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NASCAR MEDIA CONFERENCE
June 7, 2007
THE MODERATOR: Welcome, media. This marks the fifth year we've been able to bring you this monthly call which is brought to you by California Speedway, Infineon Raceway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, NASCAR and Phoenix International Raceway.
We are joined by Jeff Burton, driver of the No. 31 AT&T Chevrolet. Jeff enters this weekend's race in Pocono in the fifth place in the NEXTEL Cup points standings. Last year at Pocono, Jeff posted two top-10 finishes.
Jeff, thank you so much for taking some time for the West Coast media today.
JEFF BURTON: Yeah, I'm glad to do it. I like talking about our sport.
THE MODERATOR: At this point we'll open it up for questions.
Q. You posted a couple top-10 finishes at Infineon the last two years. The bigger question here is, your thoughts on how the Car of Tomorrow should react to such a technical and challenging road course. I'm not sure if you were at the VIR test, but your thoughts on that.
JEFF BURTON: Yeah, we've been -- actually, we've done quite a few road course tests with the Car of Tomorrow. It's not as different probably on the road courses as it has been on the ovals. Maybe that's just our lack of experience on the ovals and we don't feel the difference as much.
Certainly the cars, because they have a higher center of gravity, they roll a lot more, tend to pick the front tires off the ground a little more through accelerating slow corners. They brake about the same, they accelerate about the same, those kind of things, but they tend not to turn quite as well as the older car.
You know, it's definitely a difference. But I don't think that it's going to affect the quality of the show. I think from what I saw at VIR, a lot of people can run them at the same speeds. I think it bodes well for the race.
Q. You're having a really fantastic season this year. What might you attribute that to?
JEFF BURTON: Well, you know, when I went to Childress, I'm in my third full year at Childress, and the first year was a big learning curve. Richard had been committed to making changes in the company so that we could be more successful. We reaped some of those benefits last year, finishing in the top 10 in points, leading the Chase for about half of it. We had a couple races that knocked us out of it.
You know, every year you build on the year before. This year we have tried to step it up again. Our downfall honestly has been the Car of Tomorrow. We haven't done as well in the Car of Tomorrow races as we need to. We're not terrible, but we're not as good as some others. We have to step that program up.
You know, we worked really hard to do better engineering, to build better engines, to build better chassis, me to do a better job. Scott has come on as the crew chief. There's a lot of reasons. There's not one particular reason. It all boils down to Richard Childress putting a better game plan together and giving us better equipment.
Q. Have you figured out anything about the Car of Tomorrow as you've gone along that would make you better?
JEFF BURTON: Well, we'd like to believe we have. I mean, the proof's in the pudding. Till the pudding comes out of the refrigerator, you don't know how you've done. We're still learning. We think we're applying the things that we're learning. We feel like we can be better than we have been.
But it, too, is a learning process. In many cases I just don't think -- I haven't asked enough out of the team at times. I thought the car was pretty good. There's been a few races, like last weekend and the weekend at Darlington, I thought going into the race we were in really good shape, and we didn't run very well. That falls on my shoulders. They can't make the car faster if I'm not telling them to. Some of it's a feel thing. Some of it's I'm not trying to get the right thing out of the car. Some of it is technology. We're just a step behind.
Q. Since you said there's not a lot of difference in the Car of Tomorrow on the road courses, do you like coming out to Infineon? Do you expect to do well out here in the Car of Tomorrow?
JEFF BURTON: Well, if you look at my record there, you would think I wasn't very good at it. Again, we are without a doubt a result-oriented business and I haven't put the numbers on the board at Infineon. The sad thing is I've run in top five a tremendous amount there. I just always ran into some kind of problems. Had a lot of mechanical problems. I've gotten run over in the last few laps of the race about five or six times and killed good finishes.
I'm looking forward to it. I mean, I have a good time doing it. I think I'm pretty good at it. I know there's a few that are better than I am. We had a really good test at VIR. You know, I'm looking forward to it. I'm pretty optimistic about it.
Q. Do you like that the COT will be running all of next year?
JEFF BURTON: I think it's the right thing. I still think there's some things we could do with the Car of Tomorrow to make it better just because it's in its infancy and we're going to continue to learn. I think we can continue to make it better.
