Published June 04, 2010
LONG POND, Pa. (AP) — Jeff Burton jokes he gets all the drama in his life he needs from his 14-year-old daughter, he doesn't need a feud with Kyle Busch to add to the heartburn.
So forgive the veteran driver if he's not exactly in the mood to add his name to the growing list of drivers who find themselves at odds with the NASCAR's resident bad boy.
Is Burton still a little annoyed at Busch for knocking him out of contention at the end of last week's race at Charlotte? Sure. Just don't expect Burton to go looking for retribution on Sunday at Pocono.
"I'm not interested in a weekly confrontation," Burton said Friday. "I don't like yearly confrontations much less weekly. I'm here to race Pocono and go out and win this race and I know he is too."
It's what they were doing following the final restart Charlotte Motor Speedway last Sunday. Both cars were running in the top 10 when Busch ran out of room trying to squeeze underneath Burton and ended up slicing Burton's left front tire.
Burton immediately checked up and tumbled through the field to a 25th-place finish. He angrily chased down Busch on pit road immediately following the race, a rare public display of anger by one of NASCAR's most respected and levelheaded drivers.
Looking back, Burton admits he may have stepped over the line. He's not exactly sorry about it.
"I felt better," he said.
So much so Burton was over it by Monday morning. That might not have happened a decade ago, when every perceived slight would be chronicled and stored away for later use. These days Burton has more pressing needs to worry about: namely trying to keep his No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet inside the top 12 in points.
Burton is eighth in the standings halfway through the 26-race regular season and can't become preoccupied with trying to find Busch's No. 18 Toyota during a race to exact a little payback. There's too much at stake.
"I like racing with Kyle and I don't have any problems with Kyle," said Burton, who will start 13th on Sunday. "He knows exactly how I feel and we can talk about it."
Not that the two are going to hug it out anytime soon. Both say there's no need.
Besides, if Busch had to spend time trying to patch things up with every driver he's ticked off, he'd never make it out of the hauler and onto the track.
The circumstances of these run-ins hardly seem to matter. Busch has no illusions about where the blame will fall whenever he mixes it up with an opposing driver.
"You know I don't get the benefit of the doubt, ever," Busch said while letting out a little laugh. "So it's all my fault."
Greg Biffle didn't exactly disagree, likening Busch's move to trying to wedge a semi into a narrow parking spot at the supermarket.
"It just won't fit," Biffle said. "You can't do it."
The timing of the incident just a few laps from the checkered flag of the grueling 600-mile race didn't help matters.
"It's like running a 26-mile marathon and 300 feet from the finish a guy trips you," Biffle said. "It's a lot to do to get let down."
Busch took full responsibility for Burton's downfall, though he admits he had no idea what happened until well after the race. He knew the two were running close together during the restart but wasn't aware they collided. Busch went on to finish third, and was puzzled when Burton came running into view.
"I was like, 'Where did this guy come from?'" said Busch, who will start from the pole Sunday. "It was just (the) heat of the moment."
Maybe, but Burton's outburst turned some heads. Not because he got upset, but that he chose to do it in front of the masses instead of in the garage.
"Jeff has been mad at me before, it just wasn't on camera," said Carl Edwards. "I thought he did a good job of expressing his frustration without going too far. ... Being nice is not what makes you go around the race track fast. You have to be a competitor."
Was one of the sport's elder statesmen trying to send a message? The 42-year-old is as crafty as they come but admits he's not quite that smart.
"Not everything I do is calculated," he said.
This is Burton's 18th season racing at the Cup level. He's reached Victory Lane 21 times, consistently competed for championships and developed a reputation as one of the cleanest and most cerebral drivers out there.
At times, his cool demeanor can come off as being detached. Don't be fooled.
The dustup with Busch says more about Burton's desire than Busch's trademark aggressiveness. Burton knows he's closer to the end of his career than the beginning. The time for giving ground is over.
"I'm going to be respected for sure, but I'm here for a reason and it's not to be part of a game, it's to win," he said. "I think this is my best shot to ever win a championship and I really believe that."
And if it means giving the outside world a glimpse of the fire that still burns within, so be it.
"That's a little out of my character, but that's part of having a passion for the sport and having a passion to succeed," he said. "I work hard at what I do. I don't play golf on Tuesdays, I work."