After leaving Richard Childress Racing at the end of 2013, this season Veteran NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Jeff Burton was going to make a few starts for Michael Waltrip Racing then move to the broadcast booth in 2015. That plan changed a bit this past week when Burton was called upon by Stewart-Haas Racing to fill in for Tony Stewart Sunday at Michigan International Speedway. Stewart elected to sit out his second NASCAR race in a row after being involved in an accident while racing a dirt track in New York State that resulted in a fatality.
Stewart made the decision Wednesday to sit out Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 and Burton got the call. Burton started 27th but was forced to the garage with an electrical issue on lap 82.
“I started smelling something and then just before we pitted I got a lot of smoke in the cockpit,” Burton said as the crew worked to repair the Chevy. “When we pitted they could see all the smoke all over the place. We really don’t know. It’s something electrical for sure. We can’t quite find it out yet. Something is burnt up, just don’t really know what.”
The crew was able to diagnose the issue as a broken tailpipe that burned some insulation. They were able to repair the car and Burton returned to the race where he finished 37th 24 laps down.
“This was a hard week,” Burton said. “This was honestly one of the hardest weeks I’ve ever spent, coming here on Friday not knowing what to expect. I thought everybody did a really good job. Put a great effort out there. I did a terrible job on the restarts. Once we got in clean traffic we were maybe a tenth off the leader. We had really good pace the car drove well. I was really encouraged by the one change we made. The car was fast. We were running 16’s or 17’s or something, but we had a much faster car than that. Just my inexperience in traffic hurt us some.”
Before leaving, Burton also took time to defend Stewart who has been under fire in some circles after the incident last Saturday night. Burton said that thinking about the incident and the aftermath was harder than Sunday’s race.
“I think just … these are people that we are talking about,” Burton said. “You have a lot of conversations about the ‘what if’s’ and all this, but at the end of the day these are real people, that are human beings and have feelings and I think a lot of times we forget that. We talk about people like they are robots and they are not they are human beings.”
“Just listening to some of the misinformation and people speculating about stuff,” he added. “I just thought it was a travesty in a lot of ways. Ultimately all that really weighed on me, knowing that we had two families, at least two families just in agonizing pain and really not being able to do anything about it.”
“Racing is a community,” Burton said. “I don’t know the Ward family at all, but I know that they raced and that means that I share something in common with them. The racing community cares about each other even if they don’t know you they still care about you. I think that is what we saw this week. Of course everybody in this garage knows Tony (Stewart). Tony doesn’t beat his chest and talk about the things he does for people. We know it, we see it, but nobody else does. (Dale) Earnhardt (Sr.) was like that, Earnhardt didn’t want anybody to know they things he did for people. That is how Tony is and that is something a lot of people they only know Tony because he threw a helmet. They only know Tony because he got mad. Well hell I get mad too. I just hate people jump to conclusions.”