JEFF BURTON, TEAM CHEVY DRIVER OF THE NO. 31 CINGULAR WIRELESS MONTE CARLO SS, met with media at the end of the day and talked at length about the Impala SS Car of Tomorrow. Burton sat on the pole for the 2006 Daytona 500 and won the second Chase...
JEFF BURTON, TEAM CHEVY DRIVER OF THE NO. 31 CINGULAR WIRELESS MONTE CARLO SS, met with media at the end of the day and talked at length about the Impala SS Car of Tomorrow. Burton sat on the pole for the 2006 Daytona 500 and won the second Chase race (No. 28 at Dover), which put an end to a 175-race winless streak. He finished 7th in the final 2006 standings and says his team is excited about the '07 season. Press conference transcript:
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS COMING INTO 2007?
"I'm excited about it. We've worked exceptionally hard to try to be prepared with the COT. We've worked very hard to try to take our downforce program to another level. We've worked hard on our speedway program, certainly. By no means have we worked as hard on it as we have on our other two programs, but we feel good about it. There are a lot of things that are going to happen between now and February. And a lot of stuff is going to happen between February and November. So we're trying to really be prepared. We essentially have all the same group that we had last year, which I'm really excited about. I think this team is capable of doing some great things and we're just working hard to make sure that we have the hardware that we need and I think we've made a step forward in our downforce cars. The COT? Who knows? Nobody really knows how you're going to stack up against your competition. And on those two programs, we've got to do well. And if we do, we'll have a chance. I feel good about it but this year's going to be hard. I think this year's going to be without a doubt the most competitive year that this series has ever seen. You're going to see a lot of people stumble and some people excel. And of course, we're hoping that we excel."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE PHOENIX TIRE TEST YOU DID IN THE COT? BRETT BODINE SAID ALL THREE CARS HAD DIFFERENT AERODYNAMIC SET-UPS AS FAR AS WING ANGLES AND FRONT SPLITTER ANGLES. DID YOU SEE THAT AND IF SO, IS THAT A GOOD SIGN?
"At some point, all the cars had different wing angles. And certainly there was some experimenting going on with regard to wing angles due to Goodyear's need to understand everything they can about the COT and the changes you can make to the car and how that affects the tires. My first lap on the track at Phoenix was real positive. The car drove like a car. It didn't do anything silly or stupid. It was just a race car.
It is yet to be determined how it's going to be with 43 cars on the race track, but my initial thoughts are that it's going to be fine. There has been a tremendous amount of whining and complaining about it. The NASCAR community doesn't like change very much. The unknown scares a great deal of us. A lot of people have really gotten flipped out about it -- in some regard for the right reasons and in other regard being afraid of it. If you take all these teams in this garage and put them in Pintos, you'd have a hell of a race. The competition is fierce and the desire to win is fierce among companies and I think it's going to be fine."
WHEN YOU LOOK AT 60 CARS AT DAYTONA AND 49 THE SECOND WEEK IN CALIFORNIA, IS THAT BETTER THAN THE QUESTION TWO YEARS AGO ABOUT HOW YOU'RE GOING TO FILL UP A 43-CAR FIELD?
"The way I like to look at it is the strength of our series is not judged on the number of cars in the garage, but by the number of people in the seats. Really, at the end of the day, that's what determines if the series sustains itself. You can't do it without car owners or sponsors, obviously. But if you have the people in the seats, then most likely it is sustainable for the car owner and for the sponsor. I think we do have an issue and it's eventually going to require attention if the car count stays up. The only reason it won't is because sponsors become dissatisfied or the economy goes bad or popularity falls in the sport. If any of those three things happen, obviously that's not good. It's not about our drivers. It's about our sponsors and our car owners. It's not healthy for them to have to earn their way in every week considering we're asking sponsors for $16, $17, $18 million today. It's a big difference from when we were asking for $2 million. The Dallas Cowboys and the Mavericks know they're going to play every weekend. They don't know if they're going to make the playoffs, but they know they're going to have a chance. With the amount of money that's involved today, we've got to get to that point."
TODD BERRIER SAID THAT RCR HAD NOT YET HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO TEST AN APPROVED COT CHASSIS, BUT THAT HE'S NOT CONCERNED ABOUT THAT. FROM THE DRIVER'S SEAT, DO YOU AGREE?
