NASCAR Media Conference
THE MODERATOR: Welcome, everybody, to this week's edition of the NASCAR NEXTEL teleconference. The Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup continues with round eight Sunday at Darlington Raceway. NBC will carry it live at 1:30 p.m. eastern time. NASCAR Busch Series championship points leader Martin Truex, Jr. will try to slam the door on the 2004 title at Darlington, and that race will be on Saturday. NBC will also have that race at 1 p.m. eastern time on Saturday. The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series championship hunt, it's the closest by the way in series history, with two races remaining, will resume Friday at Darlington, and the SPEED Channel will carry that race live beginning at 8 p.m. eastern. Some more housekeeping information for you. The NEXTEL Leader Bonus is at $60,000 at Darlington. That bonus goes to the winning driver if he's also the points leader at the end of that event. The scheduled guest for the NEXTEL Wake-Up Call this week at Darlington is Mark Martin. Breakfast begins at 8 in the infield media center. Mark will join everybody at 8:30 in the morning. Today our guests are Kurt Busch, the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup points leader, and Jeff Burton. We'll talk to Kurt first and Jeff will join us at the bottom of the hour. Kurt, driver of the No. 97 Sharpie Ford is currently the leader in the chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup. He's won three races this year, most recently at New Hampshire in September. He's had, and Kurt I hope I've done my math, seven Top 10 finishes in his last eight races, nine Top 5, and 19 Top 10 finishes overall this season. He hasn't won at Darlington, but he has certainly earned his Darlington stripe in one of the most memorable races at that track, that photo finish with Ricky Craven back in April of 2002. In seven Darlington races, he's got one pole, one top five and three top 10 finishes. Kurt, thank you very much for joining us today.
KURT BUSCH: Good afternoon.
THE MODERATOR: I trust you're looking forward to tackling the Lady in Black this weekend, particularly the points leader?
KURT BUSCH: Darlington has always been a good track for me to enjoy the racing surface, just the overall atmosphere at that racetrack. What I mean by that is the chance to race the racetrack and try to attain the Lady in Black. It's been a great track for me qualifying, and racing it just hasn't produced the types of finishes that we're capable of. This time around is a good indication that it's time for one of those finishes because of obviously the points situation and just the way we've been running as of late.
THE MODERATOR: You just keep going into this thing like you've gone into it for the last seven or eight races: you just go in there as leader and race your race, even though it's Darlington.
KURT BUSCH: This racetrack is definitely different from the other racetracks in the final 10 races. It's a chance to isolate yourself from all the outside circumstances and just to allow yourself to invite your setup to the racetrack and make sure that you race just the racetrack and not the other race cars.
THE MODERATOR: Let's open it up for questions with Kurt.
Q. You guys have been leading this thing. You've just been competitive. Except for the one glitch at Atlanta, you've been phenomenal. Who would you say is in the driver's seat in this championship with two races left?
KURT BUSCH: Well, I'd have to go with the vote towards the 97 team obviously with the way that we've been competitive at some of the short tracks as well as the speedways, and just being able to out-race the competitors, whether it's been the 48, the 24, the 8. Each week we look at the statistics at the end of the race to know who we out-raced. We've done our job on the racetrack except for that one hiccup at Atlanta. So with our hiccups out of the way as well as everybody else's, it's now a fresh slate for these final two races. Now it seems like we have less and less competitors to look at and less and less competitors to beat out on the racetrack. It just makes our job easier with Darlington being this weekend a track that we get to race the racetrack and not worry about our competition.
Q. Is it a case where you're focusing everything you can on what you need to do and the unplanned for wrecks and stuff like that, you're going to let that happen, but plan to get your stuff as straight as you can?
KURT BUSCH: Well, you hope each and every time you jump behind the wheel it's going to be a smooth day, with a qualifying effort that is Top 10, with race strategy that allows you to take four tires on each time and not have to worry about pit strategy. But when those types of things happen, it's a matter of a well-developed team to adjust to those. My team right now has been able to overcome quite a bit of different sets of circumstances, whether it was last week, whether it's Charlotte, just being able to adapt to all those changes is what it takes to win a championship of this caliber, and our team has done that thus far.
Q. Could you kind of compare your situation right now to the situation Matt was in last year? Seems like you can't really play defense and race conservatively in these last two races.
KURT BUSCH: It's definitely a different type of mentality and a different focus on what has to be done to win this championship. But yet you can take bullet points from what my teammate Matt Kenseth did last year, and that's to race smart and to be consistent, and when you have an opportunity to turn a bad day back into a good day, you have to overcome those. Matt Kenseth is a very strong competitor in the way that he approaches each of his races, it's something that we look forward to doing. Just the true competitor within me wants to go and win every race that I engage in, but with these final races setting up the way they are, it's going to take that. It's not going to take a conservative role. That's what Matt Kenseth was able to do last year. This time around you've got to be on your toes and you have to race each lap for your best -- at your best ability, and, of course, forecast what's coming up next. Just looking ahead, trying to stay ahead of the chase, knowing what's coming up next, that's what it's going to take, is somebody that is able to have an advantage over the other competitors and see things that haven't quite come up yet.
