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CUP: Chase Bio — Jeff Burton

JEFF BURTON, Richard Childress RacingPoints position: 6th2010 season: 0 wins, 5 top fives, 13 top 10sDefining moment: Fourth place, Richmond International Raceway

Jeff Burton, the steady veteran of the Sprint Cup garage, has been within shouting distance of the series championship for seven of his 16 full-time seasons.

Sprint Cup Chase Driver Bios

His best extended run came at the end of the last century, when he ran fourth, fifth, fifth and third in four straight seasons driving for Jack Roush.

In his second, third and fourth seasons at Richard Childress Racing, Burton finished seventh, eighth and sixth before last year’s decline to 17th.

Photos: Sprint Cup Chase Contenders

Now he’s back in the championship hunt, sitting sixth and locked into the Chase entering the final “regular season” race at Richmond, Va. this week.

Safe and smart, Burton typically doesn’t take foolish risks on-track, and he typically is around at the finish to challenge in the top five or lock down a top 10. He is one of only two drivers – former teammate Matt Kenseth is the other – in the top 12 without a DNF this season.

Burton began the season in a rut, stringing together seven straight finishes of 10th or worse in the early months. But he ended that dip with a fourth-place finish at Richmond in the spring, and the rest of his season has been more about top 10s than other finishes.

Burton, however, does not have a victory, a negative he hopes to wipe out at this week’s second race at Richmond. He has held the lead in 11 of the 25 races to date.

“When you clinch [a Chase spot], you get to go to Richmond and be in the shape to run really hard,” he said. “That's how the Cat Racing team is going to run in the Chase – we are going to run it really hard. We are going to kick it off this weekend in Richmond and just bring everything we have. There’s no more protecting now. It is go time and we have to lay it all on the line.”

Burton is happy to have had a strong season, but he has his eye on reaching victory lane.

“The way the points thing works, a lot of people think well, we go out and we try to finish eighth to get eighth-place points,” he said. “We try to finish first, and we’re happy that we got eighth-place points [if he can’t win] versus 20th-place points. So, when it no longer matters that you finished eighth versus winning, then you don’t appreciate what eighth was.

“But I still think running well is very important. I think our game is a game of Lego. You just keep putting Lego block on top of the next one, and you keep learning and learning and learning. The better you’re running, the more you’re applying what you’re learning. And I think that makes it easier to run better the next week.”

Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 28 years. He has written several books on NASCAR, including "NASCAR: The Definitive History of America's Sport" and "Then Tony Said To Junior: The Best NASCAR Stories Ever Told". He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.