Talladega II: Burton - GM Top-10 interview

BEHIND THE HAULER CHAT WITH JEFF BURTON, NO. 31 CINGULAR WIRELESS MONTE CARLO SS: ON THIS WEEKEND AT TALLADEGA: "Certainly there has been a lot made about the Talladega race and the impact it can have on the points and I think all that has merit...


ON THIS WEEKEND AT TALLADEGA: "Certainly there has been a lot made about the Talladega race and the impact it can have on the points and I think all that has merit to it. This is one of those weekends that I come to, regardless of where we are in the points, hoping to get out of here with a Top 10 finish. Normally we say a Top five finish, but here, you almost skip to that airplane with a Top 10. It's so easy to get caught up in a wreck and it's easy to cause a wreck. So the first priority is to not start the wreck. The second priority is, if it happens, to try to miss it. And then hopefully we can be at the right place at the right time when the race is ending."

TALK ABOUT YOUR FRIEND MARK MARTIN GOING TO THE CHEVROLET CAMP. DOES THAT SHOCK OR SURPRISE YOU? 'Well, Mark and I have known each other for quite a while and we talk a lot, so obviously I'm not going to say I'm shocked. There comes a time when your desires and the things you want out of your professional life don't match that of the company you're working for or the team that you're driving for. There comes a time when you may need to do something different. He and Jack (Roush) have done a wonderful job over the years of consistently being a competitive team and consistently putting a team out there that could win. For that, they need to be commended. I'm glad for Mark because it seems like he really wants to do this and is excited about the opportunity. So, stuff changes in this business and it's difficult when it does happen. I talked to Mark about the things that I went through when I left Roush and the decisions heading up to that. It's difficult. At the same time, there is a lot of life to be lived and you need to be happy doing what you're doing. So I commend Mark for doing something next year that he's going to be happy doing. I think, in all honesty, that the MB2 team was a huge benefactor today. They got a guy who is strong; one of the greatest drivers ever in our sport. But beyond that, he's a solid individual. He's going to bring a tremendous amount of maturity and a foundation to the team. I wish when I was a rookie driver I could have had someone like Mark Martin to talk to. That's a hell of an advantage for a young guy to have a guy like Mark Martin sitting there. In my opinion, that team really stepped up their program today and they'll benefit for it."

CONSIDERING ALL THE IMPROVEMENTS IN THE RCR TEAM, DOES THAT CARRY OVER YET IN THE PLATE PROGRAM? DO YOU THINK THAT THE BEST WAY TO GET THROUGH THIS PLACE IS TO RUN UP FRONT? "I don't think anybody is going to get up front and stay there all day. There is a tremendous amount of back and forth as always in this race. We aren't going to go into this race running 35th and wait for the wreck and try to go around it. We aren't going to do that. I've done that once in my career and guess what? I got wrecked. So I don't believe in that philosophy. I think that you go race and you drive smart and you try not to cause a wreck. But we're not going to take the approach of riding around in the back and wait for the right moment. We're just not going to do that. I've told you guys (the media) for the last six or seven weeks that we're going to do what we've been doing so when we come to Talladega, we're going to race the same way we've been racing. So at the end of the day, certainly a portion of that means that we're going to have to have some fortune. It's a possibility that we won't have a wreck. But it's a slight one. We're going to do our best not to cause it and if it does happen, hope we miss it."

WHAT'S BEEN THE BIGGEST DIFFERENCE BETWEEN NOT MAKING THE CHASE LAST YEAR AND THIS YEAR? "That's a really hard question because we haven't done (just) one thing that has helped us. We've done a tremendous amount of things at RCR. We've pretty much restructured every program within RCR -- engine, aerodynamics, chassis, and engineering programs - Scott Miller has come in as crew chief and done a heck of a job. This team is a really solid team. We're pretty much the same group of people that we had last year with the exception of Scott. Scott has come in and done a wonderful job of providing leadership and direction. At the same time, all of RCR has stepped up their program. Every employee has looked himself in the face and looked in the mirror and asked what they can do better and then try to do it better."

