On Wednesday, the announcement was made that Jeff Burton would not be returning to the seat of the No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series next year. Four of Burton’s 21-career Sprint Cup wins came from behind the wheel of the No. 31 at RCR, with the others coming during his time at Roush Fenway Racing. Burton also has seven Nationwide Series wins with RCR.
On Wednesday afternoon, Burton participated in a NASCAR teleconference to discuss the decision that the says was mutual between himself and car owner Richard Childress. Burton says that he’s been considering scaling back his racing schedule to race part-time, but beyond that, he has no specific plans for 2014. Here’s a transcript of the teleconference:
Jeff Burton: The reality of our situation are Richard and I work exceptionally hard to build a race team that could be competitive, and honestly, I’m really excited about what we’ve done this year, not from our finishing positions, but from the way we’ve performed and really excited about the way we’ve been running the last couple months.
The harsh realities are we’ve gone into next year, Caterpillar has been a huge supporter of mine and RCR’s in the past and also next year, but there was a lot of funding that wasn’t in place. I had gone to Richard a while ago and told him that at the end of 2014 that I was going to step back and probably not run full schedule anymore and look at maybe running some partial schedules or look at other opportunities.
So we’re just accelerating it a year early to give the team a chance to
– and I’m not going to talk about my replacement, that’s not my place to do. But to give Richard Childress Racing an opportunity to continue to move that team forward, which I think is an exceptionally strong team, to put the funding in place with a really good driver that can go out and be successful. You know, just the timing was right for me to do something different.
Richard and I have worked through this process as friends. We’ve worked through it with mutual respect. I think after this process we have more respect for each other than we did going into it. It’s been a very difficult situation. There is no doubt about that. But the harsh realities are everybody knows that sponsorship is a tough game right now.
We’ve had a tremendous amount of support from a lot of companies, mainly Caterpillar. Caterpillar has been incredible to work with. General Mills has been incredible to work with, Kwikset, Chevrolet has been phenomenal. But the reality is we didn’t have it all in place for next year, so it just makes sense. The timing was right to make a change.
It’s a tough time for me because I truly believe in what we’re doing. When I say we, I mean, I’m still part of it. I’m a big, big fan of Luke, my crew chief. I’m a big fan of our engineers and body and Matt McCall, the car chief has been there with me for about ten years. We’ve got really, really good people on that team, and we’re starting to perform. Truly, I’m walking away from it when I believe we’re about to blossom. I can feel it. I can see it.
Listen, I’ll tell you right now, don’t be surprised in the next several weeks we don’t pop us a win somewhere. We’re starting to run well enough to do it.
But the situation is what it is. Out of respect for Richard, and Richard’s respect for me, we came to an agreement and I decided, agreed and decided to step aside and let the team continue to grow.
I don’t have any plans, contrary to reports. I have not spoken to any team, you know. I don’t know what I’m going to do next year. We’re just going to have to motor our way through it a little bit.
Q. What are you looking for next year? Are you looking for like a one
-year, full-time ride and then hoping to go either partial schedule or do we dare say TV?
: Yeah, I’ll be honest with you. I don’t know. I’ve been so entrenched in thinking about 31 and racing for a championship. I don’t want to say this fell on me, but I hadn’t had a whole lot of time to think through it.
I still love racing. I still have a passion for it. You know, part of the realities are what opportunities are going to be there? I’m just going to have to see what comes in front of me. I don’t anticipate doing something that I don’t think will be competitive. I don’t mind building something. Actually, I enjoy that. But at 46, that’s probably not something I look forward to.
So I’d like to be in a situation that can be successful, and I don’t mind building something, but it can’t be from the bottom. It’s got to be close there. So I don’t know. Just got to see what comes up. I’ve had over the last couple days some people reach out to me. To be honest, I haven’t returned any phone calls because Richard and I wanted to get all this behind us first and then I’ll go deal with that.
