Even Burton can get mad, too
LONG POND, Pa. -- Everybody has a breaking point, that moment when you're pushed so far that you're ready to say or do something that is totally against your personality.
You lose your cool.
Jeff Burton had that moment following Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Instead of driving to the garage as he normally would after a 25th-place finish, the Richard Childress Racing driver parked on pit road and went after Kyle Busch in a very un-Burtonlike way, telling the same person he complimented three days earlier he would "punt your ass next time."
Everybody can relate, whether you've been pushed to the boiling point by a temperamental teenager, a boss who just doesn't get it or maybe by a driver who cuts you off after you've been sitting in traffic for an hour.
But it doesn't happen very often with Burton, who is as mild-mannered as there is in the Sprint Cup garage. So when we see him lose it -- even though we understand the frustration he experienced after a cut tire inflicted by Busch's car after an aggressive three-wide move cost him a shot to win with 19 laps remaining -- we wonder why.
"Well, not everything I do is calculated," Burton said on Friday at Pocono Raceway. "I'm just like everyone else in the room. I make mistakes. I didn't exactly go there after sitting down and having a thoughtful conversation with myself about the right way to handle that situation.
"Most of that was emotion. At the time I didn't care if it was productive or not. That was a little bit out of my character."
No, it was a lot out of character. Burton normally settles such issues behind closed doors, or at least waits a day or so before reacting.
"Jeff's been mad at me before, just not on camera," said Carl Edwards, once Burton's teammate at Roush Fenway Racing. "I thought he did a good job of showing his frustration without going too far. Some of us have yet to learn that. That's just a part of the sport.
"If you go to your local dirt track there'll be somebody that's mad at the end of the night. That's OK. As nice as all of us can be, being nice is not what makes us go around the racetrack. You've got to be a competitor first."
Burton is extremely competitive. Just because he typically keeps his emotions in check doesn't mean he wants to win any less than Busch, Tony Stewart and others who are more likely to be considered hotheads.
"That is part of having a passion for the sport, a passion to succeed," Burton said. "I work hard at what I do. I don't play golf on Tuesday. I work. It means a lot to me to be successful at this level. [It is] what my professional life is all about. I'm going to be respected for sure, but I'm here for a reason and it's not to be a part of the game.
"It's to win, and I think this is my best shot to ever win a championship. 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 Burton doesn't regret it. And nobody should hold it against him.
If anything, Burton showed great patience by not snapping long before this.
Let's review how he got to the edge of the cliff:
- Atlanta: Had brake failure shy of the halfway mark and finished 20th.
- Martinsville: Was racing Denny Hamlin for the lead with 15 laps to go when a cut tire left him 20th.
- Phoenix: Given one-lap penalty for pitting outside his box just past the halfway mark and was not able to take advantage of the wave-around until late and finished 25th.
- Texas: Was leading on Lap 319 when a six-car accident brought out the red flag. Led the field back to green with 12 laps to go, but by then the car had cooled off enough to impact the handling and he finished 12th.
- Talladega: Led a race-high 28 laps, but was hit from behind by Mike Bliss with seven laps left in regulation and finished 32nd.
- Darlington: Had the lead going into the final pit stop, but was penalized for running over his air hose after the jack dropped before the front tire-carrier could get around the car and finished eighth.
- Charlotte: Was running eighth -- fifth in line among cars with fresh tires -- when Busch forced a three-wide situation and cut Burton's left-rear tire, forcing him to pit under green and finish 25th.
So instead of being near the lead in points where teammate Kevin Harvick is -- and with a victory -- Burton is eighth with a 54-race losing streak. A driver with lesser patience would have exploded long before Sunday.
There is a cracking point for everybody. This is our livelihood. You don't know how hard we work, and to get down to where you can see the checkered flag and have someone run into you and cut your tire down is just tough. You just want to chop somebody's head off.” -- Greg Biffle
Busch, as he jokingly said, would have had the moment described as "Kyle's antics."
"I don't get the benefit of the doubt," Busch said. "So it's all my fault. Yeah, got into him and cut his tire down. He didn't cut his tire down by himself."
Burton gets the benefit of the doubt because his reaction was as rare as Busch hanging around to discuss a 25th-place finish. To be fair, it needs to be noted that Busch says his splitter was sticking out 4 inches beyond what it should have from repairs made after an earlier incident.
He also understood Burton's frustration, although he was as surprised as most to see Burton in his face.
"Yeah, it's frustrating when you are running as good as you are and you feel like you have a shot to win and you miss out on the opportunity," Busch said.
"There is a cracking point for everybody," Greg Biffle said. "This is our livelihood. You don't know how hard we work, and to get down to where you can see the checkered flag and have someone run into you and cut your tire down is just tough.
"You just want to chop somebody's head off."
That might be a bit drastic, but you get the point.
"I was just pissed off," Burton said. "I wouldn't go any further than that. I had 15 laps to get calmed down and I didn't. I felt like I needed to handle it and address it right there. I was just mad and it's not more complicated than that."
Was it the maddest Burton has ever been? Some have told him so. Burton insists it wasn't, and reminds that he wasn't mad on Monday morning and that 10 years ago he'd still be mad.
What it shows is the pressure to succeed can send any of us over the top in the perfect storm scenario.
But Burton doesn't plan on punting Busch this weekend or any weekend moving forward if a similar situation arises. He'll continue to race against Busch and others with the same respect he always has.
It's who he is.
"I'm coming to Pocono to race Pocono," Burton said. "I'm not coming to Pocono to race Kyle. I'm not interested in a weekly confrontation. I don't like them. I don't like yearly confrontations much less weekly.
"I've got a 14-year-old daughter. I have all the drama I need."