This Week in Ford Racing September 2, 2003 NASCAR Winston Cup Jeff Burton, driver of the No. 99 CITGO Taurus, goes into this weekend's NASCAR Winston Cup Series race at Richmond International Raceway 13th in the point standings. Burton, who...
This Week in Ford Racing
September 2, 2003
NASCAR Winston Cup
Jeff Burton, driver of the No. 99 CITGO Taurus, goes into this weekend's NASCAR Winston Cup Series race at Richmond International Raceway 13th in the point standings. Burton, who has one NWC victory at the D-shaped oval, was this week's guest on the NASCAR Winston Cup teleconference, along with crew chief Paul Andrews.
Part 1 of 2
JEFF BURTON - No. 99 CITGO Taurus:
A WIN SATURDAY WOULD FEEL GOOD WOULDN'T IT?
"It would feel good any Saturday night. It's been a while since we've been in Victory Lane. We're running a whole lot better now; we just don't seem to be able to close the deal. We were really strong there in the spring. We ran in the top five most of the night and our short-track program has been really promising this year, so, hopefully, we can go to Richmond and make some good stuff happen."
HOW HARD IS IT WHEN YOUR CAR CHANGES LIKE IT DID LAST WEEKEND IN THE MIDDLE OF THE RACE?
"It's really frustrating. We went there and tested. We ran over 800 miles in testing in two days and approached the race thinking that we really had a good race setup and we did have a good race setup. It seemed like everything was coming the way we thought it would, and then about halfway through the race, we lost our track position and the car really, really changed a lot. We lost our track position and we didn't do a good job of keeping up with the race track and the changes that happened on the race track. And there was the possibility that we had something going wrong with our car as well. We saw some preliminary results from some stuff that showed we may have had some mechanical problems, but we're digging into that right now trying to figure out how to not let that happen again."
THE TRUCK AND BUSCH POINTS RACES ARE A LOT BETTER THAN WINSTON CUP. SHOULD FANS BE WATCHING THAT?
"I think the point races are better, but I don't think necessarily the races are better. The reason the points battles are better over there is really quite simple. There aren't near as many good teams in either one of those series compared to what we have in Winston Cup. The truck series has nine to 11 teams that are truly capable of winning on a consistent basis. The Busch Series has probably that many or maybe a little bit more. So what ends up happening is if you look at the rundowns when a truck race is over or a Busch race is over, people that have had bad days still end up with decent finishes, so you don't get hurt nearly as bad in a Busch race or a truck race as you do in a Winston Cup race when you have problems. I think that's the big difference in the points. I think that NASCAR has hinted a little bit about changing the point structure a little bit. It's my opinion that that's what you can learn is that you can have a really tight points race by making the bad day not just totally kill you and that's what we have today. Let's be clear about something, the 17 team has run well all year long, too. They haven't just finished races. I believe they have more top-fives than anybody. I believe they have more top-10s than everybody. The fact that they don't have more wins doesn't mean they haven't been the best team. They've done a really nice job. They've run all but two or three laps and that says a whole lot. On the other hand, there are some other teams that have been as fast but they've had more trouble and our point system does not allow for bad days. That doesn't mean the racing is more competitive in the other series, it just means that the amount of competitive cars are less in the other series and, therefore, you have less cars on the lead lap. When you have problems and finish one lap down, you can still finish 11th or 12th in a truck race. If you finish one lap down in a Cup race, you're gonna finish 30th."
IF THE CURRENT SYSTEM AWARDED 50 MORE POINTS FOR A WIN, WOULDN'T THAT CREATE MORE EXCITEMENT GOING DOWN THE STRETCH?
