NASCAR Media Conference
September 5, 2006
THE MODERATOR: Kasey is the only driver outside the current Top-10 eligible to race his way into the Chase. Later on we'll be joined by Jeff Burton who is 10th in the current standings and he'll be available for questions also.
Kasey, you lead the series with five victories this season, you trail Jeff by about 30 points and you're attempting to make your first Chase, what will it take?
KASEY KAHNE: It's just going to take another good night like we had at California. Just going to have to run up front, lead laps and get all the points we can possibly get. We were able to do that at California and get maximum points. I think if we get maximum points at Richmond we can definitely have a good shot at making it. It's going to be tough. It's going to be a competitive race and just have to see where we wind up. I'm looking forward to it, though. It should be a good time.
Q. Would you consider this season a disappointment if you did not make the Chase, especially with having the most wins of anybody this year?
KASEY KAHNE: I don't think it would be a disappointment. It would definitely be upsetting that we didn't make it. You know, somebody is not going to make it. The season we've had has been an awesome season. We're hopefully not done winning, whether we're in or not, I think we still have some wins in us. It's what it is. Hopefully we do everything right this weekend to make the Chase and we don't have to worry about anything else.
Q. With the points race being as close as it is, have you found yourself one position short of making the Chase on the last lap with someone in front of you, how would you approach the car in front of you at Richmond this weekend?
KASEY KAHNE: Just race like I always race, thoughtful, try to pass every car that I can see. I don't think you want to get into a Chase by swiping somebody out on the last lap. I don't think that's the way to do it. Just race like I always race and be aggressive and bring the car home in one piece and see where we end up in the points.
Q. You typically do pretty well in the Cup race when you race in the Busch race that same weekend. Whose idea was it that you kind of limit your schedule this weekend, is that something you guys are consciously doing?
KASEY KAHNE: Actually, you know, when I do race Busch, it seems like we raced pretty good in the Cup car like you're saying. This weekend I was supposed to race at Busch and we decided not to. I'm thinking about it now, kind of wishing I was, but either way, it should be all right. It will give me more time to focus on the Cup car.
Last week the Busch car actually really helped the Cup side because we learned -- I learned some things driving that car and then we used the Cup set up to help that car out. So it was definitely a big part of why we did so well was running both at California.
Q. What about the rest of your schedule, are you trying to kind of clear it, do you do better when you have more time to think about the Cup race or when you are kept busy in less time, because you were pretty busy last week overall.
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, I think usually the busier I am, the probably the better I do for some reason. I'm going to try to stay pretty busy hopefully throughout the end of the year and run some Busch races. I think we have, I don't know, six to go still. I think I still have six Busch races left, so that's going to be pretty good.
Q. If you could talk about the venue, the racetrack at Richmond from sort of two different perspectives. One, it seems to be a track that a lot of drivers say is a favorite, if not the favorite track of theirs and I wonder if it is yours, too. And because you and chassis 125, your places to shine have been the intermediate tracks, from your own place, is there a place you could be more confident going in?
KASEY KAHNE: Richmond to me is just another racetrack. It's nothing -- where I won my first Cup race, that's pretty cool. Not one of my favorites to go to. Never really thought it was one of my favorites. A good racing track. It's a good place to have the final race because you can race, and you can, you know, it's going to be a battle, a short track, where everybody's together and things happen. You know, if we went to a Charlotte or something like that -- I don't really care where it ends up. I think Richmond is a good stop.
Q. Are you looking at Saturday night's race as a match race between you and Jeff because you're so close in points?
KASEY KAHNE: Not really. Not at all. I'm looking at, you know, just doing everything we can. I think Jeff's going to be good. His car was really good in the first race there. Tony Stewart, Mark Martin are all going to be good. As close as all three of those guys are, it's just going to come down to what happens late in the race. I don't really look at one guy as who I have to beat or not. We just got to go out there and try to beat everybody.
Q. Would this be the kind of race that you go out 100% from start to end and maybe be more aggressive than usual?
KASEY KAHNE: I think it's going to be similar to California. I didn't give up any position easy. I battled to try to lead as many possible laps. Cars were better than I was and I tried to battle with them and hold them off. That's what you have to do if you want to gain as many points as possible.
Q. You may not have an objective opinion on this issue, but if you don't make the Chase, and you have five wins, right now obviously you're leading the series, do you think that's a flaw in the Chase points system, after the first 26 races, should the guy with the most wins automatically be in the Chase?
KASEY KAHNE: I don't know what they will do with that or if they feel like changing it. I feel you start doing stuff like that, next thing you know, why even have points? Just give people bonuses for doing certain things that make the fans happy. I'm not really for that.
I think you need to put a full season together if you want to go for a championship. If you want to be in the Chase, you need to have a full season. It can't be hit and miss. We missed for a little while and now we're back on, and hopefully we have enough time to make it.
