No. 31 Team Cash In on Vegas Luck to Finish 11th Jeff Burton and the Cat Racing team displayed the continued resurgence of Richard Childress Racing during the Sunday's Shelby American at Las Vegas Motor Speedway but then had to rely on a little...
No. 31 Team Cash In on Vegas Luck to Finish 11th
Jeff Burton and the Cat Racing team displayed the continued resurgence of Richard Childress Racing during the Sunday's Shelby American at Las Vegas Motor Speedway but then had to rely on a little Vegas luck to fight back for an 11th-place finish.
The finish drops the RCR team two spots, to seventh, in the overall NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings where they trail teammate and current point leader Kevin Harvick by 76 markers.
The No. 31 crew was looking to better their third-place effort last week at Auto Club Speedway by bringing a newly built Caterpillar Chevy to the track for the second consecutive week. Once again, a fresh-off-the-assembly-line-machine did not disappoint.
With rain in the forecast for Saturday afternoon, the Todd Berrier-led Cat crew laid out a practice strategy for Friday afternoon, concentrating on race set-up for Sunday's 400-mile event. With the focus on the race, Burton and crew knew they would be sacrificing some for qualifying. The No. 31 Chevy was listed 17th on the charts at the conclusion of practice, and then Burton followed it up during qualifying by lining up the yellow and black machine in the 22nd position for the green flag. The rain, however, stayed away on Saturday, allowing the Burton and Berrier duo to fine tune their race set up even further.
In front of the race's ninth straight sell-out crowd in sunny Las Vegas, Burton displayed the strength of his new Cat machine by moving into the top 10 by lap 62. By the 100-lap marker of the 267-lap event, the 42-year-old driver had maneuvered the No. 31 Cat Chevrolet into the top five in the running order.
Burton and Company found a home in the top five and worked to maintain it. Everything was going as planned for roughly the next 80 circuits of the 1.5-mile oval. While running fifth on lap 182 and just 20 laps since the last pit stop, Burton came on the team radio with deep concern of an issue on the Cat Chevy. He immediately wheeled the No. 31 car to pit road to the attention of the Cat crew. Four fresh tires were bolted on the Chevrolet Impala before sending Burton back on track in the 26th position.
Though initial examination of the tires did not yield any answers, the 21-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race winner soon relayed some difficult news to the team -- the problem still existed, even with fresh tires.
Burton wrestled with an extremely demanding condition as the Cat Chevy was bouncing around so bad it made it challenging to hit his marks on the track. Since they were now a lap down to the race leader and off sequence on their pit stops, the Berrier-led crew knew they would need a bit of help. They were going to need a bit of Vegas luck to claw their way back to the lead pack.
As other cars pitted, Berrier instructed Burton to stay on the track as long as he could in hopes for a caution. With just 40 laps remaining, Vegas luck did strike the Cat crew in the form of a caution. Since the No. 31 Chevy had remained on track through others' pit stops and inevitably climbed the chart, they were now listed in the sixth position and back in the game.
Berrier called for four fresh tires and adjustments on the ensuing pit stop, hoping to alleviate the handling issues. Back under green on lap 233 in the 10th position, Burton soon figured out he still had his hands full. With just over 30 laps remaining in the event, the South Boston, Va., native dug deep and held on for the 11th-place finish.
For the second week in a row, Burton's RCR teammate Harvick followed Jimmie Johnson across the finish line. Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin and Matt Kenseth rounded out the top-five finishers.
Fellow RCR stable mate Clint Bowyer finished eighth, continuing RCR's overall hold in the championship point standings -- Harvick is the current point leader, Bowyer is second while Burton is seventh.
"That was a really strong effort and I'm proud of everyone on the Cat Racing Team for all of their hard work. I'm not sure what went wrong with the car there in the middle part of the race so we'll have to check it over when it gets back to the shop. It wasn't exactly the finish we were looking for today but I'm happy we were able to salvage something out of it."
Burton and the Cat Racing team head back to the south when the Sprint Cup Series takes their tour to The Atlanta Motor Speedway.