now, they're doing it in both series."

A FEW WEEKS AGO, WARD BURTON SEEMED TO HAVE A DEAL PUT TOGETHER. IS HE STILL WORKING ON SOMETHING? "Ward and I haven't spoken specifically about what he's working on; I don't 100% know. I do know that he wants to get back in this sport but he only wants to get back in if it's the right situation. Time will tell."

YOU MENTION YOU'RE A SPORTS FAN AND LIKE THE DRAMA OF SPORTS - THIS HAS TO BE AN EXCITING TIME FOR YOU. "I do appreciate it; I do appreciate the opportunity to be able to compete at a high level. I don't take it for granted which is probably something I would have done a few years ago. At the same time I'm not real good at relishing the moment - I'm more concerned about what we'll be doing tomorrow. We're working really hard; we're working really well together. We have an opportunity to do some really good things here and we don't want to let that go. At the same time we know we have to continue to improve and that's what we're going to do. We're going to continue to make it better and we're thinking about next year too. We can't just think about this year, although this year is a pressing issue, we also have to be preparing for next year. A lot of changes are coming next year and we've got to be ready for them. As we focus in on these next four races - and then the last ten - we're also focusing on the next year so we can do this again. If you don't aggressively work to get better and better you will progressively get worse and worse. The only way to get better is to look at what's coming and try to go to a system that makes it work."

HOW ARE YOU ABLE TO JUGGLE NASCAR WITH FAMILY? "I think for me there's the huge advantage of having done this my whole life. I've traveled and raced my whole life; my wife's a huge supporter of what I do. My children were born while I was doing this so to them it's normal. We do work very hard to make sure we spend the right amount of time together. We work very hard as a husband and wife and also as a family. And you do have to work at it in any circumstance, much less one like this where you're gone so much, requires attention and effort. And we try to put extra effort into it. My kids travel with us a lot so we can spend time together. Overall it works pretty well. This is what their life is and as my children become older - especially my daughter, she's 11 now - it gets harder to have them here every weekend because they have things going on. But it is what it is and we just make it work, but we do work at it."

ROOKIE DRIVERS SAY THAT TO GET HERE DRIVING ASPECT IS 60% OF IT. "It was really big too. I don't know if it's any more today than it was 10 years ago. It is important. I think driving is more than 60% of it, though. The people that say that driving is only 60% of it are the people that aren't in here. The people that are in here are saying that it's 90% driver and the people that aren't are saying it's 50% driver. That's just natural. At the end of the day, a really, really good driver with a short personality and efficiencies will still be here. The hardest thing is getting the opportunity. I think the thing that's not fair in this sport is that there are so many people that are so talented that will never get a chance to show their abilities. Unlike football and basketball where if you didn't go to college you can still try out. That's not the case here and that to me is the hardest thing about this sport."

HOW DO YOU SEE YOURSELF HERE? YOU'RE NOT ONE OF THE YOUNG DRIVERS. "I think when people think of me they think of Mark Martin and Dale Jarrett, I don't know. I don't think about that a lot. I am who I am and I fit in wherever that fits me. I don't try to put myself somewhere. I know how old I am, I've been here as long as I've been here and my personality is what it is so that puts me wherever it puts me. I can't control it and I don't try to."

HOW WOULD YOU COMPARE RICHARD CHILDRESS RACING (RCR) NOW VERSUS WHEN YOU FIRST JOINED? "It's a whole different company, really. Every part of our company has been improved. Aero engineering, engines, chassis, in my opinion Richard has set out to improve every part of the program and every part of the program has improved. Every part of the program needs to be improved again, it still needs to take another step, but we've just made a quantum leap in each part of the company being able to provide a better service."

WHAT DOES THAT LEAP DO TO DRIVER ATTITUDE? "Well, the whole thing about racing is speed. If you can go fast you can make things happen. If you can't go fast then you are waiting for things to happen and you are waiting for other people to make mistakes and that kind of thing. When you have speed it enables you to force the momentum, to force your tempo. And that's what we have today. The attitude going into races is totally different. Instead of waiting and hoping and trying to 15th our way into the deal, we're trying to win races. It's just a much more exciting way to come to a race weekend."

WHAT WAS IT LIKE WHEN YOU FIRST JOINED? "It's all the same people. Through three or four years of not having success, people were down. There were a lot of people working in different directions. Everybody was working hard but I think a lot of people were working in different directions. Now it's much more organized, it's much more together, it's much more focused. It's the same quality of people we always have but now those people are pulling together more and in the same direction."

