Burton, Cat Racing Team Ride Top-10 Momentum Wave to Michigan Jeff Burton and the Cat Racing team ran inside the top 15 for the entire Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips 400 where they rode the top-10 momentum wave to Michigan International Speedway...
Burton, Cat Racing Team Ride Top-10 Momentum Wave to Michigan
Jeff Burton and the Cat Racing team ran inside the top 15 for the entire Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips 400 where they rode the top-10 momentum wave to Michigan International Speedway by scoring their second consecutive top-10 finish as a result of an eighth-place effort.
The strong showing by the No. 31 Richard Childress Racing team allowed them to maintain their eighth-place position in the overall Sprint Cup Series championship point standings. At the same time, the Todd Berrier --led crew shaved 36 markers off the distance between them and point leader and teammate Kevin Harvick and, in the process, increased the point difference between them and the cutoff spot for the Chase for the Championship by 44 markers, to 162.
At a track that hasn't been kind to the South Boston, Va., native driver, Burton came into race weekend hoping to turn the tide and break the spell of running 11th or worse in his last 14 starts at the Brooklyn, Mich. facility.
Right off the bat, he averaged a top-10 speed in Friday's lone practice session and backed that up by qualifying fifth, his best effort so far this season, for Sunday's 200-lap affair. Saturday's on-track practice performances didn't disappoint either as he was third and 16th fastest, respectively, in the dual sessions allotted by NASCAR.
Cloudy and somewhat cool temperatures greeted the estimated 95,000 race fans as the 400-mile contest got underway that saw the Caterpillar Chevrolet quickly fall to 13th as a result of being too loose in the initial laps. Once Burton experimented with the different racing grooves and found his niche, he rebounded nicely and was back up to eighth by the time the first of only four cautions of the day fell at lap 19.
Pleasantly happy with the overall performance of his RCR entry, Berrier called for minor air pressure adjustments to newly-mounted tires to assist the veteran driver with his restarts and the over-the-wall crew sent Burton back on track 10th for the lap-23 restart.
The 21-time Sprint Cup Series race winner worked his way up to sixth before another caution flag waved 25 laps later. Satisfied with how the black and yellow machine took off, Burton now needed his race car to produce a little more grip to assist with his turns through the 18-degree banked corners. Another trip to pit road for fresh tires with more air pressure adjustments didn't really help the No. 31 Chevrolet over the next 48 laps when the 43-car field was slowed again.
Berrier used the third caution period as another opportunity to make adjustments to the somewhat temperamental race car and, upon further inspection, he discovered that the old left-front tire had a small leak that caused air to trickle out during his last run and, adversely, was the probable cause of not being able to turn the Caterpillar Chevy properly around the Irish Hills speedway.
An extensive green-flag run ensued where Burton ran as high as fourth in the early run and as low as ninth in the latter stage of the run. During this time, and as the run continued to go on, the 42-year-old driver struggled with either a loose or tight-handling condition that adjustments during two green-flag pit stops didn't alleviate.
Debris on the backstretch at lap 182 brought out the day's final caution with 18 laps remaining in the showdown. It also made the teams talk about pitting strategy, with their final decision a pivotal determining outcome of where they will finish. Burton and Berrier were no different.
Radio chatter consumed the caution lap and it was the call from atop the box that instructed the RCR driver to visit pit road for two tires only. Some teams chose not to pit while other teams came to pit road for service, taking on either two or four fresh tires. Berrier's verdict proved to be the right choice as Burton lined up 10th, the first car with fresh ties, for the 14-lap shootout to the checkers.
He quickly notched two spots after taking the final green flag and battled with Dale Earnhardt Jr. for seventh in the closing laps but came up short on making the pass and crossed the finish line eighth, posting the team's seventh top-10 this season.
Denny Hamlin won his fifth Sprint Cup Series victory of the season as Kasey Kahne, Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart rounded out the top-five finishers.
Burton's RCR teammates Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer finished 19th and 22nd, respectively.
NASCAR's premier division heads west to the rolling hills of Sonoma, Calif., next weekend for the first of the season's two road course races.
"We just didn't have enough today. The No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet struggled with handling where it was either too tight or too loose or a combination of the two. Today's race was the worst we have run all year, but we made something out of it. I don't know what it is about this track that we can't seem to get a hold of. We have some good data that we'll bring back to the shop and evaluate so we can return here in August and be better."