Jeff Burton has forever been linked to Texas Motor Speedway. The longtime NASCAR Sprint Cup driver won his first race at the track’s inaugural race.
With the speedway going into its 20th year of racing, it’s fitting that Burton will become the latest member of the Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame.
The induction ceremony will take place Thursday evening at the Speedway Club at TMS.
Burton became the first multi-winner at Texas when he took the checkered flag in the spring 2007 race. Burton led only one lap, taking the lead from Matt Kenseth on the final lap and holding on for the win.
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He also made headlines in the fall of 2010 when he wrecked Jeff Gordon twice under caution, and the two scuffled along the apron in Turn 4. In all, Burton made 26 career Cup starts at Texas, leading 180 laps and posting nine top-10 runs.
He now serves as a race analyst for NBC Sports. The Star-Telegram caught up with him before his Hall of Fame ceremony.
What does this honor mean to you? Well, anytime you’re recognized for what you did in your professional career means a great deal. You put a lot of heart and soul into it, and to get recognized by people is always flattering. I certainly don’t take it for granted. It’s an honor and I’ll enjoy it.
What was it like winning your first race on TMS’ first day? Well, I remember there were a lot of challenges that day for the race teams, for the drivers and also for the fans. The weather had been bad all weekend and the traffic was an issue, parking was an issue. But it ultimately worked out for me, so I’m happy about that. We came so close to winning the year before, but just couldn’t seal the deal. Then we were able to execute and make it happen on that day. There’s a lot that happened to me on that day, personally and professionally, and it’s a day I remember vividly for sure.
Did winning Texas’ first race give you an inherent fan base whenever you returned? Yeah, I think so, just like at any other track where I won a lot of races. I don’t want to say I’m a fan favorite because I was a lot of people’s next favorite driver. But winning that first race puts you in a different category, and then I became the first repeat winner, and I think the fans who go to Texas Motor Speedway recognize me a little bit more than other people, especially if I wasn’t their favorite driver.
Speaking of fan favorites, what happened between you and Jeff Gordon in 2010? Well, honestly, I consider that to be one of the lower moments in my career. I like to race and I enjoy the competition on the track and going after each other, but not in that form. Ultimately what stemmed all that was we were both running like crap. We were racing for 18th or something like that, and we were both upset. That’s what stemmed it — we weren’t running how we wanted to be running. But Texas has a way of bringing that stuff out. I don’t know why, but if you go back and look at the highlights of people shoving and pushing, a lot of it is at Texas. I don’t know why that is, but it’s not a coincidence.
TMS president Eddie Gossage doesn’t pay y’all under the table? Ha. … No, he never paid us, but he sure didn’t mind, either.
Finally, does it feel like it’s been 20 years of racing at Texas? When that track was first built and you rolled in there, you knew it was different than other racetracks. It had the big grandstands, beautiful facilities and everything was done first-class. It really separated itself right off the bat in how nice it was. Unfortunately with the traffic issues and track issues early on, the infamous “Shut up and drive” T-shirts, it got overshadowed a little bit and didn’t get the play that it should have got. But you knew the foundation was there, and you knew Eddie was going to work his butt off, you knew [Speedway Motorsports Inc. chairman] Bruton Smith and his guys were going to work their butts off. The track has only gotten better as it’s gotten older, and there’s really good racing there now. They should be proud of what they’ve done.
Hall of Fame Gala
7:30 p.m. Thursday, TMS Speedway Club