WHAT WOULD IT MEAN TO RCR'S FAN BASE FOR IT TO BE THIS YEAR'S CHAMPION? "Well, Richard is an immensely popular car owner. He's one of the most popular and well-known car owners in this sport and I think the fans recognize and appreciate all the effort he's put into the sport and all the things he did with Dale Earnhardt. I think that a title would be a very positive thing for this sport and the fans would appreciate it."

WHAT'S THE FEELING IN THE GARAGE ABOUT TOYOTA COMING TO NEXTEL CUP? "Spending money. In a brief sentence, it's spend, spend, spend. I'm not saying that in a negative way but if you ask people in the garage, money always comes up. They're trying to hire away a lot of talent by spending a tremendous amount of money and that right now is the big feeling - that Toyota is trying to buy their way in. I'm not holding it against them. This is America and free enterprise; they can do whatever they want to do. At the end of the day, they're throwing a lot of money at engineers, crew chiefs, tire changers, fabricators, drivers to woo them over into the Toyota camp. They're trying to get a good base on which to build on. That shouldn't be held against them but there is a little bit of fear of them driving the costs of racing up. If you ask crew members or drivers that issue always comes up."

WHAT EFFECT WILL IT HAVE ON THE COMPETITION? "I think the competition will be amplified. I think they'll come in and try to make a run at winning races immediately and make a run at the championship. I think that next year, when I look at it on paper, will be the most competitive year we've ever had. My big concerns for the sport is that I think we have too many sponsors. I know that sounds crazy but when we have to start sending sponsors home because there's 47 or 48 fully-sponsored teams. That's bad for our sport. It's bad to have to many. That to me right now is the biggest concern. When Toyota came in, with the exception of Bill Davis, they didn't come in and acquire existing teams, they started new teams. Bill Davis had one team, Michael Waltrip's starting now with three. There's a lot of things that are happening that are going to increase the car count by a tremendous amount and sponsorships will be increased too. So when we spend sponsors home because there's not enough spots for the race, I think that's a bad thing for our sport."

WHAT EFFECT DO YOU THINK THAT WILL HAVE ON SPONSORS? "I think sponsors will be wary. when you have major corporations with hospitality and commercials bought on TV and all the stuff going on around the marketing program of racing, to start not being able to participate in the race is going to be a bad thing. It's going to force sponsors to look at how they are involved in the sport."

HOW WILL IT EFFECT THE DRIVER MARKET? "This is a supply and demand business and for drivers, crew chiefs, engineers, mechanics, for everybody in this sport, the pull on them is at an all-time high. They are needed and wanted more than ever and their price tags are going up."

HOW MUCH IS THAT DRIVING UP DRIVER SALARIES? "I think driver salaries are without a doubt at an all-time high. I think that if someone calls you and says they'll pay you twice as much as you're making now it's hard not to listen to that. And when you go to ask for money the next time you're going to have that figure in your head. Without a doubt, driver salaries and everybody's salaries are going to make a move next year in the upward direction."

THAT'S A GOOD THING FOR YOU, RIGHT? "It's a good thing for me but we have to be careful of is that we cannot do to the car owners what in some cases has happened in other professional sports. My salary can only be paid if the sponsorship allows it. My salary has to be based on what this team can afford to pay me, not on what I what I want to make and not on what somebody else can pay me. We as drivers and crew members have to remember that we hold the key to the future of the sport in our hands. When we're talking about dollars we need to remember that car owners can only absorb so much. I think that's hard to do in some cases but at the end of the day, you have to think about what the car owner can afford and still have a competitive team. Having a great driver and paying him a lot of money isn't as good as having a garage full of really competent people and paying them well, in my opinion. Because it's the people in this sport that make it work."

A LOT OF TEAMS ARE TAKING ADVANTAGE OF PAST CHAMPIONS PROVISONALS TO GET CARS IN THE FIELD. WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THAT? "Well, I think past champions deserve some sort of reward for what they have done. I have no problem with past champions. When it starts to be abused, we have to look at the system and how it works but overall, the face of it, I'm a proponent of rewarding a past champion on what he's been able to do."

SHOULD THERE BE SOME KIND OF LIMIT LIKE THEY HAVE IN THE BUSCH SERIES? "I don't know what the rules should be, I just know that there is a balance. Again, I support past champions getting rewarded for that and being able to use that in their future, at the same time we have to make it so that they're not abusing it. So it's a balance. In the Cup series, it's not really being abused. We don't really have an issue of it being abused in the Cup series so I'm very comfortable with it."

-credit: gm racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Burton , Mark Martin