Preseason Thunder: Ford - Jeff Burton interview

Jeff Burton, driver of the No. 99 Roush Racing Taurus, announced today that Turner Network Television (TNT) will be the primary sponsor on his car for the Daytona 500. Burton, who is still seeking a full-time sponsor, spoke about the...

Jeff Burton, driver of the No. 99 Roush Racing Taurus, announced today that Turner Network Television (TNT) will be the primary sponsor on his car for the Daytona 500. Burton, who is still seeking a full-time sponsor, spoke about the search and the proposed new point system prior to Wednesday's test session.

JEFF BURTON - No. 99 TNT Taurus

WHAT IS YOUR DEAL FOR THE DAYTONA 500? "We've got TNT and the NBA All-Star event as sponsor for Daytona Speedweeks, which is pretty cool. I'm a huge basketball fan as most of you know. I love basketball, so it's gonna be a fun thing to do - a fun promotion to bring some awareness to the NBA All-Star event. That's the Sunday night after the Daytona 500, so that's a pretty cool day. You can watch the Daytona 500 and then watch the best in the NBA play Sunday night."

WHAT DO YOU HAVE BEYOND THAT AS FAR AS SPONSORSHIP? "We have some things. We don't have funding for the whole year. The logical thing and the thing we had to come to grips with is that the chances of having one major sponsor come in was pretty slim, so we made the car available to a lot of different marketing arenas. We've sold some packages of four or five races, but we haven't succeeded in selling enough sponsorship to get us through the end of the year. There are still some marketing opportunities available. We have commitments enough to get us into the year and be in good shape into the year, but we need to get some help to get us through the rest of the year."

HOW NERVE-WRACKING IS THAT? "Well, here's the way I look at it. You guys are gonna think I'm lying, but I'm telling you the truth. If this team can't get sponsorship and this team isn't good enough to get sponsorship to run the full year, then this sport's got a problem. That's more scary to me than the individual, 'Oh, my God.' Every employee on this team is a NEXTEL Cup caliber person and a good NEXTEL Cup caliber person. I happen to think I'm a good NEXTEL Cup caliber driver and our futures aren't in dire straits. If for some crazy reason we couldn't race in August anymore, these guys would be taken care of by Roush Racing. They're good enough to get jobs in this sport, although that's certainly not the thing that we want to make happen. I believe we'll find sponsorship. Is it inconvenient? Is it nerve-wracking from time to time? It most certainly is, but we need to pay attention to what we're doing. We need to pay attention to our racing. In all honesty, I think we're more focused right now than we've been in three years. I see our team really paying attention to what they're doing. Everybody, including myself, is focused and not all thinking about things other racing. Even if we're thinking about the bad stuff about racing, we're thinking about racing all the time and I think that's different than we've been the last three years."

IS THIS SPORT IN TROUBLE? "I don't think this sport is in trouble. I think the cost of racing is high. I think the cost of sponsorship is high at a time when people's marketing dollars are tight. I think the combination of the two things have put pressure on the sport. I don't think the sport is in trouble, but I think there's a lot of pressure on the sport."

ARE YOU STILL GOING TO RUN ALL THE RACES? "It's our intention to run all the races. It's our intention to compete for the NEXTEL championship. We've built our team. We're preparing. We're doing all those things to run and compete for the NEXTEL Cup championship. I am not gonna lie to my team, nor is Jack Roush, and tell them things that aren't true. We're gonna inform them and tell them the truth and be honest with them. Through that, we've kept our group in place. I think the thing is that everybody understands the situation we're in, but everybody is also realistic enough to know that if there is new sponsorship dollars coming into the sport and people don't bring those dollars to the 99 car, somebody in their marketing office needs to be smacked on top of the head. We bring a lot to the table. We're a competitive team. We do a lot of great things. Although our performance the last two years hasn't been what it should have been, at our worst we're better than 80 percent of the people at their best."

IT SEEMS EVERYBODY IS FIGHTING FOR THE SAME DOLLARS OUT THERE AND GUYS LIKE BILL ELLIOTT, DEI AND YOU CAN'T GET A SPONSOR. WHAT'S THE SOLUTION? "There's a lot of competition for the dollars that are there and the less people that are willing to spend the big dollars, the more competition there is for those dollars. There is competition between the teams and the networks, between the teams and themselves. There's a lot of competition for those dollars and that does put pressure on it, not only for us but for them, too."

