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NASCAR Season Preview: Jeff Burton

Photo credit: Ned Leone

#31 Caterpillar/General Mills Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing

Born: June 29, 1967

Home: South Boston, Virginia

2011 HIGHLIGHTS: Burton kicked it into high gear in the final five races of the season, finishing second at Talladega after teammate Clint Bowyer passed him on the final lap. He also placed sixth at Martinsville, fourth at Phoenix, and finished the season 10th at Homestead.

2011 LOWLIGHTS: Last season was a far cry from 2010’s Chase run, as Burton dropped from 12th to 20th in points and from 15 top 10s to only five. He also failed to win a race for the third straight season.

SEASON OUTLOOK: “The Mayor” spent most of 2011 as a relative backmarker, failing to crack the top five in a race in the first 31 events of the year. He lost crew chief Todd Berrier after Loudon in July, but results picked up slightly when rookie Luke Lambert took over the pit box. He’ll have his third crew chief in 12 months this season, though, as Drew Blickensderfer (ex-Roush Fenway Racing and David Ragan) takes over leadership of Richard Childress’ second-oldest team.

For the second time in three seasons, Burton’s performance suffered as Childress expanded to a four-car stable once again. When the team had only three full-time entries from 2006-2008, Burton finished in the top 10 in points and won at least one race every year, and even in 2010 he still made the Chase. But with three teammates in 2009 and 2011, Burton couldn’t get anything going. With Childress going back to a three-car operation after Bristol, Burton has a chance to pick his results back up. It’s unlikely that he’ll be as strong as Kevin Harvick was last year, but a low Chase seed isn’t unattainable.

– Chris Leone

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