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NASCAR MEDIA CONFERENCE
February 28, 2007
THE MODERATOR: We're pleased to be joined by Jeff Burton, driver of the No. 31 Cingular Wireless Chevrolet. Jeff, I know you tested the car numerous occasions. Talk about your impressions out there today. In the laps that you ran, how did the car feel?
JEFF BURTON: I think all in all, from a driver's perspective, once you get in the car, it's just a car. It's a matter of getting the car to do the things you want it to do. Obviously there's people that are faster than others. That's what we do.
In my world, it's no longer about the Car of Tomorrow, it's just about a car, trying to do it better than everybody else. I know that's probably not what y'all are wanting to hear. In my eyes, that's where we are.
The Car of Tomorrow is here today. We've been working hard on it. There's a lot of interesting things going on here today. There are people that are here to win the test, there are people that are here to test to learn, to try a lot of different things. They come back, they can make the best guess on what they want to do. There's people getting their first shot at the Car of Tomorrow. A lot of things going on today.
For us in particular, we're just trying to build a database that we can start, you know, compiling information so that when we do come back here, when we go to Dover, other places, hopefully we can be as good as we need to be.
THE MODERATOR: We'll take questions.
Q. Jeff, the talk from Daytona on has been that the RCR cars, when you get to the Car of Tomorrow test, are somewhat better off than all the rest. Can you see other people struggling out there more than y'all are? Since you're the most circumspect of the drivers, a commercial question for you, as this thing actually goes into effect, do you feel a car manufacturer can benefit from such a uniform car?
JEFF BURTON: Before we go too far, can you define, what was that word, 'circum' what?
JEFF BURTON: What the hell does that mean (laughter)?
Q. Viewing all around you with great perception.
JEFF BURTON: Okay. I'll take that as a compliment (laughter). I forgot your question I was so tuned in on that word.
No, I started hearing, you know, down at the media tour in Daytona word that RCR was going to have this grand advantage because we were working on the Car of Tomorrow. I find that humorous. You think Hendrick has been hanging out at the lake. You think Roush hasn't been working on it or Childress. Everyone's been working hard on it.
For some reason, real early in the game, you know, word got out we were working hard on it. All of a sudden we're going to do better than everybody else.
We never thought we were working harder at it than anybody else. Obviously some of the more under-funded teams haven't been able to put the resources to it that Hendrick or Roush or Childress have been able to.
I don't think we put more effort into it. I don't expect to see more results. I expect it to be just like we saw last Sunday: very competitive with several teams on any given week with a chance to win. I in no way got on the plane coming over here this morning thinking we had such a huge advantage.
I'm proud of the work we've done. I think we've done a lot of hard work, but I didn't think we had done any more than anybody else.
As far as the manufacturers, I don't know. I mean, I honestly don't have a perspective. I think it gives -- obviously you can see in some advertising already there's been the Car of Tomorrow featured in the advertisements. I'm not attuned to that, that side of it. I hate to make comment.
I think the manufacturers are a huge part of what we do. We have to have their support. We have to have their involvement from a technological standpoint and also from a monetary standpoint in some cases. It has to work for them. If it doesn't, then that would be long-term maybe not good for the sport.
But I don't see the Car of Tomorrow not working for the manufacturers.
Q. Jeff, you tested here last year. How has your setup changed this time around as compared to one year ago?
JEFF BURTON: It's changed drastically because, you know, as we started this program, we had built a tremendous amount of ideas and thoughts, trying to find different ways to skin the cat, so to speak. Without a doubt, we unloaded completely different here this time than we did in the last time we were here.
I don't know if it's better or not. Only time will tell. Setups will evolve quickly. This is an interesting day. I've never seen such a big change, you know, happen in NASCAR. We're all here at the same time trying to figure it out. People are going to leave here with ideas and come back with other ideas based on what they learned here. Then when they go to Martinsville, there's going to be more ideas. It's going to keep building on itself.
Without a doubt, we have a different setup here than we did a year ago.
Q. The goal of this car supposedly was to make the racing better. Is it going to do that?
JEFF BURTON: Time will tell. I think you're exaggerating the effort of this car. There was a tremendous amount of effort put into the safety side of things, too. I don't think that should be -- that shouldn't be left unsaid. The goal is to have better racing and safer vehicles. That's the goal.
I don't have the answer. I do believe short-term we have the possibility of a larger gap from first to last because it's so new. Some people are going to figure it out quicker than others. Long-term I think we have the opportunity for competition to be better because we're restricted in all the things we can do.
