BEHIND THE HAULER CHAT WITH JEFF BURTON, NO. 31 CINGULAR WIRELESS MONTE CARLO SS: WHAT ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS FOR THIS WEEKEND? "Well, hopefully we can make some good stuff happen this weekend, but the results will speak for themselves. How we...
BEHIND THE HAULER CHAT WITH JEFF BURTON, NO. 31 CINGULAR WIRELESS MONTE CARLO SS:
WHAT ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS FOR THIS WEEKEND?
"Well, hopefully we can make some good stuff happen this weekend, but the results will speak for themselves. How we get prepared today and on Saturday will determine how well we can run on Sunday."
HAVING HAD A COUPLE OF NOT-SO-GREAT SEASONS, DOES BEING BACK IN THE TOP 10 NOW MAKE YOU APPRECIATE IT MORE?
"Yeah, I think that's a fair point. I don't want to tell you that you take for granted that running well is part of what you're going to do, but I think when you do run well for an extended period of time, that's kind of what happens. And then when you don't run well, it's really hard to take and it's hard to understand. Then when you start running well again, it's invigorating but at the same time, you know it's a precious thing. I think you hold it in higher regard. You can talk about how hard it is and you can talk about the challenges of the sport, but until you deal with the challenges of the sport, you really don't understand them. So certainly, the way we've run this year has been really promising and it's been an awaking for me and hopefully we can continue that. Running bad is no fun. We're not here to run bad. We're here to run well and compete at the highest level -- as every team is. Sometimes when you lose what you've got, you understand what it was. And I think that's what happened here."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE '95 HOOSIER RACE HERE WITH YOUR BROTHER, WARD, AND GEOFF BODINE?
"Yeah, we came here with an advantage over what everybody else had. The Hoosier was just superior at that point on this race track. Ward (Burton) and Joe Nemechek and I, and Geoffrey Bodine really had fast cars. It was actually a great learning opportunity because it put us in a position where we had an advantage over everybody and it enabled us to learn because we had better stuff and that enabled us to run faster than everybody else, but it put us in a position to learn a lot. I think that was important. It was cool to come here for the first time and be able to compete and have a chance to win.
"Honestly, we could have won this first race we ran here. It didn't work out for us. But that was a race where a lot of people were really complaining about the tire deal at that point."
WHAT IS YOUR APPROACH TO RUNNING AT THIS TRACK?
"I think you hear a lot about having to sacrifice one corner to get the other two, and stuff like that, but I don't believe that. I think in today's times as competitive as this is, you've got to run well in every corner. You've got to attack this race track. You've got to go at it aggressively. But you've also got to go into this race knowing it's a really long race. You approach this race like you do the Coca-Cola 600. This is an exceptionally long race and things happen here quickly, but it takes a long time for this race to develop. Patience is really important, but you've also got to be aggressive. But you've got to attack this race track. If you don't attack it, you won't go fast enough."
IS THE TUNNEL TURN AT POCONO THE TOUGHEST ON THE CIRCUIT?
"I think the tunnel turn is a tough turn. I don't know if it's the toughest in NASCAR. I think that this race track is definitely a challenging race track. The front straightaway is the longest of any track that we go to. And you approach the corner with a tremendous amount of bumps and challenges over there; the tunnel is extremely challenging. But this race track is full of challenging corners. And I don't know if it's the hardest but it's certainly one of the hardest."
HAS IT CHANGED EVEN MORE BECAUSE YOU'RE NOT SHIFTING NOW?
"It's changed a lot. It's actually made it a little bit harder. Not shifting has made it more difficult, which is why we were all shifting because it was better if we shifted. It's harder on the brakes, it's easier to overdrive the entrance to the corners, it's harder to accelerate off the corners, and it makes momentum through the corners more important. So it's made everything more important because you don't have that horsepower to kind of help you get through a problem. So I think that shifting has made it harder to run here. Although, I don't think it's changed the quality of the race. I think it's the same for everybody. I think it's made the corner speed more important than it was before."
HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO BE IN THE TOP 10 AT THIS POINT IN THE SEASON LEADING UP TO THE CHASE?
"Oh, it's definitely important. Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth can probably breathe pretty easily, but the rest of the field is in a fight just to get in the Chase. If you look at points -- we're seventh in points -- and we're only 100 out of sixth and 102 or so out of fifth -- everybody that's in the top two or three feel pretty good about themselves, but the rest of us understand that were in a fight and we're not guaranteed a spot. So it's a premium for us. The great thing about a shorter schedule (leading into the Chase) is that it makes the races more important. That's really cool. The hardest thing about a shorter schedule is it makes the races more important. You don't have as much time to make mistakes. We had a lot of mistakes early in the year and we fell back quickly. We had three races in a row where we had bad finishes and we fell back quickly."
DOES NOT SHIFTING CHANGE THIS RACE?
"The no shifting has changed out outlook on the race track because downshifting actually helps your entrance speed into (Turn) 1. It slows you down a little bit. You don't have to use as much brake. You had more gear, so when you accelerated the engine was helping you get off the corner. Your center of the corner speed was important, but it's even more important today. And it's made big differences. It's a lot harder. But it's the same for everybody and it's whoever takes advantage of it the best will do the best."
SO DOES IT BOIL DOWN TO THE DRIVER?
"No, I don't think so. I don't think it's whoever is smarter or anything like that. I don't think that's the case. I just think it may changes your strategy a little bit."
IF THIS WAS A NIGHT RACE, WOULD IT BE EASIER ON THE DRIVERS?
"The races need to be when the fans what them to be, not when the teams want them to be. If the fans want them at night, then that's when they should be. But it's our job to be in shape and physically conditioned so that we can do whatever comes to us and that's not NASCAR's responsibility to take care of us. It's all about what the fans want. It's not about what the teams and drivers want. The fans are what make this sport work and if night racing is what they want then that's what should happen."
IF A REPORTER WERE TO BE A PART OF YOUR PIT CREW, WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE?
"Stay out of the way (laughs). The main thing is to just have fun and learn all you can. This Team Cingular is a good group and any reporter would have a good time with them. Just come and relax and enjoy yourself and stay out of the way."
ON TOYOTA COMING INTO NASCAR CUP RACING
"Toyota is going to come in and try to compete at the highest level, which is what Chevrolet and Ford and Dodge are doing at the moment. I don't know how it's going to change the sport -- I just don't understand that yet and neither does anybody else. One of the things that I know isn't a positive is that instead of coming in and trying to apply existing teams, they're bringing in all new teams. We're to the point of having too many teams now. And to have 48 or 49 teams isn't in the best interest of our sport. You're going to have pretty good teams going home and sponsors going home and that's not a good thing from the start. If you're sponsoring the Red Sox, you're not guaranteed to be in the playoffs, but you're guaranteed to play. That's not necessarily the case here. So that, already, I know is not a positive thing. Coming in and raising the cost of racing won't be good either. At the same time, America has been made great by free enterprise. It's been made successful by free enterprise and you can't a company for wanting to participate like that."