Burton: Its Been An Awful Year

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Ordinarily, Jeff Burton would be excited about going to a new track like Kansas Speedway – the site of Sunday’s NASCAR Winston Cup Series Protection One 400.

But this hasn’t been any ordinary year in the Winston Cup Series, and it certainly hasn’t been a normal season for Burton. With only one victory and just three top-five finishes in 27 starts, the 2001 season can’t get over soon enough for the driver of the No. 99 Citgo Supergard Taurus.

“In the past I’d really be looking forward to it (racing at a new facility), but I’m just ready to get this thing over with,” Burton said. “There are days I think, ‘There are only 10 races left.’ Then there are days I think, ‘Oh my God, there are 10 races left.’

“A lot of it depends on how you finish. With all the stuff that’s going on outside of racing, it’s still gonna be going on. That adds to it, so the only thing that will affect it is what else in your life is going on and how. If your racing is going well, then it will be there’s ‘Only nine or 10 races left.’ If it’s not going well, it will be ‘Oh my gosh, there are 10 races left.’

“I told (NASCAR president) Mike Helton the other day, ‘You know, you don’t feel like standing on your feet this year because every time you get ready to get on your feet, something knocks you back on your butt.’ That’s the way it’s felt this year. It’s been an awful year. It’s been one thing after another, and I’ll be glad when it gets done.”

From the beginning of the season, it’s been a nightmare for the Roush Racing Winston Cup contingency. Mark Martin hasn’t won a race and has an outside shot of finishing in the Top 10 in points.

Matt Kenseth hasn’t won a race, either (he won one during his rookie campaign a year ago) and has struggled to stay in the Top 15 in the points. First-year driver Kurt Busch has had some encouraging runs but doesn’t have much of a chance to win the rookie-of—the-year award with Kevin Harvick around.

And then there’s Burton, who had won 15 races over the past four years but has seen victory lane just once this season. That came at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in the Coca-Cola 600 back in May, and the closest he’s come to winning since then was a second-place run at Watkins Glen in August.

Burton is 11th in the standings with nine races remaining, 89 points behind Johnny Benson. He’s 248 points behind ninth-place Bobby Labonte, so 10th in the points would look pretty good to him right now.

“What’s keeping me motivated is getting prepared for next year,” Burton said. “I’m not writing this year off, don’t get me wrong, but what I’m saying is what’s got me motivated now is what we do in the next nine races will determine a great deal of how we approach next year. So, I’ve got to stay on my toes because if we head down the wrong path now, it will have lasting effects. We’ve got to stay on our toes the next nine races to really understand.

“The other thing is I want to make a statement about where this team is and where we finish in the points will allow us to make a statement to our competitors. I want that to be a positive statement. If we can have the year we’ve had, and everybody has said it’s been a terrible year and we haven’t done this and haven’t done that – all of those things are true – but we can still come out with a pretty good point finish, then we’ve made a stand.

“We’ve stuck our finger in the dike and kept the water from coming out. We’ve made a stand and said, ‘We are still a formidable force.’ That’s important to me because what I see in my competitor’s eyes and how they look at me as a driver and how they respect me as a competitor is really important to me.”

At the 1.5-mile Chicagoland Speedway in July, Burton struggled to an 18th-place finish, par for the course in 2001.

Before that, however, he’s enjoyed a great deal of success at newer tracks. He fared much better in the inaugural Winston Cup race at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 1999, coming home third.

He finished second in the Winston Cup opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 1998 and won the inaugural race at Texas Motor Speedway in 1997.

Burton said he anticipates a bit of apprehensiveness among drivers when they first hit the 1.5-mile Kansas Speedway facility on Thursday during an optional test day, especially with the tire situation. Scuffs, he said, should be the preference instead of sticker tires.

“We saw the same thing (when he tested at Kansas recently) and we saw it at Chicago, too, during testing,” Burton said. “For whatever reason, those new race tracks and this new Goodyear tire don’t feel good until after you run a while. We saw that especially during testing, but when it came to the race (at Chicago) it really wasn’t like that. Looking back on it, the situation changes the more rubber that is put down on the track and it will make things better all around.

“There is a possibility of two grooves. Odds are there won’t be before the weekend is over, but eventually there will be. There is more of a chance for two grooves coming in at Kansas City than there was at Chicago.”

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