Kinder Gentler Jeff Burton

Kinder, gentler Burton leading the points By Brett Borden MARTINSVILLE, Va. (April 13, 1999) A "kinder, gentler" Jeff Burton is currently sitting atop the series points standings after seven races. If you look closely inside the No. 99...

Kinder, gentler Burton leading the points By Brett Borden

MARTINSVILLE, Va. (April 13, 1999) A "kinder, gentler" Jeff Burton is currently sitting atop the series points standings after seven races. If you look closely inside the No. 99 Exide Batteries Ford this year, you'd swear it's the same fella who was occupying that NASCAR Winston Cup Series team's seat last season. Same height and weight. Same facial features. Same concerned look contorting those features around. But you better look again. Because the 1999 Jeff Burton has distinct advantages over its '98 model. Burton has come out of the chute with guns ablazing this campaign, with an average finish of 3.66 in the last six races, a stretch that includes two victories (Las Vegas 400 and TranSouth Financial 400). Since his disappointing opener in the Daytona 500 (he started 5th but finished 35th), Burton has strung together strong performances -- championship-winning performances, perhaps.

The intense young man from South Boston, Va., has become intent on proving those who said he would be the rival to Jeff Gordon right. In stepping up to that challenge, Burton has improved on his 1998 finish in six of the first seven races, with his 5th-place finish at Bristol (he finished 4th there in '98) the lone exception. What has been the difference?

"It's a kinder, gentler Jeff Burton, I guess," Burton said. "My emotions have gotten me to where I am, but they also have slowed me down a little bit. I think the best thing about (my intensity) is the passion for what I do. But I'm not the easiest guy in the world to work for or work with."

Or catch up with on the track. Burton says what he has learned about dealing with races afterward has helped him deal with them as they transpire.

"I think the thing that stands out the most is patience," he said. "Not every race is going to go the way you want. Not every lap is going to go the way you want. It's a long season. If we win a race, don't think that means you're going to automatically go win the next one. If we have a problem and finish 35th or whatever, don't think that means you're going to have problems the next week.

Next week, now, is Martinsville. And when people think of Martinsville, they think of brakes. Burton says the brakes tend to go your way when the breaks are already going your way.

"Your brakes really go as you're running," Burton said. "If you're running well enough, you can go easier on your brakes. If you're struggling to stay on the lead lap, then you have to work your brakes a little harder. With technology what it is today, you don't have a problem so much with the brake fluid boiling so much as the brake pads actually wear out."

Burton has been wearing out the competition ever since he teamed up with Mark Martin under owner Jack Roush. The two have meshed well together, seemingly playing off of the same strengths, but shoring up the other's weaknesses at the same time.

"Mark has brought to the table a lot of things that have helped me," Burton said. "Mark is as honest a guy as you'll find. He has made Roush Racing. I believe he is the best driver in the world. We have gained mutual respect for each other.

"He won Rockingham, which is generally a track where the 99 car has outrun the 6 car. We won Las Vegas, which is a track where Mark has generally run better than us. That's a perfect example of where we made each other better."

Martin, in pursuit of the championship that has come so close to his grasp so many times, may have made Burton too good for his own good. He might not be able to catch him.

Source: NASCAR Online

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Jack Roush , Mark Martin