Q. We’ve talked about in the past there are always people knocking on the door looking for your ride or any ride. Do you feel like this would have happened
– obviously there are some drivers out there that are available. Do you feel like this would have – you guys would have come to this decision if some of those drivers weren’t available? I mean, do you feel like Richard has somebody in mind who he thinks he could get funding for?
: Well, I mean, Richard’s not going to do something
– he’s not going to move the company in a direction that he thinks is backwards. At the same time, while we’re working through this, the thing we were working through was to keep me there as a driver.
So I’m not going to speak
– I’m not about to speak for Richard in any form or fashion. All I do know is that Richard’s intention was to have four teams. And his intention all along was for me to be one of those drivers, and everything he’s indicated to me was that he would – he still wants me to be one of those drivers. It’s just the funding is not there to make it happen.
Q. You said you were looking at
– you had already talked to Richard about slowing down in 2015 and he had talked about wanting to have four teams next year. If sponsorship wasn’t there to put four teams in place, you already had a ride for 2014, then why agree to get out of the car now?
: Well, because the long
-term health of Richard Childress Racing is really important. When an opportunity presents itself for Richard to have a good driver that he can move the company with, that the company can continue to grow, and particular that team can continue to grow. Potentially long-term funding is there, that’s all positives for RCR.
To ask Richard to run a year underfunded is
– he can’t do that. I mean, the economic times and the sponsorship game has been really tough for everybody, and the economic times have had a huge toll on what Richard has had to do. I mean, it’s just – the man can only do so much. He doesn’t have a money tree growing in the backyard.
So it’s a
– I believe in my heart that Richard’s going to have a driver, and I’m not going to speak about – that’s Richard’s job. I’m not going to step on Richard’s toes by any means. They’re just going to have a driver in place that can be competitive and win races. They’ll have a full sponsorship in place that they can move the ball forward. That’s good for RCR. And, again, it’s not necessarily the best thing for me in the world, but I’ll figure it out.
I’ve been in situations before where I didn’t know what was going to happen, and that’s where I am now. But my wife and I have
– we’ve talked a lot about it, and we’ve been in a lost situations – a lot of situations that most of you guys don’t know about that have happened that we were staring things – we had no idea what was going to happen. In every situation we found a better situation.
You all know me. I’m an optimistic person and I’m a hard worker, and I’m going to go find a way to make this a good situation for us. I don’t know what that is right now, but I do believe that I have a
– I care about the sport a great deal and there is a place for me in it. So we’ll figure it out, but I don’t know what it is right now.
Q. Do you feel like you have to keep driving?
: Well, I love
– I had a great time Sunday night. Racing Sunday night was so much fun. I had a blast. The disappointment at the end was agonizing. To fight back – honestly, Kenny, that deal we went through Saturday night where we got in that wreck early and fought back and we ran well and drove up into the Top 10, and I caught the 8th and the 7th place car and we had that incident getting on pit road. Then we cut our right rear tire and wrecked.
But us collectively as a team, we dug ourselves out of a hole, and we had put ourselves in position that, you know, we had a legitimate shot with the cautions to win that race. We were fast enough. If you go back and look at lap times, we were one of the fastest cars a lot during that race. So that’s fun. I really enjoy that.
On the other hand, I’m not only a race car driver. There are other parts of me that I haven’t necessarily had time to explore because I’ve always been a race car driver. I still want to race, no question. But I’ll tell you, if the opportunity doesn’t present itself, you know, it was brought to my attention last week, Coca
-Cola brought it to my attention that if the everything goes right and I don’t get hurt between now and then, Phoenix will be my 1000th NASCAR start, 1,000.
So I’ve been blessed, man, you know? We’ve done things we never thought we’d do. My career has been longer than I ever thought it would be. I’ve driven for great car owners, worked with great team members, had great teammates. It’s not always been fun; it’s not always been great, but it’s been an honor to do it. I want to continue to do it. If I never get a chance again, I’ll be sad about it, but I’m not going to look at it with contempt or look at it like somebody had malice to keep me out of it. I’m going to look at it and say how lucky I was. How many people would give their right arm to be able to do the things that I’ve been able to do? But that’s kind of my ten
-mile view. But I do love to race and I don’t want to quit racing.
