The mild-mannered Mayor, Jeff Burton, was an agitated, aggravated autoist following the Coca-Cola 600 last weekend at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. Burton had just finished 25th in his No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet after spending much of the event in the top ten.
Contact though on a late restart with Kyle Busch, the M&M’s driver made it three wide, left Burton with a cut left-rear tire. After the race was over and Busch had parked his third place car on pit road, Burton made an appearance to talk about their dinner plans.
The fans ate up the fireworks, NASCAR ate up the attention, and the media ate up the story.
A week later however, Burton took a step back when admitting that while he wouldn’t change getting in Busch’s face, he does think he should have done so at a different time. You read that right; Burton doesn’t believe he should have become emotional.
“I was just pissed off,” Burton said. “I didn’t go looking for a fight, I was just pissed off. I had 15 laps or whatever it was to get calmed down and I didn’t. I felt like I needed to handle it and address it right then. I was just mad and it’s not more complicated than that.”
In a year where it seems rivalries and heated exchanges are front and center —think Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards, think Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, think Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin —it wasn’t unwanted to see more after the Coke 600. This is also a year that has been full of competitive racing, even with low ratings and empty seats.
Week in and week out, 43 drivers put on the best show they can for the sports most loyal viewers. Those viewers love to see drivers that aren’t afraid to go after it and trade more than paint. With the incident last weekend everyone had a side and opinion, regardless if they were fans of Busch or Burton.
The common theme appeared to be that it was entertaining and left an impression. It could have been because Busch was involved in another controversy or that it must have been big since "you never see Jeff Burton that mad."
From the outside looking in it seems that it was a win-win for everyone, except a still bothered Burton.
"It means a lot to me to be successful at this level it’s what my professional life is all about. It’s about nothing more than that. I’m going to be respected for sure, but I’m here for a reason and it’s not to be part of a game, it’s to win and I think this is my best shot to ever win a championship and I really believe that," he said.
"This means a great deal to me and because of that and because of my passion for it, every now and then, I’m going to behave in a way I probably shouldn’t. I crossed the line a little bit last week, but I don’t regret it. I did cross the line a little bit last week and could have been more productive by having a conversation on Monday rather than Sunday night.”
A conversation on Monday or Sunday night would have meant behind closed doors and away from the cameras. The end result was everyone walking away calm, cool, collected and leaving nothing for the fans to talk about. In other words, they would have handled it like men and not like racecar drivers that just completed 600 miles and wanted to clear the air with millions watching closely.
That could be a good thing, but not when the 2010 season has been getting back to the basics and letting the drivers be themselves. Emotions play a major part in sports, Burton even admitted that, and sometimes an athlete just has to roll with it and see what happens.
The Busch/Burton altercation was handled how it should have been. No punches were thrown; no cursing was heard on live television, and nothing too terrifying or dramatic happened. No one was hurt or scared and that should be the key.
Sitting eighth in points after a terrible 2009 season, Burton can feel the pressure and frustration of running up front and not leaving the racetrack with anything to show for it. It’s a situation that isn’t uncommon and no one can fault him for being upset, but they certainly don’t want to see him hide those feelings.
Doing so would put the “I want to thank all my sponsors… this car was just really good … everyone has been doing a great job…” back into interviews that while they can be enjoyable, are getting intolerable to some. Mixing it up every now and then and throwing people for a loop when you don’t know what you’re going to get when tuning in is a great thing.
People want more of that; people want angry Jeff Burton and any other driver. They want human emotion. Don’t feel bad about crossing that line Burton, keep on crossing it and tell your 42 other friends they’re more than welcomed to cross it a time or two as well.
Look at that, it seems Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano did and once again everyone loved it.