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Our series of weekly NASCAR driver interviews continues with Jeff Burton, the Richard Childress Racing driver who has 21 career Sprint Cup Series victories to go with 27 wins in the Nationwide Series. Burton is 19th in points this season.
SBN: What percent of the races in your career do you remember?
SBN: What happened to the rest of them?
JB: They got put away in places where I don't want to remember them.
SBN: What was the first win you ever got in motorsports?
JB: A go-kart. I was 7 years old. The kid that won was deemed illegal because he was too old, so I got the trophy. He was disqualified. And to this day, I remember him crying as they pulled the trophy from his hands and gave it to me. (Laughs hysterically)
SBN: Damn! That's harsh! Poor kid.
JB: The hell with that! He shouldn't have been cheating! I got it!
SBN: Who is a clean driver you really enjoy racing with?
JB: Mark Martin. Honestly, there's a long list, but he would be a guy on the top of the list.
SBN: And on the opposite side of that, who is a driver that always seems to make it especially hard on you?
JB: How many people actually answered that question?
SBN: About 50 percent.
JB: The 50 percent that answered that, I could probably give you the same answer. How's that? (Laughs)
SBN: The veteran drivers mostly don't answer that question.
JB: Yeah, I'm gonna stay away from that one.
SBN: What's your personal code of conduct on the track?
JB: I try to treat people the way they treat me. I try to give people the benefit of the doubt that they're going to treat me right – until they don't. And when I know they won't, I treat them the way I think they've treated me.
SBN: Do you keep a mental list of people who have wronged you for purposes of on-track payback?
JB: I do keep a mental list – not so much from a payback standpoint, but from an awareness standpoint. When somebody races you a certain way, you have to assume that's how they're always going to race you. So then you race that person differently.
It's not necessarily from a payback standpoint, because I don't think payback benefits you. Understanding how a person is and how they're going to race you, ultimately that's what it's about. But just getting your anger out and paying somebody back, what does that get you?
SBN: If you could turn back time and be teammates with someone who no longer races, who would you like to be on the same team with?
JB: That's a tough one. Cale Yarborough. I think it would be cool to compare yourself to him. Teammates weren't a popular thing in his day, but if they were and you could work with a guy like that, he could make you a better driver.
SBN: When is the last time you got nervous about anything?
JB: Man, I have a teenage daughter. I get nervous daily! (Laughs)
SBN: You guys meet a lot of fans, and sometimes they can ask awkward or uncomfortable questions. Do you have any stories along those lines?
JB: Twitter has changed the game. Most people won't ask you something in person that they're not afraid to ask you when they can stand behind a shield. And when your avatar is a picture of a cat and your name is @ss426, nobody in the world knows who you are. Some people take pride in getting kicks out of messing with others, and so there's been many moments on Twitter where I've had to collect myself and say, "Just don't respond."
But in general, I guess the most awkward moment over the last several years happened in the second race I ever drove for CAT. We were in Vegas and CAT does a lot of hospitality events – that's what makes their program work. Not everybody is buying a piece of CAT equipment, so they really cater to the people who are their customers.
There was this kid – say he was 5 or 6 – and he has a shirt with another driver on it. So when he walks up, just joking with him, I say, "Buddy, you've got to get a different shirt!" And when I did, he started crying! And I'm like, "Uhhh!" I was just messing with him, and his dad was laughing, but it was very awkward for me. Second race, and I've got the customers' kids crying!
SBN: If you had to choose one of these jobs after your career is over, would you rather be a NASCAR broadcaster or a high-ranking NASCAR official like a Robin Pemberton or John Darby?
JB: I would rather be a broadcaster. It's a whole lot easier to talk about what people aren't doing right than it is to actually try and do it right. The NASCAR officials' job is really thankless. Honestly, it reminds me of politicians – no matter what they do, there's a portion of the people who are going to think they're 100 percent wrong. And when they do something right, people just think it's normal and something they should do. So that job looks really difficult to me. I don't mind challenges, but I'm not sure I'd like to do that.
SBN: What's a question you get asked a lot that you're tired of answering?
JB: (Points to public relations representative Jonathan Bayless).
Bayless: I know this: "What's Ward doing?"
JB: (Laughs and nods)
Bayless: Every day of the week, at least three times a day, people ask him that.
JB: People ask me, "What's Ward doing?" and people ask Ward, "What's Jeff doing?" And we're both tired of answering it. We're also both confused as how people don't recognize that I'm Jeff and he's Ward.
SBN: I've been asking each driver to give me a question for the next one. Last week was Tony Stewart, and he wanted to know: What would you be doing if you weren't a race car driver?
JB: I'd still be in racing. I like building chassis, I like that part of the racing, too. My goal was if I couldn't be a driver, I'd own my own company that would design and build chassis.
SBN: And can you give me a question for the next interview?
JB: Yeah. Ask him: "The last guy that you wrecked, did you do it on purpose?"
Next week: Jamie McMurray answers Burton's question and 11 more.