Late-Race Contact Spoils Promising Run for No. 31 Team at Charlotte Jeff Burton and the Cat Racing team were poised for a top-five finish in Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway but, with just under 20 laps remaining, a...
Late-Race Contact Spoils Promising Run for No. 31 Team at Charlotte
Jeff Burton and the Cat Racing team were poised for a top-five finish in Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway but, with just under 20 laps remaining, a competitor's front splitter cut the left-rear tire on the No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet that resulted in a 25th-place finish for the RCR team. Despite the unfortunate circumstance, the Todd Berrier-led team maintained the eighth position in the overall championship point standings and is 110 markers forward of the Chase for the Championship cutoff spot of 12th.
Opening day at the Concord facility was productive for the No. 31 crew. With track position being key in Sunday's 600 miler, Berrier mostly focused on qualifying set ups during Thursday's 90-minute practice session. Diligent work placed Burton ninth on the scoreboard at the conclusion of practice that later translated to the veteran driver mustering the 12th-fastest speed in the evening's time trials session.
With the No. 31 Caterpillar slated for a good starting spot, the RCR team turned their sights on finding a good balance for their machine that will convert from day to evening conditions. Saturday's twin practice sessions allowed Berrier and his group to fine tune the brand new chassis and, at the end of a day's work, the 21-time Sprint Cup Series winner was shown fifth and eighth, respectively, on the leaderboard.
In typical Burton fashion, he spent the opening laps examining the handling on the No. 31 Chevy while still sporting a competitive run. The diagnosis was a tight-handling condition that would be with him during the first half of the 400-lap event. During that time, the South Boston, Va., native raced between seventh and 12th and visited pit road on five separate occasions where continuous adjustments helped remedy the handling conditions.
Over the next 100 circuits, varying pitting strategies would score Burton slightly deep in the field, but with a car stronger on short runs versus long runs, he would quickly pick off spots that would get him back inside the top 10.
As the sun began to settle behind the grandstands that were filled with an estimated 140,000 race fans, cooler track temperatures also assisted in curing the handling on the Caterpillar Chevrolet.
With 93 laps remaining, Burton never looked in his rearview mirror and set sail through the field. He was eighth at lap 316, fifth at lap 323 and third at lap 329.
The day's last caution period began at lap 377 and Berrier made the decision to bring Burton to pit road for a two-tire stop. Three cars stayed on the racing surface while those around Burton also took on two tires, which slated the two-time Coca-Cola 600 race winner eighth on the lap-381 restart.
Burton knew the strength of his ECR Engines-powered entry on short runs and had the race unfolding perfectly in the No. 31 playbook. But, as the field of cars was coming up to speed, Kyle Busch inserted his No. 18 machine between RCR teammate Clint Bowyer and Burton and the splitter on Busch's entry cut the left-rear tire on the Caterpillar Chevy, forcing Burton to make an unscheduled pit stop for new tires.
The ill-fated incident cost the Cat Racing team one lap that placed Burton 25th on the scoreboard when he returned to competition. He was the first car one lap down and remained in that spot over the closing laps.
Kurt Busch took home the trophy and beat Jamie McMurray's ECR Engine-entry to the finish line by 0.737 seconds. Kyle Busch, Mark Martin and David Reutimann rounded out the top-five finishers.
Burton's RCR teammates Clint Bowyer and Kevin Harvick placed seventh and 11th, respectively.
NASCAR's senior circuit heads to the Pocono Mountains for the first of two stops in Long Pond, Pa. this season.
"It is just really frustrating to race that hard and we had the car like it needed to be there at the end. Todd (Berrier, crew chief) and the entire Cat Racing team did a great job. We didn't run like we needed to be early, but those guys kept working and working and got the car really good. The last restart, Kyle (Busch) made it three-wide on the restart because the guys on the bottom didn't have tires. He was trying to make something happen, which I don't have a problem with, but he ran into me and cut my left-rear tire. I have a problem with that. He's real aggressive and that's cool. But, when he starts affecting me with his aggressiveness, I just will not put up with it. I've been around here long enough. I just will not tolerate it."