NASCAR Media Conference
April 13, 2010
HERB BRANHAM: Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to this week's NASCAR Cam video teleconference. Joining us from the NASCAR research and development center in Concord, North Carolina, we have Jeff Burton, driver of the No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. We're going to Texas Motor Speedway this weekend for the Samsung Mobile 500.
Jeff is currently seventh in the points standings. He won the very first Sprint Cup race at Texas back in '97. Ten years later he got his second Texas Motor Speedway victory. Jeff, it's been a good track for you in the past. What are the chances it'll be a good one for you this weekend?
JEFF BURTON: Well, I feel like it's really good chances. We're running really well this year and haven't done a nice job of executing when we needed to, but we've run well. And going there last year we had a really fast car in practice and we ended up having a part failure and wrecked pretty hard in practice, had to get a really old backup car out and ran seventh or eighth, which was almost like a victory.
I have a lot of confidence going into the race, and my biggest concern for us is executing because we have done a terrible job of doing that this year. Even though we've been competitive, we haven't executed like a championship team, and that's something we've got to start doing.
Q. Jeff, could you sort of analyze the path of the RCR team this year? Seemed like y'all came out of the gate looking right on the brink for a win, and now the results have kind of leveled off a little bit. Is that a result of circumstances and luck like your cut tire at Martinsville, or are there other elements at play there? And also, are you a believer in this case that when you're around wins enough, near wins enough, you will win soon?
JEFF BURTON: Well, I certainly believe that. I'm a big believer in putting yourself in position, and the more times you put yourself in position, the better chance you have to win. As we've seen, especially this year, the fastest car doesn't always win the race, but you've got to put yourself in position; you've got to be in the front of the pack at the right time, and the only way to do that is to run fast and have a fast car. So I am a subscriber to that theory.
Now, the reason that people win a lot of races is because they put themselves in position to win a lot of races, so I certainly believe that.
As far as leveling off, results are the results, and you know, I'll tell you that at Martinsville I thought we had a car to win the race there at the end of that last run. We were definitely faster than Denny. It was a matter of getting by him. That's easier said than done.
Even last week, the last 50 laps of that race we ran the fastest lap probably 35 of them. Unfortunately I pitted us out of the box, and my team made a mistake and went ahead and pitted the car, we got a lap down, and then every caution after that was long cautions, and the leader would go around and get to the next car and put them a lap down. So that was a bad break. But we put ourselves in position to have a bad break.
If you look at the number of laps that the 31 team in particular has led this year, it's more than we did I think all of last year, so I feel good about what we're doing. But like I said in my opening, we haven't executed.
The thing that we have this year that we haven't had in the past is speed. We have enough speed to be winning races, and what we haven't had is the consistency in executing and finding a way to take a fifth place car and finish third, not take a fifth place car and finish 15th with it, which is what we've been doing. We've even been taking cars that were capable of winning and finishing 23rd with them.
We've got to find a way to be better than that, and that's where my experience should come in, and I've made a few mistakes this year. We collectively have made more mistakes than we need to. But I feel like the performance is there.
Q. And when you look at Texas specifically, everybody said, well, the spoiler hasn't had the effect it might have at Texas with the higher speeds, and people say, well, maybe not so much effect, but when you combine the spoiler and people adjusting to that to the higher speeds, and the Texas remains sort of a dipsy-doodle track with the odd transitions onto and off the corners and everything, and Kevin said there might be more spin-outs there, can you envision Texas kind of having a flashback of the wrecking yard it's been at times in the past, what with the high speeds and adjustment to the spoilers?
JEFF BURTON: I hope not. Certainly the first race we went there, I hope it's nothing like that. But the entrance to the corners at Texas is different than anywhere we go to. You have to really have a lot of finesse to get into the corners, but then you're rewarded if you can drive in the corner hard. Then you get in there and you've got these big bumps that really affect the car. The exit at Turn 2 gets very, very tight; the exit at Turn 4 gets very, very loose. So you've got this really odd entry, you've got rough middle of the corner and you've got exits at the corners that are very difficult and very different from each other. So it's a challenging racetrack.
I didn't see any evidence at Charlotte test that the cars were that much harder to drive. I did think they were a little bit looser on the exit of the corner, but I thought they entered the corner with a lot of security. I think if they enter the corner well, that's a really big thing to making all the drivers comfortable.
The biggest thing I'm interested in is what happens when you get behind another car. There were times on Saturday night that I thought it was harder to pass with the spoiler. I haven't said that. We passed more cars than I ever remember passing there, unfortunately for bad reasons.
