Pocono II: Jeff Burton - GM Top-10 interview

BEHIND THE HAULER CHAGE WITH JEFF BURTON, NO. 31 CINGULAR WIRELESS MONTE CARLO SS ON SEASON TO DATE: "Well, obviously, year's gone pretty well. We've been pretty competitive in most races. We still haven't found a way to get in Victory Lane ...


ON SEASON TO DATE: "Well, obviously, year's gone pretty well. We've been pretty competitive in most races. We still haven't found a way to get in Victory Lane and still have a lot of work to do to get in the Chase, and then hopefully continue that on and be a contender for the championship. "But, you know, what we've got to do is to continue to try to improve. We're starting a round of going back to tracks for the second time. Certainly, we hope to improve more than our competition when we go back. And then the tracks that we haven't been to, hopefully we can continue to progress our program so that we can find a way to win races and also take our competition level to the next step."

DIFFERENCE IN POCONO RACE FROM JUNE TO JULY: "Well, typically, it's much warmer the second race than the first race. That's going to be the case, although it's not going to be exceptionally hot by any means. It was very cool here the first race. So the tents are gonna be up. The track will have less grip than what we had in the spring. That's typically what happens at Pocono. So having a car that handles better than what you actually had in the first race will be really important, because the track won't be as good as it was that first race."

ON WHAT HAS CHANGED AT RICHARD CHILDRESS RACING (RCR): "We changed a lot. I hate to say everything, but almost everything. If you look at our engineering department, our engine program, our chassis program, our aero program, every department within Childress has been overhauled and changed. Merchandising and marketing has even been changed. The last 18 months, there's been a lot of change, a lot of reorganization, a lot of recommitment, and then accountability. Those things have helped bring us better cars. On top of that, Scott Miller has come on to the team and done an incredible job. Brings a level of intensity with him and expectation of being able to compete at a high level. All those things have coupled together to help everybody in the company really."

ON CHANGES AT ROBERT YATES RACING: "Well, this is a tough business. It's very hard to get to the top; it's even harder to stay. If you look at all professional sports, no team is always at the top of the game. There's changes in the sport that make, you know, it so that you have to do things differently. If you don't stay on top of it all the time, it's very difficult to be on top. They are just in a period where they, for one reason or another, weren't able to stay on top of things. It wasn't from a lack of effort. And, by the way, they'll rebuild and regroup and come back. It's happened to the Dallas Cowboys, it's happened to the Miami Dolphins, it's happened to the Pittsburgh Steelers. It's happened to every professional sport team you can look at, or collegiate sport team. It's tough. It's tough to be on top of your game all the time even though obviously you try. It's just a difficult thing to do."

ON HOW CLOSE TEAM IS TO GETTING TO VICTORY LANE: "I mean, certainly, for us, it's a matter of continuing to put ourselves in position. That's a thing that I think we have done a nice job of, is continuing to put ourselves in position to win races. That's how you win races in this sport, is you continually knock on the top 5, you continually knock on the top 10. You do those things, and you catch a day when it's right. At the end of the day, though, for us, right now, when we're at our best, there always seems to be somebody better. For us to take the next step, we've got to find a way that when we're at our best, there can be nobody better. We haven't gotten there yet. But, again, rarely in this sport do you see people that run, you know, 15th, 20th, win a race. It's about continuing to put yourself in position. We just continue to do that, then our days will come."

ON RUMOR RUSTY WALLACE WILL COME BACK AND FINISH SEASON AT ROBERT YATES RACING REPLACING ELLIOTT SADLER; THOUGHTS ON DRIVERS WHO LEAVE SPORT AND THEN COME BACK: "Well, first of all, I think that we go through a period in our sport where the Busch Series gets pooled on, the Truck Series gets pooled on. You get to the point where there isn't as much pool from those series as there was a few years ago. If you look back, Jeff Gordon, Kenny Wallace, the group left and came. Then the next year, myself, Joe Nemechek, John Andretti, Ward, Steve Grissom, a big group came. And then not many came the next few years because it wasn't that much to pool from. That's kind of where we are right now. I'd be shocked to see Rusty Wallace back. That would shock me. Knowing Rusty the way I do, that would really surprise me. Although, it's also clear to me that the reason people come back is because they miss it. When you're a race car driver, you started racing when you were seven years old, eight years old, nine years old, it's a way of life. It's not a job; it's a way of life, and it would be hard to walk away from that. So I think the older drivers, when they do decide, Hey, you know, I want to go do something else, after doing it for about six months, they're like, Man, I liked what I was doing better. That's pretty clear to me right now."

