Jeff Burton hopes to help in 'difficult situation'
August 15, 2014, Brad Norman, NASCAR.com
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BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Jeff Burton thought his driving days were over, and he was OK with it. The veteran left Loudon, New Hampshire, in July at peace with a racing career in the books.
A recent early-morning phone call from Stewart-Haas Racing Vice President of Competition Greg Zipadelli had Burton back at the track less than a month later.
The 47-year-old will drive the No. 14 Chevrolet in Sunday's Pure Michigan 400 (1 p.m. ET, ESPN), subbing for a grieving Tony Stewart following last week's fatal sprint car incident at Canandaigua Motorsports Park.
"Greg reached out to me Wednesday morning to ask if I was interested," Burton said. "So it started the process. It was just in case Tony decided (not to race). We didn't really know."
The team later announced Stewart's absence on Thursday, and at Michigan reiterated the decision on when he returns to the seat is up to Stewart himself.
Burton is the second driver to fill in for Stewart since the Aug. 9 tragedy -- Regan Smith was called in for spot duty last week at Watkins Glen. SHR team officials stressed that any future potential replacement drivers would be determined on a week-to-week basis.
"Jeff will be the driver this weekend at Michigan," SHR Executive Vice President Brett Frood said. "We have not discussed any other races. We'll talk to Tony. When he's ready to get in the car, he'll be in there, and we'll go from there."
Burton has 21 wins in 693 career starts in NASCAR's premier series. He has driven in two events for Michael Waltrip Racing this year, following a nine-plus-year stint with Richard Childress Racing. Prior to that, he drove Roush Fenway Racing's No. 99 car for nine seasons, leaving in the latter half of the 2004 season for RCR.
Known as "The Mayor" in the garage, the well-liked competitor hopes to have a more far-reaching impact this weekend -- something that goes beyond his attempt to get the No. 14 team a good finish.
"My role here is to hopefully provide a little stability, give that team a chance to have the most success they can have in a very difficult situation," Burton said. "Hopefully me being here in some kind of way can help, I don't know how, but hopefully I can find a way to help a healing process start. I don't know how that is, but that would be my ultimate goal for everybody.
"There's a lot of people at Stewart-Haas Racing that work really, really hard and deserve 100 percent effort from me, and that's what they're going to get."
Burton has 40 career starts at Michigan, none of which resulted in a win. Two of his six career Coors Light Pole Awards have come at the 2-mile oval -- the first of his career in 1996 and the most recent of his career in 2006.
Burton will join the broadcast booth next season as an analyst for NBC Sports when the network returns as a broadcast partner with NASCAR.