Preseason Test: Jeff Burton - GM interview

JEFF BURTON , NO. 31 CINGULAR WIRELESS CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO: WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON 2005? "I'm really excited about the 2005 season. I've got a lot of good things going on. I'm really excited to go to California and Vegas to start testing.

JEFF BURTON , NO. 31 CINGULAR WIRELESS CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO:

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON 2005?

"I'm really excited about the 2005 season. I've got a lot of good things going on. I'm really excited to go to California and Vegas to start testing. Are speeds aren't really good here today, or yesterday but we feel we've learned an awful lot. We knew coming down here that we weren't going to be blistering fast in qualifying trim. We feel really good about how our cars are going to draft and the way there's going to race. And we feel good about qualifying, too. We have a lot of things going on between now and when we come back. Our goal was to be 18th, 19th fastest this week. I know that sounds stupid but we think we can do that when we come back and be in great shape. We feel good about where we are. We have one car that really drives well and one car that I don't like so much. We're focusing on the one car. Hopefully we'll spend all day tomorrow in drafting. We'll spend a little time this afternoon in drafting as well. Our speeds aren't very good but I'm not too worried about that right now."

HOW WAS THE RECENT TEST AT MEXICO?

"They have good enchiladas. Actually, Mexico was really cool. I don't know how many of you have been to that facility, but it's a really neat race track. It's going to be really exciting. The backside of the race track is a series of esses of about five corners-one right after another. As you go through those esses you continue to build speed. There is a really good passing zone after those esses going into the last two corners. The last two corners are about the radius of a Milwaukee, except there's a wall on both sides and a stadium in the middle of it so you can't see around the corner at all. It's a real challenging corner because you can't see where you're going. We designed an interloop-actually they called it an outerloop-but anyway, we designed an outerloop on the front straightaway to pull some speed out of the cars. But it's a fast outerloop - it's very fast, not like what we have at Watkins Glen so we won't be bottled up, getting in there and wrecking. I think it's a really neat race track. The concept of the track is something that could take hold here when we're asking for tax dollars to help build race tracks. The facility is public, so during the day when there's not an event there are people bicycling and running. It's really cool with soccer fields and basketball fields. There are thousands of people out there.

"That's a really cool concept because it's right downtown Mexico City. So, if you could build a race track like they're talking about in New York, where it's close to a lot of residential places and also include it as a park, it's a great idea. I think people can enjoy the facility for times other than when there's an event going on."

DID YOU HAVE ANY SECURITY CONCERNS IN MEXICO?

"I'll be honest I never saw a bulletproof vest. I'm not saying they weren't there, but I didn't notice it. I think that the way they're shuttling people back and forth won't be an issue. To be quite honest I think there is an overreaction (to security concerns). It's the safe thing to do and right thing to do. Logistically, if everyone had to go down there and rent cars and do everything like we always do, it would be a major mess. You're in downtown Mexico City, the world's largest city. When the event's done, getting back to the hotel is an event. It takes longer to get back because of rush hour traffic. I think it's a good idea to shuttle back and forth. We had zero issues with security. We did have some people that didn't like that we have paved over some grass but we have that here, too."

HOW HAS IT BEEN SINCE JOINING RCR LAST SEASON?

"When we went to RCR, I improved my performance a little bit. Certainly the performance was better but still not where I wanted to be. I think we're headed in the right direction. We know and we knew that we've got to be better than we were last year. Every team has got to be better. We're focused hard on making improvements so we can be better. We've brought in a lot of new people. We've changed a lot of the things that are going on. Time will tell whether that works or not. We have a high degree of confidence whether that works or not. We also understand there are some hurdles to overcome. We're in the process of refocusing energy so we can get RCR to where Richard is used to being in. I feel good about where my team's headed. I think our pit crew will be as good as anybody on pit road. Kevin and I are getting along extremely well. We have very progressive engineering and shock programs. I feel good about it. But I've gone into most years feeling good about those years, too. All in all I'm confident. We do have a lot of questions that need to be answered.

