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March 24, 2002

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Latest News and Commentary

Interview with Jeff Burton

April 7, 2002

Jeff Burton (left) and his brother Ward stand next to the #22 Bill Davis Racing Dodge during the rain delay.  Photo Courtesy Dodge/Getty Images

Jeff Burton, driver of the No. 99 Citgo Taurus, came in out of the rain to hold a Q&A session in the Texas Motor Speedway Infield Media Center. Burton is scheduled to start 37th when the green flag falls for the Samsung/Radio Shack 500.

DO YOU SEE NASCAR TRYING RESTRICTOR PLATES HERE NEXT YEAR? "A lot happens in a year. I suspect that next year we'll be going slower anyway. I think by next year we'll be running different rules. I think they'll take some of the downforce away from us so when we come back we won't need plates. I see us toward the end of the year, if the championship isn't in jeopardy, they'll probably make some changes. That's my opinion. I have no reason to say that other than I do know that everybody thinks we make too much downforce. Having said all that, in the winter next year would give a good opportunity to take some downforce away and come here with less downforce and then we won't need restrictor plates."

DOES NASCAR NEED TO ADDRESS WHAT HAPPENED IN THE BUSCH RACE WITH MICHAEL WALTRIP'S CAR? "There are a lot of things that NASCAR is addressing on making the cars bigger. Really, at the end of the day, that's the problem. Even though the windows are bigger than they've ever been, they're still small. The seats have come such a long way, but egress hasn't. We've made egress worse than it used to be, so you can't get out of these things. Even when the car isn't wrecked it's hard to get out of them. For me to get out of my car, I literally hurt my shoulder once trying to get out of my car -- it's just hard to get out and in a bad situation it's even harder. We've always got to look and learn from situations. For whatever the reason was that Michael couldn't get out, we need to look at it and figure out what it was to make it better. He told me his window net was stuck. When a car is upside down, gravity isn't working to get the window net down, so a lot of the stuff that makes the window net work when you unlatch it, now it doesn't work. The window net is hooked to the roof hoop and into the door bars and if those things get bent, then it makes it a problem there too. So we have to look at everything. Anytime something happens we need to look at it and figure out how to learn from it."

A YEAR AGO THIS WEEK THE ROUSH TEAMS WERE KIND OF DOWN. WHAT HAPPENED BETWEEN NOVEMBER AND FEBRUARY? "Nothing happened between November and February -- a lot of stuff happened between March and July of last year. You don't just turn the switch on and start running better and you don't just turn the switch off and start running poorly -- things progress that way. We went into last year feeling better than we've ever felt. We had the right people, we had the right cars, every team was really excited and ready to go racing. We felt good about it, but none of us were running. We started looking at, 'Man, what are we doing wrong? The tires are different. What's different?' Each team made a contribution to us running better. Each team went out and learned a little something and then we all started applying those things. Through that, we've performed better this year than we did last year. The 99 car, we haven't run as well this year as we did at the end of last year -- we've run worse -- but we've done a better job of managing our year. We haven't turned poor finishes into disastrous finishes. We've kept ourselves in position."

IS THERE MORE COOPERATION AMONG THE FOUR TEAMS? "No. Last year the teams worked together like never before. I kept telling everybody last year that our teams are working better than they ever have, there's more cooperation, there's more research and development, there's more willingness to try things than there ever had been. Last year was kind of a change at Roush Racing and we didn't see good results from it, but it wasn't that we weren't doing the right things. All of those things are still in place. Now, certainly, we swapped the two teams but those people are still in our company and those same people were being productive last year as well. We put them with a different driver to try to get something else out of them, but, other than that, there wasn't a big change over the winter. We migrated toward a change throughout all of last year and now we're seeing the results of some of that."

HOW DOES IT FEEL TO SEE HOW THE SWAP HAS WORKED? "It feels great. I kind of stuck my neck out there a little bit with the suggestion that we do it. I had crew members that weren't happy with me and it wasn't an easy transition. It was a big change for a lot of people. I'm known in the company as somebody that doesn't mind sticking my nose into just about everybody else's business and when you do something that effects someone, they can get offended pretty easily and I don't blame them. It's worked really well so far, so, right now, I'm OK. It really wasn't a bold move, if anything it was a show of support for our people. I think that was the thing I wanted everybody to understand was that we didn't go out and hire a new crew chief. We didn't go out and get rid of people and bring in new people, we kept the same people we had and we just restructured who they worked with. To me, that's the ultimate amount of respect saying, 'Hey, we want you to be in the company so we're gonna change things around so it works for you.' And that's what we did for all of those people and, so far, it's worked out great."

WHAT MADE YOU THINK THAT WOULD WORK? "Because I know Mark Martin is a great race car driver and I know Kurt Busch is a really, really good race car driver and gonna be a great race car driver. I know that Jimmy Fennig cares about his race cars and thinks about his race cars as much as anybody and Ben Leslie showed remarkable signs of being able to get the job done himself. So I looked at those four people and it was like, Mark was really needing a change because he wasn't running well. It wasn't Jimmy Fennig's fault that he wasn't running well and it wasn't Mark's fault he wasn't running well, it just wasn't working. But when we started thinking about doing that, the thought of Jimmy Fennig not being a crew chief in our company didn't make any sense. That was what made me think about it, the thought of Jimmy Fennig leaving our company to go be a crew chief for someone else and then having to race against Jimmy. Jimmy is really talented, I didn't see a lack of talent. If you look around your company and you see people that don't care as much as they used to and people that aren't putting the dedication in and people that have lost the desire, then they've got to go. No matter who they are -- driver, car owner, crew chief, whoever -- if you don't have the desire and dedication and the ability to do it, then you just can't be there, but that wasn't the case with any of those people."