Q. Last year we spent a lot of timekeeping track of if Matt finishes 14th or better in these last three races, he can clinch the championship. There's no scenarios like that to look at for you right now, is there?
KURT BUSCH: No, nothing at all like that. It's a great challenge to know you have to come to the racetrack each week and try to win. If that isn't foreseeable, then you have to make the best finish you possibly can. After Darlington, there will be statistics like that that come up as far as what we have to do to either add to our point tally or the finish that we have to obtain so that the others can't catch us. It's been a great battle thus far. To be on top of our game in this playoff has been a fun and thrilling experience. We know there's a little bit more work to be done.
Q. Jeff Gordon has often said it really bothered him earlier in the year when he would get booed at driver introductions. He came to see it eventually as a sign of respect, rather having them boo than not say anything at all. How do you deal with it when stuff like that happens? How much does it bother you and how do you deal with it?
KURT BUSCH: Those templates have been set forth for us to look at, with Dale Earnhardt, Sr., of course, being the number one recipient of the different views and personalities of the fans. Jeff Gordon came in as a young star and didn't necessarily turn the world of racing upside down, but really posted results that rivaled those of great names that took 30 years to develop. So he's done that in such a short amount of time. We've had success on the track at Bristol, a track that the fans are very close to the heart of racing. Being able to win four out of the last five races there has proved that we've done our job as far as race results, and being able to compete with the best of the group that's out there, but yet the fans want to see somebody else win. Of course, there's other circumstances that have come up. It's something we're really not worried about. It's great that we're acknowledged and that there are a ton of fans wearing the yellow and blue IRWIN colors out in the grandstands as well as the 97 numbers on their hats. It's a great rivalry that NASCAR has that many sports don't, and that's a chance for the fans to root for 43 guys instead of just two teams.
Q. Do you feel like you get a fair shake from the people in the grandstand or do you feel a lot like Jeff, where here is this guy who came in real young, won a lot of races, there's automatically going to be some resentment with that?
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, there is that background that most of our NASCAR fans of the solid southern roots. Even when we go out to the West Coast tracks, you see those fans come and travel out to those races. You see the West Coast fans travel to the East Coast races. It's a great blend. I don't really feel as we've been pinpointed to be one of those representatives of those yeahs or boos. It's just a great feeling that you get that people are recognizing you and that you've won races in the past. They think that you're a threat out on the track each week.
Q. You're doing so well in this chase. Is it on your mind day and night? Whenever you have an idle moment, are you thinking about it, or can you pretty much put it out of your mind when you're not at the racetrack?
KURT BUSCH: Well, that's the challenge that I knew that we'd have to undertake with this playoff-type system. We've got a regular season now of 26 races where some teams do better at one set of racetracks versus another set of racetracks. We knew the final outcome of the championship this year is going to rely heavily on these final 10 races. So we've saved our tests, we've saved all of our people, and everybody's fresh. We've got the best cars possibly built. We've tried to eliminate the outside elements so we can be solely focused on this championship effort 100% every day, every lap, every track. We've got to be on our game to make sure that we are able to achieve the success we want to this year.
Q. During the week now, before you get to Darlington, you don't think about it that much? You know what I mean?
KURT BUSCH: It's in my answer from before. It's every day, every track, every lap you have to stay focused on what's at hand. And today was a meeting with Jack Roush and Jimmy Fennig and what we can do these next couple of weeks. Tomorrow is a day where I'll be spending time with the crew, working together with the shock guy or the tire go going over our test notes from Miami, preparing for those race. There's a certain amount of hours each day that I spend on this task. Then there's a couple other hours here or there where I'll go indulge myself in something else just to relieve some of the tension, not to focus on it too much.
Q. Could you talk a little bit about Darlington as the Lady in Black? When you first heard about her, did you think it was strange that she's called a "she" and is talked about like a living competitor?
KURT BUSCH: Well, that's the respect that Darlington has gained over the years. And throughout time, people develop a rapport with certain racetracks, with certain cars even. And Darlington, being that it was the first superspeedway for cars back in the '50s, speeds of over 130 miles an hour, it was just unheard of for stock cars. And today to generate 185 miles an hour around the racetrack, that was configured back then, it's phenomenal. It's just mind-boggling to be able to do such a thing. What they mean by that, Lady in Black, is that the speeds just aren't comparable for that type of track. And when you do step out of line just one little bit, the track bites you. It's a common, easy way to respect the racetrack, and to know that you were bit by the racetrack, because it's not meant for these types of speeds. So it's a funny, not sarcastic, but it's a nice way to let the racetrack so that it definitely has earned its respect over the years.
