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Burton turns bad luck into second-place finish

July 08, 2012, Bill Kimm, NASCAR.com



Burton turns bad luck into second-place finish
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- No. 31 driver continues good runs at Daytona with third top-five in five starts

Daytona has been known to throw a surprise finisher into the top three, and this year, that surprise is Jeff Burton.

"We've had a miserable year, and to come -- to get out of Daytona with a second-place finish, we ought to be happy," Burton said following Saturday's Coke Zero 400. "[It] certainly feels good to have a good finish."

"Our success or failure [Saturday] doesn't dictate our success or failure next week. It feels good, it'll feel good tomorrow, and then Monday it'll be back to work."

--JEFF BURTON

His finish shouldn't be too surprising though.

Daytona has been to kind to the driver of the No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet throughout the years, especially recently. This is Burton's third top-five in his past five Daytona starts, and he has an average finish of 16.0 since 2007.

Throughout most of the 160-lap race, Burton didn't appear to have a car capable of running in the top 15, let alone the top five. He spent the first three-quarters of the race outside the top 20 and never cracked the top 10 until the final five laps.

Most of this was done intentionally, as Burton admitted he "rode around for 130 laps," something he wasn't especially keen on doing. But the strategy paid off. Burton avoided all of the early Daytona drama, and when it was time to go, he and teammate Kevin Harvick were able to work their way to the front and put themselves in a position to win.

Burton restarted fifth on Lap 158 and he and Harvick stayed together as the white flag dropped. But in Turn 2, things got a little dicey.

"I wanted to pop on the outside and go three wide because with Kevin pushing -- we have a lot of experience with tandem drafting, and I thought we could potentially do it better than everyone else just because of our experience doing it together," Burton said. "But I couldn't get out there. I couldn't slow us up enough to get on the outside [of Greg Biffle], and we got into [Turn] 1 and there was nowhere to go. He was doing what I told him to do, which was push, push, push, and there was nowhere to go. I ended up getting turned around and got lucky no one was on the outside of me."

Burton's luck continued after he recovered. Yes, he lost his drafting partner in Harvick, but it put Burton on the outside of the track going into Turns 3 and 4, which would end up the perfect place to be when Biffle spun coming to the checkered flag, collecting 14 other cars.

"I'd like to say it was skill," Burton laughed, "but a lot of it is luck."

Regardless of how he got there, Burton needed this finish. He's 18th in the Sprint Cup points standings with no real hope of making the Chase. He has just two top-fives this season -- both at Daytona -- and two other top-10s, one at the short track of Bristol and the other at the other restrictor-plate superspeedway, Talladega.

"We've done OK on the mile, three-quarter mile, half-mile tracks," Burton said. "We have not been good at all on the mile-and-a-halves. Running well and finishing well here [Saturday night] is great; unfortunately it doesn't mean a lot.

"You know, I get over these things pretty quickly. Our success or failure [Saturday] doesn't dictate our success or failure next week. It feels good, it'll feel good tomorrow, and then Monday it'll be back to work. It's always good to have finishes, but we need to put a string of finishes together."

That starts next week at New Hampshire, a track where he has been to Victory Lane a career-best four times. But Burton doesn't think one good finish will propel him upward -- the onus is still on him to perform.

"Momentum, in my eyes, is a highly overused word," Burton said. "Momentum is created by running well. Momentum doesn't create good runs, good runs create momentum. So we've got to go to New Hampshire and perform. We're doing a lot of work between now and going back to Michigan to try to change some stuff, to get some speed and some drivability back in the cars. We're obviously behind on that or we wouldn't be [18th] in points."

The one thing a finish like Daytona does is to validate the hard work the team puts in each and every week. It's easy to get down when things aren't going well, and while Burton doesn't believe in momentum, he does believe in a spark.

"We are in desperate need of some good stuff happening for us," Burton said. "Obviously it's been a hard year, but we're still together. That's the thing, we're not giving up on each other. We're working hard. I haven't done a great job this year, and we just got to keep working. I feel confident we will continue to improve."