NASCAR News

An interview with Jeff Burton

 

November 1, 2006

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Jeff Burton
NASCAR

Q. Jeff, you have got three races remaining in the chase, what's the outlook for your team going into these last three crucial races?

JEFF BURTON:  I think it's obvious we have a little ground to make up.  Martinsville certainly didn't help us, and last week didn't kill us but we're not in the position we truly want to be in.  Again, the things that have happened to us over the last three weeks can happen to anybody else too.  We're one race away or one poor finish away from one of the top two guys from being right back in it.  It's our job to execute.  We feel good about the position we're in.  We also understand that we are probably going to have to have a little help, but in today's environment a little bit of help is not out of the realm of possibilities. For us, it's a matter of focusing on the job at hand, knocking off three good finishes, worrying about this one this weekend first and then we'll see what happens.

Q. I have to bring up the obvious controversial question again off of Atlanta Sunday night.  Have you or anybody on the team calculated any sort of ballpark about how many positions and/or points you lost due to the controversial call?

JEFF BURTON:  Well, it's impossible to figure that.  There's so many variables in play.  Without that caution, maybe there's not the multi car wreck in turn one.  Without that caution there's a lot of things that maybe don't happen. 

We ended up 13th, two laps down, and at one point being on the lead lap you're sitting there running 17.  I think it's in impossibility to truly give some sort of an estimate.

We have no way of knowing what the outcome would have been had that caution not come out.  There's no question about that.  So it's something that    you know, when I look at it, we were five seconds away from being one lap down versus two laps down, and with then the distinct possibility of being in the position to get the lucky dog.  And then that puts you in the position of being in the lead lap which gives you a much better opportunity to get a better finish. 

We have no way of knowing what would happen.  We can't read the future or the past, but overall it didn't seem like a positive thing for us.

Q. Are you able to file something like this away under the "that's racing" category, like getting hit or getting caught up in a wreck or something, or would it be harder to take if you were to fall, you know, 15, 25 points short of a championship, would it be harder to take knowing that some amount was lost through something like this rather than the classic "that's racing" kind of thing?

JEFF BURTON:  Well, yes, it is.  To be quite honest, a couple of things, the reason that we were two laps down had nothing to do with someone throwing roll bar padding out or NASCAR throwing a caution, it had to do with me making a mistake.  Had I not made the mistake to begin with, we wouldn't have been in a position to be hurt by any legal action. 

The first thing we have to do is step back and I have to take responsibility of putting us in the position of being two laps down.  That's very obvious to me.  At the same time, things happen in the course of a race that affect everyone on the race track.  Any time a caution comes out, that creates everybody bunched up, and that has a way of rolling into the next event.  You just don't ever know what's going to happen. 

Everything that happens on the race track affects someone else, and that's part of, as you said, the "just racing" category.

When someone intentionally manipulates the rules    well, not manipulate    breaks the rules and then NASCAR is put in the position to react to that, then that is filed in a different category.  It is filed in a different    it is looked at upon in a different light, because that's not just a racing incident. 

What happened to Mark Martin and Dale Jarrett, they were all racing and an event happened.  In my case, someone broke the rules and possibly got by with it, and that negatively affected us, as well as other people too.  By the way, it helps some people, so at the end of the day, it is a different situation.

I certainly will continue to ask NASCAR, and I know NASCAR is trying to deal with it.  NASCAR has decided    I know they're looking into it.  It's nothing against Robby Gordon or anyone in particular, I just think we've got to be careful not to let the competitors break the rules.  And when they do, NASCAR has got to enforce it.

It puts NASCAR in the position, if they don't know what it is, they have to throw up the caution.  I want them to err on the side of caution.  But when we put them in that position intentionally, the penalty should be large enough to where the next guy doesn't want to do it.  If someone does get by with it, then the next guy is more prone to want to try to do it. Told me 20 years ago, if you don't make drivers do the right thing, they never will.  I think this is the case of that.

Q. One quick follow up on that.  Does this, in your mind, state any extra case for a separate point system?

JEFF BURTON:  No, not at all.  I am totally opposed to a separate point system, because if Mark Martin wins the race and he finishes six positions ahead of me, then he did six positions ahead of me a better job, and he should be awarded six positions ahead of me better points.