DO YOU HAVE SPONSORSHIP FOR 26 RACES TO WHERE IF YOU GOT IN THE PLAYOFF YOU COULD KEEP GOING? "If you looked at the 99 team and you looked at the defending champion 17 team and the way we've prepared to run the year, it's identical. We haven't prepared to run a part-time year. We're preparing to run the full schedule beyond the 10 races, beyond the 26 races and that's what we're prepared to do."

WHAT ABOUT KEEPING YOUR TEAM TOGETHER? "It's been no problem because we have been honest with them, because we have sat down with them and told them what's going on and because we have people that trust our company. We have people that understand nobody is gonna get thrown out on the street. We have an intelligent group of people and a dedicated group of people and a group of people that believe in what it is that we're doing. I think if those guys saw for a minute that Jack Roush was letting up in the dollars being spent and how we were preparing for the year, they'd be gone obviously, and they should be gone. These people deserve to be on a team that is gonna compete for the championship and have a chance to win races. They believe they're on that kind of team. If they didn't, they wouldn't be here."

DO YOU LIKE THE PLAYOFF SYSTEM? "When I first heard the playoff system I thought, 'That's the most stupidest thing I've ever heard in my life.' I thought about it for a few days and you know what, I think it's 100 percent the right thing to do. I do think that there has to be a way to allow the 11th, 12th, 13th-place guys to compete to get into the top 10. I think to shut those guys out of the top 10 is a huge mistake. I just think that's wrong. I think if you miss the top 10 by two points I don't think that you ought to be prohibited from being able to transfer in by doing some things even if they're hard to do. So I think that needs to be a modification because being in the top 10 is big. Whatever the point system is, it's the same for everybody and the person that takes advantage of the points system is the person that's gonna win the championship no matter how you win it. If you look at our sport and you look at when people watch our races, not a lot of people watched the last race of the year -- not a lot of people watched with three races to go. They don't watch those races and we've got to have a sport that people watch throughout the whole year. We always talk about the Daytona 500 is the biggest race of the year and it's at the start of the year and why is that and that's crazy, well now the Daytona 500 may still be the biggest race of the year but it may not be quite as big. It's gonna be a big difference between the last race of the year and the first race of the year. Now I think we've put ourselves in a position where it's much more likely to go into the last race of the year with the championship undecided, and I think that's healthy for the sport."

THE SKEPTICS SAY WHEN DRIVERS FIRST COME OUT AGAINST A NASCAR DECISION AND THEN CHANGE THEIR MIND THAT NASCAR GOT TO THEM, BUT YOU'RE A STRAIGHT SHOOTER. "I've had a lot of conversations with NASCAR about the points system - not them trying to convince it was the right thing to do but I had a lot of conversation with NASCAR about what my opinion was. When I thought they were doing something that was wrong, I told them and I still do today. When I think they're doing something right, I tell them that too. If I disagreed with what NASCAR was doing on the points, I wouldn't mind saying. I have no problem saying that at all. I don't have the horse head theory. The horse head theory is I'm gonna wake up one day and there's gonna be a dead horses head cut off laying in my bed. I don't have that theory.

"I don't think that Bill France and Brian France and Mike Helton are gonna black ball me because I oppose their views. I just don't believe that. I believe them to be realistic, reasonable people that do have a job to do and that's enforce the rules and create the rules. That's what they do. That doesn't mean we can't disagree with them. By the way, I kind of laugh when that black ball theory comes up. Every other league or every other series, if you talk about the officials you get fined or you get put on probation. Every week we have people say, 'NASCAR screwed up. NASCAR doesn't know what the hell they're doing.' Nobody ever gets fined. I mean, it's ludicrous."

MATT KENSETH SAID THE LAST 10 RACES AREN'T REPRESENTATIVE OF THE FULL SEASON WITH NO DAYTONA, NO INDIANAPOLIS. WHAT IS YOUR OPINION OF WHAT THE LAST 10 RACES SHOULD BE IF THOSE ARE THE 10 RACES FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP? "I think that when you look at the points system the way it's been for a long time, the last 10 races don't have the importance that the other ones do and because of that his point is very valid. However, the NBA has a playoff system and you can come into the playoff system a .500 team and win the NBA championship. The great thing about the NFL and the great thing about NCAA basketball, which, by the way, a lot of people enjoy watching, is that it's a system where you position yourself in the year to have the best opportunity to win the championship at the end of the year. The championship is won at the end of the year. The beginning of the year is about positioning. No one went to the upset NFL team that won the Super Bowl a year ago and said, 'You don't deserve to win the championship because you didn't have the best record during the regular season.' You have to do whatever you have to do to win the championship. I watched Michigan State beat Duke in an NCAA basketball game and I said, 'You know what, if they played that game five more times, Duke wins four of the five,' but Michigan State beat them on that night and they were the national champion. Nobody said, 'You're not the national champion because Duke was a better team.' You win the championship based on doing what you have to do based on however the championship rules are spelled out. Is it different than what we're doing? There's no doubt it's different than what we've been doing. Does that make it better or does that make it worse? That's a matter of opinion and I think we won't know until the year is over. Think about the sponsor's and the driver's fans that would be involved in the championship today that weren't involved in it last year. If your driver is seventh in points, you've got a chance. If your driver is 12th in points with 20 races to go, you've still got a chance, and I think that's good for the sport."

