Jeff Burton, driver of the #31 Caterpillar Chevrolet, met with members of the media at Charlotte Motor Speedway and discussed the new Gen-6 race car, testing today at Charlotte Motor Speedway and other topics.
TALK ABOUT THE NEW CAR AND HEADING INTO THE 2013 SEASON HOW YOU FEEL ABOUT YOUR TEAM: “Obviously we had some work to do based on our performance last year and the year before for that matter. We certainly made a lot of changes from the very top of the company to a lot of positions within individual teams. I feel good about what we have done. I think our preparation, what we have done to be ready before we start building cars is at a different level today than it was last year and even the year before. I’m excited about what we have going on. I feel like we have something to prove and looking forward for the opportunity to be able to do that. As it relates to the new car I think everybody is kind of in the same boat. It’s an exciting time. The car is a really good looking car. It has a lot of potential, as I’ve said before; I think that there has been more work that has gone into this car in the sense of just not the aesthetics but the opportunity to have better races. As we have evolved the sport into much more of a mile and a half oriented sport it has become harder to have the good close racing that people want to see. I think the racing is really similar to what it has always been, but I think the fans want more than that today. A lot of effort has gone into making these cars so that we will have better races. I’m really excited about that because I think at the end of the day that is the corner stone of this sport. Is an exciting day at the race track whether you are watching it on TV or watching it at the track, without that the sport is in trouble.”
SOME TEAM IS PROBABLY GOING TO CONNECT WITH THIS CAR EARLY. WHAT DO YOU THINK IS GOING TO BE THE MAGIC BULLET? IS IT GOING TO BE SOMEBODY WITH A REAR SUSPENSION DEAL, IS IT GOING TO BE AERO? WHAT IS GOING TO STAND OUT EARLY ON? “I wish I knew that because then we would be that guy. Honestly, we talk a lot about trick, but I will tell you that I’m not a trick guy. I believe that you have to have an entire package. When you have that entire package you may kind find a trick that makes that package better, but that doesn’t necessarily transfer to the team next to you in the garage. The teams that will do the best have done a good job of understanding the aerodynamics of this car. Understanding the chassis stuff, we don’t have rear bars now. It’s a combination of all those things. I don’t think it’s going to be just that a team just said ‘wow we found this trick little piece and put on the car.’ It’s more about understanding the entire package and maximizing the package, then having a grasp on what maximizing the package means from one track to the next. What you do here isn’t going to work when you go to Phoenix. It is understanding the car, understanding your driver, understanding the things you are dealing with, understanding the tires, understanding all that stuff and putting a package together that works with all that. I don’t think it’s one thing.”
YOU HAVE TALKED ABOUT YOUR STRUGGLES THE PAST YEAR OR TWO AND TRYING TO GET THINGS STRAIGHTENED OUT AND BACK ON TRACK. IS IT A GOOD THING THAT YOU GUYS HAVE A NEW CAR OR IF THAT GOING TO BE ANOTHER ISSUE THAT YOU GUYS ARE GOING TO HAVE TO DEAL WITH? “I think the timing of the car is good for us as a company. I think that by anybody’s measurements we didn’t have a good year through the company last year. We went almost the whole year without winning a race. Kevin (Harvick) won really late in the year. So for us, I think it’s easier when there is a whole new car with a lot of new rules, a new rear rule package. I think it is easier to start over than it is taking an existing vehicle and starting over. It gives us a chance to stop and say ‘okay what is the best way to develop a car’ and through that build a program that works for that. I think the timing of that is good for RCR (Richard Childress Racing) in general. Whether that will yield results or not we will see. I think the timing of it is good for us.”
HOW MUCH TIME HAVE YOU HAD IN THE GEN-6 CAR ON AN INTERMEDIATE TRACK LIKE THIS AND IS IT WORRISOME WITH EVERY MINUTE THAT PASSES OF THE TESTING TIME YOU ARE NOT GETTING? “This will be my fifth time in the Gen-6 car. Testing is valuable, there is no question about it, but if we got two hours today, everybody got two hours. So, we have had a fair amount of test time with the cars. This test is a bonus. The last time I remember doing testing like this was when the Taurus was first introduced. We came over and we were working on the Taurus. I view this as a bonus test. We wouldn’t normally get this. Again, if we get two hours then the whole field gets two hours. Again, it’s about the teams that are most prepared.”
