Burton trying to get out of slump
LONG POND, Pa. (AP) -- Look at the stats and the numbers sure don't seem like they belong to Jeff Burton.
No wins. No top-fives. No top-10s. Four finishes 25th or worse.
Burton is in a funk, one of the worst in his 19-year career, stuck in 25th place in the points standings heading into this weekend's Sprint Cup race at Michigan International Speedway. He finished in the top 10 in the final standings three straight years (2006-2008) and qualified for the Chase for the championship last season.
This season, it's been nothing but a string of bad luck and bad finishes for the No. 31.
But a bad attitude? Not a chance for Burton, one of NASCAR's most respected drivers.
"What's silly is, with the format we have this year, we're still not out of it," Burton said. "We can still win the championship."
That's some wide-eyed optimism right there. The revamped Chase format for this season allows for wild-card spots. The top-two drivers outside of the top 10 with the most victories will earn spots in the 10-race chase for the title.
Jeff Gordon is in 11th place, but after earning his second victory of the season last weekend at Pocono Raceway, he's a near-lock to make the field. No other driver outside the top 10 has more than one win. Burton believes if his team can get the season turned around in short order with a pair of wins, he'll be jolted back into championship contention.
"We win a race and our whole world changes," he said. "We win a race and everything's different. I say that as if winning a race is easy. Obviously, it's not. But this is one of the best 24th-place point teams you've ever seen. This team still has a lot of talent on it."
Burton was 20th at Pocono - a third straight finish in the 20s - and his winless stretch is now 91 races.
"I can't say we came into the year thinking we were going to win 12 races, but I certainly thought we'd be in position to be in the Chase," Burton said.
Burton and owner Richard Childress have few solutions to what's ailed the 31. His problems started in the season-opening Daytona 500 when an engine failed only 92 laps into the race. He was caught in a wreck at Phoenix, and hasn't been able to find his way from out of the back of the pack.
"We haven't had a single race where we've finished as well as we've run," Burton said. "We just haven't put a race together. You can't throw you're arms up in disgust. You've got to keep fighting."
So far, Burton's team has avoided the kind of shake-up that other underachieving teams experienced this year. Tony Stewart released Bobby Hutchens as director of competition at Stewart-Haas Racing. Martin Truex Jr. had a new crew chief at Pocono, with Chad Johnston stepping in for Pat Tryson.
RCR crew chief Todd Berrier appears safe with Burton.
"We believe that we have solid people, we have people that can get the job done," Burton said. "We haven't had any discussions about personnel changes."
Childress has his own troubles. NASCAR fined him and placed him on probation after an incident with Kyle Busch.
"He bears the burden of making sure you're competitive," Burton said. "Richard's not the kind of guy that's going to come in here and be the big cheerleader. He is always going to give you words of encouragement, but he's also going to deal with the issue."
That encouragement is part of what keeps Burton motivated on finding those top-10 finishes, and even a checkered flag or two, to make the Chase.
"As silly as it sounds, we're not out of it," he said.