JEFF GORDON SAID YESTERDAY THAT WE'RE GOING MORE PAST THE POINT OF SPORTS AND MORE INTO ENTERTAINMENT. "We're getting closer to sports. We're getting closer to what all the other traditional sports do. Is that right or wrong? I'm not saying, but we are closer to what traditional sports do rather than being further away. There's no doubt about that. You cannot argue that what we have been doing is different than what every other major stick and ball sport does. Football has a playoff system. Basketball has a playoff system. Baseball has a playoff system. Every one of those has a playoff system. The only one that doesn't is golf and it's boring as to watch. Golf, who won the championship last year in golf? Everybody went, 'I don't know.' You know why? Because they determine it based on a system that none of us understand and we all like sports. In basketball, you know who won the championship. In baseball, you know who won the championship. We are closer today in having a more traditional - even though it's different than what we've had in racing - we are closer to a more traditional point system than we were before based on comparing it to other sporting events. Now is that good for the sport or bad for the sport? That's not for me to decide and I don't know until we've done it. It's further away from what we've been doing, but it's closer to what the other sports are doing. Is it about entertainment? There's no doubt it's about entertainment.

"There's no doubt it's about entertainment and guess what, if this wasn't about entertainment, none of us would be here today. If people didn't like watching this sport and if it wasn't entertaining and people didn't enjoy coming to see it, none of us would be standing here today. You guys would be reporting on something that has nothing to do about auto racing and I can tell you I'd be doing something that has nothing to do with auto racing. The reason this is a successful sport is because people enjoy watching it. It's the same reason the NFL is popular. It's the same reason Queer Eye for the Straight Guy is popular - because people like watching it and if that makes it wrong, so be it. But people have to enjoy watching. If they don't enjoy watching it, they're not gonna watch it, sponsors aren't gonna come, they're not gonna sell hot dogs in the grandstands and they're not gonna drink Coca-Colas in the grandstands. That stuff ain't gonna happen. People have to like watching it. Is making the rules to make it more fun to watch the wrong thing to do? I say, 'Hell no it's not the wrong thing to do.' That's what has made NASCAR great - the ability to step back and say, 'To hell with what the drivers think. We're gonna do what's best for the sport.' That's why baseball isn't fun to watch because they get the players involved in all the decisions. They've got the owners making the decisions. That's why hockey struggles. You've got to have an organization that is willing to step back and say, 'That is how we need to do it.' And if the athletes disagree with it, then they don't have to come. They can go and do something else. If you do that, instead of owners running the deal, you have a successful deal and it works a whole lot better. NASCAR is a perfect example of that. If I go to them and say, 'I disagree with what you're doing.' They'll say, 'OK, well tell me why you disagree,' and I'll tell them why I disagree. You know what, I don't get a vote. I get to represent myself. I get to tell them what I think, but I don't get a vote. Is that frustrating for me? Yeah, it's frustrating for me. But is it in the best interest of the sport? It most certainly is in the best interest of the sport, and I've got no problem with that. It took me a long time to understand that I don't have a vote, but when I step back and look at it from the perspective of, 'what do we need to do to make racing fun to watch, what do we need to do to make it interesting and exciting and all those kinds of things,' the drivers and the car owners making those decisions would be the 100 percent wrong thing to do. I'll put CART out there as an example. They race. They have four wheels. They have racing action going on and they're bankrupt because car owners tried to make decisions on what fans wanted to see and, at the end of the day, they didn't care about what fans wanted to see, they only cared about how it impacted them. They lost perspective that without the fans, there are no teams. With NASCAR running the deal, I can assure you that their first priority is the fan and that's the way it ought to be."

-ford racing-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Jack Roush , Mike Helton