A LOT OF PEOPLE ARE SKEPTICAL, BASED ON THE PERFORMANCE THE LAST TWO YEARS, IF RCR CAN REBOUND. WHAT HAS YOU EXCITED THAT THERE CAN BE A TURN AROUND? “The direction of the company, the mindset of the company in regard to ‘what do we have to do to be better’, the commitment to that, the commitment to, I’m going to call it, a new philosophy. Those things are there and those things are real. I won’t sit here today and guarantee you that is going to give results. I believe it will. You are right we have to show it. For me to sit here today and tell all you guys we are going to do this and we are going to do that, I think is ridiculous. I can tell you that the commitment to improve is there. The philosophy to improve is there. It is a different philosophy; it’s a different way of doing business than we have done it before. It’s what I have believed in and that is why I’m optimistic. We will see. I believe in my heart things will be a lot better. Every team in that garage works hard too. It will be a challenge. I truly believe it’s going to be a lot better.”
ARE YOU TREATING THE FIRST FEW RACES AS A TEST SESSION TO UNDERSTAND THE CAR BETTER? AS A REFERENCE POINT CAN YOU GET THE PACKAGE FROM THE OLD CAR MODIFIED TO THE NEW CAR JUST TO HAVE AN IDEA OF WHAT YOU CAN DO? “I think that racing is a set of building blocks. Every testing event, every race, every year you keep putting blocks on top of the next block. You are building more and more information. We are certainly going to use the information that we have from last year. We use information that we have from 10 years ago. You learn and you apply what you learned. I think that it is a continuing evolution of your thought process. As far as using the first few races for a test I mean honestly, no different than any other year. We are going to go to the Daytona 500 with the best stuff we know how to win with. We are going to go do everything we can to be successful. When we got to the Fourth of July race in Daytona those things will be different because we will be smarter, we will have learned more. It’s no more test session than every other week is a test session. You are always hoping to be good. You are always hoping to be able to learn something from one week to apply to the next week. I don’t view this car being any different in that regard. I think the learning curve could be quicker. When you have the same basic car for three years you are going to learn a whole lot less in that last year than you did in the first year. I think that the learning curve could be steep.”
DO YOU SEE ANYTHING IN THESE CHANGES THAT FOR YOU PERSONALLY SEEM LIKE A PRESENT, A CHRISTMAS PRESENT IN A SENSE? “It’s an interesting question because I had a conversation with another member of the media at Daytona and there was conversation about this car is going to have more downforce and you won’t have to drive the car as loose. I said on the outside that makes sense, but on the inside typically I like cars set-up looser than my teammates. So, you never know. There is nothing that I look at that I just look at this car and say ‘wow that is really going to benefit me’. Honestly, what I pay attention to is what we need to do with the No. 31 to benefit me. The thing that has been hard the last two years and it’s something I haven’t dealt with much in my career is that the things that Kevin (Harvick) has liked haven’t worked for me. That hasn’t been a good thing. That hasn’t always been like that at RCR. It just kind of popped up for some reason. We really felt a lot of the same things before. Although we wouldn’t run the same set up’s we would have a lot of the same comments and over the last couple of years we haven’t. That has been a difficult thing. It hasn’t been just me either. It’s kind of been throughout the company. One driver likes this, the other driver likes that we are not in the same area. That has been very confusing. I’m answering you question in a really long way because I don’t really know how to answer it other than to say that I’ll tell you in a few weeks. I will tell you in a few months. At the end of the day, us doing a good job with whatever the rule package is that is what it’s about. We’ve got to give me what I need to be successful. If we do that then we will be doing the right things we need to do.”
