WARD BURTON FEATURE Winston 500 Advance October 12, 1999 Note: Pontiac Grand Prix driver Ward Burton is the lone Pontiac pilot among four Ford drivers to go for the Winston "No Bull 5" million dollar bonus in Sunday's Winston 500 at Talladega.
WARD BURTON FEATURE Winston 500 Advance October 12, 1999
Note: Pontiac Grand Prix driver Ward Burton is the lone Pontiac pilot among four Ford drivers to go for the Winston "No Bull 5" million dollar bonus in Sunday's Winston 500 at Talladega. Burton talks about his quest for the big bucks and the uncertainty of racing on NASCAR's fastest superspeedway.
WARD BURTON (No. 22 Caterpillar Pontiac Grand Prix): "We're really excited about being one of the No Bull drivers. Talladega is one of those places where I really enjoy to race, but I'm always kind of concerned about the 'what ifs' that happen there. If we ever can get past the first green flag stop and not have any late restarts, normally the field gets spread out a little bit and we can race really good together. We're looking forward to getting to Talladega. I know the Pontiac we're running is the same Grand Prix we ran at Daytona (finished seventh in July). It's a really good car. Again, a lot of it is where you are when it gets ready to hit the fan and you can be in the wrong place."
YOU'VE HIT THE FAN A FEW TIMES TOO. "I've been on both sides of it. I've caused one accident there and I made one error that turned into a huge problem for a lot of drivers and then I've been caught up in a lot of problems that weren't of my making, too. I know that you can be really careful and still make a mistake a cause a big wreck, too. The cars are just so bunched up there. It's almost inevitable that it's going to happen."
WILL YOUR MIND BE ON THE MILLION A LOT BEFORE THE RACE? "We'll line ourselves up with the five fans Thursday and that starts to set the tone for the weekend. Every time you look in the rear view mirror you see the orange spoiler (designating he's one of the five drivers). Every time you look at the car you see the orange number on the roof and the valence. We know it's something different, but at the same time, it's another race. I don't think I'll approach it any differently than any other race other than there's a little more excitement around it."
YOUR MIND WILL BE MORE ON STAYING OUT OF TROUBLE? "If we stay out of trouble we're going to have an awesome run. We run like that every time. We just need to stay out of trouble. Our restrictor plate program has really improved over the last few years. Terry Elledge and all the guys in the motor shop have got good motors. All the fabricators back there are doing a great job with the bodies. Tommy Baldwin and the guys have learned a lot about the setups to make the car go fast and handle well. We've got a good package."
DESCRIBE THE ATMOSPHERE OF GOING INTO A RACE AT TALLADEGA. IS THERE ALMOST A SENSE OF DREAD? "I'm not sure what exactly the right word for it is. 'Uncertainty' certainly comes to my mind. For the wives of the drivers, the family members of the drivers, I think they're all on pins and needles, even more so than us. That's what makes it exciting for every race, of course, and the race fans, are the 'what ifs.' You can't control those things. There are a lot of things in racing you can't control, circumstances you can't control. At Talladega, all of that is just heightened tenfold. It makes it good and bad. The bad part is it's a damn wonder somebody hasn't been killed."
YOU'VE FOUND CONSISTENCY THIS YEAR. WOULD THIS SEASON BE INCOMPLETE WITHOUT A WIN? "Not really. We've had the opportunities, just for various reasons we didn't get to capitalize. The team staying intact, Caterpillar staying onboard with us, we've got some exciting new associate sponsors coming, all of those things are going to happen. I'm not going to put any undue pressure on myself to make it happen. I think we'll win when the time is right. We've just got to keep doing what we're doing."
GROWING UP IN SOUTH BOSTON, VA., COULD YOU HAVE IMAGINED THE OPPORTUNITY OF GOING FOR A MILLION DOLLAR BONUS IN A RACE? "No, definitely not. It's pretty wild just being here. Racing has grown so much. Bill Elliott asked me the other day, 'Where do you think racing will be at in the next 10 years?' I tell you what, really right now it's beyond me. I don't have any idea where it will be at. I feel really glad to be a part of it and with a competitive team to boot."
YOU ADMITTED A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO CAUSING A BIG ACCIDENT RIGHT AFTER THE INCIDENT. IT SEEMED LIKE THE OTHER COMPETITORS RESPECTED YOU FOR THAT. "I made a small error that turned into a big problem for some of the other guys. You always learn from every experience that you have, whether it's in the race car or not in the race car. I don't want to hit the apron again, I know that. I didn't hit it by much, but it didn't take much. I caught a lot of heat for causing the accident, but I didn't know what else to say. I had seen accidents in front of me, beside me at the race track and people sit there and not take the blame for it when it's very clear by looking at the tape what the hell happened. I just didn't think I could sit there and lie or anything. I made a mistake, there was nothing else I could say. If someone was mad at me there was nothing else I could do about that."
WHAT WAS YOUR SPRING RUN AT TALLADEGA LIKE? "We were running fifth when the 20 and the 31 got together. We came in running fifth and we came out of the pits and the 26 car ran over the nose and bent the snout. We had a good race car and missed the first incident which was the big milestone for the day and we get hit on pit road. That was just terrible for us. That was just one of those days where we weren't able to capitalize. That's one of those ironic situations in racing. We're very careful now of coming in and out of the pits. It wasn't our fault, but we got into it. We don't need that to happen again."
PONTIAC PLUGS: Bobby Labonte's victory in last year's DieHard 500 at Talladega was Pontiac's first and only restrictor plate win. It broke a streak of 42 consecutive races in which a Grand Prix had not win a restrictor plate race. It was also Pontiac's first win at Talladega since Richard Petty emerged victorious after the 1983 Winston 500 After 29 races, Pontiac drivers have combined to post six wins, 36 top-five and 74 top-10 finishes. At the same point last year, Pontiac drivers had combined to post two wins, 13 top-five and 40 top-10 finishes. That's a 277 percent increase in top-fives and 185 percent increase in top-10s At this point last season, two Pontiac drivers (Labonte - sixth and John Andretti - ninth) were in the top-10 in the point standings. This year three Pontiac drivers (Labonte - second, Tony Stewart - fifth and Ward Burton - 10th) are in the top-10.
Labonte was the only Pontiac driver to win last season. This year, Labonte, Stewart and Andretti have all won and Burton has finished second twice. The last time three Pontiac drivers won races in a season was 1983 -- Cale Yarborough, Richard Petty (3) and Tim Richmond.. Pontiac's 36 top-five finishes are more than the 31 total from the previous three seasons. With six more top-five finishes, Pontiac can surpass the total number of top-fives they've earned in the previous four years combined (41)