Q. We were talking in Bristol a couple weeks ago and you said, I don’t have to do this. I’ve never viewed this as a job. How much longer I can do it, I don’t know. I don’t need to know. I’ll figure that out when it comes. So are you at a point now where you’ve got to figure this out? Does it still feel like it never felt like a job even in sort of difficult times?
: Listen, I’m not going to lie to you and tell you I’ve loved every moment of it, because anybody that says that is telling you a lie. There are parts of any job that are tough and you may not enjoy. But I’ve never felt like I’ve worked for a living. I felt like I’ve been able to do what I wanted to do. Even though I’ve had car owners, I’ve always felt like I was kind of my own boss, because I was in it with the car owner. I never felt like I was driving for a guy. I was in it with him.
I’m at a crossroads. There is no denying that. And I want to figure something out. So, you know, whether I do or not time will tell. Listen, I’m going to look at all my options. I don’t know what else is out there. I don’t know. I’ll look at my options and listen to what people have to say. Like I said earlier, there is a place for me in this sport. I want to be part of it and contributing to this sport means a great deal to me. I’d like to believe that me being here has made it better from a safety standpoint, and I’d like to think I’ve done some things on the track and off the track that have made the sport better, and I want to continue to do that. We’ll see. We’ll see what happens. We’ll see what opportunities present themselves.
This is a scary time. It’s also an exciting time. It’s a little bit of both. I’m just going to have a good time in the next 11 weeks, go race my ass off and see what happens.
Q. How did you dream of ending it or going out? Certainly a week ago Richard was saying he was going to honor the contract and you were adamant that you were going to continue it and business things happened. But in the long range of things, how did you think you would go out of the business and driving, you know?
: Well, I’ve
– I still want to win a championship. That’s been the thing that’s been my driver. As I’ve won races but didn’t win championships and the championships became more important to me. Obviously, I haven’t been able to accomplish that. So, you’re right. You’re acting like I’m not going to have a chance to drive again. You know, I really felt like we’d be able to put everything together to make things happen with Caterpillar and 31 and we’d be able to finish out 2014. That was my intent and that was Richard’s intent. Trust me. We’re not – we haven’t been hiding anything, the fact that we’ve both been saying we’re committed to making this happen, and we have been committed to making it happen.
When it became apparent that we couldn’t make it happen, then we had to deal with that. So, you know, in a perfect world, you know, you win the championship, and you win the last race that you were ever in, right? What else could you ask for? But we don’t get to right fairy tales. Richard and I have been dealt a difficult situation and we have dealt with it as two people that respect each other and dealt with it
– like I said earlier, I think we have more respect for each other now than we did when this process started.
I don’t know, Claire. It’s an interesting time for me. It’s not all good. It’s not all good at RCR. There are a lot of things happening at RCR and I’m excited about, but I have a lot of unknowns. I can’t answer all the questions because I don’t know. We’ll see what happens.
Q. As a regular on my show, whenever you’re on, you certainly have a lot of options. People tweet and say he’d be great on television and that sort of thing. Are you interested in that, and B, we’d love to see you continue driving, if you do, how competitive is competitive? Where would you draw the line on helping a team or taking on another role? Because I’m sure you could.
: One of the things that I’ve enjoyed and one of the things when I was at Roush and I was at Childress, especially when I first went to Childress, I enjoy team building. I enjoy working with the company to try to get better, not just my team, but the entire team, the entire company. That is something that I always really enjoyed.
So as far as driving, it’s okay working with a team that we’re trying to build and make better, as long as we’re starting with enough finances. We’re starting with enough
– you’ve got to have the intangibles. They’ve all got to be there, right? You can’t go beat Richard Childress Racing or Rick Hendrick with half the money. You’re not going to do it.
You’ve got to have all the components of the recipe got to be there. Then maybe they’re not all put together correctly, and they’ve got to be put together correctly. That’s an opportunity I’d be interested in. I’d be interested in something that was ready made and ready to go. So those are things that I’m going to have to look at each case one by one and make that decision.
