Speed not yet translating to wins for Jeff Burton

Jeff Burton had been running some of the fastest laps at Phoenix

before he was penalized for an improper pit stop.

At Martinsville, he was in a two-car battle with Denny Hamlin up

front at when he lost a tire with eight laps left. Then there was

an unlucky break created by an untimely caution when he was leading

late at California.

“We have enough speed to be winning races,” Burton said.

Except he isn’t.

Burton hasn’t found his way to Victory Lane even though he has

already led nearly twice as many laps (189) in seven races this

year as he did all of last season, is one of four drivers to

complete every lap and has an average running position of 12.9 that

is bettered only by Jimmie Johnson and three others.

“I feel good about where we are. I’m disappointed that we’ve

made the mistakes that we’ve made,” Burton said. “But the thing

that we have is speed. When you have speed, all the little mistakes

are exposed.”

Burton is still looking for his first NASCAR Sprint Cup

championship in his 17th season.

“I think we’re ready to challenge for a championship,” the

42-year-old driver said. “I think we have the speed to contend for

the championship, I think we have the team, and I think we have the

fundamental basics to contend and win a championship.”

Burton finished last season with four consecutive top-10

finishes after Todd Berrier, a veteran in the Richard Childress

Racing organization, took over as his crew chief.

Despite that quick success, Burton said they are still learning

each other.

“And some of those growing pains are showing,” he said.

Burton was penalized a lap and knocked out of contention midway

through last weekend’s race at Phoenix International Raceway after

his crew worked on the No. 31 Chevrolet when it was partially

outside the team’s pit stall. He got back on the lead lap, but

still had his worst finish of the season at 25th.

Maybe Burton can have a Texas turnaround.

He has won twice at the 1 1/2-mile high-banked Texas track –

having speed is a good thing at one of the fastest Cup

circuits.

The first of Burton’s 21 career Cup victories came in the

track’s inaugural event in 1997.

“I remember winning there. I lost my wedding ring in Victory

Lane. We found it,” Burton said. “Even though it was my first

win, I can honestly tell you that by Tuesday I was kind of over it

and ready to go onto the next thing. That’s just my personality.

Unfortunately, I don’t take enough time to enjoy things

sometimes.”

Ten years later, Burton led only the last lap to become the

first two-time Texas winner. (Carl Edwards swept the 2008 races to

give him three wins there, but there are no other multiple winners

at Texas).

That second win at Texas is one of Burton’s four for Childress

since moving over from Roush Racing midway through the 2004

season.

But Burton has a 48-race victory drought since last winning at

Charlotte in October 2008. That is the team’s drought as well.

All three Childress drivers – Burton, Clint Bowyer and Kevin

Harvick – finished in the top-11 in each of the first three races

this season.

Though the Childress team hasn’t maintained that extraordinary

pace, all three drivers are in the top-seven in the standings and

separated by less than 100 points. Harvick is fourth, Bowyer sixth

and Burton is seventh.

“I’m a big believer in putting yourself in position, and the

more times you put yourself in position, the better chance you have

to win,” Burton said. “As we’ve seen, especially this year, the

fastest car doesn’t always win the race, but you’ve got to put

yourself in position; you’ve got to be in the front of the pack at

the right time, and the only way to do that is to run fast and have

a fast car.”

After Burton started 39th and finished 11th in the

season-opening Daytona 500, he was leading ahead of Harvick the

following week at California with 25 laps left.

Johnson was sitting in the pits when a spin by Brad Keselowski

on the frontstretch brought out a yellow flag. The Hendrick

Motorsports crew finished its work and the No. 48 car crossed the

scoring line at the end of pit road just before Burton passed

him.

That kept Johnson from dropping a lap and he regained the lead

when everybody else, including Burton, pitted during that caution.

Johnson led the rest of the race, finishing ahead of Harvick and

Burton.

“After California everybody said Jimmie was lucky, and yeah he

had a lucky break,” Burton said. “But they executed and that’s

what we haven’t done as well as we need to do. Hopefully in the

future we can execute on our opportunities.”