Penalty Stops No. 31 Team's Forward Progress at Phoenix A penalty for pitting outside the pit box just past the halfway mark in Saturday night's Subway Fresh Fit 600 at Phoenix International Raceway halted Jeff Burton and the Cat Racing team's...
Penalty Stops No. 31 Team's Forward Progress at Phoenix
A penalty for pitting outside the pit box just past the halfway mark in Saturday night's Subway Fresh Fit 600 at Phoenix International Raceway halted Jeff Burton and the Cat Racing team's forward progress and was the determining factor in their 25th-place finish.
Even though the disappointing result dropped the No. 31 Richard Childress Racing team two spots, to seventh, in the overall championship point standings, they remain in the coveted top 12 with seven races into the young 2010 season. Burton is 200 markers in arrears to point leader Jimmie Johnson and 18 points forward of Kyle Busch's 12th-place tally.
The Todd Berrier-led team arrived in Phoenix with high hopes and validated those expectations by posting the 13th- and fifth-fastest times, respectively, in Friday's dual practice sessions and securing the 15th-starting spot for Saturday's scheduled 375-lap affair.
Warm temperatures greeted the estimated 70,000 race fans at the Avondale facility where the 43-car field took the green flag just past 4 p.m. local time. Burton conservatively ran between the 10th and 17th positions prior to halfway and, during that time, the two-time Phoenix race winner made three different pit stops that included slight adjustments to help his Caterpillar Chevy make more grip.
He was running lap times comparable to those of the race leaders and was overall pleased with the performance of his No. 31 Chevy, but he, undoubtedly, wanted more.
A caution on lap 189 for fluid on the flat one-mile oval provided another opportunity to keep making the black and yellow machine better. But, while the seven-member over-the-wall crew was servicing the No. 31 Chevy, a NASCAR official deemed the right-front tire was out of the pit box and, therefore, held the team for one lap.
Knowing what both Burton and his machine were capable of, Berrier preached to everyone on the Cat Racing team to keep their heads high as there were 180-plus laps of racing left.
Burton placed himself in the Lucky Dog position for much of the second half but long green-flag runs didn't help return him to the lead lap. On two separate occasions, after 50 or so laps, the leader began lapping the field, placing the most recently lapped car in the hot seat for the Lucky Dog award when the caution flags flew.
But, the 21-time Sprint Cup Series winner still didn't give up. When the final caution flag was displayed just three laps shy of the checkered flag, both Berrier and Burton opted to stay on the race track, while most of the frontrunners pitted, and the No. 31 Chevy was directed past the pace car by NASCAR Officials, returning the RCR driver to the lead lap, in 25th, for the green-white-checkered finish.
Although Burton didn't advance his position during the two-lap shootout to the checkers, he kept his streak of running at the end of all events he's competed in at the desert oval in tact, has finished on the lead lap in all races dating back to 1998 at the Phoenix arena and is one of four drivers who have completed all laps contested in 2010 thus far.
The Bowtie Brigade swept the top-five spots with Ryan Newman taking home the trophy followed by Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin and Juan Pablo Montoya.
Fellow RCR teammates Clint Bowyer and Kevin Harvick finished ninth and 13th, respectively.
Next weekend, NASCAR's premier division heads west to the Lone Star State for the first of two stops at Texas Motor Speedway.
"Our 25th-place finish doesn't reflect how well the Caterpillar Chevrolet ran. The penalty we were served for pitting outside the box placed us out of contention, but the long green-flag runs certainly hurt us in the fact that we weren't able to get our lap back. We all learned a lesson out of this, so now we'll just turn our focus to Texas and hope to rebound there."