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Broken tailpipe hampers Burton's run

August 17, 2014, Zack Albert, NASCAR.com

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Veteran driving SHR No. 14 Chevrolet in place of Tony Stewart

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BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Jeff Burton emerged from the cockpit far earlier than expected Sunday afternoon at Michigan International Speedway, smelling strongly of smoke and fumes. The broken tailpipe that turned his car into a smoky mess, however, was far from the greatest adversity he faced as a substitute in just his third start of the year. 

The veteran's day as a fill-in for the grieving Tony Stewart hit a snag just before the halfway point in Sunday's Pure Michigan 400, forcing the team out of victory contention with extended garage time for repairs.

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"This was a hard week," said Burton, who rejoined the race on Lap 102, 24 laps down in 38th place. "This is honestly one of the hardest weeks I've ever spent in coming here on Friday not knowing what to expect." Burton would finish in 37th-place.

Burton jumped into Stewart-Haas Racing's No. 14 Chevrolet as a late substitute on the opening day at the track Friday, one day after the team announced that Stewart would sit out for the second straight week as the mourning process continued for the three-time Sprint Cup champion. Stewart has not competed since a sprint-car incident involving Stewart fatally injured short-track driver Kevin Ward Jr. last weekend at a New York dirt track.

While Burton had toadjust quickly to an unfamiliar team and a new-to-him car, the biggest source of angst for the 47-year-old driver was hearing rampant speculation about the nature of last weekend's tragedy or Stewart's future.

"I think just ... these are people that we're talking about," Burton said. "You have a lot of conversations about what-ifs and all this, but at the end of the day, these are real people that are human beings that have feelings and I think a lot of times, we forget that. We talk about people like they're robots and they're not. They're human beings. And just listening to the misinformation and people speculating about stuff, I just thought was a travesty in a lot of ways. Ultimately, all that really weighed on me, knowing that we had two families -- at least two families -- just in agonizing pain and really not being able to do anything about it."

Burton pitted in the 81st of 200 laps when he noticed a burning smell in the cockpit. By the time he pulled the No. 14 Chevy to a stop, smoke began to emanate from the car. 

After exiting the car in the garage, Burton initially attributed the trouble to an electrical issue, but the team discovered a diagnosis of a broken tailpipe, which led to hot exhaust starting to melt the car's heat shields.

Before the trouble, Burton was able to maintain steady performance, but said his limited schedule this year hurt his ability to adapt to race conditions. Though Burton is a veteran of 20 full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series seasons, Sunday marked just his third start of the season in a part-time schedule before he transitions to the broadcast booth for NBC Sports as an analyst in 2015.

"I thought everybody did a really good job and put a great effort out there, and I did a terrible job on restarts," Burton said. "Once we got in clean traffic, we were maybe a tenth (of a second) off the leader. We had really good pace, the car drove well, I was really encouraged by the one change we made and the car was fast. We were running 16th or 17th or something, but we had a much faster car than that. Just my inexperience in traffic hurt us."

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