We'll just see what happens. But the other two guys with the most wins are first and second. Usually when you have a lot of wins, you're good in points. We just screwed up for a couple of weeks.
Q. You have the most wins in the series, but you're 11th, how much do you think getting into the Chase has become points racing and running consistently versus getting wins?
KASEY KAHNE: I think it all helps. If we didn't have five wins, we wouldn't be even be close to making the Chase. We've had some other races that we didn't do as well as some of the other teams and got behind a little bit.
If we would have just been consistent and not won five races and won one race, we wouldn't be close in points. You've definitely got to win races and I think you've got to be consistent at the same time if you want to make it in there.
Q. You were nervous going into last week, is there other nerves going into this week, and knowing that it's all on the line right now?
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, there's definitely going to be some nerves going into the race. There is at every race, and then this one has just got a little bit more on the line. There's a lot relying on what we do on Saturday night.
I look forward to it. I enjoy the pressure and I enjoy being in this position. I think it's pretty cool that we still have a chance to make the Chase and that we're running as good as we're running.
Q. Is there any -- I know you always want to look forward, is there any kicking yourself over the final laps or at Indy and Watkins Glen at this point, knowing if you had finished those races, you would be in pretty securely right now?
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, definitely. You look back at the driver and you beat yourself up over certain stuff. But I mean, if I start looking back at that, I've got to look at the engine that broke, I've got to look at running terrible on restrictor plate tracks and not running good at other places and things.
So there's always things you can look at and be mad at yourself for or depressed about, but, you know, you've got to look forward if you want to go fast and win races.
Q. Has Kenny revealed any wisdom or special plans for the weekend, especially since he hit the home run a few years ago and raced his way in at Richmond?
KASEY KAHNE: No, he's been doing the same stuff. He's going to be aggressive with setups and things like that. Adjustments, we'll be aggressive with those during the race, but it's just where it's at. He did a good job the last time he was in this position, and he got back in the hunt this last weekend in California. That guy is always up to make our car quick and to make everybody happy and proud.
Q. As somebody who has been in this position before, what's going through Denny Hamlin's mind this week, as a rookie holding on to a Chase spot with one race to hold onto it?
KASEY KAHNE: I would say just probably, you know, feels like he's sitting pretty good and just needs to run good and needs to finish the race, and, you know, run well this weekend and he'll be good to go.
So he's probably pretty happy with where he's at and probably looking forward to getting to Richmond and getting it over with and seeing where we all end up.
Q. NASCAR in California made an announcement regarding the Chase in case there is a tie this year. How did that -- did that give you, knowing what might happen at Richmond, a better feeling knowing that if there is a tie between whoever is in tenth and 11th, that both of you would go in instead of it going to the tiebreaker that they had talked about before?
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, I mean, I think that's pretty cool that they did that. I really think you should be in. You know, if you're tide for tenth or if you're 11th and close enough to the leader in points, that's then you should be in. I think that's good that they made that clear and everybody knows going in.
I wouldn't mind tying and having 11 cars in the Chase. I think that would be pretty cool, too. So just whatever happens.
But it's definitely good to know that, you know, that with a tie, you are in.
Q. Wondering how you think your teammates will be involved in this weekend's race. Pretty much all the bubble drivers have another teammate in the Top-10; you don't. Will that cause an issue, will them helping out each other, or since your two teammates are not in the hunt, will that benefit you?
KASEY KAHNE: I just think that my teammates are going to race as hard as they can and try to get the best finish they possibly can, and whatever that is will help me.
So you know, if they finish in front of the other guys, or in front of Jeff Burton, two guys, that's two positions, so it's going to be -- they are going to be doing everything they can to run up front just like the 9 car, and hopefully we'll get all three cars in the Top-10.
Q. You talked about the Busch cars before about how that has helped you with setups in the NEXTEL Cup series, is that something you plan on doing for the remainder of the season, whether you make the Chase or not?
KASEY KAHNE: I have a certain amount of races that I've decided to do this year, and I think I have five or six of them left still. So I'm going to finish those out and, you know, that's how many I've got. I think either way, you know, we race pretty good whether I race Busch or not, but sometimes it's nice to race Busch and kind of see where the track is at and see what adjustments help the car the day or night before.
Q. Back in June of 2004 at Dover, you were kind of like out in front of the whole entire race, and I think you hit some oil and you crashed. Do you remember that race?
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, I remember that race really well.
Q. Do you think like Dover owes you something for leading as many laps, and the circus coming back here in a couple of weeks?
KASEY KAHNE: I don't know if it owes me anything, but, you know, it would be nice to win at that track. It's a lot of fun to race at.
Actually, ever since that race, we haven't really ran that year until this year, we ran pretty good the first race. We needed that one race and haven't done much since, but yeah, hopefully I can win at that track soon.