If I blow an engine at Martinsville and finish 42 and Jimmy Johnson wins the race, he gets ten points and I get one.  That's completely unfair.  I think he did a much better job than we did.  He deserves to get first place points and we deserve to get 42nd place points. 

The variables that are thrown in, like what we had on Sunday night, unfortunately, unfortunately, falls back on NASCAR to deal with the problem right then and there, if they can.  If they can't, you know, again, the only thing you can do is wish they would have done the right thing.  NASCAR had no choice, because they didn't know what it was, but to throw the caution.  They did what they had to do.  If that means I get hurt by it, so be it, that's how it has to be. 

I don't have a problem with NASCAR erring on the side of caution, but I have a problem if all the evidence says this guy, whoever it happens to be, did something that was illegal, then I would fully expect that group to be punished accordingly. 

This has nothing to do with me.  I'm not upset at Robby Gordon, okay.  I'm not mad at Robby Gordon.  I have no problem with Robby Gordon.  This is not something Robby Gordon did.  If he did it to hurt me or my team or our sponsors, if he did what everyone gas accused him of doing, and I haven't seen the video so I can't comment, he was doing it for myself.  He wasn't doing it out of malice.  I want to be clear on that.

Q. On the same issue, I'm wondering, in all the years you came up through short tracks or other forms of racing, how common are antics like that, you know, whether it's throwing a water bottle or throwing random stuff out of the car?  I imagine it has some sort of tradition in racing. 

JEFF BURTON:  Certainly the person that did it at Atlanta wasn't the first person to ever do it.  But what we need to do is make sure he is the last.  There is a tradition in doing whatever you have to do to get a caution, there is a long time tradition, long time    I hate to use the word tradition.  But if you have a problem on the race track, it's nothing to go to a Saturday night short track and see a guy stop on the race track and make them throw a caution.  If you need a caution, you need a caution.  And NASCAR has, over the years, when people have intentionally stopped on the race track to throw a caution, they have penalized him for not only what they gave up but for some more also.

Michael Waldron, during the truck commentary at Martinsville, was talking on TV about intentionally spinning out if you had a problem.  So that's not the first time it's ever happened, by any means.  This is a self serving sport.  If you think you can get by with something that's going to benefit you, we'll tend to do that.  So yes, this isn't the first time it's ever happened.

Q. Lastly, are you or can you tell yet whether this whole matter has been resolved to your satisfaction?  You had a very specific proposed remedy for what ought to happen to the person if it was possible to determine what person did this.  Do you have any faith or any degree of faith that something like that  

JEFF BURTON:  I have a tremendous amount of faith that NASCAR does not want their race impacted by an illegal action.  And I have a tremendous amount of faith that NASCAR, with the proper amount of time and proper amount of evidence, will deem someone either not guilty or guilty and then punish them accordingly. 

I have not actively gone out and pursued the footage to make the determination upon myself if Robby was guilty or not, because it's irrelevant to me. It doesn't matter to me who did it, but it is relevant to NASCAR.  I have a tremendous amount of faith that they will look at it and if the evidence is there that someone, whoever it happens to be, should be penalized, that person will be penalized. 

Will that help me at the end of the day?  It won't do a thing for me.  Whatever points we lost or whatever points we gained based on that incident can't be given back and can't be given away.  It is what it is and that's gone.  There's no remedy for that.  So it's not going to affect me either way. My anger about it Sunday night was certainly directed toward how it affected me and my team and our sponsors.  No question about it.  But in retrospect, where we are today is to make sure it doesn't happen again.  And where we are today is NASCAR's place to make sure that if this    that people won't do that kind of thing, and if they do, make sure they wish they hadn't. 

There is no remedy.  To me, it's over.  I don't have hard feelings about it.  I'm not mad about it.  It happened.  Again, I go back    I put it on my own shoulders.  I'm the one that got a tire down.  I'm the one that caused that problem.  I'm the root of the problem.  I allowed a half a second lapse of thinking put us in the position for something bad to happen.  And by the way, it happened. That's how close this championship is.  You just can't afford any mistakes.  I did it.  It's my fault.  I put us in the position.  And beyond that, it's whatever NASCAR decides to do, that's what they'll do.

