Burton, CAT Racing Team Post Second Consecutive Top-15 Finish at Martinsville Jeff Burton and the CAT Racing team posted their second consecutive top-15 finish in Sunday's Tums Fast Pain Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway. In an up-and-down ...
Burton, CAT Racing Team Post Second Consecutive Top-15 Finish at Martinsville
Jeff Burton and the CAT Racing team posted their second consecutive top-15 finish in Sunday's Tums Fast Pain Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway. In an up-and-down season, primarily mired with bad luck and unfortunate circumstances, the No. 31 Richard Childress Racing team recorded 14th- and 15th-place efforts, respectively, the past two weeks of Sprint Cup Series competition, ending a 16-race streak of finishes outside the top 15. Sunday's result allowed the Scott Miller-led crew to regain the 18th spot in the overall point standings, the position they have held for eight consecutive weeks before dropping to 19th after last weeks run at Charlotte.
Although Burton's time trial run produced the 22nd-fastest time, Friday's practice session saw the veteran driver generate lap times that placed him in the top 12, of 44 drivers, in race trim. He felt the No. 31 crew had enough data to formulate a game plan for Saturday's dual practice sessions. However, Mother Nature rained on their parade and forced NASCAR to cancel the afternoon's on-track activity, sending the CAT Racing crew back to the drawing board to prepare a competitive setup for Sunday's 500-lap feature.
In front of an estimated 64,000 hometown fans, Burton raced cautiously in the early going of the scheduled 263-mile event, running 24th at lap 44 when the second of 15 caution flags was displayed. The South Boston, Va., native visited pit road for the first time two laps later and asked Miller for an adjustment that would allow his Caterpillar Chevy to create rear grip so he could enter and exit the 12-degree banked corners better. On-cue work by the over-the-wall crew netted the 21-time series winner two spots that resulted in him returning to action 22nd in the running order on lap 50.
The adjustments seemed to be just what Burton needed as he raced his way up to 16th when another caution flag waved at lap 88. Wanting to continue on the previous adjustment, Miller summoned his driver to pit road on lap 90 and, once again, the boys in black and yellow brought their A-game to the table, sending Burton back on track three spots forward of where he entered the pits.
Three additional slow downs occurred prior to the lap-180 mark, placing most of the competitors on different pit strategies. The call from atop the box was to leave Burton and his No. 31 Chevy on the race track during the caution periods that, as a result, gave him the lead on the lap-182 restart. Although his lead was short lived because his opponents had fresher tires, Burton was able to hold his own in the top four before the seventh yellow flag was displayed.
The 42-year-old driver restarted 19th when others did not visit pit lane but he quickly flexed his muscle and began his ascent up the leaderboard. He was 14th at lap 224, 11th at lap 230 and ninth just short of the halfway point of lap 250.
Cloudy skies soon swarmed over the 0.526-mile oval, altering track conditions that translated to the handling of the tractor-looking Chevy. The RCR driver struggled with a loose machine for most of the second half of the race, ultimately losing a lap to the leader at lap 403 while running 18th.
A scheduled green-flag pit stop occurred on lap 417 where chassis adjustments were made in hopes to better aide Burton's drive to be the first driver one lap down when, and if, a caution flew. Luckily, he was in the catbird seat on lap 443 when a single car spin brought out the 12th yellow flag of the day. After a quick visit to his lightning-fast working crew for a fresh set of Goodyear tires and another round of adjustments, Burton returned to the racing surface 19th with 52 laps remaining.
While the caution allowed him to return to the lead lap for the lap-448 restart, the Caterpillar Chevy driver had to take the green flag at the tail end of the field. Therefore, Burton spent the next 30 or so laps passing two handfuls of cars not on the lead lap. Fortunately, debris compelled NASCAR to wave another caution flag on lap 485 that would place Burton behind fellow lead lap cars when racing continued three laps later.
Over the closing 12 laps, Burton engaged in tight-quarters racing, vigilantly fighting for positions that resulted in a gain four spots, allowing him to take the checkers 15th in the rundown.
Fellow Virginia native Denny Hamlin took home the unique grandfather-clock trophy, beating Jimmie Johnson and Juan Pablo Montoya to the finish line. Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon rounded out the top-five finishers.
Burton's RCR stable mates Kevin Harvick, Casey Mears and Clint Bowyer posted 10th-, 18th- and 19th- place finishes, respectively.
Next weekend, NASCAR's premier division returns to Talladega, Ala. for the fourth and final restrictor plate race of the season.
"The No. 31 Caterpillar Chevy was real competitive all day. We were really loose toward the end of the race but Scott (Miller, crew chief) adjusted for that on the last pit stop and we were able to gain a few spots at the end. Going a lap down trapped us from moving forward until we got our lap back but, all in all, it was good day for the CAT Racing team. We're getting better each week and I'm proud of the continued efforts everyone is putting in."