JEFF BURTON, DRIVER OF THE NO. 31 AT&T MOBILITY IMPALA SS, met with media members at Richmond International Raceway and talked about racing at Richmond, approaching Darlington next week, Talladega last week and much more. Full transcript...
JEFF BURTON, DRIVER OF THE NO. 31 AT&T MOBILITY IMPALA SS, met with media members at Richmond International Raceway and talked about racing at Richmond, approaching Darlington next week, Talladega last week and much more. Full transcript below:
ON RACING AT RICHMOND. "I've always really enjoyed Richmond. It's a fun racetrack to run on. At the same time over the last few years, much like Phoenix and New Hampshire, it's been a place that we've struggled, I don't know why. This is one of those places I've always led a lot of laps, ran in the front and the last few years we just haven't been able to do that. It's been a concern of ours. We didn't run as well at Phoenix as we hoped to. We ended up finishing sixth but really had probably a 10th, 12th-place car. Of course Phoenix and Richmond are similar so hopefully we can step that program up. We've worked hard at it; we just haven't quite found it. (Kevin) Harvick tends to run better than we do at these tracks and actually Clint (Bowyer) has too. We're working hard to get this program better on this kind of race track; hopefully we can figure it out this weekend."
ON BOBBY LABONTE'S RECENT DRY SPELL AND TICKETS STILL BEING AVAILABLE LESS THAN 24 HOURS BEFORE THE RACE. "I think Bobby is a talented driver. You don't win a championship and do the things he's done in this sport, obviously he knew he was taking on a lot when he went to Petty's to try to help rebuild that. That's been a tough process. I'm sure they haven't had the success that Bobby expected or that Petty Enterprises expected. I respect Bobby a lot for taking that challenge on. It is a tremendous challenge. You put Bobby Labonte in a fast race car and Bobby Labonte will go fast in it. I believe that in my heart, I really do. I think that he is really smart, he knows how to race. When I look at Bobby I see a guy that's in a situation, he walked into a tough situation, he knew it was tough trying to make it better and it's probably hasn't progressed as quickly as he wanted it to. But I don't think Bobby has lost anything.
As far as ticket sales, there's just no question that our economy is tough right now. Fuel prices are way up, there are a lot of things going on that make it harder for the heart and soul of our sports which is average, everyday middle-class, that's what our sport has always been supported by. When they're feeling it and they're struggling with their finances then we feel it too. This race track has a long history of being sold out and it is a cause for concern. I'm not concerned about the health of our sport. I believe that racing is good. I believe our fans are still excited and fired up about it. I'm not concerned about that, I'm concerned about -- thinking about it if someone can't buy a ticket there's other things they can't do as well. Our country goes through ups and downs and we're in a financial down right now. It will come back, and when it comes back the fans will come back."
ON HOW HE WILL APPROACH DARLINGTON NEXT WEEK. "I go into it with a lot more questions than answers and that's exactly how I'll start when I get in the car. I have time because we have that added practice on Thursday. I have the Nationwide car there and I have time to try to figure it out and that's how I'll walk into it. I'm not concerned about running the fastest first lap of the day. I'm worried about when the day is over, what did we learn and what can we apply toward Friday and then of course apply that to Saturday night. That's how I approach it. I know the track is going to be awesome. It's just what tire do they have to bring to match the track. I know the first tire here was just incredibly fast and I think their next tire they pulled a lot of speed out of it and I heard it takes a while to get going. Really it's just the first couple laps getting a feel for the tires. That's how I look at it. I don't have any answers I just feel like I have all questions."
I BELIEVE IT WAS 1998 WHEN YOU HAD THAT RACE WITH (JEFF) GORDON HERE AND YOU GUYS WERE DOOR-TO-DOOR FOR THE LAST 20 OR 30 LAPS, WHERE DOES THAT RANK FOR YOU AND WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER FROM THOSE LAPS? "It ranks really high. I remember we had a race at Darlington where we were door-to-door and he won. Then we had that race and it was the Exide 400 and I was obviously sponsored by Exide and Art and all his family was here and it was a neat night. We were really trying hard to put pressure on the 24, to win championships and that was our night to kind of say hey we can do it if we put it all together. It was a really cool night. To do it here made it that much more special."