"We've not had a chance to run on the new Goodyear tires. So we have no idea what that's about but by the way, nobody does. A lot of people are really confident about where they're headed. Some of that's false security. Until you get those tires and start running on them, you really don't know what you have. We know the competition's tough. We've prepared ourselves and focused on the areas we need to improve on and hopefully that will yield results."

DO YOU HAVE THE SAME CREW AS LAST YEAR?

"100%. I think we changed one guy on the pit crew. But other than that, it's 100% the same group of people from last year."

HOW MUCH RESPONSIBILITY DO YOU TAKE FOR RESTORING RCR TO THE TOP?

"Well, I have a role to play and I need to execute to the best of my ability as long as everybody else. If people at RCR or people outside of RCR think that I can come in and fix it by myself, I can't. I can fix a portion of it, but so can Kevin Hamlin, so can the other crew chiefs and drivers. When I accepted the position to drive this car, I did it knowing that Richard wanted me to come in and be a leader and more than just a guy who shows up on Friday afternoon to sit in the car. I relish that opportunity. I enjoy that opportunity. I've asked my team and Richard to keep that part of my program focused on performance.

"I don't want to get into how to design buildings and what color the car will be and all of that crap that I got caught up in over the past five years. I want to pay attention to what makes these cars go fast. And, when we have an issue and we have something we need to get involved in to make these cars go fast, I want to be in the middle of it and I want to be pushing and screaming when we don't get it. That's what my role will be. I think I can help with that and focus our energies where they need to be focused. I think I can be a great driver for them. So, I'm trying to do both but I don't want to get so far into the other part that I forget I have to be a driver."

IS IT REALISTIC TO THINK YOUR TEAM CAN BE A TOP TEN FINISHER?

"There's no doubt it's a realistic goal. If you look at our performance last year in the last 14 races, we would have been a top 10 team, although we're on the cusp of not being a Top 10 team if we flipped over any and didn't do as well as we did last year. We can't digress any. We only can make improvements. If we digress in any area, we better make an improvement in two -- because we weren't good enough last year to falter any. We've got to be better than we were last year. In those last races, we wrecked on the 3rd lap at Homestead which was a ridiculous wreck we should have never been in and we had a problem at Dover when we cut a right front tire. Other than that, we ran in the Top 10 pretty much every race. We had a great chance to win Talladega. We ended up breaking an engine late and still finished 12th on seven cylinders. I feel good about it. I think our short track and road course programs are going to be good. If we've done our homework and our aero program, then we'll run well on the 1.5-mile tracks as well. That's my biggest concern (the aero program). If our aero program is good and we have reliability, we're certainly going to be a Top 10 team."

WHAT HAS MADE ROUSH RACING SUCCESSFUL?

"It starts at the top. Jack Roush's willingness to commit funds and resources is really huge.

"The reason you have teams that can perform better than other teams is because those teams take advantage of, and use to the best of their ability, those resources. RCR is very similar. They have very similar resources. They have very similar access to technology. There are no glaring huge differences. There are some management style differences and some things like that. But if you look at personnel, number of people, dynes, computer systems and all the things that give us the ability to access technology, they are very, very similar. Although managed a great bit differently and either management style can be successful. What you've got to do is take the resources available to you and use them. That's what makes championship-winning teams. Some teams perform better than others in the same organization. They're working together better as a team because they're using the resources available to them in a better way."

ARE THE PEOPLE IN THE GARAGE DILUTING THEMSELVES WHEN THEY REALLY SHOULDN'T BE?

"Let's be perfectly honest. Any driver that stands up here today or next week and tells you guys that 'we've got trouble' is pretty much screwed. Even if you know it's true, if you're saying in January that you've got trouble, what does your team think? Every team in the NFL and major league baseball talks about how they've improved. What else do you say? Are there years that I have known I was in trouble? Not since I got to the position where I wasn't a rookie. The second year after we won the Rookie of the Year title, I said all the right stuff but I knew we were in trouble. And I just saw Richard just walked in the door, I have to be careful what I say. I know we have areas where we need to improve in. We aren't at the top of our game in every department. I'm not standing here telling you that I am.

