Pocono II: Burton - Friday media visit

JEFF BURTON, NO. 31 CATERPILLAR CHEVROLET, met with members of the media at Pocono Raceway and discussed secret penalties, Jack Roush airplane crash, fan input to the sport, and more. YOUR THOUGHTS ON RACING HERE AT POCONO: "This starts the deal...

JEFF BURTON, NO. 31 CATERPILLAR CHEVROLET, met with members of the media at Pocono Raceway and discussed secret penalties, Jack Roush airplane crash, fan input to the sport, and more.

YOUR THOUGHTS ON RACING HERE AT POCONO: "This starts the deal where we are going back to race tracks for the second time. We've done that at Daytona, but now we are really starting to repeat race tracks now. For us, a fairly new team together, it is going to be interesting to see how we can be better in the second races. We ran well here in the first race and had a mechanical issue late in the race and still ended up with a top-10. This is our chance to be able to gauge ourselves on how much we have improved or haven't improved from early in the year to where we are. We're excited about it.

"We've put a lot of effort into trying to be better as the year's gone on and we'll have some real evidence now. It is real important for us to improve and find a way to get better. Obviously, it is a pretty tight point battle. We need to make sure we make that Chase, number one. Number two; be on the right side of momentum, not momentum, on the right side of getting better for when the Chase starts. This really is the start of that."

TWO DRIVERS WERE FINED FOR COMMENTS THEY MADE PUBLICALLY, WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THAT? "It is hard for me to comment on it, I don't know what they got fined for. What do say? I think there is an appropriate place and time to say what you feel. I think one of the great things about our sport is the ability to show your emotions, show how you are feeling. I think we need to keep that. There is a line where we cross where we're not being productive, we're just being negative. I think we need to be careful with that. Without truly understanding what comments were made and what the fines were, it is hard for me to make comment about it."

YOU KNOW JACK ROUSH AS WELL AS ANYBODY AND KNOW OF HIS AIRPLANE SITUATION, DOES THIS SEND A SIGNAL OUT OR WILL JACK EVER STOP FLYING? "I hope he doesn't. Jack has a passion for flying that is second to none. I think that is his passion. Obviously, he has a passion for racing but I think when he is flying, he's the driver. He's the guy in charge and he has a real, real passion for flying and for airplanes and the history behind it. I certainly hope he continues flying. Certainly hope his health continues to improve. He and Brenda (Stricklin) have been very good to me and are good people and good for the sport. It does make you think about your vulnerability and what we do as far as flying. We fly a lot and it is dangerous. Jack's a very, very, very good pilot. I think it is easy to say 'Well, he doesn't fly for an airline so maybe he's not a great pilot', but let me tell you, he takes a lot of pride in being a great pilot. I've flown with Jack a lot and I'd fly with him again today. It's sad to see what he is going through. But he is tough and he'll be ok"

THE REPORT IS THAT SOMEONE WAS FINED UP TO $50,000, BUT WHEN YOU ARE GETTING OUT OF THE CAR AND YOU ARE HEATED AND YOU HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY, IS $50,000 GOING TO BE A REAL DETERRENT TO YOU? "(LAUGHS) Yes, it is for me. That's a lot of money, man. Good gawd, 50 grand, that's a lot of money. It certainly would make me think."

ISN'T IT A PROBLEM THAT YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT THEY GOT FINED FOR SO YOU DON'T KNOW WHERE THE LINE IS? "I don't know who the drivers are. I've heard speculation as I'm sure you guys have to. I don't think there is an official release about who the drivers were. I think NASCAR made it clear to us this winter where the line was going to be drawn and I think I understand where that line is. There is nothing that I have ever said in the 16 years I've been doing this, that I feel like would have subjected me to a fine. So, when Brian (France) was making it clear to the group that I was with of what would be fined, I was thinking about, ok, how does that affect me and I just didn't think I would be affected by it to be quite honest. So, I hadn't put any more thought into it because of that."