YOU’VE BEEN THROUGH THESE SITUATIONS BEFORE WHERE YOU’VE STRUGGLED, AND PEOPLE WONDER HOW MUCH LONGER ARE YOU GOING TO BE ABLE TO DO IT AND HOW MUCH LONGER WILL YOU KEEP YOUR RIDE. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THAT GOING INTO THIS YEAR? DO TESTS LIKE THIS CREATE MORE URGENCY BECAUSE OF ALL THE TALK? “Well, you know, I want to be respected by my peers. And that does matter to me. I think anybody who says it doesn’t is a pretty shallow individual and I think you always want to be respected by the things around you. I don’t want to be in the conversation about is he going to have a ride or whatever; I don’t want to be in there because honestly, the reason I don’t want to be there is because that means things aren’t going well. I understood 20 years ago, more than that; I understood 25 years ago, when somebody started paying me to drive a race car, that it was different than driving for your dad. And I don’t drive for my dad. I drive for my boss. And he has bosses. He has sponsors that require and demand, as they should, success. And so, I’m tough enough to handle the pressure. If I wasn’t, I would have never accepted a position 25 years ago to get paid by somebody. I don’t want to be involved in those conversations because I enjoy coming in and talking to you guys (media). I enjoy it. And to talk about those things isn’t fun. We’re not moving the ball. We’re not making the sport better. It’s just a conversation about bad things. So, I don’t like to be involved in that because of that. And it really has nothing to do with the perception or any of that. It’s just that I want to talk about the good things and the fun things. I understand not everything is fun about racing. You are going to have some tough days. But generally, it needs to work well. And I have no interest in just being here. I have no interest in getting a paycheck just to show up and drive. I want to bring energy. I want to bring excitement. I want to have enthusiasm. I want to be part of a fight. I want to leave the track disappointed when we do badly. And that’s what you have when you’re doing well. So, that’s the reason I don’t want to be involved in those conversations. I can tell you this as the God’s honest truth: I’ve been paid to drive race cars for a long time. But I’ve never driven race cars to get paid. Does that make sense? I drove race cars because it was my passion. And I do it today because it’s my passion. I’ve been fortunate enough to get paid; I’m one of the few people, I live a blessed life. I get paid to do my hobby. But that doesn’t mean it’s still not; just because I get paid, I still don’t have a passion for it. So I want to be successful. I want to race Jimmie Johnson for the championship. I want to have the pressure going to Homestead (that) if you don’t get it done, Burton, you’re going to finish second. I want that pressure. That’s why I do it. The other pressure sucks. It’s not fun. So that’s the reason why. I just really don’t want to be in those conversations because it’s just no damn fun.”
WHO DO YOU FEEL WILL ADAPT THE QUICKEST? “That is a tough question. It is not a mistake that you have a group of drivers that consistently run well, Matt (Kenseth) being one of them. The people that have benefited by this the most are the people that have found a way to know more about it than their competitors. That is who is going to benefit by it. As good as Matt Kenseth is, if his team has looked things wrong over the last three months and they go to Phoenix with the wrong philosophy, he isn’t going to be successful. I don’t have a way to answer that question other than to say that the teams that are the most prepared and understand it the most, individual teams and companies are going to have the most success.”
WHAT IS UP WITH HARRISON (BURTON-JEFF’S SON) THIS COMING YEAR? ARE YOU FEELING HEAT FROM HIM KIND OF COMING UP BEHIND YOU AND ARE YOU SPENDING A LOT OF MONEY ON HIM? “I hope so, and yes. (Laughs) He does drive for his Father, I need to get him a boss! We are moving into the late model thing full time, so we actually go Sunday and Monday to test. It that goes well, we’re going to race him in Georgia next weekend. Then the plan is to run him down in New Smyrna for eight races in nine nights. Then from there, we don’t really have a hard schedule because we’re waiting to see how he evolves and where he is. We want to put him in a position where it is hard for him, but not too hard. Until we really get a chance to evaluate him, it’s hard to know. So, we are remaining flexible. We haven’t put a hard schedule around him. We’ll see where his talent is at this point, and then we’ll make the decision about what we need to do with him.”
