JEFF BURTON, DRIVER OF THE NO. 31 AT&T IMPALA SS, met with media members at Talladega Superspeedway and talked about racing in Talladega, Danica Patrick's win, the All-Star race and more. WHAT DID YOU LEARN IN DAYTONA WITH THIS CAR THAT MIGHT ...
JEFF BURTON, DRIVER OF THE NO. 31 AT&T IMPALA SS, met with media members at Talladega Superspeedway and talked about racing in Talladega, Danica Patrick's win, the All-Star race and more.
WHAT DID YOU LEARN IN DAYTONA WITH THIS CAR THAT MIGHT CARRY OVER HERE? "I think the biggest thing when we talk about learning with the restrictor plate for this race track is what we did here last year. Daytona is so much more about handling. The packs get spread out a little bit more than they do here. There's no question about that. You're gonna see huge packs, you're gonna see a lot of three-wide, 40 cars deep and I think that's a different type of race than what we had at Daytona. Plus we got a different plate here, so we're gonna have to figure out what that means. What we take from Talladega last year is more important than what we took from Daytona."
IS THIS YOUR YEAR? "Ask me that in late November and I'll tell you. I don't know, I feel good about who we are. I feel good about the work we're putting in. I feel good that we're working hard to answer the challenge of being better as the year gets on. I can't ask for a whole lot more from my group and I can't ask for a whole lot more from myself. We have to make sure we're efficient; we have to make sure we continue to improve. If we do those things and we have some fortune then it can be our year. We can't control what our competition is doing. Maybe they learn more than we do, I don't know. We can control us and the things that we're doing to respond to the areas that we need to be stronger in I think are good."
WHEN YOU'RE LEADING THE POINTS AND YOU COME TO A PLACE LIKE THIS, DO YOU HAVE TO AVOID WHAT COULD GO WRONG? "We're paying attention to points and anybody that says we're not is lying. Anybody that says they weren't paying attention to points when we went to Daytona is lying. The harsh reality of it is, there's not a whole lot we can do about it other than race the race we know how to race. I don't go into this race thinking, oh my God I'm the point leader I gotta not get in a wreck, any more than if I was 25th in points. What I think about is what do we need to do so we're in the right position at the end of the race to get the best possible finish we can get. If we do that, then the points will take care of themselves. It's a long year, there's a lot of racing, a whole, whole lot of racing left to go and I'm not all wound up about the points. I'm glad that we are where we are, I'm not excited about it, I'm glad about it and I feel like we have a lot of work to do. I'm not thinking about points in the sense of a panic mode or a worrying mode. I'm thinking about points because it's what we do. We're racing for a championship and we're gonna do what we need to do to try to win a championship. Whatever that is, whatever presents itself hopefully we do the right thing."
ON THE STRATEGY CALL IN THE ALL-STAR RACE WHEN HE WAS WITH FRANKIE STODDARD. "What we did, we had the rule book and on the Winston Open race it said you had to take, I don't remember exactly how it was read but essentially you couldn't pit late in the race. With two to go, three to go, four to go you couldn't pit. So we looked at that and said why is that rule like that and we started thinking about it and we figured what it was. I went and sat down and got the rules from NASCAR and looked at them with them and read them, I didn't tell them what we were thinking about, and then went back and Frankie and I sat down and talked about it and our engineer too. I said to Frank, look I think it's a good idea but this is your call. If you want to do it, if it works you're gonna be a hero if it fails you're gonna be the goat and you're the one that's got to make the call and he had the guts to make the call to do it. The engineer figured out the time what we needed to do to be ahead of them, how far ahead we had to be. We had it all figured out, we picked our pit stall based on the strategy. It was a well thought out plan and we executed it well. Unfortunately we had a clutch slipping so it didn't work as well as it could have worked. We had a mechanical problem during that race but it was gonna work out really well."
DO YOU KNOW THIS YEAR'S FORMAT? "I don't know the format, what is it."
