Race Weekend Central

Fan’s View: Jeff Burton’s Boo-Boo Just a Mistake?

Well, I’m glad we can all agree on something: Jeff Gordon had every right to be ticked off Sunday afternoon (Nov. 7) when Jeff Burton took a left into Gordon’s right-rear quarterpanel and sent the No. 24 heading toward the top of turn 2. I mean, he got wrecked under caution. But I am still completely stumped regarding why it happened.

It can be safely assumed Gordon wasn’t much interested in the “why” as he took a beeline toward the disabled Caterpillar Chevy parked on the apron immediately after the sudden coming-together of two of NASCAR’s most senior and usually cool cats. He wanted his own bit of retribution, even though Burton seemed to have taken care of that little thing by wrecking his No. 31 along with the No. 24. A pair of fists flying, a few shoves, some naughty words — that’s what Gordon needed at the moment. If his day was destroyed, it wouldn’t be the only one.

However, we still needed to know how it had happened at all. Since ESPN totally failed to capture any green-flag bickering between the two prior to the launch of the fireworks display, not only did the viewing public (me included) struggle to put two and two together, but the broadcast booth was reduced to inane babbling as they stared at the pair of wounded cars. The few seconds of footage they managed to pull up didn’t really help the situation, either.

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So, it would be left to Jeff and Jeff to tell us what happened “in their own words.”

Gordon seemed to have the physics of the incident down, but couldn’t provide any true illumination. “He just drove into my right rear and put me in the wall under caution.”

Well, what about Burton? Maybe we’d hear something like Gordon had been pushing the No. 31 around and he’d had enough and he just lost it. I would have believed this!

But no. Burton had this to say about the wreck. “Caution came out and [Gordon] pulled up next to me to express his displeasure and he was right. We don’t need to be racing side-by-side right there right now. I went to pull back up to him to acknowledge him and when we did I was turning left and I don’t know, we hooked somehow and around we went. We just got hooked up together. I think it is the stupidest thing I think I might have ever done.”

And this is where I am having the hardest time reconciling what my eyes saw and what Burton said.

It was a mistake? A simple error in judgement? An “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to” and now it’s all forgiven thing? Oh, I really don’t think so. It just doesn’t seem believable — not to me and not to Gordon. “He’s a guy that’s usually very rational and I respect his opinion. He apologized and said it was his fault. He said he didn’t mean to do it and whatever.”

This may be one of those rare cases where a driver’s reputation — in this case one of clear thinking and mostly clean driving — can actually add to our disbelief.

The footage really looked like Burton intended to take Gordon out and even added a little right turn to make sure the No. 24 was mashed properly into the outer barrier. And both drivers’ reference to some side-by-side discussion in the previous corners certainly added to the convincing argument that Burton meant to do this. After all, Burton is not known to do stupid, impulsive things. When your nickname is “The Mayor,” it would be far more likely that each and every move you make is one of careful consideration.

Still, because Burton has earned such a high level of respect in the garage and in the stands, we feel compelled to give credence to his words. Strange things do happen. Anybody remember when Mark Martin, the man who taught Burton the art of driving clean, took a 90-degree turn into Jimmie Johnson’s door on the pace laps of the 2002 EA Sports 500 at Talladega? That was an honest mistake. It does happen. Still…

Is it possible that Burton snapped? Could Gordon have prodded the sleeping dragon one too many times? And now I’m left wondering, if that was the case, why wouldn’t Burton own up to it? Is it better to admit to making an error rather than embracing your humanity?

I suppose this wreck will ultimately be chalked up to just one of those racing deals. Burton has applied for and received from the media a reprieve for his uncharacteristic loss of control over his vehicle (we’ll call it that) based on his humble-pie post-wreck interview.

For me, the jury is still out. Like Gordon, I am struggling to accept the blithe explanation and for now, that sterling reputation of Burton’s is looking just a little bit tarnished.

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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