ON THE DIFFERENCES OF RACING AT TALLADEGA LAST WEEK VERSES RACING THERE LAST FALL AND ON HAVING START AND PARK CARS IN THE NATIONWIDE SERIES. "The first race at Talladega with the Car of Tomorrow, when I left there I felt like there wasn't really a car problem, I was thinking it was probably more of a driver issue. I think the first race there we were really just trying to feel the car out, nobody wanted to make a move that was going to cost them. This time everybody said the heck with that, we're just going to go for it. It got really wild, didn't surprise me that we had the wrecks that we had. It surprised me we didn't have them sooner to be quite honest. It was four wide a lot and it's easy to do four wide at Talladega but it's not easy to do four wide at Talladega when the guy on the outside is in the middle of the race track and we saw that a lot. It was an exciting race. I was glad to get through it to be quite honest. It was pretty wild.
The quality of cars from top to bottom is certainly less in the Nationwide series and in the truck series than it is in the cup series. I think it's always been like that. I don't know that it will always be like that, but I do believe when it costs so much less to do it more people can get into it and have a chance to do it but they don't have the funding that the top teams have. If the economy doesn't turn around quickly, that problem will only get worse. We have to have sponsorship to make these things work.
"So the Nationwide series and the cup series and the truck series are very much economy driven. We go back and look at the year that the No. 99 car didn't have a sponsor, we were down to 43 cars. I think 44 cars took time for the Daytona 500. There was a lot of talk about that, what's the impact of that to the sport. We can't control the economy. The sport can't control the economy. When the economy is down we are going to see less car count and when we do have full car count in the lower series we're going to see the quality of cars at a larger variance than what we normally would. That's not the best thing in the world for us for sure, but I believe it's short lived."
ON HIS TAKE OF HOW THE OPEN-WHEEL GUYS ARE DOING SO FAR ON THE CIRCUIT. "They're obviously very talented drivers. What they're having to do is take the skills they have and adapt them to this form of racing. I believe it to be a harder transition to go from what they were doing to this verses going from this to that. I'm not suggesting that our drivers are better, I'm not saying that. What I'm saying is that they're so different. Their cars make a lot of grip, these cars make very little grip. There's less cars over there, there's more cars here. There are a lot of things that make this different. I don't want to say it's harder then I'm indicating that you have to be better to do this, I don't believe that. I believe that any of their top drivers could be successful over here. I truly believe that, but it's going to take time. The longer that you do that, the harder it is to come over here and do this. These cars are low down force, high-power, low-grip, very fast, heavy, everything you would not want in a race car. That's what these cars are, and that's a huge transition. To drive these cars on the limit is very, very difficult. To drive those cars on the limit is very difficult too. And there's a reason the same guys and the same teams are having success over there, because they're the best at it. So I've been extremely impressed. I know that (Patrick) Carpentier has made some really impressive qualifying runs this year. When he didn't look like he had a chance, he found a way to step it up and make some incredible laps. (Juan) Montoya is a very, very skilled race car driver. Those guys can be successful. I'm sure they will be successful and can be successful as long as everybody's patient. The minute that somebody says well they can't do it, then it puts pressure on all of them. The car owners and sponsors have to continue to be patient as they go through the learning curve of getting accustomed to these cars."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE LEVEL OF CONSISTENCY YOUR TEAM HAS HAD THIS YEAR AND THEN HOW DIFFICULT IT IS TO MAINTAIN THAT OVER THE COURSE OF A SEASON? "We've run well this year. We haven't run great this year, but we've run really well. If you look at the key components that we look at, you know ratings, the driver rating thing is a pretty smart statistic to look at. If you look at the number of laps that we've run in the top 10, the number of quality passes that we've had, all those kind of things, obviously we're a top-five, top-six, top-seven car. We've had less trouble than other people have had and therefore we're leading the points.
"We by no means are a team that doesn't deserve to be where we are, but we haven't put the laps led, we haven't put some of the fast lap times that some other teams have. Our strength has been that we've been good on the track. The thing that's put us leading the points is that we've been very consistent and that's been really important. It's very difficult to maintain any of that throughout an entire year. I believe this team is capable of improving. I believe I'm capable of improving. We're working exceptionally hard to improve and I think we will, but it's gonna be hard. We're racing against great race car drivers, great race teams and it's extremely difficult to be successful in this series, but I believe our effort will make results."
-credit: gm racing