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Jeff Burton understands why Jeff Gordon is angry....but has Gordon really cooled off?

  This is why Jeff Gordon is ticked off at Jeff Burton. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern



   Nothing like being in the eye of the hurricane....and on national TV to boot.
   So after Sunday's Texas 500 run-in with Jeff Gordon, first on the track, then face-to-face, in an angry shoving match, Burton is just glad to get on down the road.  
   "That's an understatement," the normally mild-mannered Burton says, still scratching his head over just what went wrong mid-way through the zany race.

   Texas wasn't the first problem for him.  "Last three weeks I've been in the middle of stuff I don't want to be in, and...no fun," he says.
    "That's not why I got into motorsports.
     "Unfortunately we did have that incident, and it played out in front of everybody. But now we've both had a chance to reflect, and I have a much better understanding of part of what happened.
    "Part of it, I don't really understand. But nonetheless I feel we'll be able to move forward."
   But then maybe the three title contenders, Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick, might be well just to stay clear of these two for the last two weeks of the season.

     Burton and Gordon have talked since. And Burton concedes Gordon has a right to be upset.
     "The thing Sunday," Burton says, "was a chain of events that led up to the ugliness
      "We had a deal where we ran together a few laps, Jeff felt I should have let him go. I felt I was racing in my line.
     "It was not that big of a deal, to be quite honest.
      "When the caution came out, he pulled up really close to me to let me know he wasn't happy with me.
     "He went in front of me, and when that happened I went to accelerate to go back underneath him, to kind of do the same thing he did to me.
      "I don't know if he was decelerating and I was accelerating....but I ended up in his rear bumper.
      "That was just bad timing.
      "What I don't understand is after that -- How we both ended up in the wall. I've watched the video a bunch of times.
      "I can promise you this: I did not intentionally turn Jeff Gordon driver-side first into the wall.
     "I've raced since I was seven-years old. You'd have a hard time walking around and finding somebody that said I wrecked them on purpose.
     "That's a dangerous way to wreck somebody, a malicious way to wreck somebody. And I've never, ever, ever been part of that."

    But Gordon?
    "He knows he's wrecked and he's wrecked hard," Burton says. "What is he supposed to think?
     "He's supposed to think I wrecked him on purpose, because all the evidence says I wrecked him on purpose.
      "So he obviously expresses his displeasure the way he did."
     By charging down the asphalt to confront Burton, angrily shoving him several times before NASCAR officials could intervene.
     "I'll be honest, I didn't have a problem with it," Burton says. "He didn't swing at me. I'm sure he wanted to. He was mad enough to.
    "And I didn't blame him for being mad.
     "You know, I grew up in southside Virginia; I knew a thing or two about fighting. I could see in his eyes he was way more mad than I was.
     "I was more confused about the whole situation.
       "To Jeff's credit, a minute later he had calmed down a tremendous amount...heard what I had to say...didn't believe what I had to say...and I don't blame him for not believing.
       "We spoke again in the infield care center; he had calmed down again."
       Later in the week the two talked. "We had a great conversation," Burton said. "We ended up laughing a little bit about some of the things that were said and some of the things that were done.
       "And Jeff and I are moving forward.
       "He knows we've both had frustrating years.  But, for the two of us, the frustrations we had didn't play a role in all of that.
       "I played the largest part in it, because I was the car second in line, and the guy first in line got wrecked. So I had to take the ultimate responsibility for that.
     "I have to understand that, even though I wasn't trying to wreck him, my intentions of letting him know a little of what led to this.
     "I take responsibility for that.
     "But I can assure everybody there is no way I would turn somebody driver-side first into the wall. That is malicious...that's not just how I am."

    At the moment, however, Gordon wasn't quite buying that.
   "The cool thing about our sport is we're able to stick a microphone in front of a driver as soon as something happens," Burton reflected.
    "And the worst thing about our sport is we're able to stick a microphone in front of a driver as soon as something happens.
     "I didn't disagree with a thing Jeff Gordon said on Sunday.
     "I expected he was going to do something; I knew he was really mad.
     "I knew exactly what was going through his mind, because the evidence was in front of him that suggested what happened, and he was going to be hot.
     "Jeff's a guy that is going to take his stand.
     "I didn't know exactly what he was going to do, but I knew he wasn't coming over there to shake my hand. He was mad, and he meant for me to know  it. I knew something was coming."
    Burton says actually that's good for the sport, a natural part of the sport, because "This isn't a sport where you can call time-out.
    "This isn't a sport where you can step away for just a minute.
   "Basketball, football, baseball, in every one of those sports athletes are able to -- between innings, when you're sitting on the bench, because you're getting your rest -- all of those athletes are able to get away...catch their breath...get their head in gear.
    "And that is a huge advantage, from a psychological standpoint.
    "We're in the heat of the fire, man. We never get out of the heat of the fire.
     "I think that's what's great about our sport.
     "But you do have to control your emotions. You do have to, because if you don't, bad things are going to happen."
      Still, as Burton says, "Stuff happens. That's racing.
     "If you go back and look at most events, a lot of things happened. It's just racing.
      "It's not necessarily poor judgment.
      "But if somebody's racing hard, somebody's trying to take their spot, and there is another guy trying to keep you from taking that spot, stuff happens."
     But managing the psychological fallout – which, for example, Kyle Busch Sunday clearly did not – is a key to being successful.
    "There are events where emotion plays a role....it played a role in decision-making and it played a role in things that went down," Burton said. "So I think it's really important to try to control your emotions."
     Of course like much in NASCAR racing, that's easier said than done.



I've always admired and

I've always admired and respected Jeff Burton on/off the track through the years and him being MAN enough to admit fault or challenge another driver. Didn't matter if it was a teammate, as in Kevin Harvick at Martinsville or Kyle Busch at Charlotte after the race. Now him being a diehard DUKE BLUE DEVIL fan??? Ugh, I guess you gotta take the good with the bad sometimes...lol GO TARHEELS!!!!!

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