Q. With this track being the way it is, with both ends so different, with you talking about how you can't just go there and ride around, you have to be on the top of your game and pushing for every inch, does that make Darlington that much more difficult and critical?
KURT BUSCH: Well, that's one of aspect to look at, one way to look at it. In another way, to really approach this race, it's a driver's racetrack, and you are in control of your race car, knowing that you're the one that's taking care of your tires, and you really don't have to race anybody individually, you're just there to race the Lady in Black.
Q. Probably the last hour of the race is going to be under underneath the lights. How different is that going to be as far as track temperature? It's going to be cooler as it is compared to August. How do you think under the lights and the cooler temperatures are going to affect everything?
KURT BUSCH: Well, we know that normally when tracks go underneath a change such as that, with cooler track conditions, as well as the asphalt surface not being hit by the sun, it provides for a greater amount of speed. That will be a fun element to add into Darlington, knowing you're always on the ragged edge already. Then we'll probably spend two, maybe three hours staring at the sun going down the back straightaway. That's going to be another element that will be new. That will be a change from what's been there in the past. It's a great racetrack. I know that there's going to be some lighting questions because we run right up against the wall, what types of shadows are we going to see, whether it's in turn two or all the way through three and four when the sun sets. There's going to be so many new and unique elements, I'm looking forward to the race and being able to adapt to all those changes and being the first guy that adapts to it the best.
Q. Can you talk about your relationship with your crew chief Jimmy Fennig and how he has kept the race team and your relationship with him this year?
KURT BUSCH: He's a very strong leader, and one that is the most experienced by far in the garage area. And with the way that we've been able to position ourselves in this championship, it's due to the support of Jimmy Fennig. His backbone is by far the strongest, and he's the one that keeps everybody motivated and pumps everybody up in the proper ways, of course, holds this team together and forces them to do their job better. He's by far the best leader that any driver could ask for, and he's the one that's helped me elevate myself to this level.
Q. I have been reviewing the radio calls of various drivers in the championship. I have to say, although sometimes from you being so young and whatnot, maturity and all that, you have really taken control of this race team. It's been obvious for the last several races you are extremely in a leadership position for such a young guy. Can you talk about how you feel as the leader of this team? It's clear to me you're pretty centered on the radio, and even watching you in the garage. Talk about being in charge of the team which I think at your age and position, it seems to keep the team calm.
KURT BUSCH: That's something that I noticed back in 2002, when we had a championship run put together, that I lacked some of the leadership skills, you could call it a cheerleader, helping motivate the guys after a bad day or even a bad pit stop, and not knowing my role 100%. With this change and understanding the new points structure, having more years of development underneath my belt, to learn from Jimmy Fennig, to learn from the mistakes I've made in the past, it's helped me to be a better person and more of a quarterback role and understand the calls being made from the crew chief, and on the sidelines being able to implement those into place, what I see out on the track, of course pumping up the guys on pit road, the guys back in the shop, just being engaged in what everybody is doing in a further detail is what's helped me understand more about their job and developed the relationship with everybody.
Q. You're very much in charge of what's going on, what the setups are, I don't see you getting shaken at all. Were you like that as you came up through racing and we just hadn't seen that side of you until now? If you really study it, though, you seem very centered and calm about this whole thing.
KURT BUSCH: I like when the days are smooth, qualifying good and having practice go the right way, and, of course, having the race go smooth, those are the easy days. But then there's the tough days in between when you get spun out on the racetrack or when you have a plug wire come off, there's so many circumstances that can come up and develop into further problems from that one circumstance that it's not good to dwell on those. It's good to (inaudible) as hard as you can on what you can do next and alleviate that problem and move forward. Those are things that I've changed throughout my career, just understanding more, racing more, and just becoming more developed over time. It's just trying to keep an even keel on everything is the way that I approach it. You don't want to get too excited about things, but yet you have to stay on top of the wheel the whole race.
Q. Looking at the style of your top three competitors, do you feel like you're going to be a target at Darlington or are they, too, being to be into "I'm racing the track" mode?
KURT BUSCH: If they approach it the correct way, they'll understand what they have to do, and that's race the racetrack. I believe the way that competitors have been as of late with pit stops being important, track position being important, all of those elements will take a backseat to racing hard on the racetrack, and understanding how you've abused your tires, if you have or if you haven't, and just taking care of your tires is going to be the key role that it's going to take to achieve success at Darlington.
Q. So you don't feel like a target?
KURT BUSCH: By no means. I believe that we've led the points up until this point, and we hope to add to that after Darlington to give us a better cushion going into Miami because that's a style of racetrack that you're going to see side-by-side racing on and you can end up vulnerable in somebody's mistake at that style of track.