"I agree totally. The approval process is very difficult today. The reason we haven't tested a car that's an approved chassis is because we had a firewall that was off thirty thousandths of an inch. We had a roll bar that was off 100 thousandths of an inch. We had things like that. You don't cut that bar out and put it back in, you have to take the car home and resubmit the car however many days later. So if you have something that doesn't sell, it takes forever to get it checked. The cars that we are testing, if they aren't legal, it's by 100 thousandths on something that doesn't make a difference on speed. So we're not concerned about that. We're greatly concerned about the aero rules. There is not a car in existence had we can tell you can pass muster when NASCAR puts the real templates on it at the race track. That's a difficult thing being that it's the middle of January. There's not a team in the garage that can raise their hand and say we know our car is 100 percent legal.
We're making every effort to be 100 percent legal as most teams are. NASCAR has made it clear that there is going to be no monkey business with this car. And they mean it. So we're trying our best to be legal, but we won't really know I guess until the Bristol test. I'm speaking out of context, but I think that's the first time they're really going to put the templates on that car. That creates a great deal of stress for us. We could possibly build seven, eight, or 10 cars that aren't right. That's a little bit scary for us."
JEFF GORDON'S LIFE IS GOING TO CHANGE FAIRLY DRAMATICALLY LATER THIS YEAR
"Ya think?" (laughter)
HOW DID YOUR APPROACH TO RACING CHANGE, OR DID IT, WHEN YOU HAD A CHILD? DOES THAT CHANGE YOUR THINKING PROCESS AND DO YOU MAYBE THINK A LITTLE MORE ABOUT DRIVING A LITTLE DEEPER INTO THE TURN THAN YOU POSSIBLY SHOULD OR THAT SORT OF THING?
"My oldest is 11 years old. My youngest is six years old. It's difficult to understand and difficult to explain. If I drive into Turn 3 at Rockingham thinking about my children, perhaps I need to be somewhere else. There is a race car driver and then there is the person. Those two are genuinely different people. If Jeff Gordon conducts himself in public the way he does in his race car, he wouldn't be very successful. You have to be arrogant and selfish and self-centered and self-serving. You have to be everything your mother taught you not to do, but you can't life your life like that. Well you can, but you're destined to die a lonely person. Race car drivers as well as professional pilots or anybody who has a dangerous occupation - I don't think we carry with us the burden of the responsibility of being a father or a husband or a sibling or a child. If you did, I don't think you'd be successful. However, there are things in life that make you mature and make you understand there is a broader picture. If handled, that makes you a better race car driver. If not, it hurts you. Everybody adjusts to things differently, but I can't imagine that being a negative at all. When I win a race and my kids are in victory lane, the excitement they have for me and that I see in them is irreplaceable. And that makes you want to do it even more. It's a really precious thing when you have people excited for you because you accomplished your goal. That's a great thing. When you have children, they're excited - until they get to a certain age - when you do something that makes you happy. Then they turn evil (laughter). My children have helped my racing."
WITH THE CHANGES GOING ON AT CINGULAR, WHAT CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR SPONSOR PLANS THIS YEAR?
"I can't tell you a whole lot, to be honest. I can tell you that Cingular is extremely excited about their involvement with AT&T. They're excited about being involved in this sport and their sponsorship opportunity. They're going to do everything in their power to continue it. It's an interesting situation to be in and time will tell what happens.
From a marketing standpoint, it's going to require some creativity and some interesting strategies. But they are committed to making it work. And I'm confident they will."
IN LOOKING AT THE 43 CAR FIELD FROM THE CHASE STANDPOINT AND THE LIKELY THAT IT WILL BE EXPANDED, BUT IF YOU LOOK AT IT COMPARED TO THE NBA AND NHL, OVER HALF THEIR TEAMS MAKE THE PLAYOFFS. THE NFL IS CLOSE TO 40 PERCENT. EVEN IF YOU PUT 12 CARS IN THE CHASE, YOU'RE TALKING LESS THAN 30 PERCENT MAKING IT. IS EXPANDING CHASE BY TWO CARS ENOUGH?