"I think we all have the same incentive to run hard and win races. I don't approach a race on Sunday saying, 'If I win this race, I'm gonna get 50 more points or five more points or two more points or whatever it happens to be.' I approach the race trying to win the race and be as competitive as we can, not based on the point structure. If you want to look at how the points are awarded, what we need to look at is how do we keep it competitive and how do we keep the point race close. Awarding the winner more points doesn't do that. The way to keep the point race close and to keep the point race interesting is to not take so many points away from the guy that has a bad day. That's how you make the point race close. I think it's obvious that it works. If you look at F-1 racing, when the Ferrari team wins all the races, the championship is done four races before the year is over. The way to keep it close is to not make the penalty for finishing bad as big."
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT NOT BEING ABLE TO GET ON THE RECONFIGURED HOMESTEAD TRACK UNTIL WEDNESDAY OF RACE WEEK?
"I think it's the right call. I think everybody was gonna go down there and test anyway. This enables everybody to go with no one being disadvantaged based on the fact that when the year started and we laid our test schedule out, we didn't know they were gonna change the race track. So this is the most fair thing to do. You are able to take two cars down there and test, so you can take two different types of cars if you want to and then determine which one you want to run. So I think it's perfectly acceptable the way they're doing it. In my opinion, every time there's a new race track built, that's what they ought to do. We ought to have an open day of testing, a full day of testing that will enable all the teams to go there and spend that day and not let anybody else go and test. I think that's the right way to do it."
WITH THE SAFER BARRIER AT RIR THERE HAS BEEN NO TESTING FOR CUP TEAMS. IS THAT GOING TO HAVE AN IMPACT ON THE RACE?
"Most teams don't go to race tracks and test based on the limited amount of testing that we get, so I don't think it'll have that much impact on the race at all because at the end of the day, the most you would have had test there would have maybe been seven or eight cars. I think there are 46 or 47 entries, so the majority of people weren't gonna test at Richmond anyway, so, at the end of the day, it really has very little impact on the race."
WHEN TEAMS DO TEST, HOWEVER, DO YOU NOTICE IF THOSE TEAMS HAVE AN EDGE WHEN THE RACE STARTS?
"Certainly I'm not gonna say that every time people test they come out and perform better than the rest of the crowd. It doesn't appear that way. There are times when somebody goes to test and they come back and win or they run really well. That certainly is the case, but you can't say that every time people test they go back and run well at that race track. That's not the case at all."
AT LEAST ONE DRIVER SUGGESTED THAT BECAUSE THE SAFER BARRIER IS IN PLACE AT RIR, IT MIGHT ALLEVIATE SOME OF THE CONCERNS ABOUT THE HARD HITS THAT HAVE HAPPENED THERE AND IT MIGHT ACTUALLY IMPROVE THE RACING BECAUSE DRIVERS WOULD BE WILLING TO TAKE MORE CHANCES. WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THAT?
"Comments like that just sound really stupid to me. When the race starts if people think that when they drop the green flag we go around the race track thinking, 'Oh my God, I can't make that move because I might get hurt.' Man, that's the last thing you're thinking of. The reason you don't want to wreck is because when you wreck, it takes your opportunity away from winning. You think about getting hurt after the wreck, you don't think about it before the wreck. You think about it in the shop when you're preparing your car, but when the race starts and you're out there practicing, you're not out there thinking about soft walls. It doesn't even enter your mind and if it does enter you mind, it's probably time you need to get out of the car because you're thinking too much about it. A comment like that to me is ludicrous. I can't imagine somebody making that comment."
WHY IS RIR A TRACK THAT NEEDS SOFT WALLS AND WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE PACE OF INSTALLATION OF THE SOFT WALL TECHNOLOGY AT WINSTON CUP TRACKS?