"We are a Top 10 capable team, but we can't go back in any area. We have to be better in some specific areas. If we made those better, we will be better than just a tenth-place team. If we made them worse, we could be a 20th-place team. That's the reality of it. I've done this long enough to know-and I've watched great driver for a long time--you don't know what you've got until you get into it. With the rule changes we've got. With the short spoilers and new tires, I don't care who you are-Ray Evernham doesn't know what's coming. I don't know what's coming. Mark Martin doesn't know what's coming. Jeff Gordon doesn't know what's coming. We based our opinion on theories and hypothesis. That's what we do.

"Sometimes you guess wrong and sometimes you guess right. If we've guessed wrong, we'll struggle for a while. What we've done is try to remain flexible. We haven't built 30 cars. We don't have a fleet of cars. We have a lot of different kind of cars. Until we figure out what we want, we don't want to invest time, energy and money in building a garage-load full of cars that we can't use. So, are we 100% ready for the year? No, we're not. We don't know what we need. Any team that's sitting there with all their cars ready and they're saying, 'hey, we got this and we got that,'-unless they're smarter than everyone else, they don't know what they need either.

"I've tried to make it clear that we don't know what we need and we've got to go learn that. We haven't been able to get the tires and haven't been able to test. Until we can get the tires and we can run. I've been to Kentucky three times this winter and I've done things I think will make us better but we are both on a set of tires that might be crap, I don't know. Can we say crap now (laughs)? Good, because I've said it three times. I know Rusty is saying more than crap so I'll be all right. People don't know. That's the reality of it. My confidence is really high that we've worked hard and we are as smart as we know how to be right now. But we could be proven wrong."

ON THE NEW DAYTONA INFIELD

"I watched enough Speedvision coverage to know that I needed to come and understand what the garage layout so I didn't have to talk about getting lost because I got tired of hearing it. And I don't want to talk about it. So when I got here, I actually walked around the garage to figure out how to get on and off the race track so, no, I didn't get lost. The garages are very nice. There is a lot of walking from one garage to the next. What we need to do is we need to build garages in infields that provide security and safety for the teams and also provide opportunity to fans to get up in it and see what's going on. And I don't know how you could have done it any better. It's a little annoying when you're trying to work and there are 20 fans banging on the windows, I'll be honest, because you're trying to concentrate. But what a great experience for the fans to be able to see what's going on and to be able to watch what's happening in the garage and really see it. I think that's an awesome idea. Daytona had kind of fallen behind a lot of race tracks and this needs to be the best and I think they've set a new standard for garages."

WHAT IS GOING ON WITH WARD BURTON?

"Ward and I have spoken quite a bit. Ward has had some offers. Ward has made the decision that he wants to drive for a good team. He doesn't just want to come here and not be able to be competitive. To date, he's made the decision that he wants to be in Cup. He doesn't want to run a Busch car or a truck. I'll be honest. I've tried to change his mind on that because I think Ward is very skilled and very talented.

"If you can't get in a good Cup program, then get in a good Truck or Busch program and go out and have fun. But he hasn't made the decision that he wants to do that. He really doesn't have a lot going on at the Cup level. There's just nothing out there right now. Until some changes happen - and changes will happen - there won't be a whole lot for him, unfortunately. But certainly he'll be on the top of people's list when things start changing and moving. He's played the game very patiently. He's decided he is just going to do it the way he's going to do it. I respect him a lot for that. But right now it just doesn't look like it's going to work out. It looks a little bleak, but I'm sure that through some changes early in the year something will shake loose.

"I don't care if you're racing or whatever you're doing, when it's time to be done you want that to be your decision. Ward still feels like he has unfinished business here. He didn't luck up and win Rockingham or luck up and win Darlington - two of the hardest race tracks in the world. He didn't luck up and win New Hampshire. He's a capable driver. Unfortunately he's gotten caught up in the fact that people want to hire 12 year-olds. They don't want to hire a guy who has experience. They want to hire a kid who doesn't know anything. That trend will change. We've all seen it go both ways. It'll go back the other way one day. But right now, that's what everybody wants to do and Ward has gotten caught up in that."