But it's very difficult today to be as prepared as we could be with everything we have going on. I mean, essentially we have two totally different cars. It's really, really expensive. The expensive part isn't building that race car. The expensive part is developing how to build the race cars, developing the technology that goes into the race cars. We're having to do that with two different styles of cars now. Really it's three different styles because you got superspeedway cars, too.
This will eliminate that. We'll make all the cars closer together, which will eventually bring some costs down and some work load down. I'm a proponent of running these cars everywhere. I think it's the right thing to do, especially for the owner's sakes.
Q. I just promoted you to in charge of NASCAR penalties. How severe a penalty do you think Kurt should get for what happened Sunday? Do you think what he did on pit road was that serious?
JEFF BURTON: I think it was very serious. I haven't seen any notification on it yet, but I think it's going to be big. You know, stuff happens on the racetrack that we wish hadn't have happened, we wish we could take it back. But we can't come down pit road and put those guys out there, you know, in that kind of jeopardy. I mean, they don't have a roll cage around them, seat belts. They don't have the advantages that we have.
If I were running NASCAR, that penalty, it would be very severe. That has nothing to do with Kurt Busch. It has everything to do with conducting ourselves in a proper fashion. You know, Kurt knows he messed up. That penalty would be really large.
Q. How strong do you think the Hendrick boys will do at Sonoma, at Infineon, and in particular Jeff Gordon because of his success on road courses and with the Car of Tomorrow?
JEFF BURTON: I mean, you know, if you look at success on road courses, in recent history, Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon have been the two. Then, as you said, you couple that with the success Hendrick has had with the Car of Tomorrow, that makes them an immediate favorite. If you had to look at somebody and say who is the favorite, that's who you would say.
I expect him to be very competitive. I expect him to be very tough to beat. But I don't expect him to be unbeatable. I know they're going to be tough. Nobody's unbeatable.
Q. What do you think it's going to take for you personally to move ahead in the points closer to those Hendrick boys? Do you think it is mastering the Car of Tomorrow?
JEFF BURTON: Well, we have to continue to improve. We've got to continue to work hard, continue to make our cars better. I've got to do a better job as a driver in preparing for the race with the Car of Tomorrow. That in a nutshell is what we have to do. How we do that is very difficult. But I think we can do it.
Q. As one of the most outspoken safety proponents in NASCAR, what is your opinion at this point of how safe the Car of Tomorrow is?
JEFF BURTON: Well, there's definitely some advantages to the Car of Tomorrow. There's no doubt about it. I mean, there's a lot of crush zones in there. There's more space for the fiber. There's a lot of thing that give the driver a better chance in a major crash. I can't put a percentage on it. I can't say it's 50% better, 20% better. I don't know that. But I do believe it's better.
You know, any time you can give the driver more room, then that means we can build better seats, we can do more things to help the driver in a major impact. So there's no question it's better.
Q. Are you pleased with the idea that it will be run at all the races next year?
JEFF BURTON: Yeah, I am.
Q. The Hendrick team, is that team doing something that makes it a little extra tougher this year to compete against them or does it still come down to driver versus driver and car versus car?
JEFF BURTON: That's an age-old question. Certainly their stable of drivers is deep. They have a lot of talent. That goes without saying. They also have probably in North American motorsports the most resources of any team. But they utilize those resources very well. They're very organized. They have a plan. They do engineering in a really good way. They do a lot of good things.
When you couple good technology with a good game plan, with good drivers and good crew chiefs, you can expect to have good results.
You know, as long as I've been doing this, the question has been: Is it the driver or the car? You know, I can tell you it's both. A great driver can't take a bad car and make it great. A great team can't take a bad driver and make him great. You've got to be able to do both. If you can't do both, you can't be successful.
Q. Have they just done something to master the Car of Tomorrow a little quicker than other teams?
JEFF BURTON: Well, I think they have had a better game plan. The testing that went on this winter, the planning that went in this winter to their program was probably better than some other people. The results indicate that.
Q. This is your second time battling through the Chase here. Do you feel any different, less pressure, any more experience, anything that you take from last year that you're using this year to make it into the Chase?
