Burton: RCR turning corner in Chase-less year
Jeff Burton can find plenty of reasons why Richard Childress Racing has struggled this season. The boss isn't one of them. The NASCAR veteran defended Childress on Thursday, saying the entire organization is at fault for RCR's nightmarish 2009, when one of the most successful teams failed to land a single driver in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. Burton said NASCAR's ban on offseason testing and a lack of good infrastructure within the company sent RCR into a tailspin. "As things change in the sport, we didn't change quick enough, and we're all guilty of that," Burton said. "That's not Richard's fault. Richard relies on the people that work for him to provide him with the insight. The owner of the company can't always be the guy that looks and sees what's going to happen three years from now." Burton, who will make his 850th NASCAR start during Friday's Nationwide race at Lowe's Motor Speedway, is in the middle of his worst season since 2005. He heads into Saturday's race 18th in points and hasn't won in a year. He's hardly alone in his misery. Teammate Clint Bowyer is 15th. Casey Mears is 19th. Kevin Harvick is 21st and already talking like a driver who can't wait until his contract is up at the end of next season. RCR, which had three drivers in the Chase the last two seasons, is already trying to fix what went wrong. Harvick and Mears switched crew chiefs in the spring, and the company announced a reorganization last month that included promoting Burton's crew chief Scott Miller to director of competition. Burton said he's close to finding a new chief for his No. 31 Chevrolet and believes the new-look RCR will be better prepared to attack 2010. "Before we had less people trying to do more things, and it made it harder for them to specialize and focus on one thing," he said. "This allows people to really focus on what it is that their job is. It's more measurable. There's more accountability." That goes for the drivers, too. Although the fallout between Childress and Harvick hasn't been the best for team chemistry, Burton doesn't think it will affect the on-track performance. "Sometimes you are just better off going to the dentist and getting it over with," Burton said. "I think everybody is behaving in a very professional manner. Everybody is understanding that Kevin has a year left on his contract, and he's going to do everything in his power to do the best job for RCR." Does that mean Burton expects RCR to be back in the Chase next fall? The pragmatist in him isn't sure. While his team searches for the right chemistry - Burton hasn't had a Top 10 since the spring race at Pocono - there are signs RCR is catching up. Bowyer and Harvick were both in the Top 10 last week in California. Mears was 11th. It's not much. But it is progress. Burton will take it. "There is certainly a trend toward running better and getting where we need to be," he said. "We're not there yet. We're still not leading laps and doing the things we need to be able to do on a consistent basis, but I think we're gaining on it without a doubt."