Jeff Burton ready for Las Vegas rollout
March 04, 2014, Zack Albert, NASCAR.com
NASCAR veteran set for season debut with Waltrip team
Veteran driver Jeff Burton will make his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start of the year this weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, marking his season debut in one final part-time campaign before joining NBC Sports' broadcast team in 2015.
But even amid the backdrop of slots, cards and dice, the partnership of Burton with Michael Waltrip Racing is forgoing gambling for a more measured approach to the team's schedule.
Burton, 46, joined MWR in the offseason as the team dialed back its operation from three full-time teams to two. The third team, formerly a full-time effort for Martin Truex Jr., was renumbered to No. 66 and driven by owner/driver Michael Waltrip in the season-opening Daytona 500.
A newly formed agreement with Jay Robinson Racing will allow the No. 66 Toyota to remain on the track for the balance of the Sprint Cup schedule with Joe Nemechek at the wheel. Burton, who indicated in the offseason that he'd compete in six to 14 Sprint Cup events in 2014, said he's still uncertain which remaining races he'll run. But he said the team will be selective, making sure the effort is well-spent.
"We have a hard schedule -- Vegas being very hard and there are other ones we feel pretty sure about that we're going to run, but we haven’t really talked about it yet so we might change our mind," Burton said. "We're going to run where it makes sense. Having more teams doesn't make us better, right? So what we have to do is run when it's smart.
"We've got to run where it makes sense to run and not just run because we want to run. It's got to be part of a plan, and if it's not, we're making a mistake."
Burton and the rest of the Sprint Cup field will be getting their first taste of the new aerodynamic and set-up package on a 1.5-mile track in Sunday's Kobalt 400 (3 p.m. ET, FOX). From that standpoint, MWR stands to gather more data and learn more about the handful of intermediate-sized facilities on the schedule.
But another likely factor for dispatching Burton for weekend duty is his history of success at Las Vegas. The South Boston, Va., native has two Sprint Cup victories (1999, 2000) in Sin City and three in the NASCAR Nationwide Series (2000, 2002, 2007).
Burton already has gained plenty of seat time with his new team, participating in offseason testing at Daytona, Nashville and Charlotte. Las Vegas will provide an opportunity to see if the rehearsals benefit the performance.
"I really like the direction that Michael Waltrip Racing is heading," Burton said. "I really like my team, and I am excited to see how our offseason testing worked for us."