NASCAR Preseason Fan Festival
January 16, 2009
DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA
HERB BRANHAM: Joined now by the driver of the No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet, Jeff Burton. Coming off another solid year for Richard Childress Racing coming back to the Daytona 500. What's the outlook?
JEFF BURTON: We're excited about the year. At the same time to sit up here and say that we're going to come down here and do this and do that, I think that's kind of foolish because we don't know what we have. I mean, without testing we honestly don't know where we stand up to our competition.
We're optimistic. We've put a lot of work, effort and energy into trying to find a way to be better. We feel really confident our engine program has taken a major step, so we feel real strong about that coming to Daytona. We saw that at Talladega in the fall. So we're excited.
But there's a lot of unknowns, and those unknowns are a cause for concern.
Q. Some testing questions. Philosophically where are you at on testing versus not testing? Lee White said the other day that an owner had tried to block 50 days at Rockingham. If you knew who that was, what would you say to them? And if you were part of that GM proving grounds thing, what was your take on that. A little bit different for a veteran like yourself?
JEFF BURTON: First of all, the proving grounds are nothing new. We've been using the proving grounds for a long time. I'm not going to say every team has been going to the proving grounds, but the majority times I think it's fair to say have been going to the proving grounds.
Teams are going to go to Rockingham. Teams are going to go do whatever they can to test. We still have tires. You know, as long as we have tires that are close to what we are racing, there's something to be learned.
You know, I am in agreement that in desperate times, in difficult times, you have to make difficult decisions. But we don't have a testing ban; we have a testing restriction. You know, so teams are still going to -- teams are still testing, teams are still -- Rockingham is a place that a lot of people have paid attention to, the short track and the big track; Texas World has made an announcement a couple weeks ago they were going to update their facility to try to make it so people could use it. And if those things happen, people will use them. I don't fault a car owner for doing that. The rule doesn't say you can't do it, so the rule doesn't say you can't do it, if you think it's going to make you better, that's what you need to do.
Q. What do you and your team need to do this year that you didn't do last year to get closer to contending for the championship?
JEFF BURTON: Well, unfortunately it's the same answer I've given the last three years, or at least the last two years, and that's speed. You know, the thing that we haven't done very well as a company, if you look at the laps we've led, the races we've won, that's our weakness -- that's a big weakness. In racing, speed is pretty darned important.
You know, we have to continue to do the things that we do well, but we also have to find a way to lead more laps to put ourselves in position to win more races, and you do that by brute force speed, and that's what our focus has been on.
Q. Is it a matter of -- they always say speed equals money, money equals speed.
JEFF BURTON: I think it's more than that. You know, I don't think that -- we aren't short on money. You know, we have good funding. We just haven't done as good of a job as some. We've done a better job than a lot, but there's some that have done a better -- we're striving for greatness here. We're not looking to be mediocre, we're striving for greatness. If we want to be analytical and understand what it is that we have to do better, then it's speed. That's the thing that we have to do. It's not because we don't have the funding. It's just a few people have done a better job.
It's more than just working on the cars, it's driving them, too. The drivers have a huge play in how fast our cars go, so we have to be willing to look at ourselves and try to find a way to be better, as well.
Q. My question goes against your comments about speed, but some people are saying that the mile and a half track, the races there would be better if the speed weren't quite so high. How do you weigh in on that issue?
JEFF BURTON: Well, I think that that's one of those blanket statements that is dangerous. You know, how do you make the speed lower? If you make the speed lower because the cars go slower through the corner, I don't know that the racing will be better.
Talladega is a really close race, and it's closer than it is at Michigan. Why is that? Because at Talladega everybody can run wide open and the cars are easy to drive. So if you make the car -- if you pull speed out by making the cars drive worse, that may be beneficial to some, but it may not produce better racing.
So just to say making them slower would make the racing better, I don't agree with that. The real question would be how would you make it slower. There is some merit to saying if you slow the cars down, you could make a better race. Look at Talladega. It's very easy to drive a race car at Talladega, but just by slowing them down and making them drive worse, that's not going to make a better race.
Q. You're a celebrity and you answer questions very well. Recently Clint Eastwood was interviewed, and he said that celebrities should take their work seriously but not themselves seriously. I'd be interested in your comment on that.
JEFF BURTON: I think that's -- I think that -- I agree with that, but I don't agree with all of that. It kind of depends on -- I think race car drivers are a little different breed. I'm not saying better or worse. If you're an actor, you don't necessarily carry along with you all the employees and customers of sponsors. I think you have to -- there's a responsibility that a race car driver has that's a little different than an actor or a football player or a basketball player because we represent every employee and every customer of every one of our sponsors.