ON IMPORTANCE OF THIS POCONO RACE OVER JUNE RACE SINCE IS CLOSER TO THE CHASE: "It's no more important. Every race is the same amount of points. The time of the year in which the race comes is irrelevant. At the end of the 26 races, they add up all the points that you did throughout those races, and that's where you are. People can stack pressure up on themselves worrying about where they are in the points standings. At the end of the day, this race pays the same amount of points that the race at Daytona did and the race at Martinsville did. It's a collection of all those races. You just got to do a good job in all of them. So it's no more important. Although the perception is it's more important, it's non more important than it was the first race."

ON CHANGE IN CHASE IF TONY STEWART MISSES THE CUT: "It doesn't change at all. That is a very dangerous team that can win races at any time. They can win championships at any time. But it doesn't. Whether he's in the Chase or not doesn't change a thing that we do. We've got to perform at the highest level. If we want to be in the Chase, we've got to perform at the highest level. No matter who's in it or not in it, you still have to perform at the highest level to compete. So it has no bearing whatsoever whether he's in it or not."

ON IMPORTANCE OF RICHMOND VERSUS HOMESTEAD: "Well, yeah, I mean, Richmond will be more important for more people perhaps than Homestead. You know, a lot's going to happen in the next seven weeks. There's some people that are in contention today that won't be in contention going to Richmond. We'll have a smaller group that we're looking at that has a possibility of being in the Chase at Richmond, and, by the way, we'll have a bigger group of people that are in the Chase. So Richmond will be a very important race, obviously. But, you know, when we do go to Homestead, if a team can't win the championship, they're still racing for 4th. There's a lot of pride in looking back on the year and saying, you know - it's a big difference between finishing 4th and 10th, and it's a huge difference between finishing 10th and 15th. No matter what's going on, it's still extremely important to run the best you can. Richmond is an important race, no question, but it will loom less large for less people when we get there than it looks like it will right now."

ON MENTAL AND EMOTIONAL CHANGES AT RCR GOING FROM ONE-MAN TEAM TO MULTI-PARTY TEAM: "I wasn't at RCR when all that was going on. I certainly can't comment on that whatsoever. All's I know is when I came to Richard Childress Racing, I came because I looked, I thought it had the potential of being a premiere team in our sport. Richard told me he would do whatever it took to make that happen, and he's done that. I can't speak to the issues before I was there, because I wasn't there. I don't have the information."

ON HOW TIGHT BATTLE FOR CHASE IS NOW: "It's really tight. That's the whole thing about what we're doing, is that everybody is like, Well, you're 3rd in points, that's really cool. But the key is being in the top 10, and the key is continuing to build a team that if we get in the top 10, we can have a chance to compete and have a chance to win. So obviously the points are exceptionally important, but for us to gain the points, it's about racing. We're not good enough to go out there and finish 15th the next seven races and protect that. It's hard to finish 15th. We got to go out, we got to race hard, we got to go out and get the best finishes we can. What we want to do is be within that 400-point barrier. If we do that, it means that we've done a good job against the two best teams in the sport, which is the 48 and the 17 right now. It's our ambition to go out and keep ourselves safe with that 400-point barrier and not pay attention to what's ahead of us - I mean behind us, but pay attention to what's ahead of us."

ON BEING GO-TO GUY FOR NASCAR MEDIA: "That's how it should be. You know, this is a result-oriented business. When you have results, then your place in the sport's at a different place. I've been lucky enough to have a relationship with the media that even when times weren't good, I still had a relationship and people still wanted to talk to me. But, you know, obviously, competing good is obviously better than not. That's what we're here to do. I'm used to that. So the thing is, I feel like in a lot of ways it's a coming-out party for me, but in a lot of ways I'm used to it. I think that's a really good place to be. I don't feel the pressure that a Kasey Kahne would feel. I don't feel the pressure that a Kyle Busch would feel. This isn't that new to me, although it went away for a while. You know, I know how to handle it, and I know how to deal with it. It's one race at a time, and I'm just not all that wound up about it."

ON HOW GUYS WILL RACE WHO ARE SITTING ON CHASE BUBBLE: "Everybody's different. I'm not going to tell you how the No. 6 car is going to race or how the No. 29's going to race. The only thing I know is how we're going to race, and we're going to race aggressively, we're going to race the way we raced up to this point. We're not going to change what we've been doing at all. We're here because we have been racing to try to win races. We're here because we've worked very hard to improve our program. We're going to continue to do that. We're not going to change anything that we're doing. If we get to Richmond and need to finish 15 or better to get in and that locks us in, then certainly that's what we've got to do. We're not high enough and there's too many races left to know what scenarios are going to present themselves. The only thing I know is if we run in the top 5 on a consistent basis, we'll be in the Chase. That's what I know. That's what we've got to go do."