ISN’T IT TRUE THAT WE REALLY DON’T KNOW WHO MIGHT BE GOOD DESPITE WHO HAS BEEN IN NATIONWIDE CARS, OR WHO HAS BEEN IN THE OLD CAR, OR WHO HAS BEEN OR WHO HASN’T BEEN? “Y’all don’t take this the wrong way, but we don’t know in the garage, and that means y’all don’t know either. (LAUGHS WITH MEDIA AUDIENCE). No disrespect intended, but it’s fun, I’m a sports fan too, and it’s fun to sit down before the year and say ‘This is the team that’s going to win the Super Bowl.’, but how many of us are wrong? By far the majority of us are wrong. It’s fun to try and analyze it and say ‘Well this guy did this in 1932, and this guy did that. And this team did this.’ All that is fun. Every year is a new year. Again, it’s not a coincidence that certain drivers have success no matter what their situation is. That’s not a coincidence. I think none of us know. We’ve all been surprised before how teams we expected were going to be really good weren’t, and how teams we didn’t think were going to be very good, were much better than we thought. Then we also fall into the trap of there is always the team early in the year, like eight or nine races in ‘WOW, where did they come from.’ Then the year is over and they aren’t there anymore. We always fall into that trap too. You just never know, and I don’t think any of us know right now.”
YOU SAID EARLIER YOU THINK THIS CAR CAN LEAD TO BETTER RACING, FROM THE SEAT, WHAT ARE THE THINGS THAT YOU FEEL THAT MAKE YOU BELIEVE THAT? “My theory is based on years of experience, and watching what is going on with this sport; how it’s evolved. We’ve gone through this thing-a lot of downforce; little downforce; a lot of grip; low grip; all these different tire combinations. At the end of the day, the better the cars are stuck in the race track, the closer the cars run to each other. A lot of us remember years ago that we went to the five in five rule when we took downforce off, and the racing suffered from that. When the COT first came out, Goodyear was still using the tires it had used the year before. The cars didn’t drive very well at all, and the quality of racing suffered. Especially on big tracks, the better the grip is, the closer the action can be. NASCAR, Goodyear, everybody…has gone into this process saying ‘Okay, can we take downforce off and put a lot of mechanical grip in it?’ ‘Will that make better racing?’ They’ve looked at a lot of different things, and what’s come out of it is it appears that more downforce; more grip; those things are going to make the racing better. I believe we are going to make more grip this year than we have ever made.
“Now that’s not to say every race is going to be the greatest race in NASCAR’s history. We have to have realistic expectations. Some races are going to be boring. Some football games are boring. Some basketball games are boring. But, the average race has got to be a fun race to watch. I believe that more grip gives the drivers more opportunity to put their car in a position that they wouldn’t be able to put it if they didn’t have that grip. That’s why I think the racing is going to be better. I may be wrong, we’ll see. I think we have to change our mind set too because you track where the sport has gone-we don’t at North Wilksboro anymore, so we lost two short track races. We used to run two races at Darlington, we now run one. We used to run two races at Rockingham-we don’t run any. We replaced them with either flat one-mile race tracks, or with mile-and-a-half tracks. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that if you put 43 cars on a half-mile race track, you’re going to have more action than if you put 43 cars on a mile-and-a-half race track. So we have got to find a way to get the cars closer together on a mile-and-a-half tracks. How do we do that? The only way to do that is to make them drive better. Slow them down a little bit; make them drive better, and try to get them closer together so you have more action.
“I’m of the belief, and I may be wrong about this as I am of everything, but I’m of the belief that our fans expect more today than they did 10 years ago. I watch a lot of racing as you guys do, I just don’t think the racing is different last year as it was 10 years ago, but a lot of fans do. I think the expectation level is raised with the advent of the X-Games. With the advent of people jumping motorcycles on top of the thing in Las Vegas three years ago on New Year’s. I think the expectation level has got raised. We have to match that. We have got to find a way to get there. The only way to do that is create more action. People don’t want to go to the race track and watch a car get eight seconds out in front of the second place car. They don’t want to watch that. They want to see a race. The only way to do that is put the cars in closer proximity to each other I think.”