Q. The NASCAR Busch Series has had a practice of having one-day shows throughout the past few years. Would you like to see that on the NEXTEL Cup level? What are the pros and cons of having a one-day show?
KURT BUSCH: Well, it's a great observation. You've kept up with the changing of times in our sport and understanding that the Busch Series is experimenting a little bit with doing these one-day shows, even impounding the cars at a superspeedway. That was something very new for NASCAR racing. That is to cut costs for some of the teams, that is to put more emphasis on practice, not just for qualifying but for race. And it gives a different element for the crew chiefs and the drivers to look at, and it breaks it up from the normal routine and the normal grind. It keeps you on edge, keeps you on your toes, it develops more options for questions on what to bring to the racetrack as far as setups, and just your approach. NASCAR likes to mix it up a little bit. They're trying that out with the Busch Series. I do see that as the future development for Cup races.
Q. Also would that give you a little bit more time as far as personal time throughout the week or would that give you just more time for personal appearances for your sponsor and stuff like that?
KURT BUSCH: It will open the door up to a whole different group of avenues, whether it is the personal side or whether it's the marketing sponsorship side. It really depends upon which racetrack they're going to work on that direction with first as well as the future of our sport and technology and trying to hold back a little bit and try to cut costs for the teams. I believe that's the main direction. But if there's an opportunity to cut down to two two-day shows, maybe we can race twice in one week and have a bigger off-season.
Q. Where do you feel like you've made your biggest improvement this year as a driver?
KURT BUSCH: That's a great question. Just being able to roll with different changing circumstances on the racetrack and not developing a problem into bigger problems. That's one thing a championship driver has to have, is the ability to have a circumstance arise and to be able to make sure that it's taken care of properly and as quickly as possible, and to make sure that if there is any unforeseen circumstance or problem, that you have time to overcome that, which means that it doesn't happen too close to the end of the races. That's what's provided for great finishes for us. We had one problem this playoff series at Atlanta with the motor. Before that, since Daytona in July, we've had only one other problem, and that was a mechanical failure with a transition at Pocono. Other than that, it's been Top 12 finishes, and we've had great cars to try to win with. We've had horrible cars that we've polished on and made better. It's just being able to balance out all the days into a good finish.
Q. As you improved upon that this year, how did that come about? What were things that you were able to do, people you were able to go to to kind of help school you or refine those skills for this season?
KURT BUSCH: It's been a matter of going to all of the different subsidiaries that I can find, whether it's Jack Roush, whether it's Jimmy Fennig, even my teammates with Mark Martin, Greg Biffle, Kenseth. They've all had their ups and downs, they've all had positive finishes at some of the toughest tracks. Where we struggled in the past, I looked at the outline of who did well, I researched that, modeled that and tried to implement that the best that I can so that I can go to those tracks with confidence next time around and know what to do and how to stay out of trouble and how to go for the win.
Q. With two races to go and the pressure mounting, what is your crew doing to stay loose from week to week?
KURT BUSCH: Well, they've done a fantastic job of knowing what to do for each circumstance and with the pressure building they still have this great focus and strong-minded effort that's going forward with their pit stops, things in the garage. We took Monday off yesterday. Just a long West Coast trip. Of course, travel time getting back. Everybody had their chance yesterday to get caught back up. Today is where the motors are being brought in for the Darlington cars, setting up the primary, and of course just going forward with the normal routine is the answer I'm going towards here. Everybody's focused on what they have to do. Nobody's deviating from the main project.
Q. You race for a guy that has been in these positions before, most recently with Matt Kenseth. Your boss, Jack Roush, what kind of advice has he had for you this season?
KURT BUSCH: He's been great. He'll pump you up in one sentence and then he'll kick you in the knee in another sentence just to challenge you to understand that there's so many things to look at and there's so many things that come about each and every race that you have to take care of. Jack is by far one of the most versatile car owners as far as his knowledge about the race cars and as far as his past experiences on winning championships. I'm definitely in the right court with having him in my side, just being able to move forward and to know what to do each and every race. 10 races ago is different from what we're doing now with these final two.
Q. This season sort of seems like it's in sort of quarters almost. Started out with Dale, Jr. being up front, then Jimmie, Jeff Gordon, now you. Can you talk about that and I guess it comes down maybe to a season-long thing where different people are -- it's going to sort of ebb and flow.
KURT BUSCH: That's an interesting viewpoint to look at the way the competitors have had their chance in the season, to flourish and run competitively. But it's something everybody knows they have to do now. For us, with a regular season of 26 races, playing it calm, playing it cool, knowing that we were a team that could get into the final 10 and save most of our tests, build the best possible cars for the later part of the year, we've put all of our eggs in one basket, and that's these final 10 races. We hope our outcome is more positive than the rest.
Q. Do you think the people that have sort of had their dominant stretches are really the four people that are left here fighting for the championship at the end of the year? Is that coincidental or is it just how it is?
