Richmond International Raceway JEFF BURTON, DRIVER OF THE NO. 99 EXIDE BATTERIES TAURUS, FINISHED SECOND IN LAST WEEKEND'S PEPSI SOUTHERN 500 AT DARLINGTON. HE IS CURRENTLY SEVENTH IN THE NASCAR WINSTON CUP STANDINGS AND TRAILS SIXTH-PLACE ...
Richmond International Raceway
JEFF BURTON, DRIVER OF THE NO. 99 EXIDE BATTERIES TAURUS, FINISHED SECOND IN LAST WEEKEND'S PEPSI SOUTHERN 500 AT DARLINGTON. HE IS CURRENTLY SEVENTH IN THE NASCAR WINSTON CUP STANDINGS AND TRAILS SIXTH-PLACE JEREMY MAYFIELD BY ONLY 44 POINTS. BURTON WAS THIS WEEK'S DRIVER ON THE WEEKLY WINSTON TELECONFERENCE.
WINSTON TELECONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT
BURTON: "We're excited about finishing second, but running as well as we ran the first five-eighths of that race, it kind of got away from us. So we're a little disappointed that it got away from us, at the same time we're excited that we ran as well as we did."
YOU HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY TO RUN FOR A MILLION DOLLARS IN THE NO BULL 5 AT TALLADEGA. IS THAT SOMETHING YOU'RE LOOKING FORWARD TO?
"It definitely is. We started out the year way behind on our speedway program and we've put such an emphasis on making that deal better. Being that Daytona got pushed back some, I think that has helped us. It's helped us get a little more prepared. We're going next week to test Daytona to get ready for Talladega and Daytona, so we're excited about having the opportunity just to run for that million dollars, there's no question about it."
WHAT DO YOU THINK JEFF GORDON IS DOING THAT HE'S BEATING EVERYBODY ALL THE TIME?
"It's a compliment to them, it's confusing to everybody else. The thing that's difficult for race car drivers to run behind the 24, run near the 24, is that the 24 car never gets out of shape. When he goes to have to run faster, the car doesn't do anything wrong. Don't get me wrong. I'm not putting Jeff Gordon down in any form or fashion because the driver is the link to the team about what the car is doing. Whatever it is that they're doing, and I'm certain it's not one thing, the key is they get it to go through the corner well and it goes down the straightaway well. So, when he gets ready to have to step up the pace, they seem like they're closer than most teams are and when he goes to run harder, that car never gets out of shape. When I watch Mark Martin and Rusty Wallace and Dale Jarrett, their cars get loose or they push or something happens when they go to step it up and the 24 car doesn't do that. How they're doing it, I don't know but that is why they're so tough."
WAS IT DISAPPOINTING TO HAVE SUCH A FAST CAR AT DARLINGTON AND FINISH SECOND?
"Obviously it's disappointing. We've done this before. Starting the race at Darlington, whether it be the 400 or 500, it seems to elude us. We've had trouble when we go back and look at all of our Darlington races, we've had trouble running well at the end of the races. Again, not taking anything away from the 24, but we weren't as good at the end of the race as we were in the middle part of the race. That's always disappointing when you digress instead of make yourself better during the race because you have to be good at the end of these races to win these things."
IS THERE ANYTHING YOU CAN CARRY INTO RICHMOND FROM LAST WEEKEND?
"If you look at our team the last four months, with the exception of the 24 and for that matter the 6 too, we have certainly been a top five team. We have not capitalized on some of our chances. We've shown some inexperience in the driver's seat and we've shown some inexperience in the crew that, hopefully, as the year's gone on we've gotten better at. We look at these last nine races as being very important. Richmond is a race I've always run well at and we as a team have run well. Richmond means a lot because it's my home state and we've always run well there, so we put a lot of spressure on ourselves. Our goal is a lot higher there than at some other race tracks."
DO THE FRUSTRATIONS GET HIGHER WHEN YOU'RE A TOP FIVE TEAM AND DON'T WIN OR A MIDDLE OF THE PACK TEAM AND DON'T WIN?
