Jeff Burton's fire to win, contend for title reignited in 2010
Long removed from his glory days of the late 1990s, when he regularly challenged series giant Jeff Gordon for race wins and contended for titles which driving for Jack Roush, his results for the past several years showed a situation that was not promising: A great run here and there, but no sign of any chance that he could regularly compete with the new Hendrick juggernaut being led by Jimmie Johnson.
That all changed at the end of 2009, when he rattled off 3 top-5 runs in the final four races after a crew chief change, and the results since then have been spectacular compared to recent years.
Saturday night at Darlington, Burton had taken the lead from eventual winner Denny Hamlin prior to the last caution, and would have had a good shot at the win if there hadn’t been a pit road miscue that forced him to the back of the lead lap when the restart came. This was not the first time this year Burton had a legitimate chance at winning a race. In fact, that’s been common, and he’s run up front so much that he’s on pace to lead more laps in 2010 than he’s led since 2000.
Burton’s resurgence is another example of one of the great things about NASCAR that you don’t find in most other sports: Great competitors getting a second life at an older age. You don’t often hear about some hitter in baseball suddenly becoming a home run king at age 40 (unless steroids are involved), or a quarterback suddenly winning a Superbowl 15 years into his career.
But in NASCAR, 50+ Mark Martin can come out of semi-retirement and win a half-dozen races, and 42-year-old Jeff Burton can run up front with Johnson, Hamlin and the other younger competitors in the Cup series.
An even better sign is the anger Burton expressed after the race, even calling out his crew for the pit road miscue. During the stretch where he didn’t contend regularly, you rarely saw Burton get too mad about anything. The fact he is showing some emotion about these situations shows that he is more driven than ever to get that title he has long sought.
It won’t be easy to become champion, and the odds are definitely against Burton, but if he doesn’t win it won’t be for lack of effort. From what I’ve seen so for both on and off the track, Burton has his eyes on the prize in 2010.
McMurray backs up pole win with great run
For everyone who though Jamie McMurray’s Daytona 500 win was a fluke, think again. McMurray is on a run this year that I don’t even think he expected.
He backed up his record-breaking pole at Darlington with a 2nd-place finish in the race, and is inching his way toward Chase contention. Not coincidentally, his teammate Juan Pablo Montoya also had a top-5 run and moved up in the standings.
For a team that was in such turmoil just a year ago, the success of the Earnhardt-Ganassi cars this year has been an amazing story.
New role for Brad Keselowski: Pitcher
Anyone heading to Comerica Park this Thursday, May 13, to see the Detroit Tigers take on the New York Yankees will get a little NASCAR bonus: Rochester Hills native and rising NASCAR star Brad Keselowski will throw out the first pitch.
All you Brad detractors can make a joke now about whether he will hit somebody with the pitch.
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