JEFF BURTON, NO. 31 CAT FINANCIAL CHEVROLET, was the guest on the NASCAR Weekly Teleconference. Full transcript:
An interview with:
DENISE MALOOF: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the NASCAR Cam video teleconference in advance of this week’s NASCAR events at Phoenix International Raceway. Joining us today is Jeff Burton, driver of the No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing. Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 500 is the ninth chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup event. Jeff is among the 12 drivers eligible to compete for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title during the season’s final ten events of the Chase. He heads to Phoenix 12th in the standings and is a two-time winner at PIR. Jeff, I know you’re probably looking forward to moving on this week?
JEFF BURTON: That’s an understatement. Last three weeks I’ve been in the middle of stuff I don’t want to be in, and last week was no fun. Last night and Sunday night and Sunday afternoon was not why I got into motorsports. I really don’t have any idea that I want to be involved in stuff like that.
Unfortunately, we did have that incident and, you know, it obviously played out in front of everybody. But I think now we’ve both had a chance to reflect a little bit, and I have a much better understanding of part of what happened.
Part of it I don’t really understand, but nonetheless, I feel like we’ll be able to move forward.
Q. I’m going to ask you a question not about the fight. Can you explain how Richard Childress Racing can be so off the lens last year and then this year you all being so good, and talk about some of that specifically in there?
JEFF BURTON: Last year, the things we were doing this time of the year two years ago is why we got in position last year. We didn’t enter the year with cars that were fast enough. Not from a lack of effort, not from a lack of trying, we just made some decisions that ended up being wrong.
Those decisions were easy to make because we didn’t have the information that we needed. RCR has always been a team that’s heavily invested in testing, at-track testing. We got better, got smarter through doing that.
NASCAR made the right decision to very, very, very much limit testing. I think that had a huge negative impact on us, and we weren’t prepared for that. We had to adjust the way we run our company from a competition standpoint. We had to adjust the way we build our cars, adjust the way that we get smarter.
We couldn’t do it through testing anymore, we had to do it through other means. We made major investments in a lot of different areas and that led us to better answers, better decisions on how we were going to build our race cars and how we were going to set our race cars up and how we were going to drive our race cars and build the engines. And all of that has culminated into faster race cars.
We just have better information today than we did a year ago.
Q. Have you talked to Jeff since Sunday afternoon, and if so how did that go?
JEFF BURTON: Yeah, we did talk. The thing Sunday was a chain of events that led up to obviously the ugliness there. And I’ll go ahead and get it out of the way right now.
Sunday we had a deal where we ran together for a few laps. Jeff felt like I should have let him go. I felt like I was racing in my line. It was not that big of a deal to be quite honest.
When the caution came out, he pulled up, as I explained on Sunday, he pulled up really close to me to let me know he wasn’t happy with me. He went in front of me, and when that happened I went to accelerate to go back underneath him to kind of do the same thing that he did to me.
I don’t know if he was decelerating and I was accelerating and I ended up being — ended up in his rear bumper. Well what happened after that, I understand that part. That was just bad timing.
What I don’t understand is after that. How the two, both cars, including myself, how we both ended up in the wall. I’ve watched the video a bunch of times. I really don’t have an answer for you. I can promise you this, I did not intentionally turn Jeff Gordon driver-side first into the wall.
I’ve raced since I was 7 years old. You’d have a hard time walking around and finding somebody that said I wrecked them on purpose. That’s a dangerous way to wreck somebody. I think it’s a malicious way to wreck somebody, and I’ve never, ever, ever been part of that.
So in Jeff’s line of thinking, and he’s correct, at the time of that event, here comes — he shows his displeasure. The next thing he knows he’s wrecked and he’s wrecked hard. What is he supposed to think?
He’s supposed to think that I wrecked him on purpose because all the evidence says I wrecked him on purpose. So he obviously expresses his displeasure the way he did.