JEFF BURTON: Well, you know what, I mean, I think I do. I'll tell you that last year -- I've become accustomed to running well. Then went into a period where we weren't running well. I'd become accustomed to knocking on the door of championships, you know what I mean, but never went into the last two or three races of the year with a real good shot of winning it. We had outside shots, but not great shots.
Last year we did. We had a good shot at winning a championship. Going through the pressure of making it to the Chase, I mean, you got to remember last year -- we always forget things, we look at who won the championship, who made the Chase. But going into last year's last race of the regular season, there was like, you know, 11 cars that still could make it or not make it. If you had a bad race, you weren't going to make it. That week of pressure, all that going in, I mean, that was the biggest pressure I'd ever felt. As much as we try to pretend it wasn't, it was. It was there.
Then we got into the Chase, things went well for us. I think after the first six races, we were leading the points. Things were going well for us. Then we had broke an engine and blew a tire and, boom, now we're fifth. So I think that we learned a lot from that. I told them at the end of last year I feel like we put a down payment down on the championship. We put in some blood, sweat and some tears and I think we're much more prepared emotionally to deal with those things. I think that's real important. Dealing with things emotionally is very important. I feel like our whole team is wiser and smarter. Yeah, I think that we definitely learned something last year.
Q. Does RCR have one of those seven-post shaker things? Is that what is going to be the thing that separates the elite teams in this sport?
JEFF BURTON: RCR has had a set of those for probably eight years. Richard was the first one to invest in a seven-post machine. Nobody really followed suit because we weren't having any success. We had success last year. Everybody thought it was because we had a seven-post machine. Everybody went off and invested in seven-post shakers.
It is a tool that when used properly it is a great tool. But it's a tool that takes years to learn how to use and to start evaluating information properly. So it is definitely -- the more tools we can get our hands on, the more tools we know how to effectively use, the more competitive we can be. That's certainly a tool that teams seem right now want to be invested in.
Q. Talk about Clint Bowyer. He's in his second year with RCR. How has he been as an addition to the team? Can you see him getting to Victory Lane before the end of this year?
JEFF BURTON: You never know what's going to happen. We all know that Jeff Gordon is going to win races between now and the end of the year. I'm not going to say he's going to win races. I will tell you he is capable. I will tell you that team is capable.
Clint Bowyer is an extraordinary talent. I mean, you really got to step back and look at Clint and how much stock car racing experience he has, asphalt stock car racing experience. I believe that this is his fourth year of asphalt experience. That's a very limited amount of experience. He's doing it at the top level. That guy has a tremendous amount of talent. His personality is such that he's really hard to not like. He's a good guy. He's a racer. He wants to go out and do well.
He's good for our team in a lot of ways from his talent level to his attitude. We have three pretty much totally different drivers from an outlook standpoint and from a personality standpoint. I mean, me and Harvick and Boyer, we're so completely different. But we all have so much respect for each other, we work well together.
Clint is learning how to be part of that. Clint's learning how to be more than just a driver. You know, we need Clint in the shop helping us figure out where we need to be better. Those are the kind of things that Clint's learning how to do, and he's being very productive, especially with the amount of experience he has. His driving, I mean, you're going to see really, really good things out of that guy.
Q. With the COT, the remaining races this season, getting into next year, how have you shared information to prepare for the cars and prepare to race?
JEFF BURTON: This winter we did quite a bit of testing trying to figure out different things about the Car of Tomorrow. We did that company-wide. We didn't individually go out and do -- one team go do this, one team go do that. We tried to collectively do a lot of testing. That's not to say we always run the same kind of setups. We don't. As a matter of fact, this weekend, we were all three pretty different. We see that a lot. We compare notes a lot. Some things, sometimes they work, sometimes they don't. But we right now are a team that is very good about working together. We look to only enhance that.
Q. Can you share any stories about your personal experiences with Bill France, Jr.? Any stories come to your mind?
JEFF BURTON: I was really lucky. Over the last three, four years, I've got to know Bill a whole lot better than I knew him before. For the majority of my career, I knew Bill France as the guy that was the head of NASCAR. I didn't know him personally, got in a few arguments with him from time to time but never had chance to really sit down and spend time with him, kind of get to know him. I had that honor over the last few years.