KURT BUSCH: That's who we believe our competition is. We've looked at the way this playoff series has gone and we've seen the 48 have a great stretch with three in a row. We've seen the 8 car be consistent at every racetrack. We've seen the 24 take a horrible day and turn it into a positive outcome. With us running top five every race up until the last couple, that's what it takes to win, is to be able to beat these guys on an average of six out of the 10 races.
Q. You've talked about understanding more your leadership role and understanding and seeing the leadership role of your crew chief as well. When it comes to dealing with adversity, and you guys have in positive ways this year, how much of a factor did luck play into that?
KURT BUSCH: Luck has a great deal to do with the way the final outcome on the day is. Every day is a new opportunity for things to happen. When you're prepared and when that opportunity comes together with that preparation, luck is usually developed from that. I steal that almost from Richard Childress, it was a great quote he had when Earnhardt went through some of his bad races and his strength came out to win those types of championships. It's just a matter of going out and doing your job. When things come in your direction, whether it was in your control or out of your control, luck is a factor. The race this weekend, we were running off sequence with the leaders as far as tires were concerned, and we didn't have much luck when the 5 car spun and allowed 18 cars to pass us because they hadn't pitted yet. So we went from running in the top three back to 28. So there's been some good luck and then there's been the other side of the car, as well.
Q. At the end of the day, are you at all surprised the position you're in right now and how special this season could turn out for you?
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, it has been a great season for us. I'm very privileged to be in this position. This is a great question to answer. It's something that I've looked forward to for a long time. To be able to go into these final two races with an advantage in points feels great. But I know there's a little bit more work to be done so we can come out on top.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks for making time for us today. We appreciate that. Best of luck the rest of the way.
KURT BUSCH: Thank you very much.
THE MODERATOR: We've got now with us on the phone Jeff Burton, who is the driver of the No. 30 America Online Chevrolet. He's on his lunch break right now from testing at Homestead. Jeff is also 16th in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup points right now. He joined Richard Childress Racing in late August, and since then he's competed in 12 races for RCR, and has jumped from 22nd to 16th in the points. Two weeks ago RCR announced Jeff will move to the No. 31 Cingular Wireless Chevrolet for 2005. He's got his plate full with all sorts of preparations as he finishes 2004. Jeff is also a fan of Darlington, just like Kurt. He has two NASCAR NEXTEL Cup wins there, including one Southern 500 victory. He knows that track just about as well as everybody. Jeff, thanks for having lunch with us today.
JEFF BURTON: Thanks for having me.
THE MODERATOR: You're putting together a pretty strong end-of-the-season run. That's a lot like some of your other peers from 11th place on down. Now you're going to one of your favorite tracks. Talk for a minute about how a number of you guys in that situation have used these last several months to really rejuvenate your teams.
JEFF BURTON: I think it's important to never quit. When things aren't going well you, you know, you have several choices. One of the them is to just give up, the other one is just to keep fighting. That's what I've chosen to do not only with the year but with my career. We're working hard. We joined forces understanding the things we were doing today were putting a down payment on the future. So far what we've done's been really good. I think we've made huge advances. I think we're close to a Top 10. We're about an 8th to 12th place team right now. I think that's a good place to start. That's not eventually where we want to end up, but I think that's good enough to start. It's good to end the year on a high note. I think I built a lot of confidence. The team has built a lot of confidence in me. I think going through the winter, we'll use that confidence to our advantage getting ready for next year.
THE MODERATOR: I know your mind is on Homestead right now because that's what's in front of you. Take us back to Darlington for a second. It's going to be a very significant weekend for the series, running under the lights. What do you think about that?
JEFF BURTON: Well, first of all, every year, every race that we get ready to go to Darlington, I get pumped up. I think Darlington is one of the special places in our sport. I've said before it's not the prettiest place in the world, it's not the coolest racetrack in the world as far as grandstands and suites, all that stuff, but when you look at history and the heritage of our sport, the things that have gone on in our sport, Darlington fits really, really tightly in there. I take a tremendous amount of pride in how we run at Darlington. I think it's the toughest racetrack we go to. When you can perform well there, I think it's a good sign of the strength of your race team. Having said all that, because I do feel that way, this race in particular means a great deal. It's possible that this could be the last Southern 500. I don't know that for sure, but it's possible. If that's the case, I want to be the one that won it. It means a lot to me. The Southern 500 is a huge race. I don't care what it pays. I don't care anything about that. But getting a Southern 500 trophy is big on anybody's resume. I certainly want to put another one on mine.
THE MODERATOR: Let's open it up for questions for Jeff.
Q. It looks like NASCAR is getting pretty close to lifting the liquor sponsorship ban. Do you think NASCAR is doing the right thing, and if so why, if that happens?
