Burton refuses to give up on Chase berth
Jeff Burton once experienced perfection at New Hampshire.
He’ll take third place this time – and a renewed sense that he
can make a late push for a spot in the Chase.
One of NASCAR’s most respected drivers, Burton’s run at his
first spot in the championship field since 2010 got a huge boost
with his season-best finish Sunday. Yes, Brian Vickers’ trip to
Victory Lane after a 75-race winless streak was the surprise of the
race. But right behind him was Burton’s finish. That Vickers-Kyle
Busch-Burton trifecta would have paid off big.
Burton put Sprint Cup on notice that he can still make an impact
in the standings over the final seven races before the field is
”We don’t think we are out of the Chase,” he said. ”I know
everybody else in the world does, but we don’t. We feel like we can
still do it. There’s a lot of stuff that’s going to happen between
now and Richmond. It’s so competitive, so tight.”
Burton jumped from 21st to 17th in the standings to move only 25
points out of 10th place and a guaranteed spot in the 12-driver
Burton, who led every lap in a 2000 win at New Hampshire, had a
sluggish start to this season in the No. 31 Chevrolet. He had just
one top-10 showing in the first eight races. The 46-year-old Burton
appeared headed toward another lost season with Richard Childress
Winless since 2008, Burton just needed time to figure out his
working relationship with first-year crew chief Lucas Lambert.
”We are starting to learn each other,” Burton said. ”The
system that we have that Eric’s been working really hard to get put
in, all that’s helping. We have a lot of things going on; it’s not
one thing, but I think the main thing is just having time together
and understanding each other.”
His season started to turn at Charlotte. Burton was 12th, then
had back-to-back 11th-place finishes before finally cracking the
top 10 again at Michigan. There’s a reason, though, Burton said no
one else considers his team a contender. His recent runs have been
solid, not spectacular, and he’ll need to show New Hampshire was
the start of something big, not a one-off wonder.
”I’m not saying we are the class of the field, but we are
definitely making progress,” Burton said. ”We feel like we are
starting to build on something, and we understand what we’re
looking for now. We have a baseline to work off, first time in a
couple years we have a baseline to work off. We are excited about
it. We feel like we are understanding why we are running well and
we think we can improve.”
Burton, with 21 Cup wins, has taken a backseat at RCR as Kevin
Harvick has become the organization’s star driver.
But Harvick is bringing his Budweiser sponsorship with him to
Stewart-Haas Racing next season, leaving Burton as the face of the
Harvick is a strong contender for his first Cup championship.
His potential to leave the team with the sport’s biggest prize
would be a huge void for any driver to fill, even one as
experienced as Burton.
”What we have to do is embrace the challenge and embrace the
opportunity and go out and try to make it work, and try to be
better through it,” Burton said. ”But you can’t lose a caliber
driver like Kevin and it not impact you. It’s just that simple. I
think we can overcome it, and I think if we set out to do it, we
can be better. Not because he’s leaving, but because in his
absence, we’re going to do stuff to fill that void and through
that, you make him get better.”
His performance at New Hampshire was a perfect example.