The more I knew him, the more I liked him. He was, in my opinion, the personality that this sport needed at the time when it needed it. He was one of those people that would listen but at the end of the day he was going to make the decision and he was going to take responsibility for that decision. Real strong guy, tough guy, didn't take anything from anybody. At the same time he could be the most giving and compassionate guy, too. I mean, it was really interesting to watch him. With his friends, he was always -- of course, don't get me wrong, I didn't know him as well as a lot of people know him. The time I had to spend with him, he was very relaxed in any atmosphere. He was running the show. Whatever was going on, he was going to be running the show (laughter).
He was just a neat guy. I mean, he was somebody I really looked up to especially after I got to know him. I mean, I respected what he had done, but I didn't really appreciate it. After I got to know him, I had a tremendous amount of appreciation for what he'd been able to do. He was a really, really neat guy.
Q. Have things settled down since the judge ruled the 31 car could be rebranded? What's the next step in that?
JEFF BURTON: There's been an appeal filed. I guess the court could decide to hear that appeal or not decide to hear that appeal the way it's been explained to me. I'm sure they'll probably hear the appeal. It's AT&T's opinion that it's probably -- you know, a federal judge made a decision, and overruling that is not very likely.
It has calmed down a little bit. Because it's not 100% final, there is still a little bit of (indiscernible) about it. AT&T is confident, RCR is confident. It's been one of those things we wish we didn't have to be involved in. By the same token, AT&T and RCR feel like AT&T has a right to be here based on the agreements that they had with NASCAR. The federal judge agreed.
Again, it hasn't been easy. Certainly don't like being at odds with NASCAR about something. We like to be with 'em, not in a position where they could possibly feel like we're against 'em. We certainly don't want to be against 'em. We're not always going to agree. It's one of those cases where you can kind of see both sides of the story. I mean, it's a case study. It's no one out there being frivolous or ridiculous, it's just a disagreement. We feel really good about the court's decision. We're confident in its ability to stand up to the appeal process.
The interesting thing is because there's a conversation about this not being good for the sport, but the reality of it is, it's no different than it was three years ago when the name of it was Cingular. It's the same company, same customers, same everything. NEXTEL has done a great job of coming in the sport and promoting it. This doesn't stop them from doing that. This doesn't hamper them from being able to promote the sport in any form or fashion.
We don't feel like there's any damage to the sport or to NEXTEL, nor is there any damage to NASCAR's ability to grant exclusivity to its major sponsors. We support that. We believe there ought to be exclusivity. AT&T supports that. They have things where they have exclusivity, too. But there was nothing ever said when the name changed that they couldn't change with it.
In our eyes, nothing's really changed. It's the same company, the same customers. There's really nothing different. We're confident there's no damage to the sport, which is very important to us. At the same time it's been official to RCR and to the race fans, too. AT&T does a tremendous amount of things that are beneficial to the fans. They've been one of the biggest sponsors of the sport for a long time. They do a lot of things to interact with the fans. We believe it's a win for the fans as well as for us.
Q. RCR, you talked about your teammates, what would happen if a fourth car came into the mix next year say in the person of Dale Earnhardt, Jr.? Would it be beneficial or difficult to absorb?
JEFF BURTON: Well, it would be beneficial. We need some additional resources. Richard has done an incredible job of allocating money and spending money. I mean, it's unbelievable. I don't feel like we don't have anything that we need to be successful. At the same time if we had more resources, we could do more with it if it's spent properly and had the right game plan.
We believe a fourth team could benefit all of us, could benefit all of our current sponsors. To do that we need to do it with the right crew chief, we need to do it with the right driver, we need to do it with the right fit. I believe that Junior would be a good fit. I have a lot of respect for Junior. Junior has a lot of respect for the sport. He respects the importance of teammates.
I think Junior would fit well. There's other people that would fit well, too. I tell you, there's two or three people that we feel really good about, that we feel like could come in and bring us something, that we could give something to as well.
We'll have to wait and see what happens. I wouldn't assume that Junior is going to be or not going to be there. There's a lot of things going on. If Junior's not there, we feel good about options that we have. It's not a foregone conclusion that he is the right fit for us. He may be, but he may not be. It may be that there's somebody else that would fit better. That's an answer for Richard.
THE MODERATOR: Jeff, thank you so much for your time today.
JEFF BURTON: Thank you.
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