Q. I have talked to a lot of drivers at this time of year who are in a chance for a championship. And it's down to the last trace race, and it will be two or three drivers and they all tell me about when we talk about pressure, they all say, "Well, you know, I've put a lot of pressure on myself." That's a standard answer. What's the real answer about going into something where so much is at stake?
KASEY KAHNE: Man, you just want to perform, you want to do your best, do everything you can to run up front and just make everybody that's part of Evernham Motorsports happy. It's tough to do, but it's just pressure, that's the way it is.
That's why we do this stuff. We enjoy it, and at least I enjoy it and pressure's cool. It's good to have once in awhile to get through and when you wake up Sunday morning, I'm going to know where I'm at and hopefully we're in.
Q. Is there more pressure given the fact of everything that is happened at Evernham Motorsports, normally, this is an abnormal situation because normally, everything runs smooth there. This year, it hasn't. So you've got an opportunity to give back to Ray something he dearly wants.
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, you know, for Ray and for our sponsors, for everybody that builds our race cars, it would be huge to make the Chase and it would be definitely disappointing if we didn't, if we didn't make it.
But for the organization, that's what you have to be. You have to be in the Chase and you have to go for a NEXTEL Cup, and that's what we're working really hard to do this weekend.
Ray is on top of it. He has three cars in the Top 3 last week, and at one in the point race, we all raced our way there and that shows that we're definitely focused and giving us what we need to run up front and win races.
Q. You just alluded to this a few seconds ago, but could you talk a little bit about what you felt like when you had all three of your teammates right there with you?
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, I felt pretty good. I'm pretty excited that we're all up there, and, you know, my lap times were just a bit better than theirs, so I was pretty happy that I was pulling away and everything felt good. It was cool to get all of the Evernham cars in the Top 3 or anything like that. We had a couple problems later in the race or we would have all finished in the Top-10.
Q. Is everything okay there, the people who were sounding the alarms a couple weeks ago were not informed yet, or are there issues the team needs to work on?
KASEY KAHNE: No, I don't think there's any anything to work on and everything is great at Evernham Motorsports, we all work together and have the same race cars like we did early year in the year. And it's great to have Helio, he's doing an awesome job. We ran almost identical setups this weekend and we ran 1, 2. It shows that if you work together as teammates, you can learn a lot and that's where we're at.
Q. Can you describe anything in your past racing experience that prepares you for being this close to the Chase?
KASEY KAHNE: I don't know. I think this weekend, you know, last weekend at California prepared us pretty well. We just know that we need to step up and gain points, and we did that.
So we'll go into Richmond the same way as we went into California and try to do that again, lead as many laps as possible and get all the points we can get.
We're ready. I've been in a lot of pressure situations over my time racing, and it's time to step up and see what happens.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you for joining us today. Good luck on Saturday. We are now joined by Jeff Burton, the 10th place driver in the series standings this week.
Thank you for making a few minutes for us today and welcome to our call. A lot of suspense this week for and you Kasey and obviously everybody else who is trying to nail down a Chase. What is it going to take for you to hang on to this tenth position?
JEFF BURTON: If you look at Richmond, really, if you think about Stewart or Mark, myself or Kahne, it's a matter of going out and running well. None of us will have a chance of being in the Chase if we don't run well, unless someone were to have trouble.
But we can't control what other people do. The only thing we can do is control what we do. Certainly having the opportunity, you know, at Richmond is really exciting and it's what it ought to be. For us, we're just focusing ongoing there and putting forth our best effort we can, and that's really all we can do.
Q. Is there any way that your almost race-on dominance of Bristol translates to a three-quarter-mile track, or is that all out the window, the difference between the setups and all for the two tracks?
JEFF BURTON: Well, I think the tracks are a great deal different. There's very little -- it's very little similar between Bristol and Richmond.
What we have to do is look at how is our 3-4 one-mile program been this year and we ran very well at New Hampshire. We got caught speeding on pit road, Richmond we were running third, late in the race and the spotter and I had a miscommunication and with the guy on pit road and pit road was closed.
We went to Milwaukee last week and spent two days testing trying to take our short track program to the next level.
So I feel really good going to Richmond. I'll tell you that you never know what's going to happen and that racing is a humbling business.
But if you said to me in February, hey, you can go to Richmond with a chance of transferring in, but you've got to run well, that would be the track I would pick to be in the scenario.
I feel good about Richmond. I enjoy the track. I enjoy the closeness of it. I tend to run well there and we work exceptionally hard on that program, as other teams have, too.
But again, what we have to do is focus on what we need to do and we have worked very hard on that program and we're taking a brand new car that we feel really good about. Again, we spent two days in Milwaukee last week and we've done all we can do.
Q. It's almost a home track for you, too, and a lot of you guys call it one of their favorites, if not the favorite. Could you kind of evaluate, could there be any better place for this to be, a, from the driver's standpoint that y'all seem to like it as a place to race, and also, might be there for a race of this magnitude, might be a glitzier place they could have it for the good of the sport overall, or is it better to have at a place everybody likes like this where you race well or might it be better to be at a more glitzy name like a Las Vegas or a Chicagoland or California, something like that?
