Late-Race Mishaps Lead to Heartbreak for Burton, LENOX Team in Loudon Jeff Burton and the LENOX Industrial Tools team looked as if they were finally going to break the spell of calamity and be the first to cross the finish line in 17 starts this...
Late-Race Mishaps Lead to Heartbreak for Burton, LENOX Team in Loudon
Jeff Burton and the LENOX Industrial Tools team looked as if they were finally going to break the spell of calamity and be the first to cross the finish line in 17 starts this season, but it wasn't meant to be when a couple of late-race incidents led to a 12th-place finish in Sunday's LENOX Industrial Tools 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Despite the heartbreaking result, the No. 31 Richard Childress Racing team maintained their eighth-place slot in the overall Sprint Cup Series point standings with nine races remaining before the Chase for the Sprint Cup commences when the series returns to the Loudon facility in September. They are 142 markers forward of the coveted 12th-place tally and 45 points in arrears to Matt Kenseth in seventh.
The four-time New Hampshire race winner and his Todd Berrier-led crew were optimistic about returning to the 1.058-mile oval and set high expectations for the 301-lap race. They met those expectations when they recorded the ninth-fastest speed in Friday's lone practice session and backed that up by posting the third- and second-fast times, respectively, in Saturday's dual practice allotments, proving that they would be a force to be reckoned with on Sunday.
An early qualifying draw was the result of Burton's 17th-place starting position but, when the green flag fell, his sights were set on the front of the field. He quickly cracked the top 10 just 26 laps into the competition before a caution flag for debris waved nine laps later. Needing slightly more rear grip to help him exit the 12-degree banked corners, Burton made a quick stop on pit road for service and was back on the racing surface 18th in the rundown after many teams chose two fresh tires versus four.
That call boded well for the South Boston, Va., native as he wasted little time moving into the top five by lap 64. The run continued to remain under green conditions long enough for two green-flag pit cycles to take place and, during that time, Burton moved into fourth at lap 87, third at lap 105, second at lap 195 and into the lead after the next six circuits.
The 21-time Sprint Cup Series race winner held the point for the next 88 trips around the New Hampshire race track despite a hard-charging Jimmie Johnson. Burton worked the lapped-car traffic and, because of that, was extending the distance between him and the eventual race winner when the untimely caution flag flew on lap 283 for a two-car incident.
It was decision time for all the teams as to whether to pit or not to pit and, most of the time, teams make the opposite call of what the leader does in order to gain on their competition. And, that's exactly what happened this time.
The No. 31 team chose to stay on the race track because track position is key while those behind Burton made the left turn down pit road that saw most teams produce two-tire pit stops.
When the field returned to green with 14 laps remaining, Burton slipped through the field, to fourth, before making contact with Kyle Busch that compelled NASCAR to wave the caution flag again.
A right-front tire rub forced the veteran driver to pit road on the ensuing lap so his over-the-wall crew could pull the fender away from the tire and, after two fresh tires were bolted on the blue, white and red Chevrolet, he was scored 15th on the leaderboard with eight laps to go.
Burton made the best of the situation and fought hard over the closing laps to notch three positions before the checkers flew.
Jimmie Johnson captured his fifth win of the 2010 season and was followed to the line by Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch. Jeff Gordon and RCR teammate Kevin Harvick balanced out the top-five finishers.
Burton's fellow RCR teammate Clint Bowyer finished seventh.
NASCAR takes its premier series south to the Sunshine State next week for the third restrictor plate race of the season at the historic "World Center of Racing."
"The LENOX Industrial Tools Chevrolet was great all day. Obviously, that last call was a tough call. It's just hard to know what to do. That was the first time we'd taken off on old tires and I didn't really know what to expect. It's easy to sit back now and say we should have changed tires but all we had to do was drag two other cars with us and we'd win the race and nobody came. So, sometimes leading the race is a difficult position to be in but I'm real proud of everybody. This whole team works hard and it's disappointing but I'm not discouraged about what we've got going on here."