Only time will tell. But I think the potential for closer racing is there.
Q. Obviously we know the aerodynamics of the car are going to make it drive different on a superspeedway. Have you noticed any drift difference here at Bristol?
JEFF BURTON: The cars are definitely different. I don't know if that has as much to do with downforce or center-of-gravity changes. The setups we run on these cars are different than the setups we run on other cars. There's a lot of variables. It's difficult to say why that is.
You know, if you ask me what my car does, I'm going to give you an answer from where I want it to be to where it is right now. But someone else may give you a different answer because nobody's handling perfect. Everybody needs to work on their cars, some more than others.
My car doesn't drive like a spaceship, it drives like a race car, but I need to turn better for sure. I'm a little freer on entry than I want to be and I need to turn a lot better. That's probably the same thing I said when we came here last time with the car we're racing today, not the Car of Tomorrow. I mean, that's a common problem. Too lose in, too tight everywhere else at Bristol. That's a common problem.
Q. With the changes that have been made from the previous cars to the Car of Tomorrow, do you think they're going to be more noticeable when you get to the larger speedways than at Bristol or Martinsville?
JEFF BURTON: This race is going to be close no matter what. You could put 43 Volkswagens out there and you're going to have a close race. They might roll faster. It's going to be a close race because there's no way you cannot have a close race here. It's just impossible not to. The next race is Martinsville. Guess what? We're going to have a close race there. There's no way you possibly can't.
As we go to Phoenix, we went to Phoenix, did the tire test with Goodyear. The 17 was there, the 12 was there. I think we all left with the same impression of: Hey, they're just cars. It's going to be interesting to see when you get 43 of them out there. But we all three left with the impression this can work.
We don't know yet what's going to happen when you're next to somebody. We don't know what's going to happen when you get into certain situations. We honestly don't know. But I don't see some mad demon coming out and biting. I just don't see it right now.
Q. Likes and dislikes, can you name any?
JEFF BURTON: I mean, I like the fact that it's a safer vehicle. I like the fact there's more room for the driver. There are a lot of things about that that I really like. We're racers so we want the opportunity to do more things than NASCAR's going to allow us to do in this. So I don't like the restrictions, although I understand the idea behind the restrictions. I'm a guy that wants to try to, you know, have better engineering and better science and be able to find a way to do it better than the next guy. It's in NASCAR's best interest to not have that. It's in NASCAR's best interest for competition, to be able to not allow a $20 million team outrun a $15 million team just because they have the extra $5 million.
I can't argue with that. I can't argue with that. At the end of the day, it's their job to provide good quality racing for the fans. It's our job to make the race boring. I think long-term we're taking away the opportunity for me and my team to do it a whole lot better than somebody else. It's less opportunity to make the race boring.
Sounds like a good plan if you're on your side of it. It's not a good plan if you're on my side of it.
Q. I think Chad Knaus said that is going to show the disparity in the talent of drivers. Do you agree with that theory?
JEFF BURTON: I'll answer that question after we run. If we run well, I'll say yes (laughter).
You know, I've had the opportunity to drive in the IROC Series for four or five years in a situation where the cars were the same. What we have here is NASCAR's trying to make the cars closer, but they're still not the same 'cause we do have tolerances, we do have -- there are tolerances. You can run whatever front snout within the limits. There's still things we have a tremendous amount of flexibility to work with. So the teams are going to play a huge role in how well you run. It's not just going to be the driver.
My IROC point is that I've driven IROC cars and I look like Richard Petty. Then the next week, I look like I've never been in a car before. Cars that were identically prepared, purposefully identically prepared, drove totally different. There's no question that out of the 50 cars that are here today, there's a car out there that's better than the other ones. There's no question about that.
I don't see how this is any different than the cars we have today in the sense that one team, one engineering staff, one group of people is going to do a better job of making that car go fast than another. We won't know if it's 'cause that driver is better or 'cause the car handles better. You never know.
I hear what Chad is saying. I do think the closer the cars are, then the more the driver stands out. But there's still huge variables we have in the car that allow the team to have a huge influence on how fast you can go.
Again, if we run well, I'll say, yes, it's all about the driver. If we don't, I'll say it's all about the team. That's what we do. That's what we get paid to do. I just don't see how it's a whole lot different than where we are today.
THE MODERATOR: Jeff, thanks a lot for your time.
We'll bring in your running mate, driver of the No. 29 Shell-Pennzoil Chevrolet, Kevin Harvick.