ON THE SPOILERS AND NEW TIRES - WHAT ARE THEY GOING TO DO?

"I don't know. I'm not going to lie to you. I'm not real sure what the theory is behind it. I've never even asked what the theory is behind it. My assumptions are that the softer tires will make the grip and that less downforce will make these cars where you don't get the aero push. But I'm going to tell you something. You're going to have an aero push no matter what you do. And you'll not be complaining about the tight as much as far as pushing goes, but you might be so loose that you can't worry about the push but you'll still be pushing. I don't know. I'd like to think that it's going to make the racing better than it was but I thought that the level of racing was pretty damn good. I thought it was way up there. We've run at Kentucky several times. We actually lost a car there with (Dave) Blaney and I running there together. He ended up getting in the wall. So we're not real sure. But then we didn't have the new tires. So, I don't know what to expect. That's not a very good answer but it's the only one I've got."

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A RICHARD CHILDRESS BEING AROUND FOR 30 YEARS TO A CHIP GANASSI BEING AROUND FOR 10 YEARS?

"I have nothing against new race teams. I may want to be a new race team owner one day and when I do, I hope I have respect in the garage. I've taken a tremendous amount of personal interest in getting Richard Childress Racing back to where it used to be. And that's because I have a lot of respect for where it was and what Richard's done and what Earnhardt did, and for what I think Richard can do. I know some people think that Richard Childress Racing is up in the middle of nowhere and it's a bunch of country guys trying to run a race team the way they did 20 years ago. That's a false premonition. It's one of my goals to help get Richard Childress Racing back to the place where every employee wants to work there and every sponsor wants to be there and where all the media wants to come talk to Richard and hopefully, me. That's the highest goal. If you look at our goals we've set for the next so many years, that's where it is. I think the resources are there and the commitment is there. We've got to use the resources better and I think we've got to be more committed to doing it together. We can't do it as individual teams. The level of success at Richard Childress Racing means a lot with what they've had in the past because it means a lot to get it back. Do you know what I mean? It's the same thing - I hate to say this - but with all the Carolina fans out there are all excited because they're doing really good, and they are really good. But when you're really, really good and you go downhill and then you come back uphill, you have a greater appreciation. When you've lost it and you get it back, then you understand what you've lost. Many times, when you have it you don't know that you have it. I can speak to that from personal experience.

The timing is good because we've got Dave Blaney who wants to prove a point. A lot of people ask why he (Childress) hired Blaney. I think you're going to find out why Richard Childress hired Dave Blaney. You've got me, who is used to running in the front and who hasn't for the last few years. I want to prove a point. Kevin Harvick did not have the year he wanted to have last year. He wants to prove a point. Richard has a lot to prove too. I think that's going to prove really good for everybody. Motivation is a good thing. We all seem to be motivated for the same thing. That'll pay dividends, I'm sure."

DO YOU FEEL A SENSE OF RESPONSIBILITY BECAUSE EARNHARDT WANTED YOU TO BE WITH RCR TO BEGIN WITH?

"I have a lot of respect for that. My feeling of responsibility doesn't change because of that because whether he wanted me there or Richard wanted me there or whatever, my responsibility is to do my part to get it back to the top. I hold Richard Childress and Dale Earnhardt in the same regard because they did it together. So, no, I don't feel more responsibility but I do feel a huge amount of respect for that and a huge amount of reverence for that, for sure. In my fitness room, there's a picture of Earnhardt and Childress in victory lane together and it's been there for several years. Those two together did a lot of great things. That's the relationship that I've been looking for. You need me and I need you and let's go do it together. So, I have respect for it, but I don't feel an overwhelming responsibility for it."

-gm racing-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Kevin Harvick , Ray Evernham , Jack Roush , Dave Blaney , Kevin Hamlin , Mark Martin
Teams Richard Childress Racing