Q. I have a slightly different track.  I'm doing a feature on Jimmie Johnson.  As a guy who has been around for a long time the way you have, you have seen Jimmie Johnson get close repeatedly, but something has happened.  Do you see him as a different driver because of those experiences, maybe more mature, more grateful, or do you see him as the young gun he was in his rookie year and rising maybe a little beyond his years?

JEFF BURTON:  Jimmie came in with a high maturity level.  He came in with a tremendous amount of talent.  That goes without saying.  But also his brain was meshed up to his ability.  In many cases of young drivers, they're not meshed up just yet.  And in some cases, older drivers like me still haven't meshed up. 

But Jimmie's maturity level was high when he got here.  He's very are respectful, very courteous, very genuine person, and he drives accordingly.  I don't see a different Jimmie Johnson today than I saw him when he first came in, because I think he came in with his head on straight.  And I don't think he had this curve that he had to get through.

I'm sure Jimmie feels like he is a different driver.  I'm sure that Jimmie has gone through things that we all go through as drivers.  You mature and you become better.  And sometimes you don't even understand where you've matured and where you've gotten better. But the funny thing about putting yourself in position to win championships and it not happening, as long as you win one then it was equity.  And if you don't win one, then it was just a lot of missed chances.  At some point you'll be in one of the two categories. 

Jimmie is a championship driver and that is a championship team.  They're capable of winning the championship on any given year.  There's no doubt about that.  At some point they'll most likely put it together.  You know, I have a lot of respect for Jimmie, I have a lot of respect for Chad, and without a doubt, Hendrick Motorsports.  But Jimmie is extremely mature and I think Jimmie has got things in perspective.  I think he understands that there is a lot of things in the world going on and I think Jimmie's perspective is right on.

Q. Does he remind you of anybody, any young driver that came up in your years of racing?  Maybe a Jeff Gordon type?  I know he doesn't have the championships, but he's close.

JEFF BURTON:  I think Jeff came in more aggressive than Jimmie.  I may be wrong about that.  Jimmie reminds me a lot of Mark Martin, the driving style and the pursuit of excellence.  If you really think about it, how many mistakes does Mark Martin make?  How many mistakes does Jimmie Johnson make?  They're both level headed.  If I had to compare Jimmie to somebody, that's who it would be it.

Q. That says a lot, but do you think it's a coincidence that both are Hendrick guys for a long time?

JEFF BURTON:  No.  Mark never drove for Hendrick.

Q. Jeff.  You kind of answered this question already, I wanted to ask if you've seen the replay.  You haven't seen the replay.  Since the moment the caution came out during the race on Sunday that the debris was thrown by someone, where does that belief come from, that there definitely was a crime committed?  Did you witness it happening?  Was there a throwing motion from a car?

JEFF BURTON:  I've been racing cars now for 23 years, and I've yet to see a piece of roll bar padding fly out of the car by itself.  I don't want to say it's an impossibility, but I don't see many things come out of a race car, the way aerodynamics work.  There's only one place for something to get in and out, and that's in front of the window net right by the A post. 

I'm going to say, I've never seen a piece of roll bar padding just fall out of a race car.  If you ask anyone that's been around for any period of time at all, if they see a piece of roll bar padding on the race track, someone threw it out.  There's no question about that.  Roll bar padding, No. 1, it just doesn't fall out.  And No. 2, if it does, there's no way for it    it's pretty heavy.  There's no way for it to fall out of the A post.  That just can't happen.

Q. You said you wanted to examine every car, stop every car on pit road.  I know they checked out Robby Gordon's car, and they may have checked out a few others, but they definitely stopped short of stopping everyone on pit road.  Given this is the third time this has happened this year, are you satisfied with that kind of response?  When they have that kind of situation, should they now do that?  Should they stop every car after the race?

JEFF BURTON:  I think they should.  I think every car should be inspected.  The question is, some people put roll bar padding where other people don't.  The only problem with my theory is that someone could not have a piece of roll bar padding somewhere that someone else does have it.  And there is a possibility of someone saying, I never had a piece of roll bar padding there and they were telling the truth.  That's the only problem that I have with that. 

