Q and A with Jeff Burton
We have with us Jeff Burton, who is a Chase participant this year. He's in eighth place in the Chase as we head towards Texas Motor Speedway this weekend. He also won earlier this year at Texas. He's the first repeat winner there.
So what do you think, Jeff, going back there?
JEFF BURTON: Well, certainly we've had a lot of success at Texas. It's kind of been either really good or really bad for me. Not many just mediocre runs. We haven't run as well over the last three or four months as we'd like to run for sure. So as the year winds down, the intensity of wanting to have some good runs and running in the front just continues to build.
Obviously we're pretty much out of the championship hunt, but fifth is better than ninth. And 10 is better than 12. So we're going to go get all we can and try to get back on track.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for Jeff.
Q Jeff, I'd like you to go back and bring us forward from the time, I guess you had the dubious honor of being the first guy to spin out a Car of Tomorrow here in the test, where that car has come from here to now. And what you and your team have learned in the day and a half you've been here for this test?
JEFF BURTON: I think the wing has certainly helped a great deal with the stability of the car. Especially around all the cars.
We've yet really to see everybody's pretty much running by themselves like we typically would in a practice. So it's still yet to be determined how good or how bad they're going to be with 43 of them out there.
But it's come from the wing standpoint it's come a long way. There are a lot of little things that have happened since then, but no real big ones as seen by me, other than the wing.
And we're still in the exploratory phase at that point, splitter links, all that. They've made a lot of changes, but the wing being the biggest one.
Honestly, in the last day and a half we've learned we've got a lot of work to do. We're behind and we've got four months to get caught up. And it's not because we haven't worked hard. But some other people have just done a better job. We just can't go as fast as we need to go with any of our cars right now.
So it's good to know where we are in October and November rather than February. And it's clear we've got some ground to gain.
Q Is there any point in this season that you could have done better, things could have worked out better that it could have been a better Chase for you, do you think or is it just the way the luck has evolved more or less?
JEFF BURTON: When I look at our Chase, we've had some good luck, and most of the things that have happened to us from a bad standpoint, I don't consider luck. I think that we broke an engine at Talladega , that wasn't luck. We did something wrong. We broke a fuel pump, part of the fuel pump cable system the week before that. And I don't consider that luck either. I consider that something that was in our control.
And then we haven't run as well. That's in our control, too. Yesterday – and people always forget the good things that happen. People forget the things – Sunday, rather, we finished fifth and if that thing would have gone two more lapse who knows where we would have finished. We had tire rub so bad that I don't know how – we wouldn't have finished fifth I can assure you of that. So that worked out for us.
So we've had some things go for us and we've had some things go against us. At the end of the day, the thing we're not happy about is the way we've run. It hasn't been in the Chase it was before the Chase. We hadn't run as well as we did the first part of the year. Seemed like when it got away from us we were never able to get it back. So we're still fighting and we're going to go get all we can get.
Q Can you maybe give a little explanation how much different is the driving behavior between the current Cup car and the COT car?
JEFF BURTON: As radical as they look, as radically different as they look, they do drive differently, there's no question. But probably not as differently as one would assume.
Typically the struggles that we have with the current car, let's call it, are similar to the struggles we have with the new car.
The new car makes overall less grip. It tends to magnify the problem more. But if I read the comments from what I said on Sunday during the race, they're very similar to what I'm seeing today.
It's just in a bigger degree. If we were 30% too tight now we're 50% too tight. If we were 30% loose now we're 30% too loose.
They just do more of the bad things more of the time and they do it to a worse degree. So they don't drive as good for sure, but not as radically different as the two cars look.
Q I understand you have water in your fuel system, they found water in your fuel system after the race on Sunday. Is that a concern to you? Are you confident at all that it was just a freak thing?
JEFF BURTON: It is a very, very rare thing. And I don't understand the logistics of getting fuel to the track. It's something we just take for granted.
Obviously, I think that's much more of an isolated case than it's going to be normal. So it definitely had an impact on the race on Sunday, which was disappointing, but at the same time that's been a very rare occasion. So I'm not concerned about it in any form or fashion.
Q The top two teams in the sport, I guess you'd call them that, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, aren't here for this test. Do you look at that as an opportunity to gain two days of testing on them or would you rather to have them here so you can spy on them a little, see what they're doing?
JEFF BURTON: What it shows to me is their confidence in their program. They're comfortable with giving up two days of testing at a racetrack that we have the right tires, we have the right racetrack. It's the best conditions you'll ever get for a test. They have the confidence that they can do that and still be in good shape.
So that has a way of, to me, in some ways saying to the world, hey, we're in good shape. In other ways the competitors look at it two different ways. You can look at it as hey they're lazy and they don't have focus on what they ought to have focus on, which isn't how I look at it. Or you can look at it as some people look at it as kind of an arrogant standpoint.
I don't view it like that. I believe that they just have confidence in their program. And that they don't have to be here to be successful. That's the way I view it. But it has – a few people have taken note and not been impressed. Others have been impressed.
