2007 Ride: No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
2007 Sponsor: Cingular/AT&T
2007 Owner: Richard Childress
2007 Crew Chief: Scott Miller
Stats: 36 races, 1 win, nine top fives, 18 top 10s, eighth in points.
High Point: Burton’s six finishes of sixth or better through the season’s first seven races kept him among the top three in the point standings through the end of April. During that stretch, a runner-up finish at Bristol in the series’ first Car of Tomorrow event, in a case where the chrome horn would have earned him a win and been viewed by many as “just racin’,” was a testament to Burton’s class and sportsmanship. That well-earned karma shone on JB two weeks later when he captured his lone 2007 win, taking the checkers after a classic duel with friend and former teammate Matt Kenseth at Texas Motor Speedway.
Also of note was the ongoing sponsorship issues that burdened this outfit throughout much of the early season. With Burton’s Cingular sponsor rebranded as AT&T, Sprint/Nextel filed a lawsuit to keep the new logo off the car, claiming AT&T had not been grandfathered into the current title-sponsorship deal with NASCAR as Cingular had been. Injunctions and counter-lawsuits followed, until a compromise was reached in September that allowed AT&T to remain as primary sponsor for the No. 31 team through the end of the 2008 season. That victory may have been bigger for the team than the Texas win, giving them the financial reassurance they needed for at least the next several months.
Low Point: Burton and the boys slumped at the most inopportune time last season. Consecutive finishes of 18th at Richmond and New Hampshire – followed by a run of 36th two weeks later at Kansas – put the team’s Chase chances on life support. A blown engine at Talladega relegated him to 43rd and officially sank the ship, negating any chance of a title run this team may have had. To their credit, however, the No. 31 bunch rebounded for top-15 runs in each of the season’s final six weeks.
Summary: Burton’s last two seasons with Richard Childress Racing have been mirror images of one another: Consistent, but not consistently stellar. After a 2006 renaissance, many expected Burton and crew to challenge for a Cup title in ’07. And while he certainly gave it a go of things through the season’s midpoint, the results and the trademark steadiness slumped as the year drew on. Still, an eighth-place points finish (he surrendered a tie for seventh with Kurt Busch based on number of wins) is nothing to hang one’s head over – especially when you collect a victory and nine top-five finishes in the process.
2008 Outlook: Burton enters 2008 looking to shake the mid-Chase blues. Consecutive runs of seventh and eighth in NASCAR’s playoffs have some wondering if this team needs a little shaking up to rekindle the fire that propelled them from 18th in 2005 into the top 10 in the first place.
Still, Burton remains a more than capable wheelman that takes care of his machinery, and never sticks his nose where it doesn’t belong. Problem is, that conservative style of racing fails to net many wins or championships. A more aggressive approach, whether that be on pit road or in traffic, would help this bunch take the next step.
Quote of the Year: “I could have used the bumper to move him out of the way and win the race, but I didn’t want to. I can lay in bed and wonder, ‘What if?’ But that’s what I chose to do. If you can’t pass him without knocking him out of the way, do the best you can. He’s driven me clean, and that’s what I did with him.” – Burton after the spring Bristol event, commenting on why he did not lay the bumper to Kyle Busch on the race’s final lap.
2006 Frontstretch Grade: B+
2007 Grade: B
Editor’s Note: The 2007 season is over, and even the Final Chase exam has come to a close – which means it’s time to give each driver their annual year-end evaluation. For the second straight year, your favorite Frontstretch staff members are giving driver reviews for every full-time wheelman on the circuit, giving you insight into the seasons of anyone from AJ Allmendinger to JJ Yeley.