And I'll say this, too.  With television coverage the way it is today, if you throw a piece of roll bar padding out and you don't get caught, you need to be in Vegas the next day because something happened that you got really, really lucky not to get caught, because there are cameras everywhere.

And in NASCAR's defense, I'm sure they were probably sure they would be able to find some footage somewhere of whoever did this.  But I believe when there is a blatant infraction of the rules, it is NASCAR's charge to aggressively figure out who did it, because they're running the show and we look to them for guidance.  They are the governing body.  They are our policeman.  They are our judge, our jurors, everything.  That's who runs the show.  I want    as most drivers, we want to know the rules and we want to abide by them and we want everyone to abide by the same rules.

I want to be clear, I'm not upset at the way NASCAR has handled this either.  I think there are some things that NASCAR could do to make it a little better.  I think maybe we could locate more spotters around the race track.  We could have better vision tools so that they could really turn in on it and make sure it is what it is.

But having said all of that, when there is something on the race track and they wait ten seconds to figure out what it is before throwing a caution and someone runs over it and they have a big problem, then now they have got that on their shoulders too.  They are in a tough spot and I respect that.

Q. Are you going to see the video?  Are you going to try to look for the video this week?

JEFF BURTON:  I won't actively look for it.  I'm sure I'll be watching something and it will come up, but I'm not actively looking for it.  I have no reason    I'm serious, I don't care who threw it out.  It doesn't matter to me.  It really doesn't.  It doesn't have anything to do with any particular driver, as far as I'm concerned. 
By the way it doesn't have anything to do with Atlanta at this point.  It gives us a chance as a sport to dive into something so we can do it better next time.  I think that's where we are.  It's a learning opportunity and we need to take advantage of it.

Q. Thanks for coming this morning and Happy Halloween.

JEFF BURTON:  Are you dressing up tonight?

Q. I'm thinking about it.  I'm not sure which driver I'm going to be yet.

JEFF BURTON:  Do you need some help with that?

Q. I have some bright orange around the house that might work.  In honor of the day, what has been the scariest moment so far in the chase?

JEFF BURTON:  The scariest moment, I'm going to tell you, I have had, my in car camera has been getting overtime.  I have had a tremendous amount of things happen right in front of me in a lot of these races.  I mean, I can go back and think about just about every race, there has been a wreck happening right in front of me.  So I've had several moments I've had to catch my breath thinking we were going to get swept up in it. Last week a car spun out in front of us.  Loomis spun out in front of us a few weeks ago.  Those have been my scariest moments.

Q. Watching the races, they do look very scary.  It's been a crazy chase with a lot of movement in the top 10, including you and your team mate Kevin.  How do you guys stay on an even keel with things sliding around so much?

JEFF BURTON:  First of all, for me, I know we're fifth in points, because when the race was over I was doing a TV interview and they said, "You're fifth in points.  And this is how many points you are back."  As far as I'm concerned, when Atlanta is over, it's over and we're on the next race. 

The only reason we're talking about Atlanta today is because I was scheduled for this and I knew the roll bar padding incident was going to come up.  For me, I can't worry about where we are in points.  I can't worry about how well or how poorly our competition is doing.  The only thing I can help control and the only thing I can be positive in is trying to help our team be better.  It's obvious to us we finished 13th last week.  It's obvious to me I made a mistake.  It's obvious to me I need to do a better job at that.  So I'll work and try to do a better job at that.  That's how I run me.  I go race.  I'm going to race as hard as I can this coming weekend.  I'm going to do all I can to do the very best job I can.  My team is going to do the same thing.  And then we're going to go to the next race. 

We're not going to try to manipulate things to make the points    we're going to go race the way we know how to race.  I don't think that we're in    this is the way I view this, and I keep using these football analogies, but, hey, it's the season. To us, it's in the 4th quarter with six minutes to go.  We're down by 7, and it's fourth down.  We're going to go for it or punt.  Well, right now I'm still punting.  Right now I'm still relying on our defense.  I'm relying on us as a team to be able to pull this thing off.  If we go into next week, you know, still 90 points down or 100 points down, I'm going to have to think about going for it on fourth down. 