Kevin, talk about your first runs out there today.
KEVIN HARVICK: Got a lot more headroom in my car. Feel good about that.
It's just been a struggle for us. We've had a really tough time just getting going. We came here with a lot of different things. We're just going to work in a different direction here after lunch.
It will be fine. Just had a tough morning.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for Kevin.
Q. You said "struggle." Can you expand on that and describe what struggles exactly?
KEVIN HARVICK: Our car is just not handling like it needs to be right now. We're really, really tight.
Q. Bristol being what it is, so much of a chassis track, all this testing that y'all do here, then racing that you do here, are y'all going to leave here knowing a whole heck of a lot more about the Car of Tomorrow for general purposes than when you came here?
KEVIN HARVICK: No, and I think that's -- we haven't tested anywhere of the magnitude of banking that we're on here. We've done all the flat track stuff. We feel really good about our package with that. We hadn't done a whole lot on the bank stuff. We didn't really know where to start. That's one reason why we were a little bit off in the beginning. We'll get it figured out. It's a whole different package. Obviously everything is different on the car. It's just going to take time to get it figured out.
By the time we leave, we'll have it figured out and know where we need to be for Bristol. We feel like we're good for Phoenix and Loudon. Jeff did the tire test at Phoenix. Our cars were pretty good. We had a lot of different ideas coming here. We're just kind of taking a couple steps back.
Q. Kevin, with the Car of Tomorrow that you have here today, how much difference do you see in your setup as far as sway bar, swings and shocks go?
KEVIN HARVICK: We took a 180 approach from what we have normally. We're venturing back towards more what we have normally. Probably not going to be a lot different than probably where we wind up normally. From the inside, you have a lot more headroom. You have a lot more room in the cab. You have a lot of things better inside of there.
Looking out the front windshield, it's really not a whole lot different other than you have more room to move around in the car. I really feel like once we get everything setup-wise where we need to be, I don't think the car's going to really drive a whole lot different here, to tell you the truth. I don't think it's going to be as big a deal as everybody wants it to be.
Q. We know Jeff tested here last year. I was going to ask you, your starting point on your setup, was it pretty much the same with what they left here last year with?
KEVIN HARVICK: No, a lot of things have changed. We didn't have a lot of the right pieces and parts we needed to. As the Car of Tomorrow has evolved, we've kind of been able -- we just kind of made makeshift parts and springs and stuff to get to the test. Now that we've come back, we have all the right parts and pieces and can develop a package now to make it go as it needs to go.
There's nothing wrong with the car. There's nothing wrong with anything. There's nothing wrong with the splitter, the splitter height. It's just a matter of us developing our package as to what it needs to be. We've just been -- our teams are very different as far as setup just so we can narrow in on what we need to have.
Q. Did you have to be cautious about the splitters? Were you kind of holding back today? People were worried about that.
KEVIN HARVICK: I was a little bit I guess not very knowledgeable about the splitter material, what it was. I'll be honest with you, last week at California, I mean, on the 33 truck, we drug the ground every lap. The splitter was fine after the race. I don't think the splitter's going to be a problem. We sat on it today, drug it across the racetrack. It just kind of turns almost into like a hard little plastic ball. I think you can drag a lot. I think it's going to be pretty durable. I think they've definitely picked the right material for it.
I was a little bit wary of the splitter. I think after watching Hornaday drag his truck all across the racetrack last week, it ran 200, 250 miles, I think the material's going to be great.
Q. (No microphone.)
KEVIN HARVICK: I don't think so. I think the teams here have so much more technology and things to work from. I mean, obviously we have run things in the truck that we've run across that have helped us in the car a little bit. Most everything is pretty advanced from here to the truck.
Q. A lot of the drivers have been very vocal about how the Car of Tomorrow is not a good thing for NASCAR. Do you think it's fair for them to make these kind of judgments while they're still testing?
KEVIN HARVICK: I think most drivers have an opinion, I think we all have opinions. NASCAR didn't get where it was today based on all of our opinions. I think everything has to evolve. Our points system has evolved. Our cars are evolving. The first thing about it is the car is safer. Whatever it is after that is a bonus. The drivers have more room inside. There's a lot of things built into the car to absorb energy when they hit the wall. That's just the starting point.
I mean, running a company, if you listen to all the people that work for you all the time, you want to take their opinions, but in the end you want to make the best decision for the company. The bottom line is, NASCAR has to make the best decision for them. They felt it was time to evolve the car and make it safer, and the teams will figure out the rest.