25 LAPS, OPTION PIT STOP, 25 LAPS, 10 MINUTE BREAK, 25 LAPS, MANDATORY STOP, 25 LAPS, FOUR SEGMENTS.
"Four segments, 25 laps. I think the race needs to be long enough to be a race and short enough to be exciting. Whether 25 laps is the right number or not, I don't know. I'm not a big fan of a 50 lap race and then a 10 lap or whatever the heck. I think if it's a 20 lap race it ought to be three 20 laps, four 20 laps, I think it all ought to be the same. I think they ought to invert them but not tell us if they are going to invert them or not and I think they ought to do that twice. If there's four races, they ought to do that twice. They ought to pay a lot of money to win the first one, the second one and the third one and they ought to draw a pill if they are gonna invert and they ought to draw a pill about how many they are gonna invert. Do that in the first two races and shake it up and make the fast guys have to come back through there again. I think that would make it exciting but when it gets to the last race, I think that race, you need to earn your way in to where you're gonna start."
WHAT DO YOU THINK DALE EARNHARDT'S LEGACY IS HERE? "Obviously he is arguably the best driver in our sports history. Statistically it would be a debate between he and Richard Petty. I know David Pearson wants to get in that debate, but he doesn't have the record that those guys have, so it's one of those two. He did it in a way that was controversial and he didn't seem to care about that. He was gonna do what it took to win. He was gonna do what it took to win championships and more times than not he found a way to do it even if it was at your cost.
"That's how he raced. When you had him and you were racing with him you knew what you were racing with. He didn't hide it, he didn't cover it up. That was cool. A lot of people were really fascinated by that. I don't think people give him enough credit for his impact on what happened around him off the track. If you look at souvenir sales, if you look at marketing campaigns, if you look at his ability to speak to a CEO of a company but still sit down with the guy that's buying the product from that CEO, he could do all that. He was a really engaging guy. When you had him one on one or when he was in a group, he had the attention. He demanded it and he had it. I think that had an incredible influence on our sport in a lot of ways that people don't realize that helped bring companies into the sport. That helped attract companies, that helped attract fans. I think that was a huge benefit."
ON KEEPING PATIENCE WHILE RACING AT TALLADEGA. "There's one thing that I care about and that's where I am when the race is over. That's all I care about. When it's 200 to go as long as I'm not out of the draft and I'm not in a position where I can't have a chance to win the race, I just don't get worked up about it. I figure if I made a move that got us to the back I just need to file that away. That's a learning experience. Next time don't let that happen. I view the first 400 miles of this race as a learning experience. Learning so you can apply what you've learned late in the race. This coming from a guy that's never won here but that's the way I play the game."
ON DANICA PATRICK'S WIN. "I was really impressed. I don't want to hear, you can't say she won on fuel mileage and then not say well Jimmie Johnson won on fuel mileage. Give her a break. Every week when you watch the race she runs in the top 10. She consistently runs from fourth to eighth, that's what it looks like to me. That's consistently where she runs. If you run there consistently, you're gonna win every now and then. She's still young, she has a lot to learn. She can still improve, there's no question. But to discount her win, I think is completely unfair. I think she put herself in position and they took advantage of it and everybody saying well she only won because of fuel mileage they need to shut up. She had a chance to win the Indy 500, she put herself in position to win several races. Has she led as many laps as some other people, no. Has she won as many as some other people, no but neither have I. I won three races in the last two years and led about eight laps in those races. Does that mean I wasn't good enough to win them? I don't think it does. She had some things going her way to win but people need to give her credit for being in that position, to put herself in that position so she could win that race."
COULD SHE RACE IN NASCAR? "I don't know. I think it's a harder transition to go from an open wheel type car to this than people think. I don't know if she could do it or not. Ask (Juan) Montoya how hard this is. I'm not saying that we're the best drivers, I'm not saying that. What I'm saying is it takes different stuff, a different driving style to run well in these cars than it does in a high down-force, high-grip type of race car. I don't know if she could do it. I don't have a clue. I do believe that it would be a hard transition and I say that because I've watched people do it. It's a very hard transition. These cars don't make grip and when you watch those guys race, they're great drivers but it's a different type of racing than what we have here. I'm not saying it's worse, I'm not saying its better. It is different and I don't know that the same style works from that car to this car. I just don't know. I think they painted themselves a little bit in a box because they run so many high-grip, wide-open races that I just think that's a completely different driving style than what we do here. I'm not saying it's worse or better. I'm not saying that. But it is different.
