NASCAR Race Weekend Central

2010 NASCAR Driver Review: Jeff Burton

Jeff Burton

2010 Ride: No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
2010 Primary Sponsors: Caterpillar (32 races), Caterpillar Financial (2 races), Prilosec OTC (1 race), Lenox Industrial Tools (1 race)
2010 Owner: Richard Childress Racing
2010 Crew Chief: Todd Berrier
2010 Stats: 36 starts, 0 wins, 6 top fives, 15 top 10s, 0 poles, 12th in points

High Point: Following an early-season stretch of inconsistent finishes that led up to a 32nd-place finish at Talladega and some bad luck sustained following a wreck with Jeff Gordon, the No. 31 team suddenly found itself some speed. Burton finished fourth at Richmond, then went on to score 11 finishes of 12th or better in the next 13 races. A ninth-place finish at Watkins Glen ended the string with him a definite championship contender, despite not having visited victory lane all season.

The closest Burton came was a runner-up finish at both Dover events, if one doesn’t count his domination in the Martinsville spring event before running out of tire when forced to gamble on what was left of it. Following a 13th-place finish at Richmond, Burton entered the Chase winless and 60 points behind Denny Hamlin, but with a revived Richard Childress Racing outfit looking for more.

Low Point: After scoring two top 15s in the first Chase races and another second-place finish at the Monster Mile, Burton had moved within 80 points of leader Hamlin. Unfortunately, that was as good as it got for the No. 31 team in 2010 — a series of mechanical and car handling problems forced an 18th at Kansas, a 23rd at Fontana and a 20th at Charlotte.

Burton never made any splashes after that, and perhaps his frustration at once again being a bridesmaid caused him to boil over at Texas, as he rear-ended Gordon under caution, causing the No. 24 to careen into the wall and back into the No. 31. That ended both drivers’ days, and an on-track fistfight with Gordon ensued. Following a wall scrape that left the No. 31 with a 31st-place finish at Homestead, the Mayor finish last in the Chase standings, 12th overall.

Summary: Burton heated up with the weather, riding a wave of strong finishes into the Chase. But the team never seemed to find its footing once the postseason began, beginning with a couple of mediocre finishes and then collapsing under the weight of mistakes and bad luck through the rest of the year.

Team Ranking: RCR returned to form in 2010, qualifying all three drivers for the playoffs after being completely shut out in 2009. With Kevin Harvick being in the hunt right up until the final race (and winning the “classic” system championship by a long shot), Clint Bowyer winning two Chase events and Burton’s strong midseason performance, it appears Childress is no longer a team to be shrugged off — no matter who is behind the wheel.

Off-Track News: Burton probably explained more incidents in press conferences following altercations with drivers in 2010 than he probably has had in any other season in his career. First, there was his getting in the face of Kyle Busch following the Coca-Cola 600; then, there was a brief row with teammate Harvick following a race at Martinsville where the two weren’t happy with each other; and then, you had the aforementioned incident with Gordon at Texas. A space alien visiting Earth who watched NASCAR for the first time in 2010 would wonder why so many people dislike Jeff Burton.

2011 Outlook: Other than a spotter change (Brett Griffin is moving from the No. 19 team of Elliott Sadler to the No. 31), the tandem of Burton, Todd Berrier and Company will remain intact in 2011, at least as of this writing. That means with RCR not just on the rise but contending for championships again, the stage is set for another possible run at the title that has eluded Burton throughout his career. He’ll need to battle some tough opponents, including his teammates, but if Burton can keep the form he had in midseason this year… let’s just say anything is possible.

The Driver Says… “It’s, obviously very disappointing to end our season with a finish like this. We’ve had a disappointing Chase, but I’m very proud of what the CAT Racing team was able to accomplish in the offseason and turn our season around after a rough year in 2009. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, and we’ll be ready to start after it again come February.”

2006 Frontstretch Grade: B+
2007 Grade: B
2008 Grade: A-
2009 Grade: B-
2010 Grade: B

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