Q. You had to go through a situation a couple years ago where you had your crew chief suspended yet you were able to win a race with him not around. We've seen a couple other teams be able to do that. In this era of technology, being able to communicate through cell phones, text messaging, emails, how easy was it to stay in communication? Does not having a crew chief at the track, is it really that much of a factor? Doesn't seem to be.
KEVIN HARVICK: I can't remember how the communication part went. I know these crew chiefs build their teams day in and day out. They're at the shop putting the stuff together. Once you get to the racetrack, for the most part you have an agenda of what we're going to do, how it's going to work, where it's going to go. These guys have put together their teams. Those guys usually have worked together so long they know what the crew chief would do in certain situations, what springs to put in it, on and on and on.
In my situation, I think Matt's situation, I think it's probably affected just because our crews have been together so long, everybody kind of knows where everybody's coming from. You leave him out of there, it's not a plus by my means, I can promise you that. You leave him out of there three, four weeks, things start to fall apart a little bit as you run across situations you haven't been in before.
Q. What was it like? Scott Miller was your interim crew chief. Was he your engineer at the time or somebody that came in?
KEVIN HARVICK: He was our engineer.
Q. The communication level was still the same?
KEVIN HARVICK: Right.
Q. Since you won the Daytona 500, what is the neatest thing you've got to do since then?
KEVIN HARVICK: They tell me I've become the grumpiest person in the garage (laughter). I told them that's probably because I haven't been home but one day since the Daytona 500.
You know, I think I underestimated the magnitude of the Daytona 500. I knew it was a big deal for myself and our team. I knew we all thought it was a big deal. But I didn't really realize how big a deal it was to not your everyday media outside, to the normal everyday people. I really underestimated that part. I realize how big the Daytona 500 is now and the magnitude of the situation.
THE MODERATOR: Kevin, thanks for your time.
KEVIN HARVICK: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: Our third driver is Jimmie Johnson, defending NASCAR Nextel Cup Series champion, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet.
Jimmie, talk about your test so far out there this morning.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: For us, we unloaded close, it seems like, at least compared to what other teams are running. For speed, we've been towards the top of the sheets. I feel good about where the 48 is. Our teammates have all kind of picked areas we want to work in. We're hopeful to cover a lot of ground. All four teams working in different directions, then kind of get together at lunch now and find out where we're at, make the cars better.
We've got a good plan in place. Guys are working hard. Seems like we're off to a decent start.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for Jimmie.
Q. Starting out on the short tracks, do you think as far as the speed goes, the difference between the Car of Tomorrow and your conventional car is going to be that noticeable?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don't think the fans will be able to see a difference. I think it's a good idea for us to start working this car this year, working on the short tracks to learn more about it. Hopefully we can learn things that will help as we get on to the bigger tracks, we can sort some stuff out there. I think everybody is comfortable with the cars on the road courses and short tracks. It's getting to the bigger tracks where we need to work on the aero balance of this car, learn how to adjust this race car, because it's an entirely different animal than what we've had in the past.
Even here our setups seem to be much closer to what we ran 10, 15 -- I wasn't even here then, it's what I keep hearing from everybody that has been around longer than I have, that it's more like the old school setup, big front springs, stuff like that. So we're just going through the motions.
Q. Kevin says there's a lot more room in the car. Obviously this car is designed to be a significantly safer car. When you sit down in it, start running hot laps, is that a conscious thought that runs through your mind?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think as drivers we're so used to the risks that we take on each week, we may overlook those things at times. With the HANS device, soft walls, I think that really satisfied some concern that a lot of people had. There's no doubt we get in the car, there's a lot of room.
The one thing we still need to work on for the taller drivers, we have more space above us, but it seems like the halo bar is still a little close to somebody like my head. Gordon, the way he sits in the car, much more reclined, he's got miles from that bar to his helmet now. Something there we need to address.
There's no doubt when I climb in the car, it's more spacious. There's a lot of room inside the car. I do notice that. Even if it's a 5% gain in safety, it's worth it. Seems like we've got a few areas that have been worked over to make it safer.
Q. Talking about the more spacious car, might that yield a bonus that hasn't been discussed, might it cut down on driver fatigue, a more comfortable race car to drive?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Not sure it's going to have an impact on that. The bigger space that we have, I guess there's more volume to heat up. I think the temperatures we see inside the car, it will heat that space, that volume, within maybe just a few laps later. I don't see it being a huge impact on heat and comfort in that respect.