"I don't know if they're greater either time. To me, when I look back on my career, I don't at this point in my career, I don't worry less than I used to. As you progress as a driver and you get with teams that are better, your goals become different. When I first started racing, because of my inexperience and because the team wasn't of the level that this team was at, my goals were a lot different. But it was harder to attain those goals even though they were lower goals than what I have now. The goals I have now are higher goals, but those goals are hard to attain too. I don't know that it's ever easy. If you asked Jeff Gordon today is it easy, he would say no and he would say that he worries about it now as much as he did when he was a rookie. That's the thing about sports, you can never let your guard down."
WHAT DO YOU COMPARE THE RICHMOND TRACK WITH?
"Richmond, to be honest, is unique to itself on this circuit. I don't know of any race track that we go to that really compares to Richmond at all. Richmond is the finest short track in America, no doubt about it. But to hook up a 3500-pound race car with 740 horsepower there is pretty tough. Other than the shape of the corners and length of the straightaways, there's really no other race track on the circuit like it."
WHAT DID YOU GUYS FIND THIS YEAR TO GET YOU BACK TO WHERE YOU WERE LAST YEAR?
"Early in the year, I got us in some wrecks that I shouldn't have got us in. We had more engine trouble at the beginning of this year than we had all of last year. We as a team just weren't getting it done. We were having bad pit stops. A lot of that was due to all the work that we had to get ready with the Tauruses. Our pits stops weren't where they needed to be and we just weren't getting it done. When we were getting it done, like at Texas and at Vegas and some places like that early in the year, things happened that kept us from winning. As we did it well, we did little things to hurt it and then there were times we just didn't do it well. After California I came home, we finished 10th, and I was really frustrated and upset. Everybody on this team was. That was an real ugly 10th and probably the worst race as a team that we had run in the years that we've been together. We came in Tuesday and had a great meeting, got our minds back in order, and focused in on what we had to do. Ever since that date, we've been one of the best race teams on the circuit. I think it was a matter of just sitting down, catching our breath a little bit, not getting away from our game plan, and focusing in on the things we were doing wrong and trying to fix them."
SOME PEOPLE SAY A TEAM'S PERFORMANCE IS 60 PERCENT CAR AND 40 PERCENT DRIVER. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THAT?
"I think every team is different. If the driver is just a driver and he shows up on Friday morning and his crew chief is making all the decisions, then his driving ability is what we're grading. He as a participant in the team may have less value than a guy that works with the team very closely on springs and shocks and swaybars. So a Rusty Wallace and a Mark Martin, those people are invaluable to their teams because they provide a lot of feedback that some other drivers may not be able to provide. That's different than some success that some other drivers have had. Jeff Gordon is a driver that gives Ray Evernham a lot of feedback about what the car is doing, but it appears from the outside looking in that Ray is the one that makes those decisions. That is very successful for them, they've done a great job at it, but there are very few teams that I believe that works for. They've got it going on right now and it obviously works awesome for them, but most of the other front running teams, the driver provides a lot of input. Because of that, it's hard for me to say that the driver is 40 percent or 30 percent or 80 percent or whatever. I don't know. I think as the race goes on and the track changes, the driver becomes more and more important because he's the only person that can provide that input to the team about what's going on in that race car. I think a lot of people make mistakes in saying that a driver should be judged only in the way he drives a car. He is the computer. He is the thing that relays information and makes that car go fast or go slow based on the information that he gives. That information is irreplaceable."
HOW IS YOUR PHYSICAL CONDITION?
