SONOMA, Calif. -- While most drivers were relaxing before Sunday's Save Mart 350 Winston Cup event, Jeff Burton was in the restricted seating area at Sears Point Raceway, shaking hands and signing autographs among the youngsters in wheelchairs.
"These kids can't just go to autograph sessions. We try to make things a little easier for them," he said. "It makes you feel like you're doing something a little good for them."
The devotion to kids, and especially ones with disabilities, runs in the family.
Just last week, a 10-year-old boy with cerebral palsy got a call from Jeff Burton's brother Ward.
The youngster, a fan of heavy construction equipment, was being shown the biggest vehicles at the Caterpillar factory in Peoria, Ill., through the Make-a-Wish Foundation when he excitedly spotted Ward Burton's Caterpillar-sponsored Pontiac.
Caterpillar set up the phone call.
"Our parents taught us compassion," Jeff Burton said. "I know my mother would have done anything in the world. She's kind of passed that on to us and it's our responsibility to keep that going."
THE BOSS GOES TO WORK: Rusty Wallace's crew chief Robin Pemberton, who gave up over-the-wall duties last year following surgery on both knees, was pressed back into action Sunday.
The shuffle began when rear tire changer Mark Armstrong flew back to Gastonia, N.C., for the birth of his first child.
Front tire carrier Ben Leslie took over his spot and Pemberton moved to the front.
It was a boy for Mark and Lorie Armstrong.
ON THE MEND: Stock car legend Richard Petty had to watch his son Kyle's race on Sunday from a hospital bed in Greensboro, N.C.
He passed out at his home on Wednesday after losing nearly 40 percent of his blood when a bleeding ulcer ruptured. The bleeding was stopped on Thursday, but doctors want to conduct some additional tests, his son said.
Richard Petty, 61, the most successful Winston Cub driver with 200 victories and seven championships, retired from competition in 1992 to manage the family's Petty Enterprises.
UNHAPPY CAMPER: Derrike Cope, mired in 42nd place in this year's Winston Cup standings, is understandably upset about the way things aren't going with his team.
"We were behind at the start of the year and we haven't caught up, and the other guys aren't waiting for us, obviously," he said.
"We're behind power-wise, we're behind areodynamically. Overall, we're just not a high-grade race team at this point."
Cope's Chuck Rider-owned Pontiac failed to make the cut in six of the first 16 races of the season and took the last non-provisional spot on the grid this weekend by a scant 0.157 second.
"We're just behind all the time and management's gonna have to do some things," he said. "We have no points, we have no provisionals so we're behind the eight-ball the whole time. We've got to get more proficient, get ourselves up in the Top 25, the Top 28. Then we can start to progress."
TOUGH WEEKEND: Winston West Series driver Butch Gilliland was hoping for a double at Sears Point. It lasted just a dozen laps.
His Chevrolet broke down eight laps into Saturday's Featherweight Southwest Series when the transmission went out.
His Winston Cup Ford lasted half as long on Sunday before its engine let go with a puff of smoke on the fourth lap.
THAT SHOWROOM SMELL: Ricky Rudd, Brett Bodine, Jimmy Spencer, Darrell Waltrip and Rick Mast all have one thing in common -- new cars. This weekend was the first outing for their Fords, specially designed for running on a road course.
Rusty Wallace also had new wheels for Sears Point Raceway, although he tested the car here last month.
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