And I’ll be honest. I didn’t have a problem with it. He didn’t swing at me. I’m sure he wanted to. He was mad enough to, and I didn’t blame him for being mad.
You know, I grew up in South Side Virginia. I knew a thing or two about fighting. I could see in his eyes he was way more mad than I was. I was more confused about the whole situation.
So everybody saw what happened there. To Jeff’s credit, a minute later he had calmed down a tremendous amount. Heard what I had to say. Didn’t believe what I had to say, and I don’t blame him for not believing.
We spoke again in the infield care center, he had calmed down again, to his credit, and we are where we are today.
So Jeff and I have spoken. We had a great conversation. We ended up laughing a little bit about some of the things that were said and some of the things that were done. And Jeff and I are moving forward.
I believe that he knows that we both had frustrating years. And there’s no way that the frustration that the both of us — and I don’t want to bad talk about Jeff. Let me be clear about that. But the two of us collectively the frustrations we had didn’t play a role in all of that.
For the part that I played in it, and I played the largest part in it, because I was the car that was second in line and the guy that was first in line got wrecked. So I had to take the ultimate responsibility for that.
I have to understand that even though I wasn’t trying to wreck him, my intentions of letting him know a little of what was said at him led to this, and it is what it is.
I take responsibility for that. But I can assure everybody that there is no way that I would turn somebody driver-side first into the wall. That is malicious and that’s not just how I am.
Q. When he talked about it afterwards, he still thought it was intentional. Have you been able to convince him otherwise or do you just have to go on and hope to prove yourself ?
JEFF BURTON: Well, listen, here’s the deal. Every driver, every driver, not just Jeff, will based on the facts that are in front of them.
The cool thing about our sport is we’re able to stick a microphone in front of a driver as soon as something happens. The worst thing about our sport is we’re able to stick a microphone in front of a driver as soon as something happens.
I didn’t disagree with a thing Jeff Gordon said on Sunday. The evidence that Jeff Gordon had, he should have said — I’m not going to speak for Jeff Gordon.
As far as I’m concerned, Jeff and I have had our conversation and we have no issues going forward whatsoever. But I’m not going to tell you what Jeff Gordon believes. I’m not going to speak for him.
I feel comfortable that we had a great conversation. We had a chance to laugh a little bit and reflect on several things. I feel comfortable going to Phoenix and moving forward.
Q. The crew stopped in the middle of the race the other day between the 24 and 48. Afterwards, Denny’s crew chief, Mike Ford, talked a little brash and talked about his pit selection and how that may have played a part in the mind of the 48 guys that are watching the 11 pit all day, and that might have gotten into their heads. Then Chad comes back pretty strong today defending his guys and says no, that wasn’t an act of desperation. My question is do you believe in mind games? Can they play a role in this? And if they can or if people try to do them, would this be the time for championship contenders to start messing with each other?
JEFF BURTON: Well, listen, I don’t know. I can’t speak to the wherewithal of any pit crew or any person that I’m not really close to. So just because you did something and there was something else that happened, that doesn’t mean that what you did effected the outcome.
And I think a lot of people take a lot of credit for things that perhaps were just coincidence. But the 48 has not had typical 48 pit stops for a large part of the year, and I’m not being critical.
Their pit stops because of what they’ve been able to do over the years have gotten to be exceptional. If they’re not, they’re not good enough.
This wasn’t the first race they’ve had a problem. If this was the first race they’ve had a problem then maybe you could make that case. But this isn’t the first race they haven’t been as good as you would expect them to be. I know they’re all disappointed about that.
I feel bad for anybody that gets pulled out. That’s a difficult situation. I’ve been part of that before, and it’s not good for anybody.
But I wouldn’t call it an act of desperation anymore than what the 29 did with the 33 pit crew. If you’ve got something better out there and you’re not taking of it, then shame on you.
Q. I’m wondering with the top three drivers so close in the standings right now, do you see a favorite out there right now or is it anyone’s ballgame?