ON RICHMOND BEING MORE IMPORTANT THAN FINAL RACE AT HOMESTEAD: "Obviously, that's on somebody's topic because that's the second time that's been asked. The only way that Richmond overshadows what goes on at Homestead is if there's a run-away championship, and that would be the only way that would happen. But I don't anticipate a run-away championship happening. In 10 races, I would anticipate a really close race, but we never know what's going to happen. There's no way of knowing what's going to happen. I'd be surprised if Richmond overshadowed Homestead."

ON BEING ON THE BUBBLE: "We're all on the bubble. That's the thing. Here's the deal. Here's the deal. There are two teams that aren't on the bubble. The next 12 are on the bubble. There is no team - we're 3rd in points, we're on the bubble. There is no difference between this race and the Daytona 500. It's all about going out and running well. It's about going out and having a good finish. And, yeah, there's some things that you can't control. Well, guess what? Life sucks. Go on about it, you know? There's some things that you just can't control. The only thing you can focus on is what you can control, and that's how it is. So I agree with Tony a hundred percent. You can't control what you can't control, but you can't worry about it. You can't lay in bed at night worried about, you know, the bad luck (indiscernible) is gonna get up on you and you can't get away from it. All you can worry about is the things that are going to make you go fast, and you have to take advantage of it. Anything less than that is focusing on something that has no bearing whatsoever on how you're gonna win, or if you're gonna win. It's all about what is the task at hand and focusing on that. Anything else is a complete waste of time, and it's a diversion of energy and effort into the wrong place."

ON IMPACT WATKINS GLEN ROAD COURSE MIGHT HAVE ON THE CHASE: "Watkins Glen has to be certainly, without a doubt, as much as Sears Point. Watkins Glen throws a variable in that it can be very volatile. Watkins Glen will be a very volatile race. It's easy to wreck there. It's easy to get wrecked. It's easy to cause a wreck. It's easy to break a transmission. All those things certainly, you know, loom. The way that we race and the way we race here is the way we will race Watkins Glen. We went to Sears to go out and run well and to go out and get a good finish, which, by the way, that's the way we race Pocono and the way we race everywhere else. It's a different mindset because it's a different way of racing. But, certainly, because much like Daytona, you know, it's easy for a lot of Chase guys to have problems. You got to do everything you can to not have problems. But, again, you don't do that because of where you are in the Chase, that's what you would do if you were going to Watkins Glen anyway. I guess I'm fortunate I don't have to change the way I drive. I drive aggressively when I think I need to, and I drive passively when I think I need to and so, therefore, I'm not going to change what I do whatever track we're going to. That might bite us, but that's what's gotten us here, that's what's gotten me a lot of wins, and that's what's let me contend for championships before. That's not what kept me from contending for championships the last four years. What kept me from contending for championships the last four years was not being fast enough. It wasn't a decision-making process or those things, so I'm not worried about those. I'm sure I'll make mistakes. I know I'll make mistakes. That's part of being a human being. But when we go to Glen, we'll focus on running well."

ON HAVING AN OFF WEEKEND: "There are some things about an off week that I look forward to, without a doubt. I think that for our team, for the guys that work so many hours, I think having some time off right now is a good thing. I would prefer myself just to stay in the rhythm to keep going. For myself, that's what I would prefer. But I think at the end of the day, my guys, they have been working exceptionally hard. We've been testing an extreme amount. I think now is a good time for us to take a little time because the work will be even harder about two weeks after. It will be even harder. We have a lot of stuff that we're going to try to get done, and we're going to ask a lot out of them."


ON SILLY SEASON STARTING SO EARLY THIS YEAR: "You know, that's a really good question. To be quite honest, I don't have an answer. I know that the sense of urgency is there today with sponsors. I think it starts with sponsorship. Sponsors want to know what's going to be happening earlier so they can start preparing. We have a lot of new teams coming in that have a tremendous amount of questions to answer, and it's very important for a new team to be able, when they're in the recruiting process of hiring employees, they need to be able to say, This is our driver, We're a real team, We've got a crew chief, We've got a driver. I think in many cases for new teams it's very important to lock in on who the guy is going to be as our sport has changed. The dates, like it used to be you had to tell us by October 1st if you were going to drive or not. Now, it's May 1st. I think the reason why, it's kind of like a ball that got rolling down a hill; it gets bigger and bigger and bigger. Because drivers didn't have the freedom to commit to something, they kept wanting to move it back, move it back, move it back. It's just I think a lot of reasons. I think at the end of the deal, it's sponsorship and the time it takes from there."

