To some Jeff Gordon is the coulda, woulda, shoulda driver of the first part of the 2010 season. However, Gordon has some company in the form of Richard Childress Racing’s Jeff Burton.
While Burton sits 12th in points after Sunday’s Aaron’s 499 at Talladega, how his No. 31 Caterpillar team has run this season could have put him in victory lane on a few occasions.
It’s a place that he hasn’t seen since Charlotte in October 2008, but it’s a place he’s bound to find this season; it’s only a matter of time.
NASCAR fans know what the RCR organization went through last season when none of their four cars won a race or made the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship. At season's end however, Burton and teammate Kevin Harvick were back to running how they should have been and looked to have turned things around.
Harvick won Sunday’s race after only leading two laps, Burton finished 32nd after another win slipped through his dominating fingers.
To recap, first you must think back to California, the second race of the year. Burton led 46 laps that afternoon, the second most, and was in the lead when the final caution flag flew with 27 laps remaining. As Burton made his way around the track at a cautious speed, Jimmie Johnson came off pit road after competing his stop and beat Burton to the scoring line.
That kept Johnson on the lead lap, and helped him inherit the lead and the win 20 laps later. Burton settled for third.
Three weeks later, Burton dominated the Goody’s Fast Pain Relief 500 at in his home track in Virginia. Over the last 100 laps he and Denny Hamlin swapped the lead back and forth as they separated themselves from the field.
With 23 laps to go, Burton made his move on Hamlin. As he got to the inside of the No.11, Hamlin shut the door and locked out Burton out of victory lane again. The contact left Burton with a flat right front tire and a 20th place finish.
He had led 146 laps that Monday.
“At Martinsville I thought we had a car to win the race there at the end of that last run,” Burton said a few weeks ago. “We were definitely faster than Denny. It was a matter of getting by him. That’s easier said than done.”
That’s a motto that has repeated itself numerous times, not only for Burton but other drivers as well.
It things were easy then Dale Earnhardt Jr. would have blown by Jamie McMurray for the win in the Daytona 500 in the last corner. Teammate Harvick would have had no problem getting past Johnson in California even after hitting the wall. Jeff Gordon would have hit the jackpot in Las Vegas after dominating the Shelby American 350.
And yet, none of that happened.
Sometimes a plan doesn’t come together. Mistakes, misfortune, or just bad luck pops up in the end. Even though drivers may put themselves in a great position for a win or a well-deserved finish, it might not be enough.
Burton’s finding this out the hard and frustrating way, he continues to flex his muscle but at the end of the day he’s walking away with nothing to show for it.
“If you look at the number of laps that the 31 team in particular has led this year,” Burton says, “it’s more than we did I think all of last year. So I feel good about what we’re doing. But like I said … we haven’t executed.”
In a race that saw 88 lead changes among 29 drivers Sunday at Talladega, Burton was once again the driver that led the most laps, 28 around the superspeedway. With six laps left in the scheduled 188, Burton was running in the lead group when Mike Bliss hit him from behind.
That bad bump-drafting attempt sent Burton into the wall and other cars, ending his day. He was credited with a 32nd place finish while Bliss came home in the 10th spot.
It was the third race in as many weeks that Burton had the best car and it didn't win.
As the saying goes though, if it wasn’t for bad luck he may have no luck at all and there's no better place to get some good luck than back home on Saturday night.