JEFF BURTON: You know what, I said last week, I don’t know. If Las Vegas came to me and said handicap this thing, I don’t know how I’d do that. I don’t know who has the advantage.
I’m much more knowledgeable of what’s going on with the 29 and how they’ve run it and looked at the racetrack, which one of those teams doesn’t run well?
I can remember going to Homestead and Phoenix both and the 29 being the dominant car. I can also remember that happening with the other two cars.
There isn’t a weak point, an obvious weak point coming. They’re all three running very well. I think the 11 car may have a little bit of a — they’re definitely very confident. They have, I’m not going to say — it’s just they’re really confident. They believe in what they’re doing. They believe they’re driving the ship and that others are following. I think that they look really tough right now.
But I wouldn’t count anybody out. I know Kevin Harvick is ready to go win this championship. I know all those guys on that team have put every pit bit of effort into it. I don’t know who you’d pick. But I know it won’t be a surprise if any of the three win.
Q. You mentioned the 11 guys are sort of driving the ship now. What has been the position of Johnson and those guys this late in the season in most recent years? Does the flip-flop that happened on Sunday, is that the dramatic change that puts the 11 in the very best position? Did all of that have to happen Sunday for them to be in the come and get me kind of spot?
JEFF BURTON: They’re in the best position because they have the most points and there are two races left. They’re obviously in the best position. Anything can happen.
Listen, who would have gone to Texas thinking that all of the stuff that happened at Texas was going to happen? I mean, you know, the story lines coming from Texas, what do you pick? And that is the way racing is.
There are so many things that happen in every single race, there is no way to know what’s going to happen. The 11, the 29, the 48, any one of those three cars could run great in the next two weeks and finish in the 20s. So anything can happen.
So I’d want to be the guy with the most points with two races left. There is no advantage in not having the most points. That is only the positive. So because of that, he’s in the best spot.
But that doesn’t make him my favorite, because I’ve done this long enough to know that if the 29 goes out and wins the race this weekend and Denny runs really well and the 48 runs really well, and they run fourth, fifth and sixth, you’ve got a heck of a race going into Homestead.
So running well, you’ve got to run great. They don’t have a big enough point lead to go run well and win a championship with the caliber of people they’re racing. They’re going to have to run great.
Q. The Hendrick folks are obviously selling this crew swap as simply a team operation that’s not really a big deal. Is that an easy sale? I mean, if you’re involved in a situation like that?
JEFF BURTON: Yeah, I don’t understand what the controversy is about. You have a team that is in position to win the championship. You have a pit crew that you think is your very best pit crew, what is the controversy? I don’t get it.
I know that the guys that are on the 48, I know their feelings are hurt. I know they want to be the ones that are in there digging. I don’t blame them.
At the end of the day, what is the controversy? You have a team in position to win a championship. As a matter of fact, two of the three teams that are in position to win championships have switched crews now. It’s the popular thing to do, you know.
You’ve got to put your best foot forward. The 48 doesn’t want to do that. They don’t want to change their pit crew guys. It’s not the situation they want to be in. But ignoring a problem and hoping it goes away, that doesn’t fix it.
With two races left to go in the year, it’s not time in their position to take time to fix it. It’s got to be fixed now. If this was 20 races to go, you wouldn’t be seeing this swap. They believe in those people that are pitting those cars or they wouldn’t be pitting them. But the fact is they’re not getting results right now, and they don’t have time to wait.
So I don’t know what the controversy is. I think they’re doing what they think gives them the best shot to win the race. The same way that the 33 and the 29 did.
Q. I was curious when Jeff Gordon was making that long walk up the backstretch, what did you expect he was going to do? Did you expect he was going to launch at you like he did?
JEFF BURTON: I expected he was going to do something. I knew he was really mad. I knew exactly what was going through his mind because the evidence was in front of him that suggested what happened, and he was going to be hot.
I had seen Jeff, and Jeff’s a guy that is going to take his stand. I didn’t know exactly what he was going to do, but I knew he wasn’t coming over there to shake my hand. He was mad and he meant for me to know about it. Again, I didn’t know the specifics, but I knew something was coming.