As far as TV, yeah, I’m interested in it. It’s one of the options that everybody around me, you know, the times I’ve done it, everybody around me seems to think I’ve done a good job. I don’t know if I do or not, but I enjoy it. It’s fun to do. It’s a way that I can stay involved in the sport and hopefully contribute to the sport.
But at the same time, it’s not like I have
– they’re not lined up at the door. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I don’t know if people want me to do it for them or not. In time it will just have to play out and we’ll see what’s available to me.
The one thing I know is I want to be involved in the sport. I like the people. I like the camaraderie. I like the competition. I like the atmosphere. I’m comfortable. I’m comfortable at a racetrack, and I want to stay involved.
Q. This is a tough question, but a guy who is an avid sports fan like you are, how does an athlete know when it’s time, when it’s the time to think about doing something other than the sport that they’ve been involved in their entire life?
: Well, I think there is a code. There is a code that I try to live by, and I didn’t create it, I heard it, but it rang true to me a long time ago. It’s how much are you willing to give up to be successful? Races are finished on Sunday. Winning a race is finished on Sunday. But it was started a month ago, two months ago, three months ago. How much are you willing to prepare? How much are you willing to play your role in the team? And that’s different for everybody. There is no driver role or stereotypical role. It’s what your team needs from you and what you need from yourself.
I think when you quit wanting to sacrifice and you quit wanting to be at the racetrack testing. You quit wanting to be to do those kind of things, that right there tells you it’s sometime to step away.
I think when you repeatedly aren’t able to get the most out of what you’ve got, I think most drivers can analytically say, you know what, I didn’t drive a good race right there. The second Pocono race, I thought I drove a terrible race. I just didn’t do a great job driving. The next week we went and I thought I did everything just right. So I think if you start consistently not being able to get the thing done, and I feel like you’re not driving well, that would be a cue.
For me, what’s been difficult, and honestly, thank God for the last two months because what’s been difficult for me is why is it that the 29 can run the way they run and we haven’t been able to keep step? That’s been difficult for not only me but the whole RCR company. Because over the last two years they’ve been the only team that’s made the Chase. They’ve been the team that’s been the cornerstone of our company, and that’s been frustrating because why? You know, why?
But today I can honestly tell I feel like we can make the same speed that they can make. To me, that’s been good for me, to be able to go fast, to start looking at lap times in a race. We’re making lap time. We’re going fast. I haven’t forgot how to go fast.
If you can’t ever go fast, I think that would become a problem too. So I don’t 100% know, but I try to analyze myself and I’ve talked to other drivers as well. A lot of it, I think, has to do with how much do you want it? Because I don’t believe
– one of the great things about our sport is I don’t believe that a 48-year-old stands less chance than a 28-year-old. If someone can show me why, emotionally, physically, what happens at 48 that wouldn’t allow you to drive a race car as fast as a guy that’s 28, I’m more than willing to listen. But I don’t understand it. So I think it has to do more with desire and dedication.
When you’re in today’s world, I’m 46 years old, I started racing when I was 7, you know? Most weekends I have spent on a racetrack. Over time some people get wore down by it and they want to do something else. You know, I think you’ve just got to make an analysis. How much do I want to do it?
Q. To follow up on that, if you cannot find a ride which you consider worthy, would you contemplate being a driver
-coach for the grandsons coming in at RCR?
: Well, you know, Richard has talked to me about doing things within the company if I can. He hasn’t committed to anything, and I haven’t committed to anything, because I need to look at all my options. There are ways and things that I can do that could be beneficial to the company, not just in that, but there are other things too. I don’t want to go into specifics, but Richard has said, hey, look, if it works out, we’d like for you to stay involved in the company. We feel like we can help you or feel like you can help us do some things. I’m just going to have to play that one by ear. We both agree. Neither one of us could really commit to that because we don’t know what my situation’s going to be.