YOU SEND MORE DOWNFORCE, MORE MECHANICAL GRIP. IS IT NOT LESS DOWNFORCE ON THESE CARS? “It is a ton more downforce on these cars. So, to be clear, the speedway cars have a lot less downforce. So there is a lot less downforce on the Daytona/Talladega cars assuming they don’t change the spoiler between now and then, and there is quite a bit more downforce on every other car. So the Daytona/Talladega packages are completely different. That spoiler is (makes hand gesture). These spoilers are tall enough that you almost can’t see over the top of them. Matters of fact, some drivers have complained they can’t see over them. It is just two completely different packages.”
THERE IS A TOTALLY DIFFERENT INSPECTION PROCESS FOR THE NEW CARS WITH THE USE OF LASER. IS THAT GOING TO MAKE THE COMPETITION EVEN MORE EVEN? “I think one of the things we suffer from too is that our sport is a lot different than every other sport. In every other sport, they play on a field; they’re 100 yards. Baseball fields I know are a little different. The bases are the same distance apart. Major League Baseball provides a baseball. NFL provides a football. So we have a sport in which we all race each other every week. It’s not Duke vs. Carolina, it’s all of us every week. We race at completely different facilities every week, and we bring the ball with us. So, there are a lot of moving targets. And so one of the things that our sport has always suffered from, whether it’s true or not, is that when Jimmie Johnson wins five championships, oh, it’s because his car is different than everybody else’s. They’re cheating, they’re doing this, and they’re doing that. I think anything we can do to expose the fans to all of the rules, so that when NASCAR makes a call during the race, they understand that they weren’t trying to favor Earnhardt Jr. because they made a call on pit road, or that the rule was enforced, they didn’t make it up as they go, the better we are. And that goes for the inspection process as well. The better we have an opportunity to show the fans, look, every car rolls across this thing, here’s all the numbers, it prints out for everybody, unless there’s somebody up there with, you know, the man behind the curtain well here comes this car so let’s push this button, you know, I think it takes away some of that crap where people think oh well, they made this rule for this, you know? So I think it’s a good thing. It’s an extremely expensive proposition for NASCAR, but I think keeping us in a box is a good idea and I think letting the fans know that everybody gets to bring their own ball, okay? That’s part of the sport. That’s one of the coolest parts of the sport, but there are limitations to what they can do to that. And the more we can show them how we police those limitations, the better off we are, I think.”
IF THESE CARS HAVE MORE DOWNFORCE, DOES THAT MEAN THEY’RE GOING TO BE SOMEWHAT EASIER TO DRIVE FOR YOUNG DRIVERS COMING UP OR FOR SOMEBODY LIKE DANICA PATRICK, WHERE THE TRANSITION INTO SPRINT CUP IS GOING TO BE EASIER? “Well, they’re going to make more grip. Whether that’s easier or not, I don’t know because the more grip they make, the harder you drive them. And you still have to find that edge. You still have to find that limit. So if no one else was here, and you went out in a car that made more grip, then yes, it’s easier. But, when you bring 45 or 48 other cars, and everybody’s trying to go faster than the next guy, then all of a sudden it’s hard again. So yeah, just driving it all by yourself and not watching a stopwatch, without a doubt it’s going to be a little easier in some sense, but whenever we start running today, everybody in that garage is going to start looking at how are we? Are we fast enough? How much do we need to pick-up? And that’s when it’s going to get hard. And even if it makes high grip, you’re still going to have to drive it really, really hard. The higher grip they make, the harder you have to drive it. And it requires less finesse. It requires more right foot and less brain. And so I wouldn’t say it’s going to be easier in the sense that everybody’s got the same thing. But just getting in the car, fundamentally they should drive a little better.”
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