In light of the Chase domination we have seen over the last two years, I wasn’t overly surprised to see so many people trying to hand the 2008 Sprint Cup Championship over to Jimmie Johnson, even with six races left until the Champion is crowned.
The embers from Johnson’s past success were only blown harder with the recent struggles of what once appeared to be his most likely challengers: Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards, and Kyle Busch.
Lurking in the shadows were the other eight drivers who seemed to have been forgotten. The best of those eight was a familiar name, with the second most experience of any other Chase driver, second only to Jeff Gordon. That man is Jeff Burton.
They call him “The Mayor” in the garage. He was personally selected by Dale Earnhardt, Sr., as a possible replacement in the No. 3 car upon his retirement. He is quite possible the most underrated driver on the track at any given stop on the schedule.
Back in 2006, Burton’s second year at Richard Childress Racing, he won his first Chase berth. For a few weeks early in the Chase that year, he led in the points. The reaction from the media and fans was much as it has been since his win Saturday night at Lowe’s… what is he doing up there?
At the October race at Lowes in 2006, Burton finished third to Johnson’s second. The following week at Martinsville, Burton lost an engine; Johnson went on to win. The rest is history. Johnson was propelled to his first championship; Jeff Burton settled for seventh in the final standings.
This year, Jeff Burton has silently made his way back towards the top of the standings, and not sits poised to show his hand and give the pre-anointed Johnson a run for his money.
After a surprising late race freefall to sixth, while watching Jeff Burton drive away into the sunset, Jimmie Johnson was noticeable distraught. Showing his discontent, Johnson stated, “…Right now I'm pissed about [Saturday]," Johnson said. "But, you know, tomorrow, Tuesday whatever it is, I think we'll be real good over there. [Martinsville] has been a great track to us.”
In response to a question about his strategy, Burton said, "We're just having fun…We're paying attention to us. We're not going to get caught up in the point thing.” Some view this and some of Burton’s other comments as an attempt at mind games with Jimmie Johnson, I think we can only gauge that by the comments that come in the next few weeks.
One thing is for sure, this week we saw Jeff Burton hold the lead after a gas only pit stop, against a hard charging Jimmie Johnson with four fresh tires. I watched Saturday night intently, I saw the Burton of old come out and gut check Jimmie Johnson, saying with his actions that this thing is not over yet. I saw Burton land a direct hit to Jimmie Johnson. The question is, will he be able to deliver the knockout blow?
Since 1994 Burton only has 21 wins, and no championships. But he could arguably be seen as the second most deserving of a Cup, behind only Mark Martin.
I know Jimmie Johnson is not going to roll over and give up. I know The Biffle and Edwards will still make some noise. I know at least one of the lower eight, preferable Kyle Busch, will make a strong run.
But, Jeff Burton is my new favorite to win the Championship. This comes with the deep hope that he can avoid parts failures, erroneous accidents, and the feared Sprint Cup official with crosshairs on the tires of the AT&T Chevrolet going into turn three.
Tell me what you think!
I enjoy responding to comments better than writing the story…let's debate!
Go Kyle, Regan, and Jeff Burton!