JEFF BURTON: Well, I think that the last concern should be what the drivers think to be quite honest. Really, it's what the fans think and what do they want to see.
I can't imagine a better racetrack for putting on good races. If you looked around and said, you know, what racetrack puts on great races, certainly Richmond has to be one that you put in there.
So I don't think the fans care if it's at Las Vegas or Richmond or Martinsville or Daytona. I think what the fans want to see is a really good, hard race. I can't imagine a better pick for the last race to transfer in, because imagine how much closer the action is going to be than what we had this past weekend. Imagine the action -- and, you know, I happen to have the points right in front of me, it's so freaking close, it's unbelievable. None of us can catch our breath, even all the way up to, you know, Junior and Kyle Busch. Richmond is the kind of place that -- or even Jeff Gordon for that matter.
Richmond is the kind of place, it's easy to finish 35th. It's easy to get in a wreck. There's so much side-by-side action, the restarts are wild. I just can't imagine a race that you could have any more drama and any more build-up to than the Richmond racetrack.
Q. Is it possible anybody would be admitting any stress going into Richmond? The guys who seem stressed are the crew chiefs of say, Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson who really wanted to go into it even better, even though they were sold into the deal already. What do you think that the stress level will be?
JEFF BURTON: I think that stress is part of our sport and certainly there's a level of stress that all of us are dealing with, and, by the way, there's a level of stress that, you know, Carl Edwards is dealing with that he's not in it. Given the choice, I'm going to take this stress over the stress he's had to deal with this week.
I think that, again, and I've said it before, when the teams and the drivers and everybody involved on this end of the sport is under a tremendous amount of stress, that means the fans are watching one hell of a show. And that's how it should be.
So some people will deal with stress differently than others. Some people will, you know, can wipe things off quicker than others. At the end of the day, there's no one in this deal that had been there before, with the exception of maybe Denny Hamlin. Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch, those two guys are the two guys that really haven't been dealing with this before.
But, you know, a champion like Jeff Gordon, a champion like Tony Stewart, a guy like Mark Martin, you know, they have been around. They know how this deal works. They will go there and do the best they can. You know, Kasey Kahne and his group, you know, they have got momentum on their side. They are feeling good about themselves.
There's a way to focus on what you need to be focused on, but certainly stress is part of it. But that's part of life, and especially if you're going to be a professional athlete.
Q. And do you plan to do anything different this week heading into Richmond, look things over twice, do anything extra, anything different yourself?
JEFF BURTON: Well, if I'm not doing it already, then shame on me. You know, I prepare the same way every week. I've been sick; I'll be glad to get rid of that, I'll tell you that. I felt really bad at California, and yesterday I felt bad, feel like I'm starting to turn the corner today. Short of trying to get feeling better, there's really nothing I'm going to do different.
Every race I go to is the most important race that we've got. And I prepare for every race the same way.
So when you do get yourself in a situation like we're in this week where there is an important race, to me, the race five weeks ago was just as important, and they all pay the same amount of points.
So we're in the situation we're in because as a team, we've done a good job, and as a team, we haven't done a good job in some areas. So what do you do about that, when you go to the next race, you focus, you prepare, go there 100%committed with that race and only that race in mind. So because of the way I prepare and the way my team prepares for a race, I don't think we have to do anything different going into this one.
Q. I was surprised; Kasey, he has five wins now, the most in the series, I asked him if that was a flaw in the system and he said, no, that you have to put a full season together, you can't be hit and miss. What do you think? Should the driver who has the most wins out of 26 races automatically make the Chase or not?
JEFF BURTON: I don't think so. I think that our points system is based on consistency. I think our points system -- you have to remember, we run long races and reliability is an issue. You know, we go back, and you think about the year Bill Elliot the won all those races and Darryl won the championship, consistency is important. You can't -- I mean, we're tenth in points and we have 14 Top-10 finishes, okay. That's tied for third.
So if you look at that, should a 31 be in even though we haven't won the race; it's just all what the points are. And whatever NASCAR decides the points system should be, it's up to the teams to take that and use it to their advantage.
So really, as far as I'm concerned, the number of wins that you have is obviously very important, but what really matters is how many points do you have.
And I'm okay with that. I think that that's been the nature of our sport for years. That's how it's always been, and I think that's how it should be. That's easy for me to say because I haven't won a race this year, but in the year that I did win five or six races, I still felt the same way.
I think that the Pittsburgh Steelers won the Super Bowl last year, but they didn't have the best regular season. They found a way to do it and put themselves in the playoffs to find a way to win the Super Bowl. You know, nobody stands up and says, hey, the Indianapolis Colts should have been the Super Bowl champions because they had the best regular season. It's utilizing the system, it's taking advantage of the system, it's understanding it and whoever does the best job within the system is a deserving champion.
