HAMPTON, Ga. (AP) – Jeff Burton understands human nature, so it really doesn’t upset him that the same people who were ready to cede him the NASCAR Nextel Cup championship two weeks ago are writing him off now.

Burton, coming off a very untimely engine failure that knocked him out of the lead in the Chase for the championship last week at Martinsville, goes into today’s race fifth in the standings, but trailing leader Matt Kenseth by just 48 points.

With four races to go in the stock car playoffs, that margin is not very significant – certainly no more significant than the 45 points he led Kenseth by after the Charlotte race two weeks ago.

“When I sat in the media center at Dover after winning the (second Chase) race and said that this was a long race and 10 races is an eternity in this sport, that’s what I was talking about,” Burton said. “You can think you have everything going your way and then one race and all that changed.

“I’m not surprised. I do find (the reaction) humorous.”

Burton looked out at the people gathered in the infield media center at Atlanta Motor Speedway and said, “C’mon, raise your hand. Who didn’t write Jimmie Johnson and those guys off? I read enough and listen enough to know that some of you guys are like, ‘It ain’t going to happen. He can’t get it done.’ And Kasey Kahne, too.”

Johnson and Kahne both got off to slow starts in the Chase and fell far behind. But, with all 10 drivers in the Chase experiencing problems at some point in the first six races, Johnson is now up to third and Kahne, though still eighth, is considered one of the favorites because of the success he has had at the remaining tracks, including Atlanta, where he won in March.

All 10 are still mathematically in title contention and the top nine are within reach of the lead going into Sunday’s Bass Pro Shops 500.

The closeness of the Chase will increase the pressure on everyone as it goes toward the finish Nov. 19 at Homestead, Burton said.

“I think the pressure already has affected more people, because more people have a chance to win a championship,” Burton said. “For me, personally, I haven’t felt an increase in pressure just yet. I am sure if we can stay in the Chase, it will get there. But, right now, I am pretty proud of myself.

“I still believe you race this thing one race at a time and you put every effort you can in to that race. Spending time, effort and energy about things you can’t control is a complete waste of time.”

Burton said the biggest problem for the drivers living in the pressure cooker of a championship fight is the time between races.

“There is a week between each race and you have a lot of time to sit around and think about things you probably shouldn’t be thinking about,” he explained. “The key is finding a way to get yourself back to thinking about what you should be thinking about, or, completely get away from it. That is not a bad option either.”

But, whatever the contenders do during the week, it’s back to the Chase each Friday for all of them.

“I’m not really feeling the pressure right now because I’m not so sure we’re the favorite,” said Kenseth, who came into the Chase leading the points and has run so-so in the first six races – finishing no better than fourth and no worse than 23rd.

“If the points are like this in three weeks, I’ll probably feel the pressure more,” the 2003 Cup champion said. “But, right now, I don’t. I feel pressure to go out and race against the other 42 cars on Sunday and try to beat them and try to get back to winning races and running up front and leading laps like we were earlier in the year.”

For Burton, the way to get back on top of the standings is a simple formula.

“I think the one key factor is running well,” he said. “We now have a four-race championship with a lot of teams, and chances are that one of those teams will find a way to go through these next four races without a major problem.

“It’s my opinion that to win this championship you’re going to have to put yourself in position to win races. If we’re going to win it, that’s what we have to do.”


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