So I think that adds a little extra burden. I think it's good. I think that's a good burden. But it is different.
I also think it's important to remember that we are playing a game, you know, and we're not exactly lifting heavy things here. We're playing a game, a game that many, many people would like to be playing, and I think it's important to remember that. But it is different. Taking this sport seriously I think is very important, but I think it is important to remember that you're just part of it. It was going really fine without you, and when you're gone it will go really fine without you, and I think it's important to have that perspective. I've been reminded of that a few times. I think Bill Jr. reminded me of that a couple times, and I think that's a healthy way to look at it.
Q. Stop me if this has been asked. What are your early impressions of Casey Mears as a teammate, and do you have any thoughts on maybe why he wasn't more successful at his other stops?
JEFF BURTON: Well, you know, unfortunately one of the things that testing -- not testing has done is -- I haven't had a chance to work with Casey. In talking to Casey the thing that I'm really impressed with is his enthusiasm, his desire to be successful. I think that Casey is going to bring something to our company immediately. You know, he's very professional, very much wants to do the right thing, wants to have success, and he's willing to do whatever it takes to be successful.
You know, not every situation is right for everybody. You can -- if you're part of a team and other drivers are having success, that doesn't mean you can't be successful. It means that that program doesn't work for you. What I've learned in this sport is that teams and companies have to match people together, and I like where I work because I think I'm a good match for that. You could put me somewhere else and I could have no success at all. So I think it's important to be matched up.
I mean, I think that Casey hasn't been matched up. That's not to say that Hendrick Motorsports doesn't have all good stuff, that they don't have good people. Obviously Jimmie and Jeff have had tremendous success there, but that doesn't mean that it's right for everybody.
So matching the right people together is extremely important. You know, it's chemistry, that's what it is, and Casey hasn't had the situation where he could be as successful as I think he can be.
Q. What do you think Carl's chances are of winning the championship this year? Is he the favorite, or is Jimmie the favorite, or are they the two favorites? What are his chances and what does he have to do to beat Jimmie?
JEFF BURTON: Well, I think he's certainly high on the list. Carl, if you look at the way they ended the year last year, they were the hot team. That means that they have a shot. The question is from a competition standpoint, have other people narrowed the gap, have they become complacent? Carl is going to drive hard and drive very effectively, but this sport is a moving target. You know, it's hard to go into a year and pick a team, but if you had to pick a team, the 99 team would certainly be one of those that you would pick.
What they have to do to beat the 48, I'm not intimately -- I don't have intimate knowledge of what's going on with their team, so I can't comment on that. But they're certainly one of the teams that would be a favorite.
Q. Back to testing again, as far as Rockingham goes, given that it's not like a lot of the tracks that you race on in the Cup Series except for maybe the half mile, do you reach a point of diminishing returns testing there where it's not as effective anymore?
JEFF BURTON: Well, the interesting thing is if you can't have the right tire, then what are you really learning? And that's for each team to make the decision themselves. We struggle taking a tire that has completely nothing to do with where you're testing for and being able to apply a whole lot of what you've learned. No matter how hard you work on bump stops, no matter how hard you work on shocks, no matter how hard you work on geometry, at the end of the day the last thing that touches the road is the tire, and the tire has a huge bearing on how your car drives. So at what point are you learning, and how effective is it?
And that's for each team to decide. We haven't done a tremendous amount of off-season testing because we don't feel like we have the tire that's going to give us the information that we really need.
Now, last year we tested a lot. I mean, the 31 and the 29 in particular tested a great deal. We tested as much as any single teams. We thought we got results from that, but we had the right tire. Without the right tire, I don't know.
So what we've tried to do is not test as much and take that money and put in stuff that hopefully will yield a result. You know, if it doesn't, I can tell you we'll be doing a lot of testing and trying to do it the old-fashioned way. But it's clear to me, as it is I think most people, that as we continue to invest in technology and we continue to find other ways to do it, that that ultimately is going to be more effective than going to a racetrack and testing, especially when you can't go to the racetrack that you're going to race on.
If we were going to -- trust me, if NASCAR just said, hey, you can go to Daytona and test, we're going to be here because that's very effective. You can go to Texas and test, we're going to be there because that's very effective. I don't know how effective Rockingham, which is an extremely rough racetrack, very low grip on tires that we're not going to race anywhere, I don't know how effective that is, other than shaking the rust off. And new teams and stuff like that I think can receive benefit from it. But you're not going to fine tune a California setup at Rockingham, I can promise you that.
HERB BRANHAM: Jeff, thank you very much. Good luck in the Daytona 500.
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