But I really enjoy working with young drivers. Going to the racetrack, racing quarter midgets with my son and trying to help him, but also I’ve had parents call me and ask advice. I enjoy it. It’s fun. Going to the racetrack, we spent all day Sunday testing with my son at Hickory. I enjoy it. It’s fun. So I don’t know. I don’t know what specifically
– I don’t want to talk specifically about things that Richard wanted to talk about me doing at RCR, but if everything gets done ask these are all options on my plate and that’s the one I want to do, that’s what I’ll go do.
Q. I was curious as to going forward if you would ever think about anything like a lot of guys have owned teams and got out of it. If there is anything like that on your plate? I can tell by your voice that’s not probably the case?
: I just don’t think, in today’s world I just don’t think a guy like me could own a team, and I think that’s sad. I could be part of an open group, but there is no way that with all the financial pressures on car owners, I don’t think there is anyway in the world I could do it. I’ve got to tell you, I watched
– you know, Richard has really opened his doors as Jack Roush did, and I really understand the way things work from a car owner’s standpoint, not that I’ve walked in their shoes, because I haven’t.
But I’ve got to tell you, that is a demanding
– that is an extremely demanding job. I look at it and I don’t think I’d want to. Now I could be part of a group, an ownership group. But to just say I’m a car owner? And you know, Michael went through it, and that team is doing really well. But they had a lot of struggles to start with. He went out and found a really good partner and so that’s all worked out. But all the hardships to get there, I don’t know. That may be a little more than I’d want to take on.
Q. Just to clarify, is this just a matter of trying to stretch sponsorship over four cars? Is that at the root of all of this?
: Well, there was an effort that Richard truly believes that four teams are what ultimately he wants to try to accomplish. I think with the proper planning and enough notice, I think that is the right thing too. You know, they worked really hard to have a fourth team. That just wasn’t enough funding for
– it was partial funding for a fourth team and partial funding for a third team. If you put those two fundings together and you’ve got partial funding for the third team or the one C team, whatever you want to call it.
So at the end of the day, a lot of this is financial. It’s, you know, there is only so much money that can go around. You know, Richard has done a lot. He has
– I’m stuttering because I don’t want to say something that I shouldn’t – I never want to speak for Richard. But people don’t realize how much Richard has sacrificed to make sure that our teams have the things that we need to be successful. For Richard to run me and the 31 car next year would have been – the way it looked today, would have been a major sacrifice, and I don’t think that’s fair. I just don’t think Richard should be put in that position. I don’t think it’s in anybody’s best interest to have underfunded teams. Richard doesn’t deserve that, and the people at that company don’t deserve it. It is what it is.
It gives them a chance to build and to bring a very, very good race car driver in and build around him, a guy that wants to be there for a long time. When, in fact, I was talking about leaving at the end of 2014. Maybe if I would have never made that comment, we wouldn’t be in this situation. But the fact of the matter is that’s the way I felt, and I wanted to be up front and honest.
I do want to be clear though that what Richard is doing is a good thing for Richard Childress Racing. It’s putting that team in position to go win races and contend for championships and continue the growth that has already started. I support it.
It’s hard for me, because I’m telling you, that team is going to be really, really good. You mark my words. You listen to what I’m saying. We’re going to be really good the rest of the year, and we’re going to be really, really good next year. There is no doubt about it.
But there just wasn’t room for everybody. With what I expressed about my long
-term future, Richard and I sat down and had a conversation and worked it out. It is what it is. Am I 10% happy about it? Of course not. Is he 10% happy about it? Of course not. But this is a tough business. Sometimes tough decisions have to be made. And the tough decision was made, and we’re all going to live with it.
No matter what, still, even tough decisions, you’ve still got to do the right thing. Richard Childress treated me well. Has always treated me well; and I’ve always tried to treat him well, and we did in this case. So, here we are. This is why we’re talking about it. I wish we weren’t talking about it, but we are.
Q. You’ve discussed how you haven’t had much time to think about what’s next and all that type of thing. But I’m curious, if you could write your story, how would it read over the next couple years?
