J. Burton takes a run at importance of points


Auto Racing

July 21, 2002|By Sandra McKee

Points, points, points. These days, everyone is looking at the leader board in Winston Cup racing. The championship race is nail-bitingly close.

But what about the drivers who aren't at the top?

"When you're running 15th or 20th, you don't get caught up in points," said Jeff Burton, who was running in that vicinity last season and is 16th going into today's New England 300 in New Hampshire. "I think there is too much made, so much made of, the points race that people think it's the only thing to race for."

Well, every driver will tell you it is his dream to win the "points" race or the "championship." But it's like those ads for the opera, the ones that read, "Opera, it's better than you think. It has to be."

Burton is saying much the same thing about racing: There's more to racing than championship points. There has to be.

He has a point. Teams outside the top 10 are unlikely championship contenders. So what are they racing for?

(I'd say pride. Someone else probably would say money.)

Burton, who finished among the top five drivers battling for the title four of the past five years, is experiencing his second season outside the top 10 and hasn't won a race since October in Phoenix.

At New Hampshire, he is a four-time winner - which makes him the winningest driver in today's race, even though his last victory there was in the fall of 2000, when he led every lap.

Maybe this is where he'll break his slump. Either way, Burton has learned from these seasons of bad breaks and broken parts.

"You're racing for the one race you're in every week, not the overall goal," he said. "That's what keeps you fairly focused. Most teams won't contend for a championship. But racing for the race you're in this week, that's how a 15th- or 20th-place team can come up and win."

That's how he hopes to do it today.

New series close by

Because we're all caught up in road racing at the moment thanks to the Cadillac Grand Prix in Washington today, here are a few words about another road racing series - The Stock Car Championship Series. New this year, it puts late-model stock cars on world-class road courses.

"There have been stock cars running in club events for a while," said series director Lynnie Doughton. "But we have taken it to the next level into a professional race series."

The season consists of eight events in the Southeast, including a Nov. 3 date at Summit Point (W. Va.) Raceway in the next-to-last race of the season.

SCCS cars use NASCAR-style racing chassis with 1999-2002 Chevrolet Monte Carlo, Ford Taurus, Pontiac Grand Prix and Dodge Intrepid bodies and engines that yield 400-plus horsepower.

Big doings

Hagerstown Speedway is to roar back into action at 2 p.m. today with the Ford Trucks Monster Jam. The rain date is 8 p.m. tomorrow.

The track also has rescheduled the rain-interrupted United Dirt Track Racing Association-Maryland Silver Cup Nationals for Aug. 30 at 8 p.m. The race will pick up with the third heat and complete the program.

The track's points races will resume in all divisions on Saturday at 7 p.m.

Hagerstown's Nathan Durboraw leads the late-model division as he drives toward a record seventh track title. Williamsport's Pete Weaver is the new leader in the late-model sportsman class. And Hans Stamberg of Barnesville is the surprise leader in the pure stock division, where Reisterstown's Bruce Leibowitz is fifth.

Information: Call 301-582-0640 or see the speedway's Web site, www.hagerstownspeedway.com.

Gibbs now a Chevy man

Winston Cup car owner Joe Gibbs, who has been loyal to General Motors since the day he got into the sport 10 years ago, said last week that his drivers, Bobby Labonte and Tony Stewart, will switch from Pontiacs to Chevrolets next season.

He made the decision despite NASCAR's approval of a new Pontiac body style for 2003.

"We finished second twice with Pontiac, I think, with them in the championship race," Gibbs said. "We won a championship with them, so it's been everything we thought it would be. ... [But] we've been thinking about [this] for a while, and we feel like starting next year, we'll be in a better position as a race team, where we can benchmark our cars against a lot of other good cars."

Doug Duchardt, NASCAR group manager of GM Racing, said immediately that Pontiac will stay in the series, even though it is down to three car owners, whose drivers include Johnny Benson Jr., Ken Schrader and Stacy Compton.

Nuts and bolts

The Monte Carlo 400 Winston Cup race in Richmond Sept. 7 is sold out. Tickets remain for the NASCAR Busch and Craftsman Truck Series races.

Ricky Rudd, who still hasn't finalized his driving plans for next season, continues to add to his Iron Man streak. Today, the number will grow to 663 starts.

"Well, I think it shows determination and, obviously, dedication," Rudd said. "But compared to Cal Ripken's record [of 2,632 consecutive starts] ... that's unbelievable."

DeWalt Tools Ford driver Matt Kenseth turned an unofficial stock-car lap record at Indianapolis Motor Speedway during testing last week. He ran the 2.5-mile oval at 181.956 mph. The official stock car record at the track is held by Brett Bodine, who sailed around the track during qualifying for the 2000 race at an average speed of 181.072 mph.

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