2009 Ride: No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
2009 Primary Sponsors: Caterpillar (33 races), Prilosec OTC/Walmart (2 races), Lenox Industrial Tools (1 race)
2009 Owner: Richard Childress
2009 Crew Chiefs: Scott Miller (Feb. – Oct.), Todd Berrier (Oct. – Nov.)
Stats: 36 starts, 0 wins, 5 top fives, 10 top 10s, 0 poles, 17th in points
Best Finish: 2nd (Phoenix – fall, Homestead)
Average Finish: 18.0
High Point: After a year of ho-hum finishes and nothing special, Jeff Burton ended the year with four straight top 10s – including two runner-up finishes in a row to round out the year. The turnaround started when Burton came home fifth at Talladega, thanks to smart driving with a dash of good luck – he raced in the top 10 for the majority of the race before being shuffled back late. That’s where the luck came in, as two multi-car crashes happened far enough ahead he was able to avoid them at all costs. With enough gas to make it to the end, Burton earned his first top-five finish in 22 races. The hot streak continued at Texas, a track he runs notoriously well at, when he came from 42nd to finish ninth. In the final two races of the year, Burton ran well enough to earn a win, but time wasn’t on his side – and he wasn’t able to rundown the leader before the end.
Low Point: While Burton wasn’t setting the world on fire in the first half of the season, things really took a turn for the worse after Michigan in June. His 26th-place finish in that race was the start of an 18-race span where the No. 31 car failed to run higher than 14th while recording eight finishes outside the top 25. In that same span, he scored three DNFs when he crashed out of races at Chicago, Watkins Glen and Fontana to all but seal his playoff fate. During the skid, Burton dropped from 10th down to 19th in the standings, far from the Chase-contending position he had been accustomed to. When the rules change on double-file restarts came, Burton wasn’t a fan from the start. He always seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, getting caught up in someone else’s mess – and the frustration that comes with it.
“These double-file restarts over the last four weeks haven’t been kind to us,” Burton said after the race at Chicago. “I know it is exciting to watch and I am sure it is exciting to talk about, but my perspective right now on them isn’t really good.”
Summary: The 2009 season can be divided into three distinct sections for Burton. There was the first third of the season where the results weren’t great, but were good enough to keep him in the top 10. Then, there was the midseason skid, ending any chance of making the Chase where anything that could go wrong, did; followed by the blistering finish to the year after the change at crew chief that paired him with Todd Berrier.
Team Ranking: 2009 was a total turnaround from the previous year for Richard Childress Racing; and in this case, that’s not a good thing. After putting three of their four teams into the Chase in 2008, they went 0 for 4 in 2009 with Clint Bowyer’s 15th place in the final standings being the highlight of the season. The team was shut out of victory lane, and their team total of 14 top-five finishes was eclipsed by both Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon individually.
Off-Track News: Burton moonlighted into the realm of daytime television in March, making an appearance on the ABC soap opera General Hospital. Burton played himself in the cameo, striking up a conversation in one of Port Charles’s hotels with racing fan and resident hunky doc Dr. Patrick Drake, who doesn’t recognize the Sprint Cup driver. The scenes were filmed in February and Burton played host to Jason Thompson, the actor that portrays Dr. Drake, when the series visited Auto Club Speedway later that month.
2010 Outlook: Look out for a new pair of Killer Bs next season in the Sprint Cup Series. After a crew chief swap in October, the duo of Burton and Berrier went on a tear, scoring four top-10 finishes in a row with an impressive average finish of 4.5. But with teammate Kevin Harvick likely on his way out on the end of the year, Burton could reap the benefits of being the top dog that is planning on hanging around for the foreseeable future. And as the communication between Burton and Berrier improves, a return to the Chase is a definite possibility for the Virginia veteran.
“I’m just real proud of everyone at Richard Childress Racing,” Burton said after the season finale at Homestead. “Obviously, it has been a really good four weeks for the CAT Racing team. We’re real proud of everyone’s effort. Todd (Berrier, crew chief) has done an incredible job putting the team together very quickly, and we put ourselves in position [to win] tonight. I needed to be screaming a little bit more about what I thought I needed. But, that will come. Everybody did their part and I came up a little short. Two second-places in our first four outings and a fifth and a ninth with Todd is pretty good. We’re not where we need to be or we would be where Denny is, but we’ll keep working. We have a good baseline.”
2006 Frontstretch Grade: B+
2007 Grade: B
2008 Grade: A-
2009 Grade: B-