ON DIFFICULTIES FOR DRIVER, CREW CHIEF AND TEAM IF SWITCHED MIDSEASON SUCH AS WOOD BROTHERS: "It can be difficult. It's hard to put your finger on it. Those things tend to not work or work. Sometimes a driver and crew chief will get together, immediately it will work. Sometimes it will never work. So there is no "A" or "B" on this one, there's a lot of things that impact that. I think at the end of the day it's how quickly the crew chief can come in and impact what's going on with the team. But sometimes people just don't get along and the relationship doesn't work well enough, and those things take time to build sometimes."

ON INDIANAPOLIS AND POCONO BEING COMPARABLE: "Not at all. I laugh at the comparisons to Pocono and Indy. I think it's ludicrous. I don't see any similarities in these racetracks whatsoever with the exceptions they have long straightaways. I mean, when I hear people say, We went to Indy and learned something and that's why I run good at Pocono, I don't get it. I mean, the racetracks are totally different and I just don't see them in the same light at all."

ON WHAT MAKES INDY SPECIAL: "Well, I think that racers are racers. We'll watch. If it's on TV and we're sitting in our motor homes, we're gonna watch a race. We all grew up watching the Indianapolis 500. I think we all have a sense of the importance of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I think most racers have a tremendous amount of respect for the impact that that's had on racing. So to have an opportunity to race in a facility that has such historic importance in the sport that you care about, I think most people view that as a privilege. Think that, therefore, it means something to do well there."

ON COMPARISON OF DAYTONA AND INDY: "Well, Daytona and Indy are similar in a lot of ways. The thing about Indy that's different is that it's a different world. It's like Daytona is our place. You know, I'm a stock car driver and, Daytona, that's our place. We go to race at their place. It's special because it's a bigger place and it's special because of the history that's been made there, racing the way that they race. So it's totally different because it's a departure from what we normally do, and I think that has some bearing in how people feel about it."

WHY YOUNG DRIVERS LIKE CARL EDWARDS AND DENNY HAMLIN ARE SUCCESSFUL AT POCONO: "I don't know. I honestly don't understand that. I think that certainly they both are talented drivers and with really good teams. I have to say I think it's more coincidence than it is really having anything to do with fact. I think it's much more a coincidence than anything else. I mean, it's not a coincidence that they won; it's they won because they're good and talented and with good teams. But I don't think - there's no advantage in being a rookie, is what I'm trying to say.

ON RUMORS THAT THERE NO QUALITY DRIVERS IN CUP: "I disagree with that. You know, I think it's so hard to evaluate drivers, you know. The thing that's difficult about driver evaluation is it has so much to do with how fast the car will go. You take a guy that - Travis Kvapil, for example. This year, hasn't looked like he's all that competitive. Go back and look at what that man's done. I mean, that's an extremely talented race car driver that has done a lot. There's a lot of drivers in this garage that if you took them somewhere, I'm not saying a different team or garage, if you took them to the Truck Series, the Busch Series, or you took them to a local Maypole race, they'd get up on it. So I think there's a tremendous amount of talent in the garage, and it's a matter of that talent being with the right group for them. But I don't view it as a shortage. I view it as a number problem, because I think that with the Toyotas coming in next year, we're really only gaining a lot of teams. We're not losing any teams. I think we had a real issue with the number of talented people because we have so many new teams coming, and that's not just drivers, that's everybody. That's tire changers, that's engineers, that's suspension guys. That's across the board.

"I see a huge problem coming. Toyota is trying to change that by paying everybody a lot of money. They're in denial about that. They say that's not what they're doing, but it is what they're doing. They're offering a tremendous amount of money to people to come work for them, which I'm not complaining about it. It's free enterprise. That's what's built America. But they're in the process of trying to rob and sell as many people as they possibly can, which every time they have success with that means there has to be somebody new that comes in; or, they don't have success, they got to bring in somebody new. So there is an issue with the number of people that we have available, but I suspect it's always been like that."

-gm racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Rusty Wallace , Joe Nemechek , Kenny Wallace , Kasey Kahne , Steve Grissom , Kyle Busch , Travis Kvapil