Burton declares ‘We have something to prove’ heading into new seasonBy Kelly Crandall
Jeff Burton is no different than any other racecar driver. He wants to succeed. He wants to be the best. And he cares about what his peers think about him.
Lately however, Burton has found himself in a different scenario. The one where everyone wonders what’s wrong and how or even if, his No. 31 Caterpillar Richard Childress Racing team will turn things around. And if not, how much longer will Burton be around? It’s those conversations, noted Burton, that are just no damn fun.
“I don’t want to be involved in those conversations because I enjoy coming in and talking to you guys [media]. I enjoy it,” said Burton Friday at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where Sprint Cup teams were testing for the upcoming season.
“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. 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.”
He has no such plans this year, either. Burton acknowledged that there are things that have to and will change at RCR. Some already have, from personnel amongst the three teams to bigger changes within the organization. They’ve been testing and working to better understand the new car in hopes of being ahead of the game when the season starts instead of so far behind. Something Burton says, they were all of last year as a company.
RCR only won one race, with Kevin Harvick at Phoenix last November. And while Harvick made the Chase, he was never a serious threat to win the championship. Burton and Paul Menard finished outside the top 15 in points. Struggling so bad that it led to those aforementioned conversations about performance and the future – Burton only finishing in the top 10 six times, the top five just twice.
Yet, he has plenty of optimism about the new season, and not just because it’s what drivers typically say in the preseason.
“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,” he said about what his Luke Lambert led team, the third crew chief Burton has had in the last three years.
“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.”
It couldn’t have come at a better time either. Entering his ninth year with RCR, Burton looks to snap a winless streak that dates back to the fall of 2008. The new car is one that he feels will help him do that. RCR caught a break by getting to start over with new rules, cars, parts and pieces instead of trying to fix what’s been broken for so long.
“I think it’s easier when there is a whole new car with a lot of new rules, a new rear rule package. It think it is easier to start over than it is taking an existing vehicle and starting over,” Burton stated. “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 in general. Whether that will yield results or not we will see. I think the timing of it is good for us.”