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Burton poised to emerge from doldrums at NHMS

September 24, 2011, Dave Rodman, NASCAR.com

LOUDON, N.H. -- Posts top-fives in both Saturday practices as he tries to turn season around

Jeff Burton has a significant chapter in recent NASCAR history that was created at New Hampshire Motor Speedway -- leading all 300 laps in winning the summer 1997 race -- so it would make a doldrums-escaping victory in Sunday's Sylvania 300 even more precious.

"A win is feasible," Burton said. "I feel like we have the speed, but for us it's going to be maintaining the speed in the car throughout the event, me doing everything right, pit stops good, strategy good -- if we can do all those things, I think we have the hardware to get it done.

"A win is feasible. I feel like we have the speed, but for us it's going to be maintaining the speed in the car throughout the event, me doing everything right, pit stops good, strategy good -- if we can do all those things, I think we have the hardware to get it done."

--JEFF BURTON

"That's kind of been our weak point this year -- even when we've had the hardware, we haven't been able to execute with it like we need to. But putting ourselves in position is so important because it affords us the opportunity to learn, and to progress.

"When you're racing for 20th, even when you do all those things right, it sure doesn't feel right. It's important for us to have fast cars, so we can really analyze where we are. There are only nine races left to go [in the season] and we're into next year, and we've got to get going."

Burton made the Chase four of the past five years but he's currently 24th in the championship with only one top-10 finish. It's his worst season in more than a decade.

"We can't do another year like this," Burton said. "It would be catastrophic to our team and we just can't do it."

Burton's No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet has been a weapon in all three NHMS practices this weekend. Burton was ninth overall and posted the best 10-lap average in Friday's opening session, when most teams concentrated on race set-ups due to Saturday's shaky weather forecast.

Saturday was damp at times, but both Sprint Cup sessions were completed. Burton's 10-lap average topped the chart in P2 and he rose to second overall behind five-time defending Cup champion Jimmie Johnson.

"We've been good, but it's not like we've been good the whole time -- we've had to adjust, we came here and had to change the car quite a bit and made it better," Burton said. "And then we've had to adjust again [Saturday], but we've been fast and had consistent speed so I feel pretty good."

Burton rounded-off the day by posting the fourth-best single lap in Happy Hour, behind David Stremme, who typically doesn't run a full race; and Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon and Johnson. After Happy Hour, Burton said that all his two days had done was continue a trend at the flat, New Hampshire track.

"We were really good here in [July] and we were really fast here last year, too in [June], we didn't pit and the whole field did so we lost that race on strategy," Burton said of his 12th-place finish. "In [July 2011] we were really fast and we had a strategy issue -- we ended up going to the well one too many times on two tires, took a top-five car and finished [16th] with it.

"Three out of the past four races here we've had really fast cars and no really good finishes to show for it. I fully expected to come here and run well because we've been high-performance here, we just haven't been good on execution."

Burton and crew chief Luke Lambert have been working together since Lambert replaced Todd Berrier after the July New Hampshire race. But Burton knows a fast car is only one step on the way to Victory Lane, at New Hampshire or anywhere else.

"We've had some fast cars all year," Burton said. "There's been a lot of times where I've thought we were really good in practice and it didn't translate into the race -- and that's been baffling to us.

"Certainly we were good here in [July] in practice -- there's been several places where we were as good as this. The last six or seven weeks we've definitely started to run better.

"We haven't just turned it around 180 degrees and I didn't expect that we would, but we've started to put some momentum together, started to perform a little better and there's been glimpses in pretty much all those races where we were reasonably good. We haven't found a way to be good the whole race yet and hopefully we're inching toward that but it feels good to adapt our car in every practice and get our speed to where it needs to be."

Burton allowed there are few sure things at New Hampshire, where Saturday afternoon's Whelen Modified Tour race was interrupted by rain. Sunday's forecast calls for partly sunny skies, which have yet to be seen here this weekend and high temperatures in the mid-80s.

"[The track's] going to change again Sunday, though right now I feel pretty good about it," Burton said. "I think that'll make a big difference because this track is real sensitive to conditions and the grip level is difficult here.

"Of course, we're starting 18th so that's a little bit of an obstacle, as well. But sun and heat affects this track, a lot, and it's a difficult track because it does change so much."

Not surprisingly, Chase contenders came to the fore in Happy Hour's 10-lap average category. Johnson was best, followed by Sylvania 300 pole-sitter Ryan Newman and Kyle Busch. Dale Earnhardt Jr., who comes into New Hampshire fifth in the championship, rounded out the top-five averages behind Kasey Kahne.