JEFF BURTON: I think that NASCAR, first of all, I said this when was knee deep into it, that NASCAR's got to do what's right for the sport. If it's not right for the sport, then they shouldn't do it. It's my opinion that we live in an environment today that alcohol is out there, it's not hidden. I think that responsible advertising is perfectly acceptable with alcohol. I do believe, though, that the alcohol companies should go the extra mile to represent their product for what it is, that's a quality product, but also a product that does have some dangers to it. And I think to do responsible marketing would be paramount. If NASCAR allows it in, I think they have to set a set of rules, a set of standards that's very high to make sure that the alcohol companies do the right thing in producing marketing that's appropriate. Under that scenario, I think it's perfectly acceptable.
Q. I guess everything works out for a reason, but does it bother you that they would weigh it and leave you hanging with the 99 for so now and lift it now?
JEFF BURTON: No, it doesn't really bother me at all. I think NASCAR has done the right thing. If they choose to do it, they've done the right thing by taking the time making sure it's the right thing for the sport, not letting the external pressures influence their decision. That's pretty much typical of NASCAR. They're slow to move, they're not going to be reactionary, they're going to be an organization that really thinks about it and tries to do the right thing. When I was in the midst of it, I knew all along it was going to be a long decision. I never thought we'd pick up the phone and call them, and they'd say, "Oh, yeah, you can do it." And I accept that for being right. I think that taking time to really understand what you're getting into is appropriate in this situation because it has a potential of opening up Pandora's box. Although it probably won't, it has potential. I think that NASCAR needs to take their time and see through as many possibilities as they can of the positives and the negatives, and that does take time. So, no, I'm not upset in any form or fashion. I think they're doing what they got to do to make sure they're doing the right thing for the sport.
Q. What downsides do you see?
JEFF BURTON: That's the thing, I don't know. Certainly some people will find offense to the fact that we didn't have spirits in the industry, and now we do. That alone will spur some controversy. The negative ramifications of that, I don't know what they are. I do believe, I honestly believe, that if the spirit companies come into the sport and handle it properly, they will elevate the responsible drinking message. It won't degrade it, it will elevate it. I think the spirits will actually raise the level in which you market in a responsible fashion to the beer companies, to everybody. I think essentially it could be a good thing. But until it happens, it's hard to really understand if it's good or bad. But I really believe, I really and truly believe that because the emphasis will be put on what kind of marketing are they doing, that's going to put pressure on the beer companies to step up their responsible marketing. And I think at the end of the day, it might end up being good for the sport and good for that industry, by the way.
Q. You obviously have some insight into the Roush team, Kurt Busch. What do you think changed for Kurt this year? I know he's finished high before, but now he's No. 1, it's his to lose. What do you think has changed this year with Kurt? Was it personal maturity, the team maturing?
JEFF BURTON: Well, you know, it's hard to put one single thing on it. I think the 17 and the 97 teams are extremely well-prepared. They have shown the ability to be fast enough to be in the position that they're in, but they haven't shown the ability to always finish races the way they've run. They haven't shown the ability to get through adversity as well as they need to. They've been able to do that this year. They've had way less mechanical failures this year with the engine program. Kurt has been more even-keeled this year as opposed to getting really upset and losing focus a little bit. I think the maturity is part of it. I think mechanical problems are part of it, that they haven't had. They've shown the ability to run fast enough for a couple years. But being able to do that every week and knock down the finishes, that wasn't their strong point. They put all that together this year. I think that's the main reason they are where they are.
Q. When you look at the guys running for the title, the top four, can you handicap at all?
JEFF BURTON: Kurt is sitting where I'd want to be. If I were in the hunt, that's certainly where I'd want to be. It's certainly hard to look at Jimmie Johnson, what they've done, and not put a lot of emphasis on how far they've come in a short time. They have the most momentum, without a doubt. After Kurt broke last week, and then, as he said a minute ago, they got a little off pit sequence at the end, Jimmie got by him, and then Earnhardt winning, I'm sure they feel like they're back on their heels a little bit. I said this two weeks ago, and I don't mean to bring up a bad story, but I know that Hendrick Motorsports people pretty well. They will use a tragedy as inspiration. I think they're racing extremely inspired right now, and I think that Kurt feels that. I think those two teams will be factors without a doubt.
Q. The Busch Series has a practice where they have tracks with one-day shows. Is that feasible for the NEXTEL Cup Series? What are the pros and cons of it? Are you in favor of a one-day show?
JEFF BURTON: Well, there may be some logistical issues that we have that they don't have based on the number of people that come to the events. It may make it difficult to logistically have a race on a one-day show with all the things that got to come in and out of the race. Those things I don't know about. I think there is a potential to have a problem. Without a doubt, we could have way more two-day shows. The difficulty in that is that, you know, racetracks don't have many opportunities during the year to produce revenue. So when we take a day away from them, that's taking a considerable amount of their percentage of opportunity that they have for income. Those are factors that have to be looked at. If you ask -- if you're asking me, would I like to see two-day shows, unequivocally, the answer would be yes. I think it would be a great thing. On the other hand, I do understand the importance for the racetracks to be able to create the revenue, the TV to be able to create the revenues they need in order to put the shows on at the quality that we've had. Personally, I'd love to see two-days shows. We can't make rules based on what drivers want; we got to make rules based on what's best for the business.
