JEFF BURTON, NO. 31 CATERPILLAR CHEVROLET, met with members of the media and discussed racing at Infineon, where his team is in terms of the Chase, road course specialist, Father's Day and other topics. YOUR THOUGHTS ON COMING BACK TO SONOMA AND...
JEFF BURTON, NO. 31 CATERPILLAR CHEVROLET, met with members of the media and discussed racing at Infineon, where his team is in terms of the Chase, road course specialist, Father's Day and other topics.
YOUR THOUGHTS ON COMING BACK TO SONOMA AND THE FIRST ROAD COURSE RACE OF THE SEASON: "We have several what I call specialty races coming up. We've got this race, then the 4th of July race in Daytona. Then of course, Watkins Glen is not far behind this. It pays the same amount of points for these races as they do for all the other races. If you go back and watch, the road course races have been real important to get in to the Chase. We are coming here feeling good about what we've been doing. Feel like we've built a series of road course cars that are going to enable me to do some things that I haven't been able to do the last few years. So, we're pretty optimistic and looking forward to getting started."
WHERE ARE YOU IN TERMS OF GETTING READY FOR THE CHASE? ARE YOU EXPERIMENTING WITH THINGS? ARE YOU FOCUSED ON SOLIDIFYING YOUR PLACE IN THE CHASE? "I think we are in all those places to be quite honest. I think that all the teams that feel like they have a shot to make the Chase have to be looking at what they have to do to be better when the Chase starts. The main focus for the majority of us though is number one to make the Chase. Whenever you are trying something, you are trying to improve. With the testing ban, you have got to be trying stuff at the race track on race weekend. For us, we are just looking for results and I think everybody is. I think that a lot of people, especially after they run bad, talk about trying something, trying to get better. I think that is a normal evolution. I think that is part of what you are seeing with the testing ban; you have to test at the race track on Saturdays. Hopefully you figure it out. But, where we are is we feel good about our ability to run fast enough to make the Chase. But we also know there is a lot of cars behind us that are in the same place. So we have to protect our spot. I think the best way to protect our spot is to climb the points and that is what our focus is."
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON 500 CONSECUTIVE STARTS: "I didn't even know that until at some point, somebody told me that. I love what I do and I did see, or someone told me that (Ricky) Rudd was eight hundred and something and I quickly did the math in my head as to how many years I would have to race to do that and I don't think I am going to make that. (LAUGHS) Think about that, that is like seven or eight more years of racing which I might be able to do, I don't know. I love what I do. I am proud to do it in the series I do it in and I think it is the best racing in the world as far as major series go. Feel fortunate to be able to do it for as long as I've been able to do it."
WITH AS TIGHT AS THE CHASE BATTLE IS THIS YEAR, WHAT IS THE ATTITUDE OF THE DRIVERS WITH TWO ROAD COURSES RACES COMING UP, FROM THE GUYS THAT COME HERE, RACE ONLY THESE RACES AND PERHAPS TAKE POINTS AWAY FROM YOU GUYS TRYING TO MAKE THE CHASE? "I don't think anyone is opposed to drivers coming in to our series trying win races, run well. That is part of what this series has always been about. It is what happens in the Nationwide Series. What happens in the Truck Series. People come in and try to win. I really don't have any problems with that. I do get a little nervous there are times when they don't have the whole picture, the whole understanding of the picture because they are here for only one or two races a year. There are times when those guys are involved in some stuff that they are just a little bit more aggressive than they need to be because they don't have to see you next week. They have every right to be here. I think it is cool to have them here because it broadens our field and it brings different experience levels to the series and I think that is great. But I think they do need to be respectful. Don't get me wrong, they need to pass us and need to try and keep us from passing them. That is what racing is all about. But I do think that they have to race as if they were in the point race if that makes any sense. They don't have to, but they should."
HOW DO GUYS SUCH AS YOURSELF THAT GREW UP LEARNING TO RACE ON OVALS, LEARN TO DRIVE A ROAD COURSE? "When I first started, we had a Nationwide race at Watkins Glen, the first time they ever ran a Nationwide race there. We were getting prepared for that. Went to Bondurant and went to school to try to learn how to heel-toe, which I never used. But learned the idea of it. After that, I went to two or three other things. But the biggest thing that helped me though was when I went to Roush and had a chance to go to Watkins Glen to test with Mark (Martin). That was the biggest thing I could ever do because I was there on the same day, same two days, three days, whatever it was and I was able to look at his data, talk to him, follow him around on the race track. That did more for me than anything, just practical experience."
WAS YOUR FIRST ROAD COURSE RACE A BIG EYE OPENER? "It was a little bit but it was fun. I mean it was fun and we ran pretty well. I thought, WOW, I did pretty well at this. It was fun and gave us something different. That is what is fun about coming out here and Watkins Glen too for that matter, is what is cool about our series is we have a variety of race tracks. And even though a mile-and-a-half, some people say a mile-and-a-half is a mile-and-a-half. Every race track is different. There is no debating that this track is different than New Hampshire. It is fun to mix things up and have a little variety and I think that why most people like coming here."