"What isn't enough or what's too much? I don't honestly have a feel for it. I was pretty set that 10 was the right number until my wife painted the picture that you just painted to me. She painted that picture back in August of last year. She said it's easier to make the NFL playoffs than it is these playoffs. I said you're crazy; that's not right. And she said let's figure it out. Mathematically, it is easier. They get to play every Sunday. And they have guaranteed revenue. There are a lot of things that make it easier for them than for us. They get more teams in. From that standpoint, having more teams is a positive thing. To go back in history, when the wild card thing started, there were a lot of opponents to that. Traditionalists have said that's not right and you should have to one of the best four or eight teams or whatever it was. The wild card thing is creating a scenario that's not traditional. But damn, last weekend was fun. There were some good games. But at the end of the day, what's right for the sport is whatever is right to make it as interesting as possible. I don't know what that number is, but I do have an understanding and I do believe that compared to hockey and basketball and football and baseball, this is the hardest sport on a weekly basis and the hardest sport to get yourself into the playoffs. Mainly in football, you are not afforded a bad day. In basketball you are and in baseball you are, because it's a series. But in football, if you have a bad day, you're going home. That's a scenario that we don't have. You are afforded a bad day in those 10 races so that's the only exception to my comment."
IF YOU COULD IMPROVE ONE THING WITH YOUR TEAM FROM LAST YEAR, WHAT WOULD IT BE TO GIVE YOU THE BEST CHANCE OF GOING FROM CONTENDER TO CHAMPION? YOU HAVE TO PICK ONE THING.
"I want to go a little faster. We are mature enough to win a championship. We are together enough to win a championship and focused enough. We've got the right people in place. I can't say that our road course program needs to be better in and of itself, or our speedway program or our 1.5 mile program needs to be better. What we need to do is create a little more cushion and a faster car will do that. If I look at what we need to do better, it's finding a way to lead more laps and get more bonus points and just take it that next step in speed. I think we manage the race well and our bad days well and we understand where we are on superspeedways and road courses and we manage that well. Last year, I said we've got to be better on 1.5-miles. Period. End of story. This year, we're good enough on every type of race track to win the championship.
There is not one type of race track that stands out, but we need a little bit more speed so instead of running eighth, we can find a way to be fifth. When we're our best, nobody is going to beat us. Last year, there were a lot of times when we were our best and somebody could still beat us. Rarely were we at our best and nobody could beat us. We've got to find a way when we're our best that nobody can touch us the way the No. 48 could or the No. 17 or No. 24 could toward the end of the year..the No. 29, the No. 20 - there were five or six teams that when they were their best, you weren't going to touch them. We didn't get there as much as we needed to."
THE FRONT SPLITTER ON THE COT LOOKS FRAGILE AT BEST. IT'S MY UNDERSTANDING THAT IF THAT'S KNOCKED OFF, YOU CAN'T REPLACE IT IN THE PITS. HOW IS THAT GOING TO AFFECT THAT CAR IF IT'S HEAVILY DAMAGED OR KNOCKED OFF?
"You can't replace it in the pits because of rules or because of hardware?"
"I haven't heard that. I can't believe that NASCAR would put us in a position where if we lost a splitter, we couldn't replace it. I don't believe that they would do that to us. If you lose a splitter, you lose a considerable amount of downforce - not to the point of not being able to drive it, but to the point of not being able to keep up by any means. In testing, we've dragged a corner of the splitter off and slowed down four-tenths of a second - a half-second. So, I don't believe NASCAR would put us in the position of having the thing knocked off, and not being able to replace it. Now, I don't know that you'll replace it - even under caution - and not go laps down. Maybe at Pocono or Indy. But you're darn sure you're not going to do it at Richmond. I can't believe you would do it almost anywhere but at the biggest race tracks. If you lose the splitter, you are considerably down on downforce and far away from where you need to be for drivability - to be able to keep up. This is why I truly believe that next year, the most fair thing to do is when you get to 34th in points, 34th ought to pay the same amount of points as 43rd because there are so many unknowns with the Car of Tomorrow, that I think we ought to have some sort of cushion. We have a different battery system, we have wings on the back of the cars, and we have a lot of things we've never dealt with before. You can bet your bottom dollar that the Car of Tomorrow is going to have a huge impact on who wins that championship. There is no way around it. Managing the bad days are very important in any championship. But with the unknowns so large going into next year, I think that our point system ought to reflect that and give you a little bit of a break because you just don't know what's going to happen. I wish we could find a way that 30th or whatever paid the same amount of points as 43rd and try to take just a little sting off a bad day. It would make a better point race and provide a cushion for the teams. We have no idea what's going to happen if when we go to Bristol and you jab your right front into somebody's left rear, we don't know what's going to happen. A little cushion wouldn't be a bad thing."