Q. Talk about the splitter. Were you conscious of trying to be careful of that on the banks? What would the headline be you would write if you were to write of the morning session?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: The splitter, I can feel it getting into the corners. In the past a lot of drivers would dip their left front tire under the yellow line on corner entry to help the car rotate. Now you can feel the splitter, it's sticking out a little further than what we're used to. You can feel it touching. I had to alter my line into turn one just a little bit. Nothing major.
As far as on the track when you're running, you can't really tell what's around you. The only reference you have is the visual reference inside the car. What it looks like, how it's driving, what's dragging, things like that, it still feels like a race car when we're out there.
The headlines, I hadn't even thought of that. I think the first practice session, watching the first 15 cars go out, we sat around and watched, just wanted to see what took place. I think there was a lot of progression as practice went on. I think a lot of people started with setups, the mindset of what we've been running here. You've got to back up off of that. That just seems to be the trend. You can see the cars looking safer and more comfortable as practice went on. At first it was a little hairy for some guys.
Q. When you come back next month, do you think the splitter and the wing will even come into play at any of your adjustments during practice, Happy Hour, during the race?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, I really don't see that being the case, even on the bigger tracks. We want maximum downforce. That's what we have learned through all of the racing that we've done. Talladega and Daytona would be different. But everywhere we go, you want that aero platform maxed out. We'll start with that and then adjust the mechanical stuff to make the car drive right.
Q. As far as how everything is going to play out, which races you're going to be running which cars, are you worried about going back and forth, trying to adjust?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, there's going to be a learning curve for the driver and the crew chief to understand the differences, to remind yourself. The hardest thing is really in the shop, the hours that the crews are putting in. We had to build speedway cars for the 500, downforce cars, the Car of Tomorrow, then later on in the year we have a plate race with Car of Tomorrow.
I know just visibly watching through the shop, our car count is way down from where it typically is. We didn't crash anything over the end of last year and coming into this season and the testing. I think teams like the 84, losing two cars at Las Vegas, it's really, really tough on the guys in the shop right now to get all the cars built to the level they need to be prepared at.
Q. I know you said had you a great test this morning. Are you happy with your tests so far this morning? What do you anticipate will be the biggest obstacle for your team to overcome both here at Bristol, then when you get to the mile-and-a-half tracks and larger tracks?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Here we're really trying to find out where the sweet spot is with the car. The other car that we run, the attitude of the car wants to have the amount of wheel travel you need, the cambers, the other geometry stuff that goes with it. Right now we're all guessing. Such an intense track like this, the travel that you see, you need to limit that because you don't want to drag the splitter off the front of it. It's just a whole trial-and-error routine right now, procedure, trying to find that sweet spot where the car wants to be.
I would expect by the end of today 80% of the field will have it. There's a lot of very smart people here. We unloaded close. I don't think we're going to find a lot of big gains. The 48 car will find some little things to help us. I would expect a lot of the other cars to find a lot more.
I think the same thing applies to the bigger tracks. We got to get out there and find where the aero platform needs to be, the amount of travel we can have, the timing of the splitter and frame, when it's going to touch the ground. That's really the key ingredient. You're going to have max rear wing and the splitter just skimming the top of the track. That's going to be everything we're looking for.
Q. Bristol has been one of the few tracks where you actually struggled at. Excited about having a new car here?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I was. Then when we unloaded, I went to the top of the board at first, I asked my guys to take a photograph of the computer monitor, document we were Bristol (laughter). Maybe things have slowed down around here. I don't know what it is. We've been strong today.
I'm excited for this opportunity with the Car of Tomorrow. Chad and I do a great job of working through new rules packages. We have a whole new race car to play with. I'm excited. Hopefully we can use that to our advantage.
Q. Talking about skimming the track with a splitter, do you think the curve at Martinsville is going to come into play?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I think the curve at Martinsville, and I also think the curve on the road courses. We're not going to use the curving as much as we have in the past. I've had a little experience with that, with the Grand-Am car I've been running in the Rolex Series. You certainly can't use the curving at those tracks. I don't think it's going to be a problem, it's just going to be something new for us to adapt and learn how to use.
It's also coming in just a little bit into turn one, everybody has a tendency to turn early into turn one, kind of clip the black and white line or yellow line getting into turn one. I've had to alter my line by a few feet to not touch that because I was tearing up the splitter on the left side.
THE MODERATOR: Jimmie, thanks for your time.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Thank you.
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