Q. What about perhaps having two two-day shows during the week?
JEFF BURTON: You know, as long as they were in close proximity to each other, I don't think that would be a real big issue. I think we've got to be careful to not create a schedule that makes it more difficult for lower-tiered teams to compete. The more prepared you are, the better chance you have to win. If we start stacking a bunch of races real close together, then the teams with more people, the teams with more funding, the teams that have those advantages, the advantages will be even larger. Having a little bit of time between the races I think is a little bit of an equalizer for the teams that don't have as much revenue.
Q. When you got to RCR, had a chance to get inside and see what was going on, anything jump out at you that was different maybe than any other team you'd been with?
JEFF BURTON: Well, you need to keep in mind, I'd been at one team for a long time. Mostly what I remember about the other teams that I dealt with were things that weren't good. You tend to remember the bad things (laughter). The thing that stuck out at me, that really jumped at me right off the bat is it's a friendly place to be. You know, people aren't at each other's throats. We have problems, but we're all trying to fix 'em. We certainly have disagreements, but they're not contentious disagreements. It's a little more friendly atmosphere. It's a little more relaxed. Although, you know, Richard is really, I mean, right now especially, he's really warned us to step it up. Of course, we all want to step it up, too. So even though it's more relaxed and a little more friendly, it's no -- there's no less desire there. That's the thing that really sticks out.
Q. Do you like having that desire? Does it reenergize you having someone with that push that really wants to attain the same goals you do as a driver?
JEFF BURTON: I had that with Jack, too. Jack wasn't sitting back saying, "If you run 30th, I'm happy." Jack was always wanting us to do better than we were doing, even if we won. There were many cases we went to Victory Lane, and Jack would tell me what we did wrong. I'm used to having owners that I wouldn't say high pressure, but have high expectations. I have high expectations. So I want a car owner that has them, as well. I think for me and for the 30 team, as well, I think we both have a point to prove. This 30 team was the team last year that had Robby Gordon in position. He would have advanced into this year's championship. Then through this year, the end of last year, they didn't perform very well. Up until a few months ago, this team didn't perform well this year. Same with me. We weren't running well with the 99. This team I think feels the intensity, they really want to show the world they can do it. That's where I am, too. I think our timing is really well. Getting together at the right time I think's important. I think that's what we got going on.
Q. Since we're dealing with all the speculative things going on, one of the things that's been talked about is guaranteed spots for the top 35 in owner points. What would your feeling moving ahead be of a qualifying system like that as opposed to the best number of cars?
JEFF BURTON: Well, I think that our car owners deserve some protection. I believe that the car owners that have made huge investments, sponsors that have made huge investments into this sport deserve some form of protection. I also understand that we can't have a system that takes away competition. We can't have a system that creates a scenario where just because you own a team, you're in the show and you're guaranteed you're going to have some things going your way. I don't believe that's right. But I do believe there's a way to find a happy medium. In the event that let's say the top 32 teams are guaranteed to be in the race, okay? We can still qualify. We can still go to the racetrack and qualify. By the way, the top 32 teams, if we limited the number of laps they could run, they have to work on qualifying practice. If they want to take emphasis away from qualifying, the way they've done in the Busch Series, without a doubt we need to lock people in. I'm telling you right now, if I'm 35th in points, and I'm going to a NASCAR NEXTEL Cup race, I'm going there in qualifying trim and I'm going to make that race. I think it's a huge disadvantage in that situation to put teams that have mega millions of dollars invested in sponsorship in a scenario where you can have teams working on qualifying trim and you're having to work on race trim. I think if they do put an emphasis on race practice and not qualifying, without a doubt they've got to find a way to lock people in. In the other scenario, the provisional system works pretty well. But I'm going to tell you right now, it doesn't feel very good, and the Busch Series, I've gone over there as a Cup competitor, and knocked the Busch guys out. That's not good for the Busch Series. It is good for the Busch Series for Cup drivers to be there, but there's a negative to it, as well. Over here, Caterpillar didn't make the race last week. Valvoline didn't make the race last week. These are two companies that put a huge amount of emphasis and marketing dollars to promote this sport to make this sport better and better, and they went home. They're not bad teams. Those teams, they're not high up in points, but that doesn't mean they're bad teams. I think we got to look at our provisional system in a year where we don't have a lot of teams, like we've had this year. I think our provisional system works really well. Going into next year, where we're going to have without a doubt more quality teams competing to make these races, our provisional system needs to be looked at, and we've got to protect the investments of the owners so that when it comes time to negotiate for sponsorship, this he have a firm leg to stand on. I firmly believe those things.