The situation we're in today, again, we're still relying on ourselves.  We're relying that the luck we've had, other people will have that as well, we just need to go out and do a good job.  We're not in a position to try to force something to happen.

Q. You talked earlier today about NASCAR should err on the side of caution.  If there's something out there on the track, throw the caution.  In regards to that, what kind of concern do you have with how the race ended last week with Clint Bowyer's car running up against the wall, scraping it, maybe shedding some pieces?  Is that something that NASCAR needs to look at?  Because that's certainly not the first time in the last lap or two they've allowed a car that's beat up to continue on as everyone else is racing.

JEFF BURTON:  That's tough.  They've implemented the rule that gives us a minimum speed.  And you have to be able to run on the minimum speed.  And if you can't run at the minimum speed, you have to pit.  It's very complicated with three laps or less left to go. 

When NASCAR gives you the black flag, there's a moment    there is a period of time they give you to heed the black flag, to accept it, because they don't know for sure you got the black flag.  They don't know you understand you're being black flagged.  It's a very difficult situation.

I really believe that NASCAR has taken the lead in motorsports in making the racing safer, especially coming to the caution, especially when there is a problem on the race track.  I think they do a better job than any other form of motorsports, as seen by me. But there are variables, and there are times when it's very difficult for them.  And they have the decision to make, are we going to drop the caution here and the fans see this race end under caution or can we deal with this situation for only two laps.  That's an assessment that they have to make in a matter of seconds.

I don't want to be in that position, because if you always drop the caution with two laps to go and something happens, we have a lot fans that are very upset.  The fans are not as nearly upset if you have to drop the caution with 40 to go.  It's a balance, and it's a tough balance.  I don't know the right answer.  But again, I'm overall comfortable with the way they manage it.

Q. A different topic.  Going back to the 2000 season, only Hendrick, Rousch and Gibbs have had teams that have won the title, and those teams have had the most top 5 finishers in the points at the end of the season.  You've seen this from different perspectives.  One, what is the challenge in maintaining that level of success over a long period of time?  And two, for a team like you guys, what you're trying to do, what kind of challenge is it for any organization to try to break through that?

JEFF BURTON:  The challenges in building a good team are kind of the same as keeping it.  The hardest part of what we, do in my opinion, is knowing when to change, knowing when to change what we're doing.  When you're having success, it's hard to know when to quit doing that.  When you are having success it's much easier to start changing stuff, because it's obvious you need to do something better. 

The teams that continually have success are really impressive because they found a way to move with the sport.  They found a way to keep up.  They found a way to lead the charge.  That's a very difficult thing to do.  It's a really difficult thing to do.  The same this year, the top three teams from last year didn't make it this year. 

For us, and I in particular, because I'm living it right now, not only are we trying to win a championship, we're trying to build a good Car For Tomorrow program.  We're trying to build a better Above Mile Track program.  We're trying to improve our Superspeedway program.  There is a lot going on.  And it's hard to continue to put the effort into what we're doing right now today and put the proper effort into what we need to do next year.  It's hard to do those things. 

Last year at this time we were just all into '06.  We were racing hard, but by far, our focus was on being better for next year versus this year, or the year we were in. 

So it's a difficult thing to do.  It requires, in my opinion, it's all about you've got to have the plan in place and you have to be executing on the plan.  And the teams that continually do it are really impressive: 
Let me say this.  We've also seen companies put the same cars, but we haven't always seen the same teams within those companies doing it.  And so companies are able to step up to the plate and do a good job, but even down to the team level, it's very difficult for a particular team inside of a company to move as a support, as well.

Q. Jeff, I wanted to know, sort of talk about the roller coaster of emotions that this chase has been I guess for you and if it's exceeded what you thought going in or what.

JEFF BURTON:  It's a difficult question, because I have done my best to prepare myself emotionally for whatever this sport or whatever life brings me.  Not to say that I've prepared myself as well as I could have, but I've tried.  Coming into this chase, I understood, believed that there would be moments of excitement, hoped there would be moments of excitement, and understood there would certainly be moments of disappointment.