"However you get hired in this sport no matter what your talent level is, all that stuff obviously matters. What really matters is how long have you been doing it and what level of success have you had. If you look in this garage today, who in here didn't start at five, six, seven, eight and nine years old. When we talk about our diversity program, when we talk about women drivers, what we gotta do to be able to succeed doing that is we've got to find a way to attract kids. We've got to find a way to get children instead of playing baseball, instead of playing soccer, instead of playing basketball to race. The problem with that is it's expensive. My son played basketball this year at the Y and I think it cost me 29 bucks. You can't think about some kind of race car for a kid for 29 dollars. So we gotta find a way, somehow, some way to get children, minorities, women so that they can do it at a young age so when they are 18 they have the background and the experience to do it. That's the hardest part of our sport.
"There's no reason in the world that a woman driver cannot be successful in all forms of motorsports. There's not one reason. A woman can be successful; I believe that in my heart. There's no reason a woman cannot be successful but it's gonna take a high talent level. Listen, when you race against Tony Stewart you gotta be good. When you race against Jeff Gordon you've gotta be good. When you race against (Juan) Montoya, you've gotta be good. You can't be average. You gotta be really good. So we gotta find the right person that has that talent and put them in the right position but there's no reason that a woman cannot be successful."
ON IF HE WOULD LIKE TO SEE TONY STEWART AT RCR. "Tony's ability speaks for itself. He's a great race car driver. It's a long 18 months between now and then. It's pretty interesting to me, he would be an awesome teammate. He would be an incredible teammate. He would bring talent. He would bring enthusiasm. He would bring all those things, but chances are of that working out are probably pretty slim when you look at how it would all lay out.
"I think any team in here would love to have Tony Stewart. When you have a driver of that caliber raise his hand and say I'm willing to look at other opportunities, he's gonna get a lot of phone calls because people like him with that talent, they don't grow on trees. He would be an extremely hot commodity in this garage, there's no question."
WHAT DID YOU THINK WHEN ALL THIS SORT OF CAME TO LIGHT WHEN HE WAS GETTING READY TO MOVE ON? "The way I understand it that's not what he said. What he said was he's gonna look at all his options which is his right to do. He has a contract, he has a right to look and see what else is out there and he did that once before the way I remember it, he did that once before and stayed where he is. He's raised the stakes at Gibbs for sure. Again that kind of talent is hard to come by. When a guy like that raises his hand and says I'm willing to look over the fence and take a peak it makes you clean your yard up pretty quick. Not that they have a whole lot of cleaning to do, but I mean he's raising stakes."
DO YOU FIND IT IRONIC THAT A GUY WHOSE THIRD IN POINTS (DALE EARNHARDT JR) HASN'T WON A RACE YET THIS SEASON? "I think the expectation level that swirls around that thing is unrealistic. (Dale Earnhardt) Junior is exceptionally talented, he can win races, he can win them consistently, he can win championships but you know it doesn't always go right for anybody. I read somewhere, and I read a whole lot of stuff because of this, I read something about Tony Eury, Jr. wasn't doing him a good job. People are just not very smart. They hadn't got a win, but they've done everything else. They've put themselves in position to win races, they won two at Daytona, they won the 150 and they won the Shootout. What have we run, eight races? I mean you know Jeff Gordon hadn't won either. It's just hard. This is very competitive. They've run well, they're third in points. Tony Eury, Jr. is one of the most gifted crew chiefs in the garage. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is a really, really good race car driver that's gonna have a lot of success. You just don't just wave a magic wand and all of a sudden win the first seven or eight races. That's what happens with Junior if he doesn't win every race, it's a disappointment. That's unrealistic."
-credit: gm racing