Jeff Gordon made a long walk after his Sunday crash with Jeff Burton and later said he had plenty of time to think about what was ahead. Jeff Burton was waiting on the other side of the track, and he perhaps knew more about what was coming than Gordon.
“I knew he was really mad,” Burton said Tuesday. “I knew exactly what was going through his mind. He was going to be hot. Jeff is a guy who is going to take his stand.
“I knew he wasn’t coming over there to shake my hand. He was mad, and he meant for me to know about it. I didn’t know the specifics, but I knew something was coming.”
What came was a big shove – Gordon to Burton. Gordon was infuriated about the contact from Burton that sent the 24 car sailing into the outside wall, rattling the cockpit. The drivers later disagreed about the matters that led to the crash, but, in the heat of the after-moment, Gordon wasn’t confused at all. He had dead aim on Burton.
“In Jeff’s line of thinking – and he was correct at the time of that event, he wants to show his displeasure and the next thing he knows he’s wrecked and wrecked hard,” Burton said. “He’s supposed to think I wrecked him on purpose. He obviously expressed his displeasure.
“I really didn’t have a problem with it. He didn’t swing at me. I grew up in South Boston, Virginia. I know a thing or two about fighting. I could see it in his eyes. He was mad.”
The Texas Motor Speedway incident was a key moment in the race, and for more than one reason. It put two of the sport’s veteran drivers – drivers who have very clean reputations as classy, rational individuals – face to face in an ugly situation. Shoves – and words – were exchanged.
The crash also parked Gordon’s car for the day, opening the door for the dramatic Hendrick Motorsports decision to move Gordon’s pit crew to Jimmie Johnson's team for the rest of the race. Johnson’s crew had performed poorly in the first half of the event, and crew chief Chad Knaus made the call for reinforcements.
Burton said Tuesday that he and Gordon have talked through their Sunday situation.
“I did not intentionally turn Jeff Gordon driver-side first into the wall,” Burton said. “I’ve raced since I was 7 years old. You’d have a hard time walking around and finding somebody who said I wrecked them on purpose. It’s a dangerous, malicious way to wreck somebody, and I’ve never ever been a part of that.
“Jeff and I have spoken, and we had a great conversation. We ended up laughing a little bit. Jeff and I are moving forward. We’ve both had frustrating years. There’s no way that the frustrations the two of us have had collectively this year didn’t play a role in that.”
Burton expressed surprise that there has been heavy discussion – and some criticism – about the Hendrick decision to switch pit crews Sunday and for the rest of the season.
“What’s the controversy?” he said. “You have a team that’s in position to win a championship. The guys on the 48 – I know their feels are hurt. I don’t blame them. But two of the three teams in position to win championships have switched crews now (Richard Childress Racing’s 33 and 29 teams). It’s the popular thing to do. You’re going to put your best foot forward.”
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 28 years. He has written several books on NASCAR, including "NASCAR: The Definitive History of America's Sport" and "Then Tony Said To Junior: The Best NASCAR Stories Ever Told". He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.