WILL THE SMOOTHNESS OF THE NEW SURFACE HERE AT TALLADEGA PROVIDE A FALSE SENSE OF SECURITY TO SOME OF THE DRIVERS, WHICH THEN MIGHT LEAD TO INCIDENTS? "I think there's some merit to that, but not so much in the smoothness. The bumps on this race track really didn't cause problems anyway. Any time you go to a restrictor plate race and you can run wide open, it's because it's easy to drive the cars. The more grip you have, the easier it becomes to drive the car. When you go to Daytona the reason after 30 laps of running you can't run wide open anymore isn't because we don't want to, it's because we can't. It's because our cars won't handle well enough to run wide open. The more wide open you run, the easier it becomes to drive. So when you have more grip and it allows you to run wide open with no effort and without having to worry about handling, it is my opinion there is the opportunity for more multi-car wrecks because if everybody is running the same speed and wide open, and one person makes a mistake, everybody is in the same place. If there's more grip, we have higher potential for larger or more frequent multi-car accidents. I think that has some merit. We really don't know yet. I haven't been on the race track. I don't have enough information to say this is what I believe. Race drivers are pretty confident people anyway. We're pretty secure. We're better than everybody else. And on any Sunday, we're just going to show you. In this race in particular, people that don't typically run in the front can run in the front here. There becomes a sense of 'we're going to show you what we can so'. There's a lot of that. It's been like that forever. And by the way, the wrecks generally start in the front of the pack. So there is a chance that, all that said, the more grip the more brave and secure you become, when in fact if you make a mistake, the result will be the same."

FROM A LEADERSHIP PERSPECTIVE, WHEN ROUSH LOSES A GUY LIKE MARK MARTIN, DOES IT FALL ON MAYBE MATT KENSETH AND GREG BIFFLE TO STEP UP A LITTLE BIT? "I think that certainly Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle have the ability and the foresight to be pushing the company all they can to do more and to try to be better. Mark has a way of expecting everything to work right. When it doesn't, he let's everybody know it's now working right. In losing Mark, they lose someone who will, under all circumstances, demand more. And Matt and Greg will have to carry that mantle. I think they can, but there's no way in losing Mark Martin - in any form or fashion - can be considered a positive for Roush Racing. There's just no way. Mark is such a solid person with a tremendous amount of skill and with a passion for what he does, there is just no way you lose someone like that without having a negative impact."

DALE EARNHARDT JR. HAD A FUNNY LINE ABOUT YOU THIS WEEK. HE SAID YOU'RE NOT A SUPER HERO AND THAT YOU CAN HAVE BAD LUCK LIKE ANYBODY ELSE. DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU'RE IN ONE OF THOSE ZONES WHERE NOTHING CAN GO WRONG? "If I did, I wouldn't admit it (laughs). In two of the first three races (in the Chase) we have all but been wrecked with a car in front of us and have found a way to miss it. Me being one foot further up the race track, I'm in two wrecks and we're eighth or ninth in points. So we've had some fortune there, without a doubt. We have run as well as anybody in the Chase in the first three races. The No. 24 and the No.31 have been the best performing cars. The No. 24 had trouble in Kansas and I'm smart enough to know that we can have trouble somewhere too. So I'm comfortable with the way we're running. I still think we've got to find a way to do it better because everybody else will too. But we have run very well and we've had some fortune. We were right at that wreck in New Hampshire with Green and Busch and we were right at that wreck with Newman. Three feet in each of those incidents and we're eighth in the points instead of leading.

"We actually made contact in the other wreck. And so the other wreck was actually closer. That's how things are in this sport. You have close calls. Sometimes you get by and sometimes you don't. I've looked at Kurt Busch and the year he won the championship. I believe in seven of the last 10 races he was sitting, spun out in the middle of the race track and still won. Those stats are probably wrong. Maybe it's six out of 10. But the majority of the races he had spun out or had some kind of issue and still found a way to win a championship. So luck has a way of going your way sometimes, and going against you sometimes. When it's going your way, you need to appreciate it. And when it's not going your way, you need to understand that it probably has a way of equaling itself out."

