Stockcarracing.com spoke to Ward Burton, driver of the #22 Caterpiller Racing Dodge after his hard hit at California Speedway. We covered everything from the HANS device to what he thinks about restrictor plate racing.
stockcarracing.com: Explain the difficulty associated with transitioning from a proven commodity in the Pontiac to the new and relatively unproven Dodge? How long do you think it will take your team to develop the Dodge to the level of performance necessary to legitimately contend for a Winston Cup championship?
Ward Burton: It has been a difficult transition in some ways and in others it hasnt. It was more of just the unknown. We had already proven that the Pontiac was great and then we basically had to start over with the Dodge. The motors were the biggest threat in the beginning, but Terry Elledge proved that he could conquer anything. He has made the horsepower and the reliability that we needed. The body, I would say has been an easy transition. I cannot even tell the difference in the two. I believe the Dodge could contend for a championship in the next year or so. We just need to work out the kinks and get the NASCAR people to hear our pleas when we need a rules change.
SCR.com: Do you think your teams performance will improve significantly the second time around the circuit with the knowledge gained the first time around?
WB: Yes definitely. We have struggled a little bit with this new tire. It handles entirely different than last years. It just doesnt seem to have the grip that we are used to. We are trying to get a handle on that once we do, we should be better on the tracks the next time around.
SCR.com: What do you think about restrictor plate racing? Should NASCAR remove the restrictor plates and slow the cars down by manipulating the aero package?
WB: I dont believe you could remove the plates until they find a way to slow the cars down. I do think that they can get these engines to produce less horsepower and then they could remove the plates. We dont need to be going this fast and I dont think the fans would ever be able to tell if we slowed down 20-30 mph.
SCR.com: What did you think about NASCAR black flagging drivers who drove under the yellow line at Talladega?
WB: I thought the yellow line violation was great. That prevented drivers from passing too low. Talladega is wide enough on the front stretch to pass four and five wide, but turn one is not. That is when we get into trouble. Drivers making too wide on the frontstretch and trying to get back in line by the time they get to turn one. There is only so much room.
SCR.com: Who has had the greatest influence on your racing career?
WB: Probably my dad. He took both Jeff and me to all the races when we were kids. And besides him I would say Bobby Allison. He was a great racecar driver that I followed as I grew up.
SCR.com: Do you wear the HANS device? If so, how long have you been using it? If not why? Should NASCAR make it mandatory for all drivers?
WB: No, I had been wearing a decelerator device made by Simpson. I wore when I wrecked in California. I have decided not to wear anything until there is more concrete evidence from these safety companies.
SCR.com: Do you think the schedule has too many events with not enough time built in for teams to spend time with their families? If so, how many events would you like to see run?
WB: Yes, I believe we run too many races and it leaves little time for team guys to spend with their families. I am fortunate enough to have my family with me on the weekends, but the crew guys dont. They work long hours in the shop and then are gone all weekend. Id like to see them cut the schedule, Im just not sure how.
SCR.com: Do you prefer short tracks or superspeedways, and why?
WB: I like them both.
SCR.com: What is the Ward Burton Wildlife Fund? Why did you start it?
WB: The Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation is something I started to help preserve and protect our land. The WBWF purchases land and helps protect the habitat on it. We work in conjuction with several other conservancy groups, like Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Ducks Unlimited.