I haven't gotten caught up in we're leading the points, we're fifth in points.  I haven't gotten caught up in that, because I've said to you guys to begin with I thought with two to three races to go, you start to get into it a little bit, but as we got with three to go, now we're the pursuer.  How that affects us, I don't know.  We're still going to go out and do our best job, but I don't feel like I've been on a roller coaster. 

I've been in this sport a long time.  And Jimmie Johnson and I were talking about this before the race on Sunday, look at any 10 race period throughout the year and how many teams go through that 10 race period without struggle, without problems.  It's very few.  So certainly the microscope is on this 10 race program.  There's no question about it.  But we, as competitors, understand that just because it's the chase doesn't mean that it's any different than any other time of the year, it just has more importance to it.
I haven't let myself get caught up in the whole chase thing, because emotionally I'm better not worrying about it.  I'm better off just focusing race to race, the same way I did the first 26 races. 

We got to Richmond, and I feel like when I look back on the year, I don't feel like we've been racing for eight or nine months, whatever it is, I feel it has gone fairly quickly.  And I think that's because I'm a race to race kind of guy.  I get over the last race pretty quick and I'm on to the next one pretty quick.

Q. Dale Earnheardt Jr. and now Jimmie Johnson this morning talked about a dip in turns one and two at Texas Motor Speedway, and Johnson said this morning he kind of thought it's growing and each year that's kind of what happens.  Do you know, what do you think there is a problem at turns one and two with the dip or is it something that you have to deal with?

JEFF BURTON:  I'm a fan of bumps and dips and things on race tracks that make it difficult.  I think that that gives race tracks character.  I'm not a guy that jumps up and screams and says we need to repave race tracks.  I'm just not.  I think whatever the facility is, within reason, it's our job to deal with it.  And the more obstacles that there are to deal with, the more important it is to have your stuff together.

I don't go to Texas thinking about the bump.  I go to Texas thinking about how are we going to do it better than everybody else.  I don't think it's a problem.  I think that it's an issue that we as teams have to address, but I wouldn't be on the, hey, you've got to fix it band wagon, because it's been my experience, any time race tracks try to fix something, they tend to mess it up more than help it.  And the quality of the race isn't affected by it.  It's up to us to figure out how to make it work, and I just don't care.

Q. One thing totally unrelated to the chase.  You said you're not in favor of a separate point system.  How about ten cars in the chase?  Would you like to see them extend it to get 12 cars or more in or do you like the number 10?

JEFF BURTON:  You can make a case that there should be more.  If you looked at other professional sports and the percentage of the teams that play, how many of those get into the playoffs.  Somebody could make a case there needs to be more teams.  But on the other hand, there is a tremendous amount of, how do I say this, if you end the top 10 with the way it is now you're certainly one of the elite teams, and it's harder to get into this playoff than it is most other professional sport playoff systems, and I'm not sure that's bad. 

I think I do support, and we heard a lot about it before this chase started, I think I do support if a guy has won 4, 5 races, I might support him being in the chase in some form or fashion.  The only problem I have with that, though, when I think about it, is, you know, if you're playing golf and you win the Masters, it's a big deal, right, but if you go on the next 25 or 30, they play a lot of golf, how many other tournaments they play in, and don't do very well, are you one of the elite golfers?  I don't think you are.  So it's a balance. 

I think the way it has been laid out works really well.  At the same token, I do know there's always room for improvement.  You can make a case that more teams should be in.  I'll be honest, it doesn't matter to me.  The more teams that are in it, the better it is for all the competitors, because the more chance you have to be in it.  At the same token, there's something real special about being in it the way it is now.

Q. How do you feel about the situation in the Busch Series?  Do you feel like something should be done to bring more attention to the Busch regulars?  Obviously I know NASCAR wants a couple of guys in there because it helps to sell tickets, but do you think there should be some kind of adjustment made there?

JEFF BURTON:  We've been having this conversation for 15 years, but it's worse today than it has ever been, or better today than it has ever been, however you want to look at it.  I don't know what the answer is.  No. 1, I don't know if it's a bad thing.  I don't know if the situation we have today is bad or not.  I don't know.  The fans, I hear a lot fans saying the Cup guys shouldn't be in the Busch Series, but a lot of fans go to the Busch races. 