Q. You talked earlier about the Top 4 drivers in the chase. I wonder if you found the last few races that the guys in the chase, when you're around them, is that all they're talking about or do they try to avoid it?
JEFF BURTON: Well, I think they certainly are talking about other things. Here's what happens. No matter where you are in the points, no matter why you're going to the racetrack, when you get to the racetrack, the emphasis turns to: How do we make this car go as fast as we can and how do we get the best finish we can? That doesn't mean if you're leading the points or running 50th. It's the same thing. I think the racetrack is probably the place that it's the easiest to focus on what you need to be focused on and not let the championship thing get in your head and start working on you. Now, during the week, there's no distractions. By the way, the media, everybody you see says, "Hey, man, get it done, hope you win the championship." Everybody you talk to, that's who they want to talk to. The media, that's what they want to talk about. Your mom calls you, that's what she wants to talk about. I've been through it. Everybody wants to talk about it. When you get to the racetrack, now you get to focus the thing that got you to that place, and that's making your car go fast. I think that's the great thing about our sport, is that even when things are terrible, when we have tragedy in our sport, when we have adversity in our sport, once you get to the racetrack, you get to focus on what you want to focus on. I think that's what those guys are doing, they are able to focus on going fast, and that keeps your mind off of it.
Q. We all know you really enjoy Darlington. Can you tell me why race car drivers talk about Darlington as if she's a woman.
JEFF BURTON: You're trying to get me in trouble (laughter). You know, I don't know the answer to that question. I can honestly tell you that I'm not sure that I refer to it as a woman, but I do hear people, the Lady in Black, all that. I don't know why boats are called female, and I don't know why racetracks should be.
Q. It's the only one that's referred to like that.
JEFF BURTON: Yeah. And I think without oversimplifying it, I think the only reason that is is because the nickname is the Lady in Black. That's the only thing I can figure. I can tell you right now, I'm politically savvy enough to know no matter how I answer that question, I'm going to be in trouble. So you're not going to get me on this one (laughter).
Q. Has she ever done you wrong?
JEFF BURTON: Oh, yeah, she's done me wrong. Actually in that way it is much like a woman: you might think she did you wrong, but in reality you probably did it wrong (laughter).
Q. No political overtones on this one.
JEFF BURTON: Thank you. That's politics in the worst way right there (laughter).
Q. You're driving for the 30 now, the 31 next year. I'm wondering at what point in the season a driver starts thinking about 2005, especially switching teams, talking about the intensity, how you carry intensity from one team to the other, and also more about 2005, whether you've tested the new spoiler yet.
JEFF BURTON: Well, listen, where we are right now today, I'm 16th in driver points. We're 23rd I think in owner points. We're working on next year already. Maybe we're 22nd. We're already working on next year. It's important for us to run well this year so that we feel good about going into next year. There's no question about it, because that's the only thing that we have to gain. Dale Jarrett had a great quote when he didn't make the Top 10. He said, you know, "This isn't all bad. The fact is we can be working on next year and everybody else in those Top 10, they can't do that. They can't take focus out of this year. "That's what we're trying to do. We're trying to prepare ourselves for next year. Unfortunately, Richard Childress Racing doesn't have any teams in the Top 10. The fortunate part of that is we're all working together to get ready for in year. We're not writing this year off, but we're experimenting on some stuff. We can go into races today experimenting on things that a lot of guys can't do because they're not in the position to do that. We're trying to use our lack of being in the Top 10 as an advantage. So it's clear, I don't feel like I'm switching teams next year. I'm switching car numbers and sponsors obviously. This whole team will be intact just like it is today, it's just we're going to be driving the Cingular 31 car instead of the 30 AOL car. I'm not really switching teams, I'm switching numbers. The next question is, the spoiler. We're going to run all day today at Homestead and all day tomorrow with next year's spoiler. We've run half a day right now with next year's spoiler. We've gone to almost every racetrack we've gone to test, we've at some point or another run with a short spoiler. This week we're running the whole two days with the short spoiler.
Q. Have you noticed any difference yet?
JEFF BURTON: Oh, yeah, it's a difference. To be quite honest, I've only had the short spoiler on. I've not done a back-to-back comparison. I can't tell you exactly what the difference is. The other thing is, we don't have next year's tire. Next year's tire's going to be different. So we're kind of -- we might be wasting our time here, but we think we can learn some things. But until we get the whole package with the tires and the spoiler, it's going to be very difficult to put our finger on exactly what it is we need.
THE MODERATOR: Jeff, thanks for making time for us today. We appreciate it.
JEFF BURTON: No problem.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, everybody, for participating on the NASCAR NEXTEL teleconference. Have a great week.
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