Richard Childress Racing
August 6, 2012
Jeff Burton eager for another shot at Watkins Glen
"I grew up in the South where there's not much road racing. Not legally anyway."
A representative from Watkins Glen International handled the shimmering new glass trophy for next month’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race with kid gloves Thursday.
The guy used soft pink mitts to pick it up and stood guard to ensure that everyone at the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que would look but not touch.
Rest assured, Jeff Burton would dearly love to get his sweaty hands around the trophy when he returns to Central New York with the No. 31 car in just under a month.
The veteran NASCAR driver was in Syracuse along with WGI president Michael Printup to help promote the circuit’s annual stop at The Glen’s famous road course Aug. 9-12.
Burton said he looks forward to maneuvering the curves.
“It’s fun to do,” he said. “It’s an extreme challenge. It’s something different. It breaks the year up and gives the fans something different to look at. I grew up in the South where there’s not much road racing. Not legally anyway.”
Burton, 44, enters this weekend’s race at New Hampshire 18th in the Sprint Cup standings. He’s finished among the top 10 four of the past six seasons, but missed the Chase for the Championship last season.
The Granite State has always been friendly to Burton, who has notched four victories at Loudon and is one of four drivers to never miss a start there. As a result, he’s earned the moniker Mr. New Hampshire.
And he’s coming off a second-place finish in last week’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona. Burton dismisses the notion that his Richard Childress Racing team is building momentum, however.
“You can’t will yourself into having good strategy and good pit stops,” he said. “The drivers who are on roll, it’s because they’re running good. Don’t get me wrong. Attitude matters, but what makes momentum is success, not the other way around.”
Burton said success at The Glen begins with qualifying, which hasn’t been his strong suit through the years.
“I don’t know how to qualify,” he said with a laugh. “One thing about not being a good qualifier is you learn to pass a lot of people. Watkins Glen has been a place, for whatever reason, we do race well here, but we do struggle qualifying. We’ve had a few good qualifying efforts here, but not a lot.
“It puts you in that position where it’s hard to pass.”
Especially at The Glen, which remains a popular summer destination for NASCAR fans. Printup mentioned that The Glen has added 2,000 seats for this year’s race, in stark contrast to some of the other stops where empty seats have become a more frequent sight.
“You get those late-race restarts and somebody is getting wrecked,” Burton said. “If you wreck somebody, you blame it on the race course. The drivers know, in the back of their mind, there’s an excuse out there. They go hard.”
Burton, the 1994 NASCAR rookie of the year, said he has seen the quality of driving on the circuit’s road courses improve dramatically.
“Skill has gotten a lot better,” he said. “The talent level of driving the cars, preparing the cars has become greater. When I first started road-course racing, people could come in from out of the series and really compete at a high level. The more road racing that’s been done, the harder that’s become to do.”
There’s a reason the Watkins Glen trophy looked so good to Burton, who joked that Printup should “just give it to me now.” He hasn’t been in Victory Lane since October, 2008, and admitted in a recent interview that he hasn’t been able to dismiss the drought as easily this season.
“We haven’t performed this year the way we did last year,” he said of the RCR team, which is 0-for-2012. “We’re behind a little bit. We’ve got to change our game plan.”
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