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

set.

”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

field.

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

Racing.

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

company.

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.