: Oh, man. I don’t know. You know, I really don’t know. As crazy as that sounds, everybody knows I have a passion for racing. I really do. This is such an interesting time for me and my family because I want to race. I have a passion for racing. I have a passion for the sport. At the same time, maybe this gives me an opportunity to spend a little more time with my family, something I’ve never done. I’ve never
– I mean, I go to maybe three or four horse shows a year to see my daughter do what she does. I go to three or four races a year to see my son do what he does. I never get to see my wife do what she does.
I don’t know. They’ve always been such big supporters of mine. They’ve never made me feel bad about not being there, but I’ve felt bad about it. I don’t know. In a perfect world, I get to spend a little more time with them, but I get to race and win races. I get to stay in the sport. You know, I get to. But I’ll be honest, if the right opportunity presents itself, I think I can go contend for a championship, I’m going to go do it, because that’s what they’d want me to do, right? They support me so much. If that opportunity were to come, I’m going to jump on it. But if that opportunity doesn’t come, then I’m going to spend more time with them.
But I just don’t know what is going to be presented to me. I know everybody has me appointed as the next TV guy or whatever, but I don’t know if that opportunity is going to present itself. I just don’t know. I mean, Richard Childress told me, Jeff, I’m telling you
– he told me this yesterday, I’m telling you, tomorrow it’s going to start a journey for you and you’re going to have some opportunities presented to you that you would have never thought about. You know, I respect Richard, and I’m excited. As scared as I am to be doing what I’m doing, I’m excited about what is next and the unknown about what’s next. I wouldn’t even know how to write it. I just wouldn’t even know how to write it.
I will say this, if I could write winning some races before the end of the year, that would certainly be in the story, because this team deserves to win some races. This team is positioning itself to do great things. This team is capable, and that would without a doubt be part of the story.
Q. What does this say because this is for not just you, but also with Kevin switching teams at the end of the year, what’s this say for RCR as an organization that you’ve had two guys that have been there almost a decade in your case, and in Kevin’s case since 2001, both moving on. And secondly, you’ve talked a lot about just everything’s on the table. Don’t really know. Could you see Nationwide or Truck races potentially with RCR in your future as well?
: Well, as far as Nationwide and Truck, yeah. I mean, there is always a possibility. Listen, I’ll tell you this right now, I consider myself to be a Cup driver. But there is no shame in running Nationwide, Truck, a late model. The honor to race shouldn’t be about what series you’re in. Racing in and of itself is an art. And racing in and of itself is a damn blessing. It ain’t a privilege. It’s not a right. It’s a privilege.
You know, if a good Nationwide program presented itself, I wouldn’t look at it and say that’s Nationwide. I’m a Cup driver. I don’t believe in that crap. I believe if you’re a racer and you don’t have an opportunity to do 10% what you want to do but it’s still an opportunity to race, you go race.
Brian Vickers is a great example of that how he, you know, he had his problem. He just didn’t look and say I’m a Cup driver. He went Nationwide racing. Elliott Sadler went Nationwide racing. Regan Smith went Nationwide. It ain’t about
– obviously, everybody wants to be in the big show, right? That’s the goal. But I don’t consider myself to be just a Cup driver, and I wouldn’t dare.
Racing is racing. The privilege to race should be looked at with admiration. Not oh, my God, it’s not Cup. I would definitely entertain Nationwide or Truck offers because it’s still racing, and I love to do it. And I’d have Sundays off (laughing).
I’m sorry. The second part of the question?
Q. About the drivers leaving.
: Oh, you know, I thought about that the other night. Actually, Clint, myself, and Kevin whom collectively I would say although what we did didn’t compare to what Earnhardt did, not by any means. But collectively we three working together had a lot of success. If you look at the number of years we all three made the Chase, and in those years one of us always had a shot at winning the championship. One of us had an opportunity.
Next year none of us are going to be there. You know, I don’t look at that as RCR is messed up. I don’t look at anything like that. Most of it is circumstantial, and if you knew the whole story, it would make more sense. But it is a transformation. It is going
– it does look different than it did. For sure it does look different than it did three years ago.