"As far as from an engineering standpoint, I'm not gonna go there as to why Richmond needs soft walls. There has long been a theory that the faster you go, the more opportunity you have to get hurt. It really doesn't matter how fast you're going, what really matters is what angle you hit and how hard you hit the wall - at what speed and at what angle. What we've learned is that on the shorter tracks we've seen large wrecks based on the fact of the angle that you hit the wall and the speed that you hit the wall. So when we originally started thinking about soft walls and originally thought about safety stuff, people had Michigan and Charlotte and those kind of race tracks in mind and there wasn't much thought about the angle that you hit. But in the last five or six years we've really understood the angle in which you hit, so Richmond, New Hampshire, Phoenix - those kind of race tracks - are places that need it. Every race track needs it, there's no doubt about that, but the angle at which you hit is the most important thing. As far as the speed for getting the walls up, anytime there's a development or there's something new out there, everybody wants it and they want it right now. What NASCAR has had to do is they've had to be smart about it and not rush to a conclusion that the soft wall technology was truly ready to go. In their testing to make sure that it was right, they found out that it was not right in that configuration for tighter radius race tracks. There was a tremendous effort to do a lot of testing with different radius corners and once they felt safe about it, then they went about it and said, 'OK, here's the product. Let's get it done.' Some people will feel like the speed hasn't been good enough. Others will feel like it's been adequate, but, at the end of the day, I think it's gone as fast as it could possibly go and do it right. If you put a soft wall up or any sort of wall up without understanding what it does is certainly the wrong thing to do. Some people will say that you'd rather have something than nothing. I disagree with that theory. It's my opinion that I'd rather have something that's right better than something that's wrong and that's what NASCAR has done in this case, in my opinion."
CAN YOU COMMENT ON MICHAEL WALTRIP'S SEASON?
"It's an example of putting the right group around the driver or the driver getting with the right group, however you want to say that. Slugger (crew chief Richard Labbe) has done a better job of getting Michael what he needs than any other organization. Michael had struggled at DEI and Michael had struggled everywhere he had been, but Slugger came in and was willing to look at things differently and to find what it takes for Michael to get around the race track."
HAS MICHAEL DONE ANYTHING DIFFERENT?
"I can't speak to that. I don't know, but I do know that when you drive down in the corner and your car turns and you step on the gas and it turns and the rear wheels don't spin, you look like a really good driver. That's the deal. You've got to have the car where it will go around the race track and the best driver in today's environment - with as much grip as these cars make now - the best driver in the world without a car making grip isn't gonna look like a very good driver. Certainly I think Michael has done a better job than he's ever done based on results, but I also think his results - and this is no disrespect to Michael - it's really saying you can't really look at Michael's past and say Michael wasn't a good race car driver because he never won. You're more apt to look and say, 'God, maybe Michael could have run good if other people would have been able to get him what he needed.'"
HOW SIGNIFICANT IS HAVING THE SAFER BARRIERS UP AT THIS POINT?
"It's certainly high on the list. The first run at things and making things better certainly revolved around the driver and seats and head restraint systems and helmets and those kind of things. This is the first thing that we've seen done - major thing done -- at race tracks in quite a while. There has been a continuing evolution with race cars and race-car seats and helmets and the race track evolution hasn't - until this point - advanced at the same rate that the race-car technology has advanced. I think what it does is it sends a signal to everyone that whatever it is that you're doing and however you participate in this sport, you need to look at how to make it better on your end and not just wait for the other guy to make it better on his end. I think it's a fairly significant thing."
WHAT ARE YOU INTERESTED IN SEEING AFTER THERE HAVE BEEN SOME IMPACTS ON THESE WALLS?
"The main thing I'm interested in, and I hate to sound simplistic, is that I have the best opportunity to not be injured that I can possibly have. The thing that we will all be looking at - and NASCAR looking at harder than anybody else - is to make sure that all the testing did indeed make sense with happens in real world. Anytime there's a new technology, I don't care if it's soft walls or a new bolt or anything, you come up with that product through testing. Sometimes your test isn't real world and sometimes for some reason it doesn't work out, so the thing everybody will be looking at is does it indeed work and did all the testing and money and effort put in by NASCAR, is that gonna pay off. My confidence level is very high that it will, but you always have to have in the back of your mind, 'Did we do the right thing?' Because if you don't, then you're just being hard-headed."