FANS I TALKED TO THIS WEEK, AT THIS TIME WITH ATTENDANCE AND RATINGS, WERE MORE UPSET THAT IT WAS SECRET THAN THAT THERE WERE FINES, DO YOU THINK THAT HURTS NASCAR AND THEY SHOULD COME OUT AND TELL WHAT IS GOING ON? "It is an interesting dilemma. When its boys have at it but not in this case, I think the fans want to know what is going on. Hey, I don't know. Again, I don't have a problem with NASCAR telling us 'why air out thing in the public that you can come in the trailer or you can go to Daytona or go to Concord and have a conversation about it and be productive and make something happen. Versus, just getting on the television and ranting about something that is a complicated issue but the case you are presenting makes it sound like it is real simple and NASCAR is just out to get you.

"There are two different philosophies of how to go about making things better. The ultimate goal for NASCAR is to make this the best racing in the world. That's one thing I have always had a lot of respect for is that is what they are trying to do. They are trying to move the ball forward to make this the best racing in the world. There have been some incidents over the years that people handled themselves in a way that isn't productive. It is not to say that you shouldn't tell the fans the truth, but you should be working behind the scenes on the ugly trying to make it pretty rather than just complaining about it. It's a fine line. It is one of the things that; every system has its flaws. This is in my mind a benevolent dictatorship; it needs to be a dictatorship. The participants really don't deserve a vote because we have seen in other sports, when the participants have a vote, how screwed up it gets. So, when NASCAR is going to be the one that is making the final decisions, they are going to have decisions that are difficult to make. It is part of the system."

WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST TURN AROUND FOR RCR AND HOW DO YOU GO ABOUT GETTING SOME MOMENTUM FOR THE CHASE? "For me, momentum is about how you run every single week. Momentum isn't something that comes from some force. Momentum comes because you are running well every week. You don't well this week just because you run last week. You might run well this week because of all the things you are doing to make your car go fast and the way you are driving it and the calls that are being made and that is what creates it. So, for me, what I want us to get into is to really get into the rhythm of performing at a high level going into these last 16 races because for us to make the Chase, we have to do that. And for us to win the championship, we have to do that. We've got four months of racing. That is an eternity in our sport. For the guys that travel every week and do this every week, it's a long time. There's a lot of stuff that goes on in four months. For us, it's a building process. We're here, we've run really well; but we're here and we need to be here, so how are we going to get there? That starts, in my eye, that starts this weekend. Of course, I would have said the same thing three weeks ago; it started that weekend."

SPORTS ILLUSTRATED DID A SURVEY AMONG DRIVERS ASKING WHICH TRACK IS 'MOST LIKELY TO KILL,' AND I GUESS POCONO CAME UP AMONG THEM. WHAT IS YOUR TAKE ON THAT? "I don't have a take on it. I don't go there because I think every race track has a history, has a fan base that should be respected and it should be understood that they love the race and love the facility. I just don't go there. I think at the end of the day, the tracks that lose a race is ultimately about the number of people that are willing to come out and watch a race. If you have good viewership, have a lot of people coming to the race to support it, then in my eyes it would be a very difficult to make to take that race away. As far as what race track and all that, I just will not go there because I respect the fans that love this race track, or love New Hampshire, or love whichever racetrack it may be. I just don't go there."

HOW DO YOU THINK THE RESPONSE HAS BEEN FROM NASCAR TO ISSUES YOU HAVE RAISED? "Well, I think that at the start, there was a different mentality. It was every time you questioned them, they got very offended by it. It was probably as much me being young and new to the sport as it was about them. As I grew in the sport, my opinion was more respected. I went from from 'yes we will talk to you, but really don't want to hear it' to 'any time you want to call, call' to at times, them calling me. And even today, the willingness of NASCAR to get a group of people together and have a conversation about something is bigger than it has ever been. The things they are doing today with the town hall meetings and all that, that didn't happen. That stuff just never happened. I think the new generation of NASCAR is much more open to listening to the ideas. I had a conversation with Robin Pemberton last week and I said things to him that were very frank and very to the point. I walked off and I thought I wouldn't have been able to do that 15 years ago, but I felt perfectly comfortable doing it because I felt perfectly comfortable with him and his willingness to listen to me. And, his willingness to share his opinion with me and disagree with me or agree with me; I think it has changed a lot. They are very open right now, very receptive to ideas and opinions. They aren't going to agree with everything or should they, but they are very receptive."


