Welcome back, Mayor: Jeff Burton begins ’14 slate with new team

Jeff Burton, pictured here during a winter test at Charlotte Motor Speedway, makes his official return to competition this weekend in Las Vegas.

Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images

The Mayor is back in office.

Or perhaps more correctly, the mayor is back in his office.

In this case, the mayor is NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Jeff Burton, who picked up that nickname in the garage for his ability to articulate complex ideas and points of view about all things related to the sport.

And Burton’s office, at least on a part-time basis this year, is behind the wheel of the No. 66 Let’s Go Places Toyota Camry.

Burton, who will make his first Sprint Cup start of the year Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, is the third driver to pilot the No. 66 in as many races this season. Michael Waltrip drove it in the Daytona 500, while Joe Nemechek was behind the wheel last Sunday at Phoenix and will drive it for the majority of the season.

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The No. 66 car is the product of a partnership between Michael Waltrip Racing and Jay Robinson Racing and it will run the full Cup schedule this year. Just exactly how the season will be divided among drivers remains to be seen.

"We have a hard schedule — Vegas being very hard, and there are other ones we feel pretty sure about that we’re going to run, but we haven’t really talked about it yet, so we might change our mind," said Burton, who is running part-time this year after 20 full-time Cup seasons, the last 9 1/2 with Richard Childress Racing.

That the No. 66 is a work in a progress of sorts shouldn’t come as a surprise. The loss of NAPA as a sponsor after last season meant that MWR went from three full-time cars to two, and the idea is for the newly created part-time team to learn things that will benefit MWR regulars Clint Bowyer and Brian Vickers.

Jeff Burton lands part-time ride with Michael Waltrip Racing

"We’re going to run where it makes sense," said Burton. "Having more teams doesn’t make us better, right? So, what we have to do is run when it’s smart. We’ve got to run where it makes sense to run and not just run because we want to run. It’s got to be part of a plan and if it’s not, we’re making a mistake."

"I am really looking forward to getting back in a race car this weekend," he said. "We spent a lot of time testing this winter. I really like the direction that Michael Waltrip Racing is heading. I really like my team and I am excited to see how our offseason testing worked for us. I am excited to work with everyone at MWR, and I am really excited to see what we have for them in Vegas."