Q. You mentioned Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch had not been in the Chase pressure situation before, are they hanging in there because they show maturity that you don't expect from their lack of experience, or are they just lucky or what?
JEFF BURTON: I don't think either one of them is lucky. They are exceptionally talented and they have very good teams behind them. I certainly in no -- I wasn't in any way trying to say anything bad about them at all. I was just, again, the first time I looked at the points was 30 minutes ago, I pulled it up because I was going through this teleconference and I didn't even prepare. I just saw where they are and saw their names stuck out and started thinking about Mark Martin and Tony Stewart.
I think that in Hamlin and in Busch's case, they are both very talented. They are both obviously gifted drivers, and they have really good race teams. And, they also have people behind them that have been there, done that. And I think that's important. I think the fact that the 20 car has won two championships and Job Gibbs is such a good leader, the fact that -- (audio drop.)
Q. Is the racing strategy for focus for the race the same, or when you good on Saturday, is there something in you that's a bit more mathematical thinking; I have to do this and that or can you really just go out there and sort of race as hard as you can?
JEFF BURTON: Well, I think the thing that is important to understand is that we go out every week to try to do the very best we can. We don't have a magic button that we can push that can take us from 12th to third.
What we have to do going into Richmond is prepare our car the best way we know how, spend all day Friday working on the car, figuring out how to get it drive the best way, and then race and let the race unfold and let the strategy unfold and it dictates.
Now certainly, there's no question it's more important for us to finish in front of Mark Martin, to finish in front of Kasey Kahne, to try to finish in front of Tony Stewart. That's what we have to do.
And at the same time, if a guy that's, you know, six or seventh in points, he has a problem early in the race, we need to understand that, too.
The main focus of this race is to transfer into the Chase. That is the whole -- that's all there is to it. We have to assume that no one is going to have trouble. We have to assume that if we're going to transfer in, we're going to have to race our way in.
So we go into the race with that in mind, as the race unfolds and as things start to happen, then the picture will become more clear of exactly what we do have to do. And then the strategy may change, the way we have to pit the car, the way we have to take chances on trying to pass somebody, those kind of things may evolve.
But initially, we have go to go into the race just like we do every race, and that's run the very best race we can and that's all that we can do.
Again, we also have to be smart enough to understand the situation as the situation changes, because the situation on Saturday night is going to change a lot. It's going to be -- it's going to be a revolving -- it's going to be a moving target, and you know, Scott Miller and my engineer and my wife as well, they all sit in the box and they all each have a job to do on Saturday night as far as understanding what the position we're in, and then relay that information to me. But I don't need to know it until it's late in the race.
I'm going to go out there and race and pay attention to us and, and the other stuff, the better I focus on what we're doing, the better we're going to do and that's our strategy. But we also have to be aware of what is going on so that we can respond accordingly.
Q. Off-topic but your thoughts about Toyota coming into Cup racing next year, and what impact you think they will have and how quickly you think it will take them to become successful?
JEFF BURTON: I think they will be successful very quickly. A lot of that hinges on the teams they have associated themselves with. NASCAR really works hard as limiting the impact that a manufacturer can have and the rules that they make and the way that they enforce rules, it makes it very difficult to try to get an edge on the other manufacturer.
Toyota is very committed obviously to coming in and, you know, spending the resources necessary to get the right people and to buy the right parts and develop the right parts. The key is, how well do the teams integrate into their system.
And the biggest impact as seen by me that Toyota having on the series is I think that we are on a slippery slope with the number of cars that are going to be fully-funded, fully-sponsored going into next year. I think the biggest issue that Toyota has created is that when they came in, it didn't go -- they didn't go build all new teams. What they did -- or what they did, they did build all new teams. They didn't acquire existing teams.
So the car count with the exception of Bill Davis next year is going on exorbitant. We're going to go to Daytona with, I mean, take a guess, 50 cars, and 48 of them to 50 fully-prepared to run the full season. Which means that on any given Friday, you have between five and ten, and I'm saying it's a guess right now, you have between five and ten fully-committed, fully-funded, full-marketing campaigns built around a racing program going home and not being able to utilize the money they are spending in marketing. I think that's not good for our sport.
I think that the strength of the series is not how many cars are in the garage; it's how many people are watching. And I think we've really got to look at in addition to the top 35 thing that we have going on right now, I think that we've got to look at even a better way to protect the car owners and protect the sponsors for the investment they make.
To me, that's the biggest impact Toyota has had, is going to have. I know NASCAR well enough to know that they are not going to let a company come here and just outspend everybody, out-technology everybody. They are not going to do it. They will hold that dam, as they should. So that's not my concern.
My concern is where we are and our sponsors. Without our sponsors being able to operate effective marketing campaigns around motorsports, we don't have NASCAR racing, and that's the biggest problem that I see.
