Jane Miller: Vegas finish a good sign for Cat race team

Jane Miller

It was just what Jeff Burton needed.

Finishing third at Las Vegas Motor Speedway is a great way to turn the season around.

But to do that, it was basically back to the drawing board for the Caterpillar Impala.

"There were big changes," said Burton, who is now 18th in points, up 12 spots from a week ago. "I'm proud of our team for not sticking (its) head in the sand and saying, 'It's going to be OK.' They went out and made it OK. That's a sign of being aware of what's going on and not being afraid to admit that we might have done something wrong.

"That attitude is what will take us to the top. Without that attitude, we will be in trouble."

Leaving Las Vegas with a good result has Burton looking forward to this weekend's race at Atlanta.

"Atlanta is one of my favorite tracks," he said. " I really enjoy going there, and I'm excited about running there this year. It's one of those places where I think we have a good shot of winning.

"You have to get up on the wheel and drive the car. It's so much fun. As a race car driver, that's the kind of racing you hope for."

Tires

There were major tire issues at Atlanta last year, but Pat Tryson, crew chief for Kurt Busch, doesn't expect the same kind of problems this year.

"Goodyear has a new tire," he said. "I would expect the handling characteristics to be pretty similar (to last year's tire). All the tires that they've used this year have added some more grip, but Atlanta is a track that is old and it wears out tires, so you have to handle good and expect to get looser as we go on long runs. That seems to be the trend there with this new car."

The multitude of engine problems this year also may be related to tires, Tryson said.

"If you look at Las Vegas, I think we went a half-a-second faster than we did there last year," he said. "So the speeds are up, so you turn a little bit more RPMs. It's a little harder on the motor. We actually broke a valve spring in Las Vegas, so Dodge isn't Scott-free, but I think every engine developer has their own things.

"Right now, we're more worried about reliability than we are horsepower because we have to finish all these races. That's probably why the Dodge teams have  (minimal engine failures) so far."

When’s the race?

I have come to the conclusion that the networks that broadcast NASCAR races think their viewers are morons with no attention span.

We tune in, expecting intelligent reporting of the news of the week, maybe some live driver interviews, and instead are treated to cartoons about rodents and former crew chiefs dressed as Elvis.

And let's not even mention the self-promoting song that opens the program for the network.

Sunday, we were treated to 90 mind-numbing minutes of pre-race. I kept thinking surely the race was about to begin and then saw Kyle Busch in street clothes.

So for those who just want to see the anthem and fly-over, the green flag is scheduled to wave this weekend at 1 p.m.

Yet for all the drivel on the pre-race show, one feature I've really enjoyed this year has been Darrell Waltrip's driver interviews.

Last week's with Jeff Gordon was interesting, especially the part where Gordon praised Busch's driving ability.

But the interview with Dale Earnhardt Jr. before the California race was especially poignant.

When Earnhardt spoke about the drivers who had come into the sport in recent years who may not understand his popularity, because the results on the racetrack didn't match, his body language spoke volumes. It's easy to tell that bothers him deeply.

Drivers are comfortable with Waltrip, and the former driver can ask pointed questions and get good, honest answers. Fans get a side of a driver they may not always see.

And that's the kind of thing I like in a pre-race broadcast.

Jane Miller is the Peoria Journal Star motorsports columnist. She can be reached at jmiller@pjstar.com.