WELL, WHAT CAN'T YOU TALK ABOUT? CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE FACT THAT SOMEBODY MIGHT GO IN THE GRANDSTANDS AT TALLADEGA LIKE CARL EDWARDS DID? OR CAN YOU TALK ABOUT SAFETY PROBLEMS? THERE ARE SOME THINGS YOU'RE NOT SUPPOSED TO TALK ABOUT BUT NOBODY WILL SAY WHAT. WHY SHOULD WE BELIEVE ANYTHING NASCAR SAYS OR ANYTHING THE DRIVERS SAY IF WE KNOW THAT THERE IS SOME SECRET PENALTY OUT THERE FOR SOMETHING THAT WE DON'T KNOW WHAT IT IS? "Well, that's a valid point. And I hear your point and I understand what you're saying. The only thing I can tell you is that, and I can only speak for myself; when I feel compelled to have a conversation about something, I'm going to have the conversation. And I think I can do that in a way that we can talk about an issue and its productives. I'm not in fear of being penalized for what I say because I think I can say it in a way that will be understood and I think I can say it in a way that could create a productive conversation. Not every idea that's good for the sport comes from within this sport. In bringing an issue to conversation, many times brings a resolution. It brings a better answer.

"The competitors and NASCAR don't always have the best answers. Sometimes the best answer comes from y'all (the media). Sometimes the best answer comes from the fans. Sometimes the best answer comes from a sponsor, you know? And I think having the ability to have a conversation and talk about an issue, that's a good thing. But the way you do it determines if it's productive or destructive. So if you feel like you have to talk about something, there's a reason for that. Some of it's just emotion; sometimes we all say things we kind of wish we hadn't said. But a lot of times, even though in that situation you're trying to express yourself for a reason. So, don't hide it; don't ignore it, but do it in a way that can be productive. Do it in a way that you think can move the sport in a positive direction. And if you do that, I think there's almost nothing you can (sic) talk about."

SINCE YOU SAID SOME OF THE BEST IDEAS COME FROM OTHERS, DO YOU THINK NASCAR NEEDS TO BE MORE OPEN WITH THE FANS AND THE MEDIA? WITH ALL THE POSSIBLE CHANGES COMING UP LIKE THE CHASE AND THE SCHEDULE, IT SEEMS LIKE A BENCHMARK YEAR WHERE THEY ARE TRYING TO MAKE CHANGES TO MAKE THE SPORT BETTER. IF YOU'RE NOT TELLING THE FANS WHAT'S GOING ON, DON'T YOU THINK THERE'S A DISCONNECT THERE? "I think the fans need to be involved. There's no question the fans need to be involved. I disagree with you. I think that the fans have been more involved this year than they've ever been involved. There's a reason we have double-file restarts. There's a reason we have the green-white-checkered. There's a reason we have spoilers back on the cars. Those things didn't come from us. I can guarantee you the competitors didn't sit down and say, 'Well, let's do a green-white-checkered. Well, let's double-file restart.' That didn't come from us. That came from the fans. So, I disagree with you. I said at Daytona; I told you guys that the fans are running the ship. The fans are the ones who are saying we want this and this and this and that's what they got. So, I think more of their opinions have been expressed this year than at any time in NASCAR's history. That's my opinion."

I'M NOT GOING TO ASK ABOUT GEORGE CARLIN'S SEVEN LIST OF WORDS OR LISTS THAT YOU CAN'T TALK ABOUT "Well, you can say 'em; I can't (laughter). So for great entertainment, if you want to roll them down, it would be fun for all of us (laughter). You might want to turn that camera off! (laughs)."