So part of me says, wow, it seemed like it was hard to pass, but the evidence says I passed a tremendous amount of cars. So I'm a little perplexed about it and really am looking forward to seeing what happens this weekend because I think it will be a great learning experience.
Q. I wanted to talk about the green and white checkered rule. In five of seven races this year, the race has gone to overtime. Obviously that's a good thing for fans if you like drama, I suppose, but from the drivers' perspective, is that trend troubling, or how do you look at that?
JEFF BURTON: You know what, it's almost expected now. Like when you start getting to the end of the race, you're almost expecting a caution to come out and bunch everybody up and force you to make a decision between two tires and four tires. It's happened so often this year that it's become the norm.
I'm not sure that it's going to continue that way. I think it's been just the circumstance. I think we'll go through periods where it's like that and we'll go through periods where it's not. So from a fan's perspective, I think the green and white checkered rule is a great rule. From a competitor's standpoint, to some people -- Kyle Busch, for example, this past weekend, he hates the rule; Ryan Newman loves it. Sometimes it works for you, and sometimes it doesn't.
You look at what Jeff Gordon and those guys have been able to do, they've gotten a better finish the last two weeks because of the green and white checkered, so they've taken advantage of the situation and elevated their finishing position because of the rule.
So you can hate it or love it based on the circumstances that you're in, but at the end of the day you have to embrace it in order to perfect it.
You know, the thing about it is that the 24 has done that the last two weeks, and I thought the 11 had a little bit of luck. I didn't think they played their cards exactly the way they should have at Martinsville. They had a little bit of luck. Denny got up on the wheel and made some stuff happen, and that kind of same thing happened last week, and Ryan and his group executed.
So you know, it's maddening at times because you have the best car and you don't win. But at other times it works out really well; you don't have the best car and you put yourself in position to win.
Q. I have a two-part question. Can you quantify how much the mixture of double-file restarts with three attempts at the green and white checkered, how much that's changed things in the last 10 to 15 laps? And as an addendum to that, were you surprised that no one stayed out on the lead lap at Phoenix on that last caution?
JEFF BURTON: Well, I wasn't surprised because the run was so long, and the difference between having two tires and no tires is huge. And with the run going that long, I don't want to say it was impossible, because if seven or eight people would have stayed out, you might could have made something work. But if just one or two or three stayed out, the fourth place car flies by you if you had no tires and the other guy has even two. So I wasn't surprised that nobody stayed out.
Q. And can you talk about the double-file restarts with the three attempts at the green and white checkered?
JEFF BURTON: Yeah. The double-file restarts have made restarts so intense, it's unbelievable. I'm not talking about just the green and white checkered, I'm talking about all the way through the race. Restarts today, and I know you guys have heard me say this, restarts today are more aggressive than it was when I was racing late models at South Boston, Virginia; it's that aggressive, on a three-eighth mile racetrack. And then when you add the deal, okay, now it's late in the race and you're going to drop the green with the green white checkered, it gets real intense. So it's had a huge factor.
It's made it a little harder to pass. You go to Phoenix and two guys are running side by side, I don't care how fast your car is, there's not a whole lot you can do. You can make it three wide. There's some opportunities at times to make it three wide, but if they have enough speed where you can't make it three wide, I don't care how much faster your car is, you're not going anywhere. So it's certainly made a big difference in your strategy and your thought process and what you have to do and how quick you have to make something happen in a green and white checkered with double-file restarts.
Q. You were talking a minute ago, notwithstanding the sport, just talk about the difference between Texas from when you won there in 1997 until you won there ten years later, now?
JEFF BURTON: Well, it's still an unbelievable facility. I think it's probably the nicest facility we have on the circuit. The track is completely different. It's still extremely demanding, but it was almost impassable when we first went out there.
The first race we went there, we went there to test prior to the race, and I went around the race track in a rental car and almost wrecked coming off Turn 4 in a rental car, and I thought, we've got a problem.
And sure enough, I mean, it was a major issue; just the layout of the track wasn't conducive to being at a race. There was no side-by-side racing at all. If you got on the outside, you were done.
Today we've seen the upper grooves really work out. The year -- the last race that I won there, Matt Kenseth and I had a great battle. He was running the second lane, I was running the bottom. We see a lot of people running the top at Texas.
So Texas has matured a great deal. It's still a difficult racetrack because, as I said earlier, the entries to the corners are just really odd there because of the way the banking progresses is different there than anywhere else, and in the middle of the corner, especially 1 and 2, is very rough. It's a difficult racetrack to get around.