TALK ABOUT QUALIFYING HERE AND WHEN IS IT YOU DECIDE HOW PATIENTLY AGGRESSIVE YOU WANT TO BE BECAUSE IT IS SORT OF A DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD. "It is. Basically in qualifying, everything that you do prior to qualifying sets the stage for what you need to do in qualifying. If you go back and watch, one of the goals here is to first be able to duplicate your best speed from practice. A lot of times here, the hour and a half, two hours, two and half hour break, whatever it is between practice and qualifying, you get off rhythm and you don't lay the lap down that you did in practice. In practice, you stay in the car and you get to run, come in and make a change, run, make a change. You are in a rhythm. You get out of the car for two and a half hours and a lot of times here, people don't lay down the say lap times, they actually slow down. Depending on where you were in practice, you always want to pick up in qualifying. But the focus, really, if you look at it, is to do your best. Try to improve on what your best was. All that is, is just learning from your experience and how hard you push is just based on the situation you are in and based on what you learned in that first practice."
ARE THERE ANY DRIVERS/CARS OUT THERE IN TODAY'S WORLD WHEN YOU LOOK IN YOUR REAR VIEW MIRROR, THAT YOU ARE NERVOUS OR DON'T WANT TO SEE COME UP? LIKE DALE EARNHARDT OR LARRY PEARSON? "They all look best in your mirror. (LAUGHS) That is right where you want them. I think it changes. I think last week at Michigan, if you were somehow or another to get in front of the No. 11 car (Denny Hamlin), when you looked in the mirror you would have thought 'Oh, Gawd, that's the fastest car.' It would have been like that at Pocono too. It's not like you look in the mirror and say 'Well, there's Jimmie Johnson' or 'There's Jeff Gordon' or 'There's whoever'. It's more who you have to beat on that day. We're watching the races too and we understand who the fastest car is. We understand has been the best in the race and who we have to beat and I think that is the guy that causes you the most concern when you see them."
SO IT'S NOT LIKE THE OLD DAYS WHEN YOU SAW EARNHARDT COMING? "No. not really. I'm not being disrespectful to any other driver, I just think it just depends on the day and whose been having...what their weekend has been like. "
DO YOU THINK NOT GETTING A WIN ON A ROAD COURSE CREATES A VOID FOR A NASCAR DRIVER'S RECORD NOT TO GET A WIN ON A ROAD COURSE? "I think you can create a void when you are trying to build a career, or build a year or put a championship together or whatever segment that you haven't been able to accomplish, that is a void. For me, right now, I look at it and it is a Daytona 500 and a championship, those are the two things that are a void for me. Those are big things. For me, the road course thing is there but it is in the background from Daytona 500 and championship. But, yes, I think it is fair to say that when you've won on a road course, people look at you differently. Look at my road course record, it is horrendous. It just is. We have run well, but we've finished terrible it seems like. When you talk about who's going to have a chance to win on a road course, my name is yet to come up, there is a reason for that. It is because the record speaks for itself. So anytime a driver can accomplish goals and put himself in the realm of conversation about who has a chance to win at any kind of race track, that is what he wants to do."
WHAT FACTORS CONTRIBUTE TO THE FACTORS THAT THE RINGERS OR THE SPECIALISTS DON'T WIN WHEN WE COME TO ROAD COURSES AND WHAT PERCENTAGE CHANCE DO THEY ACTUALLY HAVE? "The percentages have gone down as the years have gone by for many reasons. The first reason is that we've gotten better. The normal Cup drivers have improved their road course racing skills over the years. They have gotten better and better and better. When we started doing it, it was a big void between what a guy like a road course guy could come in and do versus what they can do now. The other issue is, even if you are driving for a great team, it's hard. You aren't in sync with the team. You almost have to go through all the bad calls, the bad decisions, the mistakes...all those things to get better as a team. It's just hard to get all those things synced up with a one-time driver. Typically they are not in the best equipment. Typically they are in equipment that isn't as good, even though they might be driving for a car owner that has had success, that success hasn't been built around that driver and that team hasn't been built around that crew chief. You know what I mean? This thing is about teamwork. It's not just about the drive and having all the pieces of the puzzle working together are part of the deal. You lose two seconds on pit road, all of that stuff starts adding up."
DO YOU THINK NASCAR IS THE BEST SPORT FOR FATHERS AND SONS OR FATHERS AND DAUGHTERS? "I don't know if it is the best sport, but it has worked well for me. Over the years, I have seen a lot more families at the race track. I've seen a lot more kids and I think that is really cool. I think that, as much as I would love to tell you how great NASCAR is, I think the main thing is spending time with your kids, whatever you are doing. NASCAR is obviously a great way to do that. It is an event. It is just not one thing going on. It is like going to a fair and a race and all kinds of stuff at the same time. I think experiencing stuff with your kids and exposing them to different things is an awesome way to get to know your kids and stay in touch with your kids. My kids have grown up with it and racing has been a big part of our life. It has made me a better person, sometimes. Sometimes it makes me a worse person, but for the most part, it has made me a better person. I've learned a lot of life lessons in this sport and hopefully I have passed on to my children. I think spending time with your kids is the single most important thing you can do. Once you have made the decision to have children, it is the right thing to do."