Q. Looking at the top three guys in this deal, Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick, your teammate is the one chasing those two guys with the 59-point deficit. Do you think he’s in a position going into Sunday’s race at Phoenix where maybe they might need to take more chances, maybe more two tire pit stops or take more chances on fuel or whatever. Are they in a position where they have to attack it a little bit differently than the other two?
JEFF BURTON: Well, I don’t know. The thing about taking chances is — and we hear a lot about that. When the chips are down, who is going to take the chances and who is not? You’re going to do whatever you think is going to give you the best chance to win.
I don’t know that you call that taking a chance. I don’t know if you call it gambling. I think you’re just taking your best guess and doing what you think is right in whatever position you’re in.
And Gill Martin is really good on pit road and making strategic calls and understanding what he needs to do. I don’t see them getting off their game. I see them — Gill’s the kind of guy when something’s working he’s going to stick to it. That is his personality.
I just don’t see the 29 getting off that. I think that they’ve put themselves in a position by doing it a certain way, and I believe that they believe and I think it’s right, too, that the best chance they have to win the championship is to continue to do what they know to do. Don’t get knocked off your game. So I don’t see Gill changing course. I see him sticking firmly to his course.
Q. Of the two remaining tracks, do you see one of them that favors the RCR cars a little more or Kevin Harvick himself?
JEFF BURTON: Kevin Harvick is awesome at Phoenix. If you go back and think about how well the 29 has run with Kevin driving it at Phoenix. I also can remember a lot of times when Kevin has been really, really fast at Homestead.
But I think Phoenix is kind of like, to me, it’s kind of a home game for him. I think that he feels like he’s got a lot of laps on that racetrack. He’s run a lot of races on that racetrack.
I think Kevin feels like when he goes there. He’s very, very comfortable. He feels really good about racing there. So I think that this is an important week for them, because I know Kevin has a lot of confidence about his ability there. So, you know, I think this weekend could be a really strong weekend for them.
Q. You’re one of the most respected drivers in the garage. I was wondering, when Gordon said afterwards on Sunday that he had lost respect for you, I was wondering if that hurt your feelings? Also in light of the conversation you’ve had with Jeff since then, do you think he’s changed his mind?
JEFF BURTON: Well, I think that any time you’re in a situation with somebody and it’s a negative outcome, that’s got to hurt your standing with them and you have to earn that back.
I think that Jeff has a lot more respect for me today than he did on Sunday. But, again, I’m going to let Jeff speak for Jeff. I’m not going to speak for him.
It means a great deal to me that my peers respect me. We’re not always going to agree, and that’s cool. That’s what makes the world go around. I like when people disagree. I think it spurs thought and it makes you a better person when people disagree and you’re able to disagree with them and have a conversation about it. So disagreements are a great thing if handled the right way.
But I do at the very least if someone may disagree, I want them to respect me. But I have to earn that. You can’t be in situations like I was doing on Sunday and expect everyone to have the utmost level of respect for you.
I’d like to think that I’ve earned a certain amount of respect and I do screw up my history and my track record helps me. It doesn’t give me a free pass. Doesn’t mean I’m allowed to do a lot of stupid stuff. I have to take responsibility and do the right thing.
But Jeff is — I’ve always had a tremendous amount of respect for Jeff. I think he conducts himself in a very good fashion. He’s been a great champion for our sport. He’s a great race car driver. In my opinion he’s one of the guys that really helped the greatest sport.
When you look at when he came in and fighting Earnhardt, it was two completely different personalities. That spurred a lot of interest in our sport and Jeff handled it really well. So he’s a really good person who has done a lot for the sport. He’s a really, really good race car driver, and I want him to respect me because I respect him.
Q. I was asking this question two weeks ago or so. It was two weeks ago, and I wouldn’t ask it now but I think your answer is going to have a little bit to do with going forward. Given that humans aren’t robots and drivers are certainly human. Do drivers need special skills to control emotions during competition?