That part hasn't changed. It's not as difficult as it was the first time we went there, but it's still very difficult. The problem is, though, it's difficult but it's fast. There's a lot of grit there, and you're in the throttle hard. You're making a lot of speed, and the track, really the shape of the track, doesn't really support the speed that you're making. The asphalt has a lot of grip, the tire has a lot of grip, but the shape of the track and the way the corners are don't really want you going that fast. So it's a unique racetrack.
Q. After you've been on a couple of short tracks, do you look forward to just getting going and going as fast as you can?
JEFF BURTON: You know what, I don't race because we go fast; I race because I love to compete. What I do love about the series that I'm lucky enough to run in is that we run a lot of different kind of racetracks.
And Texas, even though it may look just like Atlanta and it may look just like Charlotte, it's nothing like those racetracks, nor is Atlanta like Charlotte. To me the variety of racetracks that we go, that's what makes it fun and that's what makes it interesting. So I like going to different kind of racetracks because I think it shakes the year up and kind of keeps you fresh and makes you think, and before every race you've got to refresh yourself about the racetrack you're going to, and that's why I really enjoy the series that we're racing in.
Q. I'm wondering, talking about the green and white checkereds, how much do you talk to your crew chief like the day before, night before the race about what you would do if it comes to that situation?
JEFF BURTON: Very little, because I think you really can't make that determination until you see what's going on in the race. We have had a lot of conversations about different scenarios on different types of racetracks with how many laps left, all those kind of things. But until you honestly -- the race starts and you realize who you're competing against and you realize what you're up against as a team, what you're battling with, what the tire is doing, it's very hard to make those decisions. Even though we have practice, it's not the same as a race.
So we don't talk a whole lot about it on a Saturday night or a Sunday morning, but we have talked a great deal about it on Monday, prior to the race, and really tried to pay attention to what's been working, what hasn't been working and taking note of those things.
But I think it's really important to remember that every track is different and every situation is different. You go to a place like Texas, and Kyle Busch, in the situation he was in this past weekend, he's making it three wide on the outside and he's getting by some people and with four tires still has a chance to win. So really the racetrack determines what you can and can't do, and of course how your car is handling determines what you can and can't do. You really don't know that until the race start.
Q. You've worked with a lot of different crew chiefs. Do they have different styles on how they approach making these decisions, and is there a style that you prefer as a driver?
JEFF BURTON: Well, what I prefer to do is I prefer for us to recognize the situation we're in and make the call based on that and live and die by that. I don't think you can go into every race and say, caution comes out with ten to go, we're putting two tires on it, end of story. I don't think you can do that. I think you have to look at the situation you're in and make the decision that's best for what you're doing right then.
You know, some crew chiefs it's a win-at-all-costs attitude; some crew chiefs it's a, hey, we've got to get points; some crew chiefs -- it just depends. Todd is very aggressive, and Todd is wanting to make something happen. You know, like at Bristol in the spring, we had a fast car -- we didn't the fastest car but we had a fast car. He made a decision to put four tires on; in retrospect, and he'll readily admit it wasn't the right thing to do, but in his eyes what he was looking at is, well, if the guys we're racing with do two and we do two, we're not going to win, so we've got to do something different. So we came in running fifth, went out running 12th and finished 10th, so in retrospect it wasn't the right thing to do, but he was very aggressive in trying to win the race, so I can't blame him for that.
And by the way, that's what we should have been doing. We were good in our points, we weren't just needing to be conservative, we were needing to try to be aggressive to try to win the race. I think ultimately even though it wasn't the right call, the mindset was correct.
Q. Last year you were talking about the testing ban, that that was a hurt on y'all's team's performance. What's changed this year? Are there areas of the car that you credit for the turnaround?
JEFF BURTON: Well, honestly with the exception of the engine department, the engine department was really strong last year. They did a great job last year. We had enough power to win races. That area was tweaked as it always is to try to improve it.
But on the car side of things, we essentially have a whole new company. We have a whole new way of doing business in determining how build our cars, set our cars up, all those kind of things we've put a lot more effort and energy into versus going to the racetrack and trying part A versus part B. We can't do that anymore because we're not allowed to test anymore.
So we had to adjust the way our company works in order to be successful. There's not one piece on the car that we changed and made the car better. When you're as far off as we are, you're not off by one part; you're off by many parts, and the sum of all those parts is what makes the car go fast.
About this time last year we started rebuilding Richard Childress Racing and looking at how to do it better. Honestly we looked at it and said, if you were going to build a team to be ready to win championships, ready to do the things we need to do in 2011, 2012, 2013, what would the structure look like, and that structure is a lot different with the current rules than it was in even 2007 and 2008.
So we put a plan together that we hoped would yield us success immediately, but long-term it yielded us more success, and we're seeing the benefits of that.