HOW DOES 1,100 TURNS AT A RACE IN SONOMA TAKE A TOLL ON A DRIVER AT YOUR AGE AND LOOKING OUT IN TO THE FUTURE ON SOMETHING LIKE THAT IF NASCAR ADDED MORE ROAD COURSES TO THE SCHEDULE? "What are you saying? Are you saying that you think I am too old to do this? (LAUGHS) Because we don't know each other well enough, you and me, to be talking like that. (LAUGHS) It is a driver's responsibility to be in the condition that he needs to be in to do what he has to do. I am in the best shape I have ever been in my life. I'm a late bloomer. I'm in better shape than I was when I was 18 years old playing basketball and soccer in high school. There will be day when that's not the case. It is my responsibility. I have to be. I'm more than willing to race 300 laps here Sunday if they want me to. I feel pretty good about my ability to do that."
WHAT CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THE TEST AT MILWAUKEE AND WHAT YOU LEARNED FOR NEW HAMPSHIRE? "It rained a lot and we didn't get as much running in as we wanted to. We were there for two days but we probably got a day worth of work done and we had three days worth of work to do. So, we didn't get as much done as we wanted to, so I don't' know if we covered as much as we needed to, to get the full answers to what we were looking for. We had some stuff we wanted to try and some ideas we wanted to run by the car that we needed to see what they felt like to me. We got a portion of those things done."
IS THERE MORE EMPHASIS PLACED ON ROAD COURSES NOW THAN THERE WAS SAY 15 YEARS AGO? "I think so. I think the teams, there was a point...The first time I came here, we brought a car that was like seven or eight years old and said, well this is a road course car. Today, it's a little different than that. I think teams have put more emphasis on building specific road course cars. Engineering has been applied to it. Drivers have looked to be better. So I think there is more effort. But there is more effort to go to the Daytona 500 too, than there has ever been. So I don't know, I think the improvements have come quicker than they have, because we haven't been doing this long. At the end of the day, I think that the realization, especially with this point structure, two or the 26 races that count are road course races and you have got to be good at it. If you aren't, you are giving up something."
THE GIBBS CARS HAVE WON SEVERAL OF THE LAST FEW RACES, TO US, IT JUST LOOKS LIKE THEY ARE FASTER, DO YOU KNOW WHERE YOU GUYS AND EVERYBODY ELSE IS GETTING BEAT BY THEM AND IF SO WHAT DO YOU DO ABOUT IT. "They are beating us through the corners and that is typically what happens. Typically when cars are winning, they are going through the corners faster. We've been right there with them but we've been a step behind them, a quarter step behind them. The way for us to beat anybody is for us to make our stuff better. The better our cars drive, the faster they go. We have enough horsepower to win these races. We've got to get a little more speed through the corners. For the No. 31 team in particular, we've had so many chances that we didn't execute on. Had we done a few things, just a few things better, we could have been a team that had won four races now, but we didn't. So for us, we have to continue to find a way to get more speed. But, like I have told you every week, we've have to execute when we are in that position. We've done that lately, but in the early part of the year, we struggled with that."
WHAT WAS THE BIGGEST SURPRISE TO YOU, KASEY KAHNE WINNING HERE LAST YEAR OR JIMMIE JOHNSON WINNING AT ELDORA? "Kasey winning here. Now, I don't want to say that was a surprise, but it meant a hell of a lot more (LAUGHS). You know what I mean. Winning a road course race, a point-paying race and all those things, that is big. Winning a Cup race is big. I think Jimmie would give you same answer."
DESCRIBE THE EVOLUTION OF BECOMING A COMPLETE DRIVER. "For me, I can't speak for other drivers because it is hard for me to get in their head and understand where they think they need to be better. But, for me, it's about preparation. It is about accepting facts. It is about being willing to deal with issues. There is no driver out there that does everything right. But the best drivers are always looking to figure out how to be better. When you couple experience with talent, with willingness and desire and the willingness to look and say 'Ok, what am I willing to do? What sacrifices will I make in order to be as good as I can be?', that is when the complete driver comes out. Mental preparation, physical preparation, they have to meet at the right time with talent. Until you've put all of those things together and until you understand what commitment is required, you can't be a complete driver. There are different talent levels in this garage. There are guys that are exceptionally gifted. There's guys that are really, really good and there's guys that aren't as good as the really, really good one. Mark Martin's preparation has to be different that a guy that is not at his level. The guy that is not at his level has to be willing to accept that and do more than Mark Martin has to do if he wants to compete. So, it is different for every driver. Maximizing your abilities, that's when you look at the complete driver."
-source: gm racing