Q. Are you a purist or pragmatist when it comes to NASCAR's rule change on Saturday that says if two guys are tied with points in the Top-10, they are not going to go to a tiebreaker of wins; which means if you and Kasey were tide for points, you would both get in, instead of Kasey getting in because he has more wins. So it kind of benefits you, on the other hand it's a rule change sort of in the middle of the season, which some purists might not like?
JEFF BURTON: Actually the purists would be exceptive of that because NASCAR has a history of making rule changes. Really if you think about what NASCAR does, when it's in the interest of -- and they have done it much less recently, but when it's in the interest of better competition, when it's in the interest of the fans seeing a better show, NASCAR has been willing to make rule changes.
It's difficult for me to comment on that because you're all right. There's no way that I could transfer in in a tiebreaker with Kasey Kahne. Nor could I with Tony Stewart nor could I with really Mark Martin is the only guy that I could transfer in in a tie situation. So, you know, it's hard for me to objectively look at it.
I will tell you, however, when I try to look at it objectively, the negative consequence to Kasey Kahne or to Tony Stewart or to Denny Hamlin for being in a tiebreaker situation with me or Mark Martin, and me and Mark Martin transferring in without a win, there is no negative to that driver. And I think that in the best interests of the fan, it would be very difficult to not -- for Mark Martin not to transfer in because he didn't have as many wins as Kasey Kahne or Denny Hamlin. From that standpoint, I believe it's the right thing to do. I believe that it gives the fans the best opportunity to see as many qualified teams and drivers in the Chase as possible.
So I think that NASCAR did the right thing. Again, I'm a little biased because you are right, the two people that it could benefit is Mark Martin and myself.
Q. As NASCAR looks at making more dramatic changes in the off-season, what sort of things would you like to see?
JEFF BURTON: I've been asked that question a lot and I surely doesn't have an honest answer. I love sports, and I enjoy my off time. I enjoy the end of the year. I think it's the coolest part of the year, and anything we can do to create more excitement and more drama throughout the year, I think is very good.
And certainly, there's more attention going into this race with 11 races to go in the season than perhaps we had three years ago. I think that's fair to say. If there's a way to heighten that and there's a way to make that even better, I'm a proponent of it.
Q. A lot of talk especially around Matt Kenseth, the whole thing of when are you peaking, when is a team peaking, people look at Robby and Matt, but look going all the way back to what Buddy Parish used to say about you when you were very young; he's around wins, he keeps getting around wins and boom that happened for you. Certainly there's been times this year where you have been around wins, Indy and before I Bristol being the two latest examples. Do you allow yourself to think this might be one of those occasions, we might be the sleeper team that is about to make peak and all of this being around wins could start to translate to wins for us at just the right time?
JEFF BURTON: It's funny you mention that. I liken our team to the first year that I worked with Buddy Parish's. The first year worked with Buddy, we ended up with 14th in points or something, maybe 12th, I don't remember. But we put ourselves in position, we were consistent, we made mistakes, we would find ways not to win races when we put ourselves in position. And then the next year we matured and had a fabulous year.
That's kind of where we are today. And the difference being that I'm much more mature. The difference being that we are -- even though we were with Roush Racing we were kind of on an island. We were kind of out there by ourselves which was the way Jacques wanted the team to be. Today we have much more of a better support system because I'm part of a three-car team where back then it was really a one-car team, that's the way it was structured.
So I think the chance for us to learn about the mistakes that we're making, I think we have the position to learn quicker now than we did then. So, yeah, I think that -- yeah, I thought that Saturday. I know it's difficult to say because we finished 6th, but there was a portion of that race, the middle portion of that race, we didn't run very well. We were running 15, 16 -- we were not running very well at all. By the end of that race, we had a car that was fast enough to run. We couldn't run with Kasey Kahne by any means, but we were fast enough to run for third, fourth, fifth, sixth. We just had gotten so far off in the middle portion of the race.
So what I look at us as right now is that we can go fast. We haven't found a way to go fast the whole race. There will be a day that we can do and a day that we can do that consistently. We need that to be right now and that's what we're focusing on and working on.
I think that we understand why it got away from us at Bristol. I know why it got away from us at Indy. Yeah, I think this team, and myself as a driver, I think that we can. I think that we could be a team that could turn on and find a way to take it to the next level, which, by the, way we'll need to do.
You know, when I look up and see where we're running, we're running well, but we're not running good enough. We're not -- two months ago I thought that we were without a doubt a championship-contending team. We've digressed just a touch and we've got to step it back up and we're working very hard to do that.
I think that going into Richmond and New Hampshire and those next races, I feel like we can do that. But we worked very hard at it, but yeah, I think this team, I think we can turn the corner and I think that we have a good opportunity to do it.
Q. In your experience, is it more likely even if you can't get it turned this year, given an off-season without a lot of significant -- well, I guess you are going to have a Car of Tomorrow, but hard as you're working at it now, is it more likely that you would need an off-season to really turn that corner?