But, you know, Richard’s committed to having three, and hopefully four teams, all with good drivers. He’s not the kind of car owner that wants half
-rate drivers. He want goods drivers and he’s going to do everything in his power to have good drivers.
Q. To your point, this is a tough business, but you still sound so emotionally invested in the 31 car. You said I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished. I believe in what we were doing. You spoke about your crew chief, Luke Lambert, your engineers, et cetera. If it were more in your hands, would you be back in that 31 next year?
: Well, I think, you know, if the circumstances were different, yeah. I mean, I have fun when I’m at the racetrack with that team. I have a good time. Yeah, if everything was lined up and the opportunity was right and we weren’t in this situation, yeah. 100%. 100%. I believe it was my best shot to contend for a championship in the last three or four years, so without a doubt. If everything lined up and it all made perfect sense, yeah, I would want to be part of the team.
Q. Was there a buyout as part of this, or are you just totally walking away from your 2014 deal?
: Well, Richard and I spent a lot of time working through this. All I’m going to tell you is we both handled it well. You know, we both left feeling good about how we treated each other. We both feel like we’ve treated each other with respect, and we’ve treated each other as professionals, and that’s really about as much as I want to say about it.
But I leave there knowing Richard did everything he could to make a bad situation as good as he could, and I hope he believes that I left there making a bad situation the best I could, and I’m sure he would say the same thing.
Q. You and I just spoke yesterday, and you didn’t make any mention of this. I could have had the exclusive, I guess. I want to ask you, you know
: You’re the only one who didn’t ask me about it.
Q. That’s probably true. I was going to stay away from it until you made the announcement. There is a huge new crop of drivers coming up. Do you think the sport is being left in good hands with the young talent coming up?
: Oh, my God, yes. One of the things that
– one of the things that the lack of sponsorship has created through these economic issues is opportunities for young drivers. We’re on the beginning edge of seeing a lot of new drivers coming into this sport. I’m, you know, I know nobody believes this when I say it, because I’m 46 years old and I’m one of those guys that everybody wants my seat, but it’s time.
It’s time for us to have some new drivers come in. We really haven’t had a lot of new drivers coming into the Cup series or even into the Nationwide or Trucks. You look around and you see, obviously, the name that’s everybody knows, the Dillons, and the obvious ones, Blaney and Morrisons, Jeb and Larson. Everybody knows those.
But even if you take a step down, there are a lot of names that you don’t ever hear of. I’m not trying to plug, don’t get me wrong, but my son, Harrison, who is winning races at freaking 12 years old, a guy like Kyle Benjamin, one of the youngest racers ever. You’ve got just so many young drivers that are going to really have a place in this sport, and our sport needs young drivers. It needs new blood. There has to be
– the tide’s got to run in, and it’s got to run out, right? And with that new tide comes new stuff. It’s time. It’s been a long time since we haven’t had a crop of young drivers. It’s exciting to see them come in. It really is.
People say Kyle Larson ain’t ready. How do you know he ain’t ready? I said the same thing when Tony Stewart started. I said, he ain’t ready. Well, good God, man, he ran great his first year. Not everybody does, but you know, there are a lot of occasions of starting kids too young, no question in the Cup level. But there were a few cases where it wasn’t. As long as the car owners and the sponsors say, you know what? We’ve got young guys. It’s going to take a little while, like it did for me.
When I came in, the goal was to win Rookie of the Year, which was a big deal because the class I came in with Rookie of the Year, if you go back and look at who that was, that was an unbelievable class, and to finish 20th in the points. That was our goal. I get the feeling that when these kids come in today, it’s like we’ve got to make the Chase, you know? And it’s just a different expectation. Sometimes we put too much on them. We need to let them grow. We need to let them make mistakes without so much pressure. But it’s just so hard because everybody wants to be successful.
I think it is good we had young drivers. I’m excited about the young-driver course we’ve got coming in. I’m telling you, man, there is a lot of new talent coming in. And two years ago, I wouldn’t have said that. Two years ago I’m looking around and saying, where are they coming from? Where’s the next generation? But today we’re going to leave it in really good hands.
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