Heartbreak for Burton, Cat Racing Team after Visit with Lady in Black A late-race pit miscue placed the Cat Racing team at the rear of the field for the final 20 laps of the Showtime Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, but a hard-charging Jeff...
Heartbreak for Burton, Cat Racing Team after Visit with Lady in Black
A late-race pit miscue placed the Cat Racing team at the rear of the field for the final 20 laps of the Showtime Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, but a hard-charging Jeff Burton flexed his muscle and picked off 10 positions to finish eighth and capture his fourth top-10 finish of the season.
The hard-fought finish helped the No. 31 Richard Childress Racing team maintain the ninth position in the overall point standings with 15 races remaining before the 12-member 2010 Chase class is set. Despite sitting 228 markers behind teammate and point leader Kevin Harvick, the South Boston, Va., native is 78 points in arrears to the top five and, at the same time, increased his distance to 76 from the 12th-place tally.
A brand new Caterpillar Chevrolet rolled off the hauler early Friday morning and it didn't disappoint the Todd Berrier-led crew later that afternoon. Strong efforts by the Cat Racing team led to the eighth- and 10th-fastest laps, respectively, in the dual practice sessions before turning in their best qualifying effort of the season of 11th that evening.
After rolling off the starting grid on the inside of row six, the two-time Darlington race winner quietly cracked the top five just 50 laps into the 367-lap affair where he resided for the next 38 circuits.
He tussled with a loose-handling Caterpillar Chevy for the remainder of the first half and fell as far back as 12th before two pit stops, that included air pressure adjustments, aided his return to the top 10 at lap 178.
Burton raced between sixth and 13th over the next 55 laps prior to a two-tire pit stop on lap 229 that advanced him to the runner-up spot on the lap-232 restart.
It only took the veteran driver one lap to take control of the 43-car field where he maintained the point for the next 30 trips around the egg-shaped oval.
With teams on varying tire pitting strategies, the race began to play right into crew chief Todd Berrier hands when a caution with 87 laps remaining occurred. He summoned Burton to pit road for four fresh tires that returned him to the racing surface fifth for the lap-286 restart, but knew that all teams had to pit at least one more time in order to make it to the end on fuel.
The black and yellow machine always came to life around 10 laps into a run and, soon enough, the RCR driver moved into fourth at lap 300, third at lap 311, second at lap 322 and the top spot at lap 341 before the final caution of the night waved one lap later.
The slowdown is what Berrier needed in order for his line of attack to work perfectly. Two tires was the call from atop the box when the field came down pit road on the ensuing lap but, as the seven-person squad was executing their pit stop, the No. 31 Chevy was released by the jack too early and, in the process, Burton ran over the front air hose that forced NASCAR to issue a penalty to the Cat Racing team.
The punishment required Burton to come down pit road, stop in his pit box before returning to the racing surface that placed him at the rear of the field, in 18th, for a 20-lap shootout to the checkers.
Despite the heartbreak and the setback, the 21-time Sprint Cup Series race winner did what he does best -- fought with all his might -- to knock off 10 positions to score an eighth-place finish.
Denny Hamlin won his third race of the season, beating Jamie McMurray and Kurt Busch to the line. Jeff Gordon and Juan Pablo Montoya rounded out the top five.
Burton's RCR teammate Harvick overcame a 35th-starting position to finish sixth, while fellow stablemate Clint Bowyer was credited with a 32nd-place effort after a brake-line failure occurred on lap 100.
NASCAR's senior circuit heads to the northeast next weekend for the first of two stops at the "Monster Mile" in Dover, Del.
"We have to make a decision whether we want to be a championship team or do we just want to pretend to be one. I think we're a championship team. I believe the Cat Racing team will get it together and we'll be just fine. We made a mistake at the end of the race, but we're making little mistakes every week and it's really costing us. We have fast enough race cars and we're doing a good job, but we're just not doing everything well and it has bit us a bunch. It's frustrating and it's disappointing and I'm sorry to all of our fans and our sponsors, but we will get it together."