2009 has not gone well for Jeff Burton.
During a resurgence in the last couple years, Burton has been a contender for the Championship. So far, though, 2009 has been a struggle not only for Burton but for his whole organization at Richard Childress Racing.
With making the Chase out of the picture, it’s time to start looking forward to next year and building some momentum.
Saturday was a very busy day for Burton—not only was he preparing for the Cup race on Sunday, he was preparing for the Nationwide race Saturday night. With Nationwide being a one day show, Burton was non-stop all day long.
On the Cup side of things, the team struggled with a loose race car due to weather conditions which included a red flag for rain. The track is so weather-sensitive that brief cloud cover can throw off the handling of the car.
Burton ran a total of 48 laps in the practice. His fastest lap was his first lap, a time of 31.2 seconds. The team ended up 26th on the charts heading into the final practice.
Burton and his team went to work and ran a fast lap of 31.1 seconds on lap 29 of the 33 he had run. Late in the practice many teams were focusing on qualifying and making short runs to find the right set up.
Burton and his crew drew an early draw for qualifying in going out fifth—which for many was a disadvantage.
Burton would end up starting 24th.
As the race went green, Burton was battling a very loose race car; he started to drop back a bit and reported to the team that he had no rear grip and that he needed to turn better in the corners.
That was lap 11; by lap 22 he was still needing rear grip under throttle, but he didn’t want to hurt his entrance and exit off the corners.
Sam Hornish Jr. brought out the first caution and the call was for four tires, air pressure adjustment, and a track bar adjustment; he cycled through to 19th. Burton started moving forward but still was complaining about being way to lose.
By lap 100 he had worked his way up to 15th. Just a few laps later he reported a being loose getting on, tight in the middle, and that he couldn’t run the bottom. The team talked about a wedge adjustment on the next stop.
By lap 117 he was dropping in the field, reporting an issue on the No. 31. A vibration forced them onto pit road under green and dropped them a lap down; the caution waved while they were on pit road.
Burton drove through instead of pitting and NASCAR caught him speeding.
From here on the rest of the night for Burton would be one to forget.
On lap 200, Burton had already been lapped again; he pitted but once again got caught speeding. At this point the frustration had begun to show.
Burton was adamant that he was not speeding, and NASCAR black flagged him for not serving the penalty.
By lap 268 he was running in 35th and still three laps down—and was still pleading his case that he did not speed. They continued to struggle with an ill-handling race car.
On a late caution they took advantage of the wave around and did not pit getting one of their laps back to finish 34th and two laps down.
This was not the night that Burton had hoped for. Sitting 18th in the standings, the team is focused on getting better for the remainder of the year and for next year.
Burton and teammate Kevin Harvick are examples of how the year has gone for the Richard Childress Racing stable: Either they are right on with the setups and they have strong runs and finishes like Harvick’s second tonight...or they are just a bit off and a already long night is even longer.
Burton was expected to be a threat for the championship this year; instead he is trying to salvage a season that has gone in the wrong direction.
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