ON ALL THE TALK IN THE GARAGE ABOUT ALL THE UNKNOWNS ABOUT THE CAR OF TOMORROW
"In any community, there are a lot of rumors that go around that started with a little bit of truth and ended up being blown completely out of proportion. But the fact that there are so many unknowns creates a tremendous amount of insecurity for a lot of people. That makes people really anxious to explain that this thing could go bad. I've tested that car quite a bit and my experience has been mostly positive. I honestly don't know, nor does anybody else, what's going to happen when we put 43 cars on the track. But I can guarantee you that when we go to Bristol and you listen to the race on the radio and you don't watch the race and you don't see the wing or the splitter, it's just going to be a race. The reality of it is there's a lot of bitching and moaning and groaning about it, well it's here. It's coming. Clint Bowyer asked me today how long I've been coming here and I think it's 16 or 17 years. I've been doing this a long time. I have yet to see the doomsday scenario play out. And you're not going to see it play out here. There are things that happen because we are running the Car of Tomorrow and there are things we don't know about like splitter problems and things specific to the Car of Tomorrow. There's no question about that. But it's not going to be to the extent that people are making it out to be. I don't believe it. I've driven the cars on big race tracks and small tracks. I've driven them with the wing and without the wins and with splitters knocked off of them. It's just going to be a race, and somebody is going to do it better than anybody else and they're going to win, which by the way, is what's going to happen here in a few weeks. Everybody thinks the sky is falling and at the end of the day, if you never raced here before and you walked up and they said that's the car you're going to race, you wouldn't care. The problem is that it's different than what we have today. Because it's different, no way can it be right. That's the major problem."
ALL THIS DOOM AND GLOOM DOESN'T COME FROM IN HERE (MEDIA CENTER) BEFORE IT COMES FROM OVER THERE (GARAGE AREA)
"I didn't say it did."
WELL, IS THERE A MOVEMENT OVER THERE TO PAINT THIS THING TO BE MORE OR LESS THAN IT REALLY IS IN HOPES THAT WE (MEDIA) WILL CREATE SOMETHING THAT YOU GUYS CAN THEN MANAGE?
"Well if anybody things for a moment that the media isn't used by the competition, they're wrong. There is no question in anybody's mind that the media is a great tool to get your message out and to explain your side of the story. And why not? Is there some sort of an effort to try to use the media thinking they would stop the COT program? Without a doubt. No question in my mind. Did someone walk up to me and say that? Hey here's what we're going to do. No. But that ball gets rolling and people jump on it pretty quick. There's no question in my mind that June and May last year that people wanted to talk about it because you guys were going to write about and it was going to get out and it was their way of voicing their opinion that it was wrong.
Without a doubt, I think that was being used at that point. You've got to understand where we are. Todd Berrier said it pretty bluntly. We don't have a car in our shop that we know is legal. It's the middle of January. Ward (Burton) flew down here with me today. They don't have a car. Johnny Sauter told some of our guys today that they don't have a car. It's the middle of January and people don't even have cars - much less test them. All that builds to a tremendous amount of anxiety. We're talking about hoping to have when we go to Bristol to test, we're hoping to have three cars for each team. The middle of January, we are. If you look at the schedule, it pops up on us. Number one, they're a lot different. Number two, there are a lot of unknowns. And number three, it's late. It's late. All those things create a scenario of anxiety. Then if you go somewhere and test and it doesn't go well, why would anybody think it's the right thing to do. Time will tell. It's my opinion that time will look at this as it being okay. I'm not saying the racing is going to be better. I don't have a clue whether it's going to be better. But I don't believe it's going to be some major big problem. But there's just a lot of anxiety, and rightfully so. I think the program is late. I think it took longer than NASCAR anticipated. I applaud them for holding off to make sure everything was done right. At the same time, the things that are going on today in a much better place would have been going on four months ago and enabled us to be much more prepared. We haven't been able to build chassis. It hasn't been long that we've been able to even go through the approval process. So all that's late and you're feeling that in people's anxiety and in their comments because when you come to Daytona and you're thinking about 16 COT races and you don't have a car yet. You have 16 of those things you've got to run. If you don't have a car, it means you haven't been testing. There are a whole lot of things there that don't feel good. At the end of the day, time will tell. But I think it'll be okay."
-credit: gm racing