Remember the Christmas you got a blue coat and really, really liked it but what you really wanted was the red one?
That was Jeff Burton's 2010 season.
There’s no denying he had a good one – a Chase spot, 15 top 10s, only two DNFs, running at or near the front virtually every week.
It was, as Burton said, “a year with a lot of promise, but a lot of those haven’t been fulfilled.” There were no wins – he hasn’t won since October 2008, and he struggled in the Chase, finishing 12th.
Like several other drivers floating around in that big good-but-not-great territory in the wake created by perpetual champion Jimmie Johnson, Burton is not where he wants to be. There are gains to be made in 2011 if he hopes to write Sprint Cup champion beside his name.
“We have to be better in several areas,” Burton said. “We have to have better pit stops. We have to. I have to do a better job at making decisions on the race track. Todd’s (Berrier, crew chief) got to do a better job at making decisions on the pit box.
“We collectively have got to find a way to bring the speed to all the weekends that we have on some of the weekends. These are big factors, but those are the things that jump out to me that we need to be better at.”
The middle portion of Burton’s season was the strongest. Over a stretch of 13 races, from the 10th race at Richmond to the 22nd at Watkins Glen, he scored 10 top 10s. That boosted him from ninth in points to third, but the closing 14 weeks of the year produced only three top 10s.
“I really think that we can go fast enough to win the championship next year, but we’ve got to find the little speed that we lost through the summer,” Burton said. “We showed it at Phoenix, we showed it at Martinsville, but we haven’t shown it on the big tracks as of late, and we’ve got to get that back.”
Richard Childress Racing put all three of its drivers – Burton, Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer – in the Chase this year and will seek to keep the momentum rolling in 2011 as Paul Menard arrives to return the RCR fleet to four teams.
“Obviously, the expansion with Paul coming in, we believe is a good thing,” Burton said. “We had four teams last year, and it didn’t work very well. It didn’t not work well because we had four teams; it didn’t work well because we weren’t prepared. We wouldn’t have been good with two teams last year.
“We think that Paul’s deal coming in is going to help us. It’s going to be a benefit to us in a lot of areas. We feel like we have the resources to make investments we need to make to move us to the next area where we need to be. We feel really strongly about the future. As a matter of fact, I think when we made all the investments we made going into this year, I didn’t think the benefit would be seen until 18 or 24 months, and we saw immediate benefits. I feel really strong about the future.”
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.