Our series of weekly Chase driver interviews continues with Richard Childress Racing's Jeff Burton, affectionately known as "The Mayor" in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series garage. Burton took time to answer our questions at Martinsville.
What's the best race you've ever driven?
JB: Leading every lap at New Hampshire (in 2000) was pretty incredible. Started second, was able to take the lead and then led every lap. I certainly would have to say that'd be hard to beat.
Who is the most talented driver in NASCAR?
JB: That's a hard question. Tony Stewart. He exposes himself to a lot of different types of cars, and he always goes fast in everything he drives. There's people I think have as much talent as he does, but he, for a long time, has been able to run up front in everything he ever sat in. And that's hard to do.
What's the best time for a fan to get your autograph at the track?
JB: The best time is a fair amount of time before practice – not 10, 15 minutes, but 30, 45 minutes. That's the best time at the track.
What's the worst track on the NASCAR circuit?
JB: You know, statistically, my worst track would be probably the road courses. But I don't consider them to be the worst tracks. I like racing on the road courses, and we go relatively fast – we're typically a fifth- to ninth-place car. But we never finish there. So for me, statistically, the road courses.
As far as facilities and stuff like that, I don't care where we race. I really don't.
What's something people may not know or understand about you?
JB: Well, I'm a lot more aggressive than people realize, I think. I'm fairly analytical and I think people see that part of me, but I'm a lot more aggressive than people would tend to think. You know, it's funny – whenever you hear commentators describe me as a driver, it's 'Patient' and all those things. But on the racetrack, I don't feel like I drive like that.
If you were in charge of NASCAR, what's one thing you'd change?
JB: I would try to consolidate and narrow up some of the time at the track. It's an expense for us to be here for three days, and not a lot of fans come to Friday's activities. I would try to make more two-day events so that fans could come on Saturday and see (Cup) practice, (Cup) qualifying and a (Nationwide or Truck) race. Give them more bang for their buck and reduce some costs for us.
That would be something that I think would be beneficial for everybody – it would be less expensive for the tracks and fans would have more packed into one day. You'd still have events on Friday evenings and do stuff with the fans, but I think it might make a better event.
If a new driver came to you and asked one driver he should learn from and one he shouldn't, who would those two people be?
JB: Well, Mark Martin is the guy you really want to watch how he conducts himself on and off the racetrack. It's more than just Mark, but Mark is the guy that has consistently done the right thing, brings a tremendous amount of effort, is completely committed and appreciates being here. He's the mentor. He's the guy that if you try to emulate him and learn from the way he's done things – and learn from when he's admitted his mistakes – I think you're setting yourself up to learn a lot and be positioned very well.
I don't want to answer the second part. You know, there's nothing productive that can come from me answering the second one.
What driver do you most admire outside of NASCAR?
JB: Well, Michael Schumacher is pretty freakin' incredible. I know he hasn't shown this year his past abilities, but even to be away from it that long and to come back and be as good as he's been – and I think he'll be better next year, assuming he comes back – he brings every bit of himself when he comes to the racetrack. He brings a tremendous amount of effort.
He has some personality traits that aren't so admirable, but from a driving standpoint, he's incredible.
How long do you envision your driving career lasting?
JB: At least for the next four years. I'll tell you that I love what I do. There's nothing else I want to do. I get charged up about coming to the racetrack. When I quit feeling like that, I'm not going to do it anymore. But I just don't feel that. I don't see that coming. I know it will one day, but I've done this for a long time and I try not to ride the roller coaster. I try to be even keeled, and that temperament has allowed me to continue to have a passion for it.
I know there's going to be tough times, and I know it's going to be hard. But those lows don't drive me so low that I have ever been in position where I don't feel like I want to do it. I'm an optimistic person – I always feel like the next race is going to be better during the bad times. And honestly, that's why you wouldn't do it anymore.
I know I'm going to do it for the next four years, anyway. Then we'll see what happens after that. The cool thing is, I don't even have to worry about it. A lot of people worry, 'What am I going to do when I retire?' I'm not worried about what I'm going to do when I retire. I just want to do this as long as I can do it and do it well and want to do it and somebody will have me do it, and when that day ends, I'll figure the rest out then.
Who wins the Sprint Cup in 2015?
JB: (Goes to the window of his hauler's doors and looks up and down the garage at different cars) That's a tough one right there. I was looking at cars. I think Clint Bowyer. And I'm not just saying that because he's my teammate.
Clint's going to be a veteran at that point, he's going to be in position to have gone through a lot of crap – good and bad – and he'll be a lot stronger for it. He's an exceptionally gifted driver, and he's going to be in the prime of his career.
There's a lot of other people who are doing this right now that are a fair amount older, so I have to look at somebody like Clint and somebody like Joey Logano.
Are there any race-day routines you follow?
JB: My thing is, I just want to know the schedule. We do a lot of stuff on Sundays. No one does as much hospitality as (sponsor) Caterpillar – they're very committed to it. Most of our sponsors have hospitality events, so that makes Sunday mornings fairly busy.
So I just want to know the schedule, I want to be on time – and if we're not on time, I start to not feel good about that. It's not really any superstitions, it's just follow the schedule and stay on rhythm.
Would you rather be known as a great driver or a great person?
JB: I want to be known as both. It doesn't have to be either/or. It's definitely possible to be both.