2008 Ride: No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
2008 Primary Sponsor: AT&T Mobility
2008 Owner: Richard Childress
2008 Crew Chief: Scott Miller
2008 Stats: 36 races, 2 wins, 7 top fives, 18 top 10s, sixth in points
High Point: When Jeff Burton won the Bank of America 500 in Concord, N.C., it marked the first time since 2001 that the Virginian would record multiple wins in a season. Even more importantly, the victory vaulted Burton into second place, just 69 markers behind leader Jimmie Johnson and putting one of the sport’s veterans in the best position to unseat the two-time defending champion. Furthermore, the victory marked the sixth consecutive top-10 finish for the No. 31 team, who appeared to be hitting their peak at the right time in the Chase. The 41-year-old certainly had to feel that his prime years had not yet escaped him, as he was in the middle of making one of the most formidable challenges for that elusive championship since leaving Roush Racing.
Low Point: The low point took place the very next week after Burton’s big win. Many thought that Burton would continue his charge towards the point lead, considering he was heading back to Martinsville in his home state of Virginia. The paperclip track has traditionally been good to Burton, as he’s earned one win and 14 top 10s throughout his career at the historic venue. However, the most recent trip to this track turned out to be a forgettable one. After running in the middle of the pack for most of the afternoon, Burton saw his chances at a solid finish completely slip away when he made a rare pit-road mistake. Trying to avoid the exiting car of Jeff Gordon, Burton was forced to make an awkward entrance into his pit, leaving the AT&T Chevy outside of the box when work began. NASCAR slapped the team with a one-lap penalty, and Burton could do no better than 17th while his championship rival, Johnson, won the race. He left the TUMS QuikPak 500 with a 152-point deficit in the standings, which would only increase while the team struggled to just one more top 10 in the remaining four events on the year.
Summary: There are very few things in this world that are as consistent as Burton, and 2008 proved that theory once again. His season started out with a bang when the team went on a tear of six consecutive top-10 finishes, starting at Las Vegas, a run that was highlighted by a surprise win at Bristol. In fact, it was those types of performances that propelled Burton to the points lead for four weeks, an accomplishment that was easily overlooked during the early dominance of Kyle Busch.
In an amazing statistic, Burton took consistency to a whole new level in the season’s first half, completing all but one lap of the first 17 races while scoring top-15 finishes in each. After that, a wreck at Daytona ended the streak and halted momentum of the No. 31 team for a bit. But while Burton cooled off somewhat during the summer months, he began to peak once again at the right time… heading right into the Chase.
After a solid first half that included a Charlotte win, it looked like Burton could pull a surprise upset over Johnson, Carl Edwards and Co. for the title. But the veteran could not keep the hot streak going long enough to keep pace, leaving him falling just short of yet another championship.
Off-Track News: Burton certainly isn’t the type of guy who is seen in the headlines a lot, and that can be a good thing. In fact, the most notable announcement involving Burton still involves his racecar. After five seasons of driving the familiar black and orange Chevy for Richard Childress Racing, Burton will begin 2009 driving for Caterpillar Inc., ironically the same company his older brother drove for from 1999-2003 and took to Victory Lane in the 2002 Daytona 500.
The younger Burton, who is known as the sport’s ambassador for safety, also extended his beliefs to the classroom. The Virginia native visited two high schools in October to promote teen safety in an effort to reduce the fatalities of novice drivers. It is these types of efforts that make Burton a valuable asset to the sport both on and off the track.
Team Ranking: While Burton may have finished third among RCR cars in the final points standings, it was certainly not reflective of his performance all year long. Burton had more wins than his teammates (Clint Bowyer – 1 and Kevin Harvick – 0) and was a virtual lock for the Chase very early in the season — while Bowyer and Harvick remained on or near the bubble until Richmond. Furthermore, Burton has clearly established himself as the leader on this team over the young Bowyer and the sometimes hotheaded Harvick. The No. 31 team is at the top of the RCR totem pole, and that should not be expected to change in 2009.
2009 Outlook: Over the past three seasons, Burton has produced at least one win and a Chase berth — and that streak should extend to four next year. While some Richard Childress Racing teams will see driver and team swaps with the addition of Casey Mears, only the colors and the name on the hood will be different for Burton. Scott Miller returns for another year on the pit box, which means this team should be poised to make another run at the championship. Don’t expect Burton to be a favorite to win it all in ’09, though. This team has been good, but not great over the past few seasons; and unless they find a way to avoid their occasional cold streaks, they will be no more than a top-six points contender… if you consider that a bad thing.
2006 Frontstretch Grade: B+.
2007 Grade: B.
2008 Grade: A-.