JEFF BURTON: Well, I can tell you that we're a whole lot smarter today than we were at this point last year and we're way further ahead in the game. But, I can also tell you that the 16 and the 99, and there are a lot of teams right now that are in the same exact spot we were last year and they are busting their butts to be better. We can't status quo our way into next year. We've got to find a way to step it up, yet again, because I'm telling you, every other company is going to.
Do we have the opportunity to be better next year than this year? Yeah, we do. Are we going to be better? I don't know. I think a lot of that hinges on the way we prepare the next four months and what we do the next four months, you know, before we get into January, that's going to be the key. We talk about that every week. We're working very hard on the Car of Tomorrow program.
But, we have a lot of these races with these kind of cars running next year, too, so we have to improve this program as well as develop the Car of Tomorrow program. It's a full plate. Someone will do it better than others, and I hope that we'll be the one that does it better than others.
Q. You're talking about looking at the standings and how close it is between and you Mark and Tony Stewart and Hamlin, but the fact of the matter is you're in 10th place, is there a stigma about being the guy on the bubble?
JEFF BURTON: We're in. I don't know. I think the stigma is on the guy at 11th because he isn't. I'm not being cocky and saying we're definitely in because we are not. It's not done yet by any means. Certainly being on the bubble is not where you want to be. I would be a whole lot more comfortable if I was where Harvick is, but, I don't know, I think that for the fans maybe there's a stigma, hey, he's on the bubble.
For me, I knew we were 10th in points because someone told me after the race but I didn't know how many points until an hour ago. We have a job to do and we've just got to go do it. I don't care where we are in points. Only thing I care -- I care where we are, as long as we're in the Top-10. But I mean, I don't view it as a stigma by any means. I think we've done a nice job of positioning ourselves.
Here is the way I look at it to sum it up really quickly. We hold the spot. It's ours. They have got to take it from me. And it's our job to go take it from the people that are ahead of us. So is it a stigma that we're 10th, I don't know. The only thing I know is that we've done a really nice job of positioning ourselves to accomplish our first goal, which is to get in the Chase.
Now it all falls on one race, and you know, everybody is looking at it as this last race is everything, I'm smart enough to know that where we finish in the Daytona 500 the first race of the year, is every bit as important as this race. This race, all the pressure and all the math falls on the one place and everybody will look at Richmond and say, well, this happened at Richmond and he got in and he didn't get in. Hey, there's a way all 11 of us get in.
Think about this. I'm only 59 points away from being 400 points within the leader. You have no idea what's going to happen in this race. So when it's all said and done, everybody is going to say, well, whatever happened at Richmond, that was the deciding factor. That's not true. It is part of the deciding factor. It is one race within 26 races, and the work that we've done to get us to this point is why we're in this situation and the things that we didn't do well up to this point is why we're in this situation.
So there's a lot of focus on this race, but as it should be, but when you add points up for the 25 before. We're 10th in points, which is our goal, we have a better goal -- the goals we haven't met is we haven't won the races we set ourselves 20 do and we are not in the Top-10 in points yet. Those are the two goals that we haven't met. Every other goal we've exceeded. They are two big ones, two really big ones. They are focusing on making it happen. The thing that drives me crazy more than the 10th in points, 200 laps to go, they should be showing where everybody is in points, that's ridiculous to me that drives me crazy, but the real thing is where is it when the race is over.
Q. Eight Chevrolets in the Top-10, any reason for that?
JEFF BURTON: I honestly don't know. Chevrolet has worked very hard on their program, they have really good race teams. Obviously Hendrick is a mainstay. Every year they bring it. The Childers organization has stepped up their program this year without a doubt and the Gibbs program without a doubt.
We do this -- we do this with very old technology. The engine technology we have prepared for Dodge and Ford and soon-to-be Toyota is insufficient. We make good power but we have to spends a whole lot more time and energy to do it because of the design of the engine. Hopefully we can remedy that soon.
But you know, it's good race teams. It's really good race teams. You know, this thing moves every year. Last year, Roush had five cars, they made up half the field for the Chase. They made up half the field. And this year they have one that's in for sure and one with a really good chance. This is a moving target.
And again, I'm going to go back to what I said about the teams and Toyota. The teams utilizing the energy, utilizing the effort, utilizing the technology that the manufacturers provide, it's up to the teams to do that. The manufacturers can't make the teams do it. So Chevy does a great job of working with us to provide us with the things that we need. But they did last year, too, and we didn't have a car in the Chase.
So again, if I was on the team's shoulders, you know, the Chevy teams have done a really good job this year.
Q. What's the feeling, how do you feel now at this point in the season, that you have a shot to get in the Chase, as compared to maybe like last year or the year before?
JEFF BURTON: That's a great question, just because everybody talks about the pressure of the situation that we're in, I can tell you, I feel a whole lot less pressure today than I did last year or the year before, where we didn't have a snowball's chance in hell of getting in. It's a whole lot different, and it's the kind of pressure that I like.
