Brickyard 400: J. Burton has plenty of respect for Indy

INDIANAPOLIS, Aug. 2, 1999 -- When Jeff Burton turned 30 two years ago, he came of age in NASCAR Winston Cup racing. Burton and Ward entered the big leagues of stock-car racing together in 1994. While older brother Ward is just ...

INDIANAPOLIS, Aug. 2, 1999 -- When Jeff Burton turned 30 two years ago, he came of age in NASCAR Winston Cup racing. Burton and Ward entered the big leagues of stock-car racing together in 1994. While older brother Ward is just starting to prove himself in the sport, Jeff has become one of NASCAR's stars driving the No. 99 Exide Ford owned by Jack Roush. He has finished fourth and fifth, respectively, in the final standings the last two seasons. After 19 races this year, he is tied with Jeff Gordon with four victories, has won $2,982,991, second to Gordon, and holds fourth place in the standings, 355 points behind leader Dale Jarrett. Jeff Burton comes to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this week hoping to qualify for his fifth Brickyard 400 and a little more success than he's had in the past. He drove from 38th to 19th in the first Brickyard in 1994, finished 38th the next year, failed to qualify in 1996, placed a best of 15th two years ago, leading 21 laps, and started 34th and finished 36th last year. Despite his Brickyard woes, he's excited about competing in the event again. "I think a lot of fans think the Winston Cup guys come here trying to upstage the Indy cars," he said. "And that's not really the case. "I have a great deal of respect for what this facility has done for American motorsports. And worldwide motorsports. It's a heck of a facility that has an incredible amount of history, and I respect and have reverence for that." Winning the Brickyard would be a big moment in his career, Burton said. "Because when you can say you won at Indianapolis, there's not a lot of people who can say that," he said. "It means a lot." Race drivers try to consider the magnitude of all of the races as the same, Burton said. But, he adds, a driver's record has more substance when a win at Indy is included. The first two years of his career, in 1994 and 1995, Burton finished 24th and 32nd in the Winston Cup standings. In his first 60 races, he had only three top-five finishes. Then he switched to the Roush team and became Mark Martin's teammate. In 1996, his first season with Roush, Burton recorded six top five finishes and a 13th place in the standings. Then in 1997, he earned his first career victory at Texas and was on his way. He has nine career victories. "For me, it took some time to figure out what these cars wanted and needed," Burton said. "These are not very good driving pieces of machinery," Burton said. "They're heavy, they're fast down the straightaway. But they make way less down the straightaway than, say, an Indy car, but they go down the straightaway pretty darn fast for as heavy as they are. They're hard to get hooked up and it took me a while to understand what they needed." He then noted being with a good race team is an obvious plus, as the best driver in the world can't do much without the proper equipment. Now with Roush, he said the team works extremely hard to prepare the best cars and engines. "This team is a nice fit for me," he said. "I fit into this program well. The way Jack Roush runs his programs is a nice fit for myself and Mark. It's catered to us, and I think that makes a good difference." Martin, despite serious injuries suffered in a recent crash, holds down second in the standings, 254 points behind Jarrett. "Mark's a real intense person," Burton said. "He's not a good loser. He's a very humble winner. He and I are very much alike in that we agonize over the failures more than we elate about the successes. That makes us hard to get along with, because never are we both happy with our result." Burton credits Martin with helping him both professionally and personally. "What he tells you, you can take to the bank," he said. "He's a real honest, straightforward person." Burton said Martin has shared many of his racing experiences with him. This has helped Burton cut down on some of his growing pains. Burton said he listened to Martin, where he might not have done that with someone he didn't respect as much. Burton picked up a $1 million "No Bull" bonus by winning the Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway on May 30, but probably his most spectacular victory came at New Hampshire. He had to take a provisional to get in that race, but charged to the front and won when leaders Tony Stewart and John Andretti ran out of fuel three laps from the finish. It was the second-greatest comeback to victory lane in NASCAR Winston Cup history. "We historically don't qualify well," he said. "At New Hampshire we didn't qualify well. So we had two things against us. Anytime you can do that (come back to win) you're always proud." Burton said the key to winning at Indy is being able to run well in all four corners. "To win here, you've got to have track position," he said. "No. 1, it's so hard to pass. No. 2, you've got to be able to run well in all four corners, even if you give up something on the straightaway. If you can run through the corners, you can make it up. "It think that's what it takes."

Source: IRL/IMS

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers John Andretti , Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Jack Roush , Mark Martin