BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Jeff Burton could have said, "I told you so." He could have said it because he had said it. He had said it in Atlanta in March after he failed to qualify for that race in this Ford.
He said then he'd put this car on the pole at Charlotte or Michigan or the second Atlanta race. He wanted to prove that not qualifying was a fluke. And he did that all right, turning in an event-record qualifying run of 185.395 mph to earn the No. 1 starting spot in tomorrow's GM Goodwrench 400.
But he didn't say, "I told you so." He said, "It feels good to have a problem and work on it and overcome it."
Burton has had a couple of problems. Qualifying well has been one. The other was persuading himself that he could drive well on Superspeedways like Atlanta and this two-mile oval in the Irish Hills of Michigan.
"I have a problem losing self-confidence every now and then," said Burton, 29, who was the Winston Cup 1994 Rookie of the Year. "At the beginning of this year, I thought that I didn't know how to drive these [big] tracks, that I was a better short-track racer."
When he didn't qualify at Atlanta, it made him angry and determined. He started running the big tracks better. Included in his three top five finishes this season are two on Superspeedways.
"That day in Atlanta, I pulled my team aside and I had tears I my eyes, because when you miss a race and you put your whole life into it, it's pretty disappointing," he said. "I told them we were going to sit on a pole somewhere at an Atlanta-type racetrack. I told them we were going to prove to ourselves and to everybody else that we knew what we were doing."
Burton is the 11th different pole winner this season and the fifth first-time pole winner.
"Qualifying is a very subtle thing," said Burton, whose previous -- best start this year was a seventh at Talladega, Ala. "Look at the speed here. We ran an .836 [on the clock] and fourth is an .890. That's right at half a tenth [of a second]. I couldn't tell you if we ran a half a tenth faster or slower. I couldn't tell you that."
NOTES: Kyle Petty will not drive here this weekend. Two weeks after being involved in a hard crash at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, doctors have discovered he has five broken ribs, a bruised shoulder blade and bruised internal organs.
"If it was just broken ribs, then it would have been cool," said Petty, who needed a relief driver at Watkins Glen last weekend. "You can stand them hurting. But with the other stuff, I didn't want to get in a situation where I'd go out there and wreck and rupture my spleen, split my pancreas or my liver or something."
Dale Earnhardt, who has a broken left collar bone and sternum, qualified 16th. He did not practice for today's International Race of Champions, and late yesterday word came that Ricky Rudd will drive in Earnhardt's place.
Michigan Int'l Weekend
What: Detroit Gasket 200, a Busch Grand National event
What: International Race of Champions, series final
When: 5: 30 p.m.
What: GM Goodwrench 400, Winston Cup series event
When: 12: 30 p.m.
Pub Date: 8/17/96