Q This question was posed to me by a fan last week. I'll turn around and throw it at you. Can you comment on the DEI/RCR engine companies decision, if we understand it correctly, to go all in with a new R07 collaboration at the point of the season in which they did, which I guess was earlier in the Chase?
JEFF BURTON: I think people have their facts confused about the DEI/RCR engine merger. We're not 100% merged at the moment. There's an effort to get 100% merged. The commitment is to be 100% merged, but we aren't at the moment. We were at Talladega. And obviously we didn't have good results there.
But going into Daytona next year, I believe the program will be. So I think that they have taken the right course of action in not just scraping everything and starting over and trying to do that with 12, 15 races left in the year. I think that would have been a huge mistake.
So we aren't 100% merged at the moment, as far as who is building engines for what car, but there is an effort and again the commitment is so going into next year that is a completed project.
Q I know you've been totally consumed with the Chase. My question actually is about TV ratings and attendance. There's some evidence, of course, it's plateauing or declining in places. And I'm wondering, as a driver, is that something you're aware of? Is it cause for concern on your part or any thoughts about what drivers or NASCAR might do to change those numbers?
JEFF BURTON: I'm concerned I'm the only one that couldn't hear that.
Q On the declining TV ratings in places and some empty seats, is that something you're aware of as a driver? Are you concerned and do you have any thoughts about why it's happening and what NASCAR or the drivers might do to make the numbers better?
JEFF BURTON: Well, that's a good question. I do get concerned when I see empty seats, as I'm sure everyone is. Obviously I don't have the background to determine why, what or if. That's just not my expertise. But I mean I think the quality of racing is good. I watch a replay of the races and I think the quality of racing is good.
I think we have to continue to work to make it a fun event for the fans. I think that – I don't know. I honestly don't know. I don't know if all sports have a decline in TV viewership. I just don't know all the facts. So I hate to make a comment on how to make something better when I don't have all the facts to help me make that decision.
So I will say that any participant in the sport wants to see all those seats full, wants to see a lot of people watching on television, and we've got to do everything in our power to make sure we can do that.
Q Clint Bowyer obviously has a realistic shot at this Cup if he can get by the 48 and the 24. Is there anything you can do to help him even further, encouragement or anything besides what you do in the normal course of the year?
JEFF BURTON: In regard to '07? All we can do is try to be good teammates in every definition of a good teammate, that is providing any information that we have that has made our cars go faster.
I don't know that we can step our program up in that area. But I do know that we have to be sure that we are working together in an effort to give them every bit of support that we can give them.
And that we should be doing on a daily basis. I think when you're doing the old adage I give 110%. It's impossible to give 110%. You either give 100% or you don't. And when you're working as hard as you can to work together, it's hard to take that up another level. When you aren't doing it well, it's easier. So I don't know that we can really do anything different, because I think we're doing it pretty well right now.
We can always improve. But I don't think we're in the situation where we can improve enough in the short period of time that we have to benefit them. That's the way I see it?
Q You're an experienced Chase contender. Have you learned over time anything about the Chase that is exceptional and not like racing as usual?
JEFF BURTON: I think the really interesting thing about the Chase is when the Chase starts everyone tries to define how the Chase is going to happen. The reality is no one knows how it's going to happen. And it's a lot – the old adage of keeping yourself in position to win a football or baseball game, whatever, I think that really holds true in this Chase format. I mean right now today if you look at what it's taken to win, what it will take to win the Chase, look at what Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson have done, not only have they not had problems they've had great finishes.
The question is if they have any problems at all in the next three races we've got a whole ’nother ball game. So the number of bad finishes that you're able to have, the number of top 5s, wins you have to have to win it, everybody thinks they understand it. But the reality is no one really knows. Because every Chase is different. The only thing I know for sure is that the better you do, the more chances you put yourself into position to get top 5s, top 7s the better chance you have to win it.
And today's Chase today you've not been afforded bad finishes. You just can't have them. So the interesting thing to me and the thing I've learned the most is that you can't go into it thinking you know how it's going to pan out.
And you have to race every race by itself. You can't be racing Dover worried about Michigan, or not Michigan, but worried about Kansas. You just gotta take each race, get the best you can, get the most you can, and that's really all you can do.
Q I know last year you were a big proponent when it was announced that Juan Pablo was going to be coming into the series. Your thoughts about the new three drivers, Villeneuve, Carpentier and Franchitti. And if this trend continues, is there a point that we have to start wondering about how many more drivers from other series are going to be coming into this series?
JEFF BURTON: You don't have to worry about that. It's a monkey see, monkey do sport. Somebody will hire somebody else and do well and then everybody will have to have them. So there's not a whole lot of creativity in our sport, in my opinion.
I think that Chip was very creative and the rest of them are just copycats. I mean that's my opinion. So that will happen again. I think that our sport should be open to any driver no matter what country he's from, he or she, what color he or she may be. It should not matter.
And what should matter is the driving ability of that person and his or her's ability to interact with fans and interact with sponsors and do a good job of representing their team and their sport. That should be the criteria and that should be the only criteria.
