Burton Finishes Third in Fontana Jeff Burton and the Cat Racing team were dominant in Sunday's Auto Club 500, leading 46 laps en route to a third-place finish at Auto Club Speedway. The strong result vaulted the Richard Childress Racing team...
Burton Finishes Third in Fontana
Jeff Burton and the Cat Racing team were dominant in Sunday's Auto Club 500, leading 46 laps en route to a third-place finish at Auto Club Speedway. The strong result vaulted the Richard Childress Racing team seven spots, to fifth, in the overall NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings where they trail teammate and current point leader Kevin Harvick by 31 markers.
A newly-built Caterpillar Chevy made the long trip from Welcome, N.C. to Fontana, Calif., in hopes that the Todd Berrier-led team could pick up where they left off at the end of the 2009 season. Surely enough, the black and yellow machine, which was specifically built for this race, certainly did not disappoint the No. 31 crew.
On opening day, Burton and Company worked diligently throughout the hour-and-a-half practice session and, in the process, scored the fourth-fastest time. Later that afternoon, during the time trials session, the veteran driver toured the two-mile oval and laid down the 14th-quickest lap time. Happy with what they had so far, but undoubtedly wanting more, Berrier guided his 10-member squad through an array of setups during Saturday's twin practice sessions that found them 13th- and sixth-fastest, respectively.
In front of an estimated 72,000 race fans in cloudy and cool California, Burton exhibited the strength of his RCR entry during the entire 250-lap feature by racing inside the top 15 for all but four laps.
Those four laps were a result of the South Boston, Va., native being slapped with a penalty by NASCAR for excessive speeding entering pit road during a scheduled pit stop under caution at lap 94. The consequence lined Burton at the tail end of the lead lap, in 24th, for the lap-98 restart.
The slight hiccup didn't damper his spirits as he quickly regained the lost positions. He was 21st at lap 99, 18th at lap 100, 16th at lap 101 and back inside the top 15 at lap 102.
During the middle stages of the 500 miler, the duo of Berrier and Burton worked together on making the Caterpillar Chevy better as they continued their charge toward the front of the field, making slight adjustments during each pit stop along the way.
Burton cracked the top 10 at lap 114 and, soon after, made his way into the top five, where he spent the remainder of the race.
He led three different times over the closing 96 laps, including being scored the leader when the final caution of the day was displayed at lap 224. However, eventual winner Jimmie Johnson inherited the lead when the field returned to action on lap 30 as a result of making a scheduled green-flag pit stop just prior to the yellow flag being displayed. Johnson stayed on the racing surface while Burton led the field down pit road.
After lining up for the day's final restart in third after Harvick narrowly edged Burton off pit road, the 17-year Sprint Cup Series driver fought his hardest in chasing down both Johnson and Harvick in the race's final 20 laps. While he was able to chip away at the leader's margin and make several attempts at passing Harvick for second, time eventually ran out for Burton and he was credited with a third-place finish.
Johnson captured his 48th career victory in his home state, beating Harvick to the line by just over a second-and-a-half. Mark Martin and Joey Logano rounded out the top-five finishers.
Fellow RCR stable mate Clint Bowyer finished eighth, marking the first time this season that all Childress-owned Chevrolets finished in the top 10. At the same time, all three RCR drivers are in the top five of the overall championship point standings -- Harvick is the current point leader, Bowyer is second while Burton is fifth.
"This place is a lot of fun. The Caterpillar Chevy ran well all day. We definitely got better as the race went on. I got caught speeding on pit road and had to start back in the back and rolled up through the field really fast. That is when we knew our car was really good. I got a little loose toward the end. I didn't ask for the right thing under that caution, which is how we got beat at Homestead, too. I was terrified to tighten the No. 31 Chevy up because everywhere we get tight, we just couldn't go. So, I have to be better about that because I like to be loose and, when you get those short runs at the end, it kind of hurts us. But, it was a good day for the Caterpillar Impala and I am real proud of all the guys and everybody who works on this car. I am real happy for all of our partners like Cat. The sponsors are just so committed and I'm just real proud to represent everybody."
Burton and the Cat Racing team continue their west coast swing when the Sprint Cup Series takes their tour to the bright lights of Las Vegas. Flag-to-flag coverage of the Shelby American begins Sunday, Feb. 28 at 3 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.