"The main problem is I'm too skinny, I think. I need to bulk up some. I tell you what happened to me. I was sick going into Loudon. I wrecked at Loudon real hard, real hard, harder than people realize you can hit at Loudon. I had a slight concussion and the two things between being sick and having a concussion caused me a great deal of discomfort. I went this past week in a very quiet way and had a bunch of precautionary things done to make sure I hadn't hurt myself more than I thought I had. All the tests were negative, but I did hurt myself. That's why I didn't run the Busch race because I knew I had hurt myself and I didn't want to run myself down anymore. I didn't hurt myself in a way that would cause any problems for me in the future or, if I wrecked again at Darlington I wasn't gonna have a problem. But I didn't want to wreck again because I'd had a concussion and that's why I took myself out of the Busch race. I had the flu and I had that on top of it and the two things just flat kicked my butt. I still don't feel good, but I feel a lot better today than I did. I think what I learned from it is that mentally I've got myself wore down because I worry about this stuff non-stop and physically I got myself wore down because I was sick and because I wrecked real hard."
AT DARLINGTON, WERE YOUR LAP TIMES LATE IN THE RACE SIMILAR TO EARLY IN THE RACE? DID THE TRACK CHANGE OR THE CAR GO AWAY?
"We were actually faster on the start of long runs. After a restart or after we put on new tires, we were faster at the end of the race than we were at the beginning of the race. The payoff for that is that when you start off fast, generally, you end up slow. What happened was as the track changed, we didn't adjust to it properly. We got very, very loose at the end of long runs because we were free on the start of the runs that's why we went so fast on the start. I don't know how Jeff Gordon's speeds were, but I know our speeds were slower at the end of the long runs."
A COUPLE OF WEEKS AGO MARK MARTIN SAID YOU WERE THE BEST DRIVER ON THE CIRCUIT. HOW DO YOU RESPOND TO THAT?
"He says that a lot and I really appreciate his confidence in me because I'm gonna tell you, there's no way you can put two people in a shop that get along any better than Mark Martin and Jeff Burton. I believe in my heart, and I tell you what, if you took a poll in the Winston Cup garage and asked 'Who is the best driver?' I'd bet you my house he'd win that bet. When Mark says that I'm the best driver in Winston Cup racing, when he's saying that I think what he's saying is that when it comes to chassis setup and all those things, along with driving the car, that he thinks I'm right up there with the best. That's a huge compliment, especially from a guy that I think...he and I can talk about chassis setups, not as drivers but as people that care about race cars. It's real unique to have two drivers in one shop that respect each other so much. He went to Watkins Glen with me for two days and coached me. He was there testing for himself too, but he went there for me. He went there to help me as well. We did the same thing at Darlington. He and I went to Darlington and I went there to help myself, but to help him as well. We both saw results from that and that's a helluva combination to put together. I respect Mark and Mark respects me and that's what having a teammate is all about."
WHAT IS YOUR WORKOUT REGIMENT AT THIS POINT. WHAT DO YOU DO FOR CONDITIONING?
"What I do now is basically a lot of cross-training, a lot of cardio stuff and not much weight training. I'm about to change my workout routine and gonna get more into weight training and cut back on my cardio stuff some. When I hit, I seem to hurt myself more than other people do and that tells me I need some more muscle or I don't know what it is. I don't consider myself to be a soft guy and have never got hurt easy, but here lately the last three years whenever I've hit, it seems like it's bothering more than other people, so I think I need to just bulk up some and I think the more muscle that you have the better off you'll be in wrecks."
WERE YOU SURPRISED STEVE HMIEL WAS DISMISSED LAST WEEK?
"Steve's been a huge part of everything that's gone on at Roush Racing for the last 10 years. I've said this before, he and Mark Martin are the reasons that there is a third team and that there was a second team and that there is a fourth team. The work that those guys did has been instrumental in making Roush Racing what it is. For whatever reason, it happens in every sport, as years go by people drift away and the way the feel things need to operate. Probably, it's in the best interest of Steve Hmiel and probably Roush Racing to go separate ways. Steve Hmiel will go somewhere and be very, very successful. I can guarantee you that and Roush Racing will continue to be successful. It's always difficult when a decision like that has to be made and I'm glad I'm not the one that has to make them because I don't know if I could or not. Steve is really smart and he knows racing. It's uncomfortable that Steve was dismissed because he was here well before we were here, but I know Steve will land on his feet and will be successful wherever he goes."