You know, we received a tremendous amount of media this year because we have turned RCR program around in the right direction. But at the end of the day, we're still not where we need to be yet and what we're focusing on is making sure we are where we need to be. And it feels good, it feels really good to be in the situation where we feel like we have a chance. We go into Richmond with a chance to get in -- last year, we were mathematically possible to get in, but it was pretty much impossible for it to happen for us. You know, this year we have a real chance.
Q. You talked before about staying fast throughout the whole entire race. That's something, like you said, you couldn't quite figure it out but you have been fast at the right times, like at Dover earlier in June, where you actually just came from nowhere and then you got fourth.
JEFF BURTON: Actually that was a race where we led early and we fell off some at the end.
Q. So do you feel like you've kind of fixed that?
JEFF BURTON: I'm going to say yes, but the proof's in the pudding.
Two weeks ago we led half the race at Bristol, and we finished ninth. So it's very difficult for me to say, hey, we fixed it. You know, one thing I'm always going to try to be is honest, and that is, I can't honestly say that we have fixed that problem. I can't honestly say that we have evaluated it, we have studied it, we've looked at it with not only us as a team but we've asked our other teammates to look at it and, you know, give us their honest opinion about the things that we did wrong in those situations.
But really, I think it's just learning curve. I think we've had a few things happen to us that kind of snowballed and made it seem worse than it really was, but at the end of the day, the proof is in the pudding. Saturday night, hopefully we can run fast enough all night Saturday night and make the right changes at the right time and then communicate what we need to communicate.
I'm not worried about it to be quite honest. It's not something that I lose sleep over. I think that it's -- if it were not accepting that we have a problem, we were not working to make it better, I would be losing sleep about it, but I haven't lost any sleep about it at all really.
Q. You mentioned about the resurgence of RCR and the resurgence seems to have come about from just looking from the outside when you came over to the program itself, and was working with them and talking to them about what you were looking at for a race program. A lot of people pointed to you being the one to help get not just Kevin Harvick but the entire team moving forward, even with the third car being driven by Clint Bowyer. What do you think when people look at you as the person that helped bring RCR out of the funk that they were in for awhile?
JEFF BURTON: Well, I appreciate -- you know, I appreciate the praise. You know, I will tell you that when I was hired by Richard, it wasn't just to be the driver of the 31. It was to come in and do the things that I enjoy doing, which is participating on a company-wide way. I have tried to fulfill my responsibilities, which by the way, I have a great time doing, I enjoy it.
But at the same time, in no means or in any way should people believe that I was the reason this we are running better. I am part of the reason that we are running better, but I play a role along with, you know, 360 other people. In no way could we be successful without everybody stepping up, and I think the biggest thing that we have seen is everybody at RCR looking at themselves in the mirror and saying, how could I do my deal better, what do I need to do, what does my superior need to know that that I need to know, what do I need to know about myself that I need to be better. We have a tremendous amount of personal accountability at RCR.
So, you know, I appreciate the praise and I appreciate the honor. But the real, the real winners in this thing and the people that really made it happen are the employees, because they brought with them into last fall and into this season a renewed sense of hope, a renewed sense of enthusiasm, a renewed sense of responsibility. They are the ones that have made it better.
And, you know, I can tell you, we've had a lot of people at RCR step up and try to do more and try to bring more and try to demand more, and, you know, there's a long list. I happen to think we have three of the brightest, smartest crew chiefs in the business, and I happen to think that our engineering staff is working well. We have a lot of departments that are really working well that did not work so well last year, and you know, I give them that praise, not me.
Q. Everybody has been alluding to and you mentioned yourself how tight the race is and what could happen at Richmond and there will be beating and banging during the race. Do you think NASCAR might wind up getting involved where someone puts a fender to another competitor?
JEFF BURTON: I think NASCAR is consistent in the way they call these races and I think they will be consistent Saturday night. When you're dealing with Kasey Kahne and Mark Martin, and you know, Tony Stewart, and you're dealing with people that certainly will go race you as hard as they know how, but you're not dealing with people that are going to do things that are unethical.
I understand why people, you know, look at it and say, man, all this could happen, and it could. But I think that the chances for that are pretty small. I mean, certainly as close as it is, we could get into a situation where it's ten laps to go and you've got to pass that guy in front of you.
But at the end of the day, at the end of the day, you know, this is one race and there's not one person, with the exception of Mark, that's not one person that isn't going to go do it again next year. I think most people have a grasp of the situation as well as the understanding of the consequences when things don't go well and when you do what you shouldn't do.
So the possibilities for people acting out of the ordinary, the possibility is there, but for the most part, you've seen a tremendous amount of respect amongst the front leaders this year and I think that will continue.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Jeff, for joining us, and we appreciate the extra time. Good luck on Saturday.
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