NASCAR Media Conference
September 16, 2008
HERB BRANHAM: Thank you, and good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to today's NASCAR CAM video teleconference. We're in advance of Sunday's race at Dover International Speedway. That is the Camping World RV 400, presented by AAA, Race 2 in the 2008 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Today our guest is Jeff Burton, driver of the No. 31 AT&T Mobility Chevrolet. He joins us from the NASCAR Research and Development Center in Concord, North Carolina.
Jeff comes into Dover fifth in the series standings. Jeff, you're in pretty good shape after the first week of the Chase.
He won this race over two years ago, so pretty easy to imagine you're feeling confident coming into this weekend's event.
JEFF BURTON: I thought last weekend went pretty well for us. There were obviously things that could have gone a little better for us. I've said it for three or four weeks, I really feel we stand to run really well in the next nine weeks.
So we got off to a good start. A solid start for sure. And now on to the next one. It's one week at a time. We've put a lot of focus into each and every race. Feel really good about what we've done to get ready for Dover. We'll see what happens Sunday.
Q. In light of what's going on with Tony Jr. and Tony Sr., without getting into specifics, can you talk about the relationship between the crew chief and the driver, and how important it is for that driver to give specific, concise feedback back to the crew chief?
JEFF BURTON: Well, I think it's especially important for the crew chief and the driver to be able to communicate. I hear a lot of crew chief-driver combinations, maybe a comment, hey, we always think alike. I think that's not very good at all. I think pushing each other and being able to disagree with each other and doing it in a productive way is what makes it work the best.
I believe that, you know, there has to be a lot of respect. People have to -- the crew chief has to respect the driver. The drivers have to respect the crew chief. They both have to understand that they both have each other's interests at heart and are giving 100%. Then it just turns into results.
There's times that people really like working with each other, but they don't get results. There are times people don't like each other at all, but they get results. Ultimately at the end of the day, it's about results.
But physically at this level, when you get talented people with the right dedication, typically those things work out pretty well.
Q. Two years ago you got off to a really good start in the Chase and led for four consecutive weeks. Greg Biffle by winning it at New Hampshire has sort of come out of a dark horse category and I guess is now a contender. If you could give Greg a little advice at this point in the Chase, what would you tell him?
JEFF BURTON: Well, I don't think that I'd be giving Greg advice, but I think I'd be giving the media and fans advice: Don't read too much into one week.
I think it's important to understand that, you know, this is a ten-week stretch. I mean, so much happens in ten weeks. We've already seen it in one week. We saw Matt Kenseth had a lot of trouble.
You know, obviously got into a wreck, and he started with a deficit anyway because of the race wins versus Jimmie and Kyle, and now he's in a bigger deficit. Those are things you can't count out.
They're solid, they're tough. Matt's a great race car driver, and they're not out of it. Just because Greg Biffle won the first race, that doesn't mean he going to win it.
We saw the same thing happen two years ago, the year you referred to. You know, Harvick won the first race. Then he had trouble in the second race and really wasn't a factor in the championship. He made a good run, but because he had trouble, that outweighed the good races.
So it's just too early to be, you know, deciding who is going to win, and who is not going to win. It's just way too early. I said that last week before the thing even started. There's three drivers that everybody picked, it's one of those three drivers that is going to win the Chase.
I think people are crazy to think that. I know they're the ones that deserve the consideration, for sure, based on what they've done. But people who watch racing ought to remember that two races out of ten can completely ruin a guy's chance to win a championship.
So you just never know what's going to happen. You have to take one race at a time. Pay attention to one race at a time. I can't be worried about Talladega right now. I need to worry about Dover. When Dover's over, we'll worry about the next race. So it's one race at a time, and ten races is an eternity. A lot of stuff's going to happen over the next ten races.
Q. You were just mentioning Talladega. Can you talk about the tracks in the Chase, any favorites and ones you don't look forward to? And in your opinion, whether a road course should be added in the future?
JEFF BURTON: I think the racetracks ought to be representative of what we do the majority of the year. If you look at how many one-and-a-half-mile racetracks we run, that percentage ought to be close to the percentages that we run in the regular season. Same with Super Speedways, same with road courses.
Under that formula, it would preclude a road course from being in the Chase. I think it would be -- I don't think it would be a good thing for our sport for 50% of the road courses to be represented in the Chase. I don't think that's right. That has nothing to do whether I think I'm good at them or not, it just has to do with simple logic.
If we ran six road course races or five road course races, then you could stop and make an argument. But because we run so few of them, I don't think they belong in the Chase.
As far as racetracks I'm looking forward to, honestly, I look at the tracks. I think we won at six of the ten racetracks that we go to. I know we haven't won at Talladega. I know we haven't won at Homestead. I know we haven't won at Kansas. But I feel good about those racetracks.
I look at last year at Homestead, the driver made a mistake, but we probably had the best car on the racetrack. Hit the wall in lap 5. Had to make up two laps. We had a great car. Never won there, but I feel good about it. Talladega's a wildcard. Chances are for people that are involved in the Chase are going to get into wrecks at Talladega. It's that simple. That is what the odds tell you.