I believe that the biggest adjustment that those guys have, and I think you've seen it with Montoya, is that these cars are just so different. And I think it just takes a while. I think Montoya has done an incredibly good job, and I think the other guys will too.
I view it as a flattering commentary on our sport that other forms of drivers want to come to our sport. And these are drivers that have opportunities to do things in the type of racing they were in but they elect to come do this.
That's very flattering for our type of auto racing. So I think – the controversial thing of it is that at what point do we not have enough American drivers to attract the American fan. And that's a conversation that should be had. I don't know how you would limit it.
And you shouldn't limit it. But it does have potential, some potential negative consequences, as I think we've seen in other forms of motor sports. We are American fans for the most part like to pull for American drivers. That's just how it is.
When I watch the Ryder Cup I want America to win. That's just part of human nature. So that's potentially an issue that we may have to deal with. But, again, it should be open to the most talented people that can do the best job overall and whatever that works out, that's how it works out.
Q Following up on that, does the sport need a Ward Burton-type personality in the top 10 now, do you think that might help the TV ratings and empty seats in the stands, somebody that working people might identify with more?
JEFF BURTON: I don't know. I don't have an answer for that. I think that I get a little mad when we talk about personalities and all that. I mean if you look at who is in the Chase and the different personalities that are in the Chase, what personality isn't in there?
We've got a huge array of different personalities, and I think that the Chase is very well represented in different walks of life, different background. That's my opinion.
Q To beat this dead horse just a little bit more, you mentioned the Ryder Cup earlier, and there's a very definitive qualifying system for that as there is for getting on the PGA Tour, you shoot the numbers and you're out there. A little more vague in this league. How much do you think that the personality of the driver and how many fans they attract and that sort of thing plays into it as opposed to their ability to drive a car?
JEFF BURTON: I think there's a lot of people that have the ability to drive race cars and I think there's a lot of people running short tracks or running road courses somewhere in America or Europe or wherever that have every bit as much talent as the very best guy here but they don't get a shot for one reason or another their dad doesn't have money or uncle doesn't have money or they can't get a sponsor. This sport's a very unique sport in that you have to have access to dollars. You have to have access to resources.
If you don't have that, in many cases you can be the best driver in the world and never get a shot. So in many ways it's not exactly a fair sport. I don't think that NASCAR should be in the position to make decisions should the driver come in or not because of his personality. That's a sponsor's decision. That's a car owner and a sponsor decision. That's who's making the investment in the driver.
So I think that takes care of itself. Again, I think that – and we had the big discussion at Talladega, was that the proper place for a rookie to have his very first race. The question wasn't the ability level, the question was, was that the right place? And most drivers say almost anywhere but here. As the race turned out, it could have been the hardest race of the year turned out it was maybe the easiest race of the year.
So I think the drivers, if you've had success in another series, top series, you have the talent to do this. And it's just getting adapted to this form of racing. That's going to be – that’s the issue. It's not the talent level. It's not the ability. It's just having the time and people around you having the patience to allow you to be able to do as well as you will be able to do.
Q I was wondering if you could go back for a second to Sunday on the last restart. Could you see what was going on with the 11 when that all piled up?
JEFF BURTON: Obviously not (laughing) you know the interesting thing about our sport and restarts is you can't see two cars in front of you. You have no idea what's going on. They stop and you got momentum, you're going to hit something.
That's what I got committed to trying to make a move on the outside and I was coming, man, I thought I had a run. All of a sudden they were in front of me not moving. So it's very difficult to see around cars and through cars. And two cars in front of you something can be happening and you don't know it until you hit something.
Q You and Scott Wimmer have put RCR in a position to win a Busch Owners Championship this year. The word over the weekend, the version of the COT will come to the nationwide series in 2009, how do you view the future of the series?
JEFF BURTON: Expensive. The transition from the current car to the Car of Tomorrow is exceptionally expensive. NASCAR, I think, did about as good of a job as they could not to just throw it on the Cup teams. I haven't heard the plan for the Busch teams. Next year there's a new engine RPM rule. There's a new manifold rule, which is going to pull quite a bit of horsepower out of them.
Then the following year, which, by the way, will add expense, because people are going to go figure that out. Long-term it might be better because they're going to have to not rebuild them as often. But short-term you're going to spend research and development dollars to figure out how to make that engine combination work best.
Then on top of that we're going to put the Car of Tomorrow on them. I worry about having the funds to support that. I will say that it's a difficult position if you know you have something out there that's safer and you know you have something out there that the drivers will stand a much better chance of survival and that real big impact, it's hard not to enact it.
But it takes dollars to do that. Currently we see not a lot, probably not as many as we'd like to see well-funded Busch teams. And I think that's going to get harder in '09. It's a great series. TV ratings are incredible. Viewership is great. But it's exceptionally expensive to be involved in.
So that's my biggest concern. But, again, if we know there's a safer product for us to be using, we've got to be using it.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Jeff, for joining us.