IN THE PAST COUPLE OF YEARS, THREE TOP 10 DRIVERS - INCLUDING YOURSELF - HAVE LEFT ROUSH RACING FOR GREENER PASTURES. IT DOESN'T SEEM THERE WAS A LOT OF EFFORT BY ROUSH RACING TO RETAIN THOSE DRIVERS. IS THERE SOME SORT OF UNDERLYING CURRENT BEHIND ALL OF THAT? "I think in all cases, people left for what they thought was better for them. I certainly don't want to imply that Jack Roush didn't want me to stay at Roush and I don't know anything about the Kurt Busch situation. I certainly wouldn't want to imply that Jack Roush didn't want Mark Martin to stay. And I won't speak for Mark in this case. But I'll tell you that in my case, I made the decision to leave because I thought it was in my best interest. And I felt that if it was in Roush's best interest for me not to be there, then I wouldn't have been there. That's business. That's how it works. I didn't leave with hostility and I have zero hostility toward Roush Racing now. This is a moving target. And in Mark's case, he's at a point in his career where things just didn't match up anymore with Roush. I won't speak for either one of those two guys. I didn't feel like I was run out the door at Roush. I didn't feel like they said don't let the door hit you in the ass when you leave. I didn't feel like that. I felt like it was a decision I wanted to make and it was time for me to make that decision. So I moved on. I wouldn't read anymore into my situation than just that. I don't know enough about the other two situations, nor would I because it wouldn't be appropriate, to comment on that."

YOU MAY NOT BE ABLE TO SPEAK FOR A YOUNG DRIVER, BUT WHAT DOES IT SAY FOR NEWCOMERS? "As long as Roush Racing runs well, they won't care. At the end of the day, what drivers care about is having the opportunity to compete at a high level. The drivers, crew members, and everybody in the sport believe that if they get their job done, there won't be an issue with having a job. So I don't think the drivers will look at it like that."

YOU SAID YOU WEREN'T SHOCKED WHEN MARK MARTIN TOLD YOU, BUT WHAT WAS YOUR REACTION WHEN YOU LEARNED HE WOULD BE LEAVING ROUSH? "From my perspective, it just seems like the business structure didn't match what Mark wanted to do. I wouldn't read anymore into it than that. They weren't interested in Mark running 20 races with a young guy running the rest of them. Mark didn't want to run the full schedule. He wanted to run 20 or 22 races or whatever it is. They just didn't match up. Mark's idea of what he wanted and Roush's idea - and I shouldn't speak for Roush, but I think I'm stating the obvious - but they just didn't mesh. That's the way I looked at it when I first heard it and that's the way I look at it now.

"I would have been surprised if Mark Martin left Roush to go somewhere else and run 38 races. That would have surprised me greatly. But in the situation we're talking about now, where they can't provide what he wants to do, then I'm not surprised."

ARE YOU A COLLEGE FOOTBALL FAN AND IF SO, WHO IS YOUR TEAM? "Well, I'm in Alabama, so I've got to be careful here. I am much more of a pro football fan, but I do follow college football. I've gotten to know Frank Beamer a little bit with Virginia Tech and so because of that, I follow Virginia Tech. I follow Duke football too, but obviously their success level hasn't been very high. But Frank Beamer is a really nice guy. He's opened himself up and given me a chance to meet him and I've really been impressed with Beamer and so have become a Virginia Tech football fan."

IN EACH OF THE FIRST TWO YEARS OF THE CHASE, THE GUY LEADING AFTER THE FIRST THREE RACES WENT ON TO WIN. BOTH TIMES, KURT BUSCH AND TONY STEWART HAD NARROWER POINT LEADS. WHAT DO YOU SAY ABOUT THAT? "That's the fist I've heard that. I understand statistics mean something and I'm not trying to make light of statistics, but I do understand that Mark Martin and all the guys in the Chase aren't going to say okay, he's leading now so we'll just give it to him. We have a lot of work to do. We're 30 percent through this deal. We can have the same (bad) luck that Kyle Busch and Kasey Kahne have had over the past two weeks. The same thing could happen to us. They've both run well enough to be in the position we're in, but they just haven't had things go their way. When this thing started, I told all of you that 10 races was an eternity. If you look at our sport at any 10-race stretch throughout the year, there are probably three teams & drivers that look like they are the best team/driver combination within those 10 races. So, there's probably not going to be one team through all the 10 races that just stands above everybody else. And by the way, we haven't stood above everybody else. I think we and the No. 24 have been the best performing teams in the first three (races), but Kyle and Kasey have performed well too. They've just had bad luck. The same thing could happen to us. That's just how it is. We're going to race every race, one race at a time. Whatever happens on Sunday happens. The sun is going to come up Monday morning. There are bigger things in life."

-credit: gm racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Matt Kenseth , Greg Biffle , Kurt Busch , Kasey Kahne , Jack Roush , Kyle Busch , Mark Martin