After scoring 13 top-10 finishes in the first 26 races, Burton managed only two over the course of the final 10, and as a result, finished a distant 12th in the final points standings.
Burton, 43, chalked up part of the late-season swoon to a change in the way he approached the final races of the year.
“The end of the year, I got into the mindset of, ‘Well hell, we’ve got nothing to lose’ and that just doesn’t work for me,” he said. “I’ve got to be true to myself and be who I am and not try to become something that I’m not. The win-or-lose attitude doesn’t work for me. I’ve never put myself in that position; I did it in the Chase, said, 'To hell with it and whatever happens happens.' There’s a fine line between pushing too hard and not pushing hard enough. I definitely erred on the side of pushing too hard.”
A year after failing to qualify for the Chase, Burton was one of three RCR drivers to come back strong. He scored six top-five finishes, including a pair of second-place runs at both Dover stops.
“I feel good about our effort and our speed,” Burton said. “Not that we had as much as we needed, but we had speed an awful lot of the time. I think that we were pushing every week to be better, not only me as a driver, but the team and the cars they were building. It was a positive effort to improve to a level that I’ve never seen before.
“It was unbelievable all the work that was being done just trying to be better. That was cool.”
Season Highlight: In the end, qualifying for the Chase after failing to do so the previous year reinforced the fact that the No. 31 team had indeed turned the corner. While he failed to return to the winner’s circle in 2010, Burton was in contention to win on several occasions throughout the season. And his string of five consecutive top-10 finishes during the summer cemented his role as a Chase participant.
Low Point: After finishing ninth at Martinsville in the fall, Burton failed to finish higher than 19th in the final four races. The tailspin was highlighted by his physical altercation with Jeff Gordon, after the two had crashed at Texas.
Defining Moment: The normally easy-going Burton showed he still has the fire burning inside when he confronted Kyle Busch after the two had made contact during the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte.
“I like racing with Kyle, I really do,” Burton said later. “But when he gets over-aggressive and I pay the price for it, I’m not going to tolerate it. I’m just not going to put up with it.”
Key Stat: Burton led 539 laps, the most he’s led since the 2006 season.
Outlook: While his team was much improved in 2010, Burton admits there’s still much work to be done to get back into the winner’s circle and into contention for the championship.
“I think for us, we have to focus on the things that we haven’t done well, with our team in particular,” Burton said. “We have a good basis to build on but we don’t have any room to go backwards. We’re on that tightrope. We’ve got to tighten up in areas that we weren’t good enough in. We really need to focus on that while still trying to improve in areas that we were good in.
“It’s going to be hard. We did finish 12th in points. A lot of that was because of me in the last three or four races. Halfway through the Chase we were still in contention. We made the Chase, I don’t want to say easily, but we were locked in pretty early. All that was good. The last four weeks were just not good at all. Hopefully we learned from that, but most of the learning needs to come from me, and just move forward.”
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