So me, personally, I don't look at any racetrack and say, wow, I can't wait to get there; but I don't think, oh, my God, I'm not excited about going to a particular place either.
Q. Having been both in and out of this Championship Chase, what is it like this time of the year when you're not racing for the championship? Do you feel forgotten? Do you really just focus on the next year like everybody says they do? What's it like when you're not in the Chase right now?
JEFF BURTON: Well, you feel left out. Honestly, I told someone a few weeks ago that we were not going to be in the Chase. We knew we weren't going to be in the Chase. And I think we qualified outside pole or 3rd or something like that. And I parked my car after the qualifying lap, and not one person from the media was standing there. And I was like, you know what? I mean, we just did pretty good. Nobody seemed to care. That's just how it is.
If you're not in the Chase, people just don't pay you a whole lot of attention. You have to do something dramatic to bring that attention in.
We are always working on next year. We're always working on the next week. When people say we're working on next year, who isn't? You're always building on what you're doing. What you do next week has a great deal to do with what you did this week. That is the nature of our business.
You can gamble a little bit more, maybe. You can do things a little bit more unorthodox, maybe. But as for the fact it's just building blocks, you're always trying to put one block on top of the other to get better. So we're always looking to be better in the future.
But, you know, it is tough when you're not in the Chase. Then, you know, you start racing. You're racing people for the championship, and that's a tough spot to be in.
I think some guys in the Chase expect special consideration. I don't think that's right. I think just because you're in the Chase doesn't change the fact that the guy's not in the Chase, he has as much right to the racetrack as you do. But people start looking for extra consideration, and extra help.
We heard that from Tony last year or the year before. We heard -- I believe it was last year because he won all his races. He felt like at times he was in the way. He felt like he was interrupting the flow of the Chase. That's a difficult position for those guys to be in, too.
Q. A lot of drivers nowadays are using sports psychologists. Have you ever used one, and what do you think the benefits will be?
JEFF BURTON: Well, I've been a big proponent of sports psychology for a long time, actually. I know they talk about the things that I do to prepare myself.
I'm by no means a newcomer in that business. I believe that everybody's different. I don't think -- I don't believe you can lay a curriculum out for someone that says this will make you the best race car driver anymore than you can lay the curriculum out and say this is going to make you the best farmer or pilot or whatever it is you want to be.
You have to determine personally, individually what works best for you. Some people, you know, may not get much advantage in the sports psychologist. Some people may not get much advantage at a nutritionist or with a trainer. It just depends on who you are. I think it's important for whoever you're working with to understand that, too.
This is a specialty sport. There are things that I'm really good at that I don't really need any help with. There are things that I'm not good at at all that I could definitely use some help on.
So understanding what they are is really important. And again, a psychologist or any type of profession that can help you do a better job, I think it's really useful. I think if you're not willing to look at every kind of option, you're leaving yourself short. But the amount of gain is different depending on who you are.
Q. What made you turn to one? Any specific incident or anything that made you feel like it would be a benefit?
JEFF BURTON: No, not really. I just -- you know, I just -- at the end of the day I believe that there's -- I don't want to get too philosophical here, but I believe that if you look at psychology in a negative way in that if you think about people who have physical problems because of the psychological problems, that means the brain is extremely strong. So if you can harness that power and use it to your advantage, then that's a good thing.
So what opened my eyes to it was being in a situation where I knew some people that psychologically were letting that have an impact on their everyday life. I looked at that and thought, wow. You know, what if you turn that around and use it to an advantage rather than a disadvantage. That's kind of what opened my eyes to being willing to sit down and talk.
Q. Tony Stewart's got a full-time job Monday through Thursday preparing for a race team next season. Could that be a benefit in taking his mind off the Chase this time of the year?
JEFF BURTON: Again, everybody's different. I'm not going to sit here and say Tony Stewart would be benefited by going to a psychologist. I'm not going to do that. I think everybody is different.
You know, Tony is embarking on a very difficult -- I mean, what he's going to do is very, very difficult. End of story. How they structure that team and the way they go about building that business around Tony will have a great deal to do with how successful Tony can be.
Tony can't be everything. Nobody can. Nobody can pay attention to driving these race cars. Put everything else behind you, and when -- when everything else behind you is huge.
I look at Richard Childress and I think good God. Look at all the stuff he has on his shoulders. I don't think Richard Childress could do all the things he does today and drive a race car. I think it would be impossible. It would be for me, anyway. So they're going to have to structure that thing so Tony can focus on driver the race car, and help in areas that don't distract from Tony. They have to be things that can help, not hurt.
You know, I don't know how the structure is. There's all different ways to have ownership in a team. He may have very little to do with day-to-day decisions, he may have a lot to do with it. I don't know which it's going to be. But it has to be done productive, not counterproductive.