JEFF BURTON: I think a lot of the results that you see are the fact that this happens quickly. This isn’t a sport where you can call timeout. This isn’t a sport where you can step away for just a minute.
Honestly, think in what other sport does the drive, the guy that’s out there doing it not have a chance to just step away? Basketball, football, baseball, everyone one of those sports, their athletes are able to between innings when you’re sitting on the bench because you’re getting your rest. Whatever it happens to be, all of those athletes are able to get away. Catch their breath, get their head in gear, and that is a huge advantage from a psychological standpoint.
We’re in the heat of the fire, man. We never get out of the heat of the fire. I think that’s what’s great about our sport. But you do have to control your emotions. You do have to because if you don’t, bad things are going to happen.
If you go back and look at most events, a lot of things happen. It’s just racing. It’s not necessarily poor judgment or anything. But if somebody’s racing hard, somebody’s trying to take their spot. And there is another guy trying to keep you from taking that spot. Stuff happens, that’s racing.
But there are events where emotion played a role. It played a role in decision making and played a role in things that went down. So I think it’s really important in trying to control your emotions.
Q. When asked what happened on Sunday other than when the officials were keeping you separated and the ambulance. Did NASCAR officials say anything to you after when you came off the track? If not, is this something more reflective of the policy to bring more color to the sport?
JEFF BURTON: I think here’s the deal. I think Jeff and I have been around a long time. And listen, Jeff and I have raced together for almost 20 years.
I mean, you go back to the Nationwide race, and we have raced against each other almost 20 years. We’ve had incidents just like we’ve had incidences with other people. But nothing ever out of hand. What happened Sunday was obviously wasn’t a good thing for either one of us.
NASCAR, the only time NASCAR had to do anything was what you saw on TV. I thought took the officials that were out there, they handled it really well. They’re big guys. They could have controlled us two, that’s for sure.
Jeff calmed down a great deal. He honestly did. He calmed down a lot quicker than I think most people could have calmed down. And we actually had somewhat of a conversation in the rescue squad.
So NASCAR wasn’t — what you saw on TV was the only time that NASCAR officials have ever had to be involved in anything.
Q. The only other topic we haven’t discussed about the strangeness of Texas was Kyle Busch flipping off an official for essentially an electronic call. Do you think the punishment that he received was justified?
JEFF BURTON: Listen, I have to admit to you. I’ve been a little tied up in other things. I haven’t had a chance to review Kyle Busch’s day. I’m not being a smart ass. But I’ve had enough on my plate, and I don’t need to get into his dinner. I’ll leave that to him.
Q. I was wondering, we talked to Clint a couple weeks ago and he said he was worried about getting into the Top 10 for the season ending banquet. How important is that now for you when you’ve got one of your biggest goals going forward the last two weeks?
JEFF BURTON: Listen, that’s been — when we realized that we couldn’t win the championship, we adjusted our goals. We thought we could finish fifth, fourth, fifth, sixth, that area. The last two weeks obviously have been devastating to that.
The incident at Talladega, we finished 41st, and this weekend we finished where we finished. We had a really good race team, really good drivers and 12th in points. To be honest, we’re a long way from 10. We’re 80 points out of 10th or whatever it is.
Yeah, it’s really important. I don’t want to go to the banquet and sit there and listen to everybody else talk. That is the worst part about the banquet. At least if you’re going to go, you sure want to have an opportunity to express your feelings about the year and to be able to do that.
So, yeah, it’s important for us, and we’re going to go do the best we can. It’s going to be hard to do it, to be quite honest. There are good teams in front of us. You look at who is running well now, and it will be hard to finish in the Top 10, but it is certainly our goal.
DENISE MALOOF: Thank you, Jeff, for joining us today. I know it was an eventful week last week. But thank you for your time and good luck in Phoenix this week.
JEFF BURTON: Thank you.
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