Jeff Burton To Be Enshrined In Texas

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, March 16 2016
Jeff Burton won the first Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway. He will be the 18th member of that state's racing Hall of Fame. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Alan Marler)

Jeff Burton won the first Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway. He will be the 18th member of that state’s racing Hall of Fame. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Alan Marler)

FORT WORTH, Texas – On an overcast spring Sunday when Texas Motor Speedway stumbled out of the gate, Jeff Burton emerged as an unlikely and popular feel-good story.

That was April 6, 1997, when the inaugural Interstate Batteries 500 went into the track’s record book as Burton’s first career Sprint Cup Series victory. With TMS preparing to celebrate its 20th season of racing in 2016, it is appropriate that Burton again is creating headline news via his induction into the Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame as its 18th member.

In addition to that breakthrough win in ’97, Burton quite fittingly became the first Cup driver to score multiple victories on the high-banked, 1.5-mile quadoval in 2007.

Burton will be honored Thursday, April 7, during the Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame Gala benefitting Speedway Children’s Charities-Texas Chapter in The Speedway Club’s Grand Ballroom. The leadoff event of the Duck Commander 500 NASCAR weekend, the ceremonies will recognize a handful of outstanding individuals in motorsports.

That list includes NASCAR Hall of Famers Glen and Leonard Wood, three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart, 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship contender Martin Truex Jr. and 2015 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion Erik Jones.

Burton’s victory in TMS’ inaugural Cup race played-out before a record crowd of 200,000 fans, many of whom weathered a massive traffic jam and muddy parking lots hours before the opening ceremonies.

On track, Burton’s win capped a controversial event that began with a chain-reaction, 13-car wreck in Turn 1 of the quadoval then featuring “dual-banking” in the corners. Winless in his first three Cup seasons, Burton qualified fifth and led 60 laps _ including the final 58 _ en route to a decisive 4.067-second victory over Dale Jarrett. Marred by 10 caution flags that consumed 73 of 334 laps, Burton’s average winning speed of 125.105 mph in the No. 99 Exide Batteries Ford tuned by veteran crew chief Buddy Parrott remains the slowest for a Cup race in Cowtown.

Burton’s win here in 1997 was the first of 21 in his career. Ten years later, the native of South Boston, Va., became TMS’ first repeat Cup winner when he led just the final lap in the Samsung 500 on April 15, 2007. Driving the No. 31 Prilosec OTC Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing, Burton shot past former Roush Fenway Racing teammate Matt Kenseth on the final lap and motored to a margin of victory of 0.410-seconds. It was the fourth-closest Cup finish in TMS history.

Burton made 26 Cup starts at TMS, with his two wins among three top-five and nine-top 10 finishes. He led a total of 180 laps.

Burton will join the roll call of accomplished drivers from various series and innovative motorsports leaders inducted into the Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame since its inception in 2003. Previous inductees: A.J. Foyt Jr. (2003), Johnny Rutherford (’03), Terry Labonte (2004), Lee Shepherd (’04), Kenny Bernstein (2005), Jim Hall (’05), Eddie Hill (2006), Mark Martin (2007), Jim McElreath (’07), Bobby Labonte (2008), O. Bruton Smith (’08), Joe Gibbs (2009), John Force (2010), Lanny Edwards (2011) Jack Roush (2012), Roger Penske (2013) and Rick Hendrick (2014).

Burton was named 1994 Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year while driving the No. 9 Raybestos Ford for Stavola Brothers Racing. As his career and profile progressed, Burton was nicknamed “The Mayor” of the Cup garage for his outspoken opinions, primarily on driver safety. A 48-year-old resident of Huntersville, N.C., Burton will begin his second season as color commentator for NBC Sports Group’s Cup broadcasts when the network launches its coverage of the schedule’s second half in July.

The Wood Brothers will receive the Bruton Smith Legend Award for their lifetimes of contributions to the sport.  Glen and Leonard have been instrumental to the success of NASCAR and Wood Brothers Racing, which was founded in 1950. The close-knit, family-run organization from Stuart, Va., began the 2016 season with 98 total Cup victories and looks to add to its legacy with second-generation Cup driver Ryan Blaney as wheelman.

Still competing in the famed No. 21 car, the longtime Ford team holds the distinction of being the oldest active organization in NASCAR. The list of legendary NASCAR drivers to have competed for Wood Brothers Racing includes Glen Wood, Curtis Turner, Joe Weatherly, Junior Johnson, Bob Welborn, Ralph Earnhardt, Ned Jarrett, Fireball Roberts, Tiny Lund, Marvin Panch, Fred Lorenzen, Cale Yarborough, A.J. Foyt Jr., David Pearson, Neil Bonnett, Buddy Baker and Dale Jarrett.

Stewart will receive the prestigious Maj. General Thomas Sadler Award for his support of Speedway Children’s Charities-Texas Chapter. Stewart’s participation as host of his annual “Smoke Show” fantasy camp and contributions via his parade lap for auctions has allowed Speedway Children’s Charities to raise more than $1.5-million, all of which is distributed to North Texas non-profit organizations benefitting children in-need.

A co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing with businessman Gene Haas, the 2016 season will be Stewart’s last as a Cup driver. He currently is recuperating from a back injury suffered in a non-racing, all-terrain vehicle accident.

Truex Jr. will receive the Texas Motor Speedway Sportsmanship Award. Last year, Truex enjoyed a career season with Denver-based Furniture Row Racing as he established career-highs for top-fives (8), top-10s (22) and Chase point finish (fourth). However, his on-track successes played-out against the backdrop of longtime girlfriend Sherry Pollex’s diagnosis of Stage III ovarian cancer in August 2014.

Even before Pollex’s diagnosis, Martin had dedicated himself to helping end cancer through his work with the Martin Truex Jr. Foundation. Created by both Truex and Pollex, the foundation’s mission is to support underfunded cancer initiatives specific to ovarian and childhood cancers, and assist the individuals and families affected by them.

Jones, one of NASCAR’s rising young stars as a protégé of reigning Cup champion Kyle Busch, experienced breakout performances at TMS in 2015. In April, Erik out-ran Sprint Cup regulars Brad Keselowski, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Denny Hamlin during the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 to score his first career victory in the NASCAR XFINITY Series. That win came on the heels of qualifying on-pole.

Jones, driver of the No. 20 GameStop/Mortal Kombat X Toyota Camry, held off Keselowski on a restart on Lap 175 of the scheduled 200 for a margin of victory of 1.624-seconds in the first night race of the season. Jones’ first series win came in his ninth start. In the process, Jones became the second-youngest series winner at TMS at 18 years, 10 months, 11 days _ a record set in 2014 by Chase Elliott at 18 years, 4 months and 7 days when he scored his first series victory in the event.

Jones followed-up his victory in April with a win in November’s WinStar World Casino & Resort 350 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race. The Michigan native’s first NCWTS victory at Texas Motor Speedway in the No. 4 Toyota Tundra fielded by Kyle Busch Motorsports propelled Jones to his first Truck Series championship.

The Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame Gala will begin with dinner at 7:30 p.m. (CDT) followed by the start of the ceremonies at approximately 8 p.m. Table sponsorships, beginning at $1,500, and individual tickets ($150) are available by calling Speedway Children’s Charities at (817) 215-8421.

(Editor’s Note: RacinToday.com senior writer John Sturbin was winner of the Excellence in Motorsports Journalism Award at the Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2010.)

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, March 16 2016
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