Q. Pit-road speeding violations are kind of rare for Chase drivers at this time. Do you see them as just kind of dumb mistakes made by the drivers, and were you surprised by Tony's penalty? And how has it affected you? Have you ever been in that situation?
JEFF BURTON: Well, let me tell you about pit road. And I understand that being on pit road is kind of like if you're a football fan, the kicker kicking the ball out of bounds and putting the ball on the 40.
When you look at that you think how stupid can you be? But here's what you've got to remember. Our pit crews work -- their job is to make the very best pit stop they can possibly make. If they miss it by half of a second, we get beat by two or three cars out on pit road.
Well, think about pit road's speed. If pit road's speed's 55 miles an hour, the real story is they don't bust you until you go 60 miles per hour. There is a 5-mile-an-hour variance. The difference between going 59 miles per hour and 55 miles per hour is significant in the amount of time that you can lose on pit road.
So we are asked as drivers to push everything that we can to give ourselves and the team the best chance possible to beat people out on pit road.
You don't go down pit road, and you don't have the luxury of saying, well, pit road speed is 55, I can go 45. You don't have that luxury. You've got to be able to go 59 miles per hour. We do that with a tachometer. We don't have a speedometer. We do it by looking at RPMs. It's not an exact science.
So when you start pushing the rules in an area where it's not an exact science, it's very easy to speed. If you're trying to do your job 100%. If you're trying to go 59.9 miles per hour down pit road versus 45 miles an hour, that's a huge difference. A huge difference in how your pit crew can perform.
So on the surface of it, it looks like a really, really stupid mistake. But when you really look into it, we are trying to get 100% of our speed so we can have the best pit stop and obviously beat people out on pit road.
Q. Jeff, while growing up, did you ever imagine yourself or see yourself being part of a grand show like NASCAR and acquiring the celebrity status that goes with it now?
JEFF BURTON: No. Not only did I never -- I never really even thought about it. I mean, honestly, when I was racing go-karts, I was dreaming of driving a race car. But I wasn't dreaming of driving like in Winston Cup. I didn't think like that. As a matter of fact, I still don't think like that today.
I always wanted to be a race car driver. That's what I wanted to do. But I never really put A and B together and realized that for me to be at the top series, I had to be a Cup driver. I never put that together. So I just always wanted to race. But I never really knew how or what to win, but I always wanted to race. So, no, I never did imagine.
Q. From that side of the fence, fame might look really glamorous. Could you tell a fan maybe what -- the glamour isn't really all it is? Or maybe it is. Maybe it does look that way.
JEFF BURTON: Well, you're not going to get me to tell you that I don't have the best job in the world. It's certainly not just showing up on a Sunday afternoon and driving a car around, it's certainly not like that. I think there are a lot of real, real casual fans, kind of every-so-often fans that don't understand the amount of effort, energy it requires to be in this sport.
When I tell people we have 400 employees, their jaw hits the floor. They have no idea. They think it's like 12 of us, maybe. They don't understand how big it is.
People don't know that on Tuesdays, you know -- not every Tuesday, but three or four days a week I'm gone doing personal services stuff. I'm not doing personal services stuff, but stuff with sponsors. I'm gone testing. Those things aren't in the media so you don't see them.
This is a very difficult way to make a living. It's a lot of time away from home. I've spent well, well over 200 days from home last year. I think it was 250 days from home last year.
But I love what I do. You have a hard time getting me to tell you I have a tough deal. I'm 41 years old, and I'm doing what I wanted to do when I was 7. I mean, think about that. Think about a 7-year-old looking you in the eye and saying I want to be a fireman, I want to be a race car driver, I want to be an astronaut, and then doing it. That's what I'm doing.
I love what I do for a living. It is difficult, but it's supposed to be difficult. This is the highest form of racing in North America. It's supposed to be hard. If it's not hard, then something's wrong. It requires a lot of effort, and a lot of time, but it is what it is.
Q. The traditional school of thought was, you know, do your best, win as many races as you can in the first 26, and then get in the Chase. And Kyle was a perfect example of that, winning eight races. Now that that advantage was wiped away in a half a race, do you think that school of thought will be a little different for next year?
JEFF BURTON: Well, I don't know how winning eight races was counterproductive in any form or fashion. I mean, winning eight races didn't cause this problem at New Hampshire.
At the end of the day you want to win every race you can, because that means you're having success. I think one of the big misconceptions about points -- I think a lot of people think we go into a race, it's in their mind if we finish tenth, it's a good day. It's not like that. We go into every race trying to win the race. If you can't win the race, you try to finish second. If you can't finish second, you try to finish third. You want to finish as high as you can. You're not going to win every race, obviously. But you race to go win as many races as you can. But that's what we do.
HERB BRANHAM: I apologize. I think we had one or two more questions for Jeff Burton remaining on the call. For those media who were unable to ask, we had some technical difficulties. But want to thank everybody for participating in Week 2 of the Chase, and to Jeff Burton, chances of going into Dover and doing well, obviously looks good. Thank you very much for participating. We always appreciate the coverage.
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