Searching For Jeff Burton
April 1, 2001 | 12:00 A.M. EST
It wasn't meant to be though, as he finished 19th.
Many had tabbed Burton as a preseason favorite to win his first career Winston Cup championship. There aren’t many, however, including Burton, who could have fathomed he’d be entering the seventh race of the season sitting in 36th in the points with a best finish of 18th, at Darlington.
Burton was a whopping 442 points behind leader Dale Jarrett entering Sunday's race, and his championship hopes, even with 29 races left, appear to be dim.
“It’s been an interesting year, that’s for sure,” Burton said. “We aren’t taking anything for granted right now.”
When the 1.5-mile Fort Worth track opened in 1997, it was Burton who had the privilege of winning the first race there. It was also his first career Winston Cup triumph. He entered Sunday's race expecting big things.
“Texas has been a good track for me,” Burton said. “I’d say if there was a place we could get our season off and rolling, Texas would have been the place to do it.”
Unfortunately, Burton didn't have the run he had hoped, a run that would have meant a lot to the entire Roush Racing organization, which has experienced a lot of problems early on this season.
The problems for Burton started at Daytona with a 19th-place finish, followed by a 37th at Rockingham and 39th at Las Vegas. In the following races at Atlanta and Darlington, two historically good tracks for the No. 99 Citgo Ford, it was also a struggle as he finished 30th and 40th, respectively.
Even Burton’s fellow competitors can’t believe his tremendous misfortune this season.
“Jeff’s deal is real strange because he's really seemed to be snake bitten this year," said Ricky Rudd. "I don’t know if he’s had a really good car anywhere because he always seems to have his problems early.”
Burton admits he needs something, anything at this point, to turn it around. And as far as the bad luck goes, he says it’s not due from a lack of effort.
“I'm disgusted that we’re so far back in points, but I’m as excited about my team as I’ve ever been,” Burton said. “We’ve got the best people we’ve ever had. We’re working better together as a team than we ever had, even as ugly as it’s been, I’d rather be 36th in points understanding what it is we’ve done wrong than be 10th in the points just lucky to be knocking off Top 15s. We have the ability and we’ve shown the promise to be able to win races and get ourselves back in the points where we need to be.”
Even though the hopes of a championship appear to have been greatly diminished, Burton says his team can still have a successful remainder of the year.
“For us to have a great season, what we need to do is start doing the little things right,” Burton said. “We’ve never been a team that went out and ran the fastest lap in practice. We’ve never been a team that went out and sat on the pole. We’ve never been a team that went out and did those kinds of things. What we’ve done is nag the hell out of people and win races because we’ve been persistent and that's what we’ve got to get ourselves in position to do. We have to quit wrecking, number one, and number two, we’ve got to quit breaking parts.
“If we do those things, we’re going to be fine. We’re in a period where things are evolving fairly quickly. The last two years have been amazing to watch how things have evolved and we have to make sure we’re on the good side of that. There are times where I think we hold on too tight to the things that have worked for us in the past, but for us to get where we need to be, we need to get to where we’re knocking off good finishes. Once we can do that, then we need to get to where we can win.”