My question, I guess, boils down to, what's the harm?  At the end of the day, when I had my Busch team, when I owned my own Busch team, I didn't have to race Richard Childress, I didn't have to race against Jack Rousch.  So it was a different environment. 

I did have to race against Harry Gant.  I did have to race against Mark Martin.  I did have to race against Dale Earnheardt.  The only reason I'm in the Cup today is because I got a chance to race with them, I got a chance to show my abilities against them and show just enough promise that somebody said, hey, let's give him a chance.  Without those guys in the Busch Series, I wouldn't be in the Cup Series.  I never would have gotten here.  So I benefited greatly by those guys being there. 

The problem we have today is you have to drive for a really good team to show your talent.  And there is a bigger difference in technology from the first car to the 25th place car today versus 15 years ago.  That's where the problem lies.  I don't think the problem lies in the drivers.  I'm not saying that because I'm a driver, I'm looking at it from an owner's perspective, I'm looking at it from a sponsor's perspective, and from a fan's perspective. 

When I go through driver introductions, I hear people glad that the Cup guys are there.  They cheer for them.  Overall, I think the fans, they may not want to admit it, but overall I think the fans are glad we're there.  But there is an issue.

I don't know how you resolve it.  I don't know what the fix for it is.  I just don't know. 

I don't know how NASCAR does resolve it unless there is some sort of a franchise Busch system, much way there needs to be a franchise Cup system, unless there is some sort of system like that, short of that, I don't know how you slow it down, because you can't prohibit Richard Childress from having a Busch car, I don't think.  That's the problem, the Busch teams are having to race against Cup technology.

Q. With the ratings and attendance down this year and so much unproven young talent out there, is NASCAR finally suffering a discernible negative backlash from alienating its longtime fans by trying to bring in a new demographic?

JEFF BURTON:  That's a complicated question.

Q. I'm sorry.

JEFF BURTON:  That's okay.  I don't mind it.  You know, I don't know.  Very rarely do I just say I don't know.  But I don't know the effect of    I don't think that unproven rookies have a stake in this.  Certainly a lot of people still show up to watch Dale Earnheardt Jr. race and watch Tony Stewart race, and some day those fans will be the fans of the guys that nobody knows who they are right now.

It's my opinion that the quality of racing isn't the reason why we would have a fall in ratings.  The quality of racing is better than it has ever been.  I would imagine, and of course I'm standing in the forest looking at all the trees, I'm not standing on the outside of it, but I think the quality of racing is really good.  I think the marketing around motorsports is really good.  It looks like there are more fans than we've ever had.  I feel like it's more fans we've ever had, from fan mail, to autograph sessions, to things I measure by, there's more fan input than we've ever had. 

So I don't know that    I don't have enough information about the ratings thing to give you an opinion.  I would be curious to know whether all sports ratings are down.

Q. Do veteran NASCAR fans say maybe there's nothing here for me anymore?

JEFF BURTON:  I don't think the majority of fans look at it like that.  Bobby Allison is not racing anymore, and Kelly is not racing anymore.  The longtime fans know who they are.  I think as long as the quality of racing is good, and there is a good alternative for a fan, then there's reason for a fan to come.
If Mark Martin decides to retire    you heard me say if he decides to retire.

Q. I got that.

JEFF BURTON:  And there are obviously a lot more Mark Martin fans out there, it's my experience those fans will latch on to someone they feel good about.  I don't think those fans leave the sport.  I think there is a period of time where they are not as enthusiastic as the sport, but as they pick a driver and they become more attached to them, they become equally enthusiastic.  I believe that to be the case. 
So no, I don't think that    I certainly    Tony Stewart, when he came in, he didn't have any fans.  Nobody knew who he was, but a lot of people know who he is now.  Fans have a way of migrating toward people and drivers, and I just don't see that being an issue. 

DENISE MALOOF:  Thank you, Jeff, for spending time with us today.  Good luck this week.  We appreciate it. 

JEFF BURTON:  Thanks a lot. 

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