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Non-Chaser Burton Turns His Attention To The Future

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, October 3 2009
Jeff Burton is in an unfamiliar position as the Chase rages on. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Jeff Burton is in an unfamiliar position as the 2009 Chase rages on. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Jeff Hood | Senior Writer

Kansas City, Kan. – A fixture in each Chase for the Sprint Cup championship since 2006, Jeff Burton finds himself in unfamiliar territory.

As NASCAR’s playoffs rolls into Kansas Speedway for Sunday’s Price Chopper 400, the 21-time Cup race winner is forced to carry the “non-Chaser” label.

And Burton isn’t happy about it.

“It’s been painful this year,” admitted Burton, whose season-best finishes are a pair of third place efforts at Las Vegas and Richmond. “Everybody has been on edge.”

After placing three drivers in the Chase one year ago, Richard Childress Racing took a major step backward this season.

None of RCR’s four teams managed to amass enough points to finish in the top 12 during the 26-race regular season and earn a coveted berth in the Chase.

The organization’s best opportunity to score a victory this season slipped away during the closing moments of the Pep Boys Auto 500 in Atlanta last month when Kevin Harvick led 66 laps before finishing second.

As Chevrolet-powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports continues its dominance in the sport, RCR team owner Richard Childress has vowed to fix the problems that have slowed his organization.

And Burton likes what he’s hearing and seeing.

“We’ve made a lot of changes and we’re making a lot of moves within our company to improve,” Burton said. “And I feel like we’re going to be a lot stronger next year than we were this year.

“It’s been easy to lose focus because, when you’re not in the Chase, it’s hard to stay focused. But I certainly feel like we’re moving in the right direction.”

Childress’ Welcome, N.C.–based program guided the late Dale Earnhardt to six of his seven championships.

But Childress, a former driver, will have to draw on his years of experience and resources to re-elevate his organization.

“Richard is a very competitive person,” Burton said. “He wants all of his drivers and all of his teams to be successful.

“You know he’s always giving you everything he can. When things aren’t going well, he lets you know he still believes in you.

“There’s a reason so many people have stayed at RCR for so long. It’s a good place to work. And it’s because of him.”

The success enjoyed this season by 50-year-old Mark Martin gives Burton reason to believe there are more victories and title runs down the road for the South Boston, Va. native.

“I’m the one in February that picked Mark to win the championship,” the 42-year-old Burton said. “This doesn’t surprise me in the least.

“I know when people aren’t having success and they’re old, they’re saying ‘he’s not having success because he’s older.’ No one ever says ‘well, he’s not having success because he’s young.’

“It doesn’t make any sense to me. This is a sport where it doesn’t matter how old you are. It matters how much skill you have and how much commitment you have.”

Burton, who drove for Roush-Fenway Racing for nearly nine seasons before moving to RCR during the 2004 season, hopes to conclude his driving career for Childress.

“I certainly hope to,” Burton said. “I have a lot of respect for Richard. All my intention is 100 percent to stay at RCR and finish my career there.

“I have no intention of stopping racing. It’s what I love to do. As long as I feel like I can be competitive and win races, I want to do it.

“I honestly believe I am a better race car driver at 42 than I was when I was 35.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, October 3 2009
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