WHAT DID YOU SEE IN THE BUSCH RACE THAT WILL HELP IN THE CUP RACE? "The biggest thing I learned was that if you ever get tight, you're in big trouble. You obviously don't want to be loose, but turn two -- behind other cars your car gets really tight anyway and if you start off tight you're gonna be that much worse. You've got to keep your car turning. It's got to get to the middle of the corner down there and be wide open in the gas and turning well off the corner. If you do that, then you can run well. Even if your entry speed is a little bit off, if you can run from the center of the corner off, you'll be just fine." DID
YOU FEEL ANYMORE OF A LOAD IN THE CAR THAN USUAL? "My ears kept popping. I had a Navy pilot say to me once that when they fly a lot under tremendous G-force loads that they have problems with their ears. He asked me if I ever had problems with my ears and I didn't know what he was talking about. At some race tracks we go to my ears pop and yesterday my ears equalized probably three times during the race. I've never had that before. It was pretty interesting." WHAT IF MARK
HAD SUGGESTED A SWITCH WITH YOU AND FRANK? "I wouldn't have been interested in that because Frank were and still are working very well together. And, at the time, we were the best running Roush team. We were the ones knocking off the top fives and we were the ones earning the points. We will never break up a combination that is working and Frank and myself, at that point, were working. We're not working now, but that doesn't mean we're gonna make a change. We're not working now as well as we need to, but from the midway point to last year we were the best Roush team. To make that change at that point wouldn't have made any sense."

JEFF BURTON CONTINUED -- WHAT IF YOU WERE IN MARK'S SITUATION? "If I were confident that I was getting a crew chief that could get the job done for me, then that's what I'd want. If anyone in the company didn't feel good about it, we couldn't have done it. When I say anyone, I mean the crew chiefs and the drivers. If Jimmy Fennig didn't look at Kurt Busch and say, 'I know Kurt Busch can't win races,' then that wouldn't have worked for Jimmy Fennig. And if Mark would have looked at Ben and said, 'I don't think Ben can get it done," then that wouldn't have worked. Everyone had to believe that it was gonna work. Those four people had to believe in it. If any one of those four people didn't believe in it, then it wouldn't have worked."
WHAT ABOUT KURT BUSCH AND HIS AGGRESSIVENESS? "Kurt is a really good race car driver. The time I've spent with him and time I've watched him race, he's intent on winning. Kurt is pretty smart. One of the things we preach at Roush is you've got to race the way you want to race. No one is gonna tell you how to race, but if you race clean and you race smart and you drive people the way they drive you, nine times out of 10 that will work in your favor. All young drivers have trouble with that, but Kurt did at Bristol what he felt got done to him. 'Here's a guy that knocked me out of the way, so I can knock him out of the way.' That's the rules we live by at Roush Racing. We don't go looking for trouble, that's not what we do, but if you come looking for trouble with us it's there for you and that's how it all went down. I know Jimmy was upset about it and everybody says stuff and does stuff in the heat of the moment, but you can't do something to somebody and then have it done to you and be mad about it. It just doesn't work like that."

PEOPLE WERE SURPRISED THOUGH BECAUSE HE DOESN'T LOOK SO TOUGH. "He doesn't look very tough does he (laughing). He and his girlfriend flew down with me to the Final Four on Monday night and I had a dinner meeting. There were 14 of us sitting at a table and even though he flew down with me, he wasn't eating dinner with us he was eating dinner with someone else at the same restaurant. He walked by and the guy next to me didn't know who he was and he said, 'Look at that kid and his girlfriend. What are they, 16 or 17 years old?' And I said, 'That's the race winner from last week, that's who that is.' He looked at me and said, 'What you mean?' And I said, 'That's Kurt Busch, he won the Winston Cup race last week,' and the guy said, 'No way.' He cut himself shaving for the first time this morning. He's got a band-aid on his chin (laughing). If you go talk to people he raced against in the truck series, half of those people he made mad so he is an aggressive driver, there's no doubt about it."

WHAT ABOUT MATT'S TEAM? "Yeah. It's so hard to explain and to understand why you run well at times and why you don't. It's just difficult. Matt Kenseth never forgot how to drive a car. Robbie Reiser never forgot how to work with Matt Kenseth and they didn't have some success for a while. It's like Frank and I right now. Right now, Frank and I are doing the worst job at Roush Racing of leading races and running in the front -- we're doing the worst job. But the last three years we've been Roush Racing -- we've been the team that's won the most races and done all those things so it ebbs and flows. You can't just step back and say, 'Well, it's not our time,' you've got to go do the things that makes it your time. You always have to go out and say, 'We're gonna be the best team or we're gonna lead laps and do whatever it takes to do that.' But it's hard to maintain that. Even though you try really hard and you go into every race and every year thinking, 'Man, we've got all our stuff like it needs to be,' but sometimes it just doesn't work out and you don't know why. That's what makes all professional athletics tough. The Dallas Cowboys don't win every Super Bowl. Regardless of what everybody thinks, the New York Yankees don't win every World Series. It's hard to put the group of people together no matter how much money you have and all those things and win every single year. I remember leaving Pocono going to the airport, riding behind a station wagon that had written on the back window 'Dale Earnhardt, it's time to cash in the 401(k).' I mean, he couldn't run, he couldn't finish in the lead lap and then the year before he passed away he finished second in the points. This thing goes up and down and you've got to work really hard to always stay on the upside of it, but you're not always gonna be on the upside." 

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