Q. And if you could talk about your first win at Texas again, maybe some of the special memories you have from that win, some of the celebrations you guys had, and do those memories kind of come up in your mind every time you drive through the tunnel here?
JEFF BURTON: You know, they do and they don't. I remember winning there. It was really a special day. I lost my wedding ring in victory lane. We found it. I remember that.
The celebration afterwards in victory lane was -- to be quite honest, I was surprised. I immediately got pulled away from my team, and that was a little disappointing to me. I had never won in the Cup Series before. I didn't know how it worked, so I was really surprised how that worked.
And then you've got to get home and go back to race again. When you won a race on the Nationwide Series, it was a big party on that night. But when you win a race in the Cup deal, man, you've got to go all the way across the country and you've got to get home and go back to work. So it was a little bit of an eye opener.
It was a really special day for a lot of reasons. Seeing Buddy Parrott in victory lane with my first win meant a great deal to me. It was a really special day.
But even then, even though it was my first win, I can honestly tell you that by Tuesday I was kind of over it and ready to go onto the next thing. That's just my personality. Unfortunately I don't take enough time to enjoy things sometimes. But that's -- I remember waking up on Tuesday thinking about, okay, that was cool, but now we've got to go back, go back to work, and that mentality is still with me.
Q. You've talked several times this season about how much better you guys are running, but you're falling a little short in the execution part. How do you fix that? Is it a matter of more concentration, better decision making? How do you address that problem?
JEFF BURTON: You know, it's easy to say we're going to make better decisions, the question is how are we going to do that. We've talked a lot about that. I think that from my standpoint the mistakes that I've made have generally been from trying a little too hard in situations that -- the result of trying really, really hard didn't really gain you a lot versus a penalty. So I've got to do a little better job of understanding the situation that we're in, and I don't want to say not try hard, but not try too hard, because the two times that I put us in positions that I didn't need to put us in were under caution, pit road stuff, and those -- they really hurt you.
The biggest penalty in racing, procedure-wise, is pitting out of the box. You pit out of the box and you're a lap down, but then they also put you at the end of the longest line, so it's like being a lap and a half down, and it's just -- that's just a mistake that can't be made. You know, a guy with my experience shouldn't make that mistake.
I have to do a better job in that part -- my part of the job. The team has got to do a better job, we've got to have a little better pit stops; we've got to have a little better strategy; we've got to be a little tighter on our preparation of parts and pieces. We all collectively need to do a better job of just doing our jobs, honestly.
Some of that is through concentration and focusing and understanding the situation we're in, understanding what it is you're trying to accomplish and then just making it happen and not trying to get too much.
So again, I feel good about where we are. I'm disappointed that we've made the mistakes that we've made. But the thing that we have had is speed. When you have speed, all the little mistakes are exposed. If we were running 20th, we wouldn't understand the mistakes we're making. We're running well enough now where it's hurting for us making the mistakes that we're making.
So we'll tighten that up and we'll be better. We're a young team, too. You've got to keep that in mind. We are a young team. We're fairly new together. We're still learning each other. And some of those growing pains are showing.
Q. I wanted to jump ahead on the calendar a little bit and ask you a Talladega question. What is it do you think about Talladega that's made it the scene of so many odd but important events in the sport's history, and what is it about the place that seems to push the equipment, push the rules? There's been a lot of rule changes that have had to come into effect from things that have happened here. It just seems to be the focal point of important stuff and odd stuff all at the same time.
JEFF BURTON: The size of the racetrack, the degree of the banking, the level of grip that you have at Talladega creates a situation that's difficult for everybody. It's difficult for NASCAR; it's difficult for the teams. And restrictor plate racing is something that we have to do. If we didn't have plates on the cars, we would definitely be going too fast.
There's no good answer to taking the cars and preventing the 10-, 15-car pile-ups. There is no immediate answer that you can say, well, that would definitely be better.
When you put all those things together, you have a mixture for game-changing possibilities. And it's made NASCAR look at rules, it's made NASCAR look at safety stuff, it's made NASCAR look at procedures, it's made the teams look at all those things, and it's just a mixture of degree of banking and amount of grip and the size of the racetrack, because every -- you guys know, every car in the race can run the same speed. And when you put 43 cars, there's some faster than others, obviously, but at some point in the race the car that's running 20th -- the 20th place car will post the fastest speed.
When you put all those cars in a big pack, you're going to have problems, and that's what Talladega is. It's honestly a problem that's hard to fix and it's created a lot of situations that's forced the teams and NASCAR to make rules specifically for that racetrack, and it's because of the reasons that I've mentioned.
HERB BRANHAM: Thanks to Jeff Burton for joining us. Best of luck this weekend.
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