POCONO, SCHEDULES, AND ATTENDANCE ALL ROLLED INTO ONE, AS A COMPETITOR AND SOMEBODY WHO IS VERY SENSITIVE TO WHAT THE FANS WANT, WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE THESE TWO POCONO RACES SEPARATED BY MORE TIME? "First of all, my side means nothing. I'm a professional race car driver. If they have a race in Australia this weekend and one in France next weekend and one in Miami the following weekend, I'm going to be at all of them. It doesn't matter to me. My opinion means nothing, nor should it. It's about the fans. If the fans want to come here two months apart versus one month, I think that should be considered. But every time you move this race it affects another race.

"There's got to be a balance on where the races go and where the fans want them to be and when they want them to be there. It's not about the competitors. It should never be about the competitors. We're getting paid to do this and if people want to complain about getting paid to do it then they can go do something else. I mean it just shouldn't matter for us. There are things that are more convenient; don't get me wrong. I'd love to race on Saturday afternoons. And by the way, I could. All I have to do is go run Nationwide. But I'd love to do that. The quality of my life would be a lot better. But I'm getting paid to do this. So wherever they have the race, that's where I'm going to be."

IF YOU GIVE THE FANS EXACTLY WHAT THEY WANT, AND THEY WANT TO TAKE IT BACK TO THE OLD DAYS AND THINGS AREN'T AS GOOD AS THEY THOUGHT THEY WERE, AT WHAT POINT DOES NASCAR OR THE COMPETITORS HAVE TO BALANCE WHAT THE FANS' OPINION IS WITH WHAT THEY KNOW IS FOR THE BEST? "We glamorize history. I'm a World War II buff. And it's a whole lot cooler now than it was when it was actually happening, you know? When it was actually happening, it was hell. And today you watch it and its like wow, that's really cool. We glamorize the way things were. Someone asked me about post-race stuff a while ago in a different interview it was the first time I'd ever thought about this. You know Cale, Donnie, and Bobby all fought, and this was in 1979, they all got penalized. What's different? I mean, honestly, what's different? And the only thing that's different is that there are more people that have a chance to win a race. There are more people that have a chance to win the championship. There are more people who can run on the lead lap. There are more people who can lead laps. They all got penalized after the race and guess what would happen if we did that? We'd get penalized after the race. We glamorize the way things used to be. If we want it the way it used to be, we can do that. Nobody is going to like it. And that goes for almost everything. I mean, air conditioning is pretty cool (laughter).

NOT IN HERE (THE MEDIA CENTER)! "It's not working very well in here. We talk a lot about history and don't get me wrong. History, what you did then, it why you're doing what you're doing today. And if we don't look back on history and learn from it, we won't progress as a sport or as a society or as a people. But the fact of the matter is these are the good old days. And I mean no disrespect. You guys all know I respect the history a great deal and there is no question in my mind that Richard Petty could go in one of these cars and win races and win championships. There is also no question in my mind that Jimmie Johnson could go in those cars and win races and win championships, okay? I'm not comparing eras. But I am telling you that from a competition standpoint, from a quality of race standpoint, from the number of people who have a chance to win a race, from the number of people who have a chance to win a championship, there is no comparison to today to the history; none whatsoever."


WELL PUT "In other words, no, she wouldn't (more laughter). Those men were brave and when you watch the old races; when you watch the original Indy 500's and all that stuff man, I'm telling you. Those guys, every one of them was Chuck Yeager. I mean they were brave. They were tough. But you know what? They didn't know any better. And people ask me all the time if I feel safer today than I did when I had an aluminum seat with no headrest and a five-point harness with the one-point harness twisted around to make it fit right, open-face helmet; I don't feel any safer today because I thought that was the safest you could possibly be back then, you know? So everything's relative. But those men, they were real men. There's no question about that."

-source: gm racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jimmie Johnson , Richard Petty , Jack Roush