A rejuvenated Burton halfway through Chase

Chris Symeon, Motorsports Editor

The Inside Line Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Jeff Burton began the 2008 "Chase for the Sprint Cup" as the seventh seed, but after winning last Saturday's Bank of America 500 at the Lowe's Motor Speedway, the 41-year-old driver moved up to second in the championship standings. He is 69 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson with five races remaining in the season.

Burton led the final 57 laps on Saturday, took fuel only on his last pit stop, and held off Kasey Kahne at the finish for his second Sprint Cup Series victory of the year.

"(Crew chief) Scott Miller did a great job, made that call there at the end, and that's what won the race," Burton said. "I'm sure everybody was questioning it. Hell, I was questioning it. I was thinking, 'I don't know if this will work or not,' but it did."

Jeff Burton has finished ninth or better since the playoffs began last month at New Hampshire.
It's the first time Burton has recorded multiple victories in a Cup season since 2001, when he drove the No.99 Ford for car owner Jack Roush.

Burton, in his third consecutive "Chase" this year, has finished ninth or better since the playoffs began last month at New Hampshire.

Johnson is the only other driver with Top-10 finishes in the first five Chase races this year.

Two years ago, Burton held a 45-point lead after Lowe's, but dropped to sixth in the standings the following week at Martinsville when he suffered engine failure, and ended up finishing 42nd. The Richard Childress Racing driver finished the 2006 season seventh in points.

"It was our first year in the Chase, and we had worked really hard," Burton said. "It was my second year at Childress. We had been through a lot of changes, a lot of stuff going on at the shop, trying to make things better. Being a small part of Richard Childress Racing, we had both teams in the Chase."

Teammate Kevin Harvick joined Burton in the '06 Chase, while all three RCR drivers qualified for the playoffs in '07 and '08, with Clint Bowyer joining the action.

Burton has been a Cup competitor since 1993, but has finished no better than third in points (2000). As the oldest driver in this year's Chase, Burton is already pleased with his season, regardless of whether he wins the title or not.

"We're just having fun, and we're paying attention to us," he said. "We're not going to get caught up in the point thing. We're paying attention to it, but we're not going to get caught up in it. If we don't win the championship, our year's not a failure. We weren't one of the teams that set the bar up there. We're just laying it out there, having a good time."

Johnson, the two-time defending series champion, is attempting to become the first driver since Cale Yarborough to win titles in a row. Yarborough won the championship consecutively from 1976-78.

At the start of the Chase, Johnson, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards were considered the top championship contenders. But Busch collapsed in the first two races as he finished 34th New Hampshire and 43rd at Dover and dropped from first to 12th in points, while Edwards has fallen from second to fourth in the ranks after finishing 29th at Talladega and 33rd at Lowe's. He is now 169 points behind Johnson.

Third-place occupant Greg Biffle is the only other driver close to Johnson in points (-86). Biffle won at New Hampshire and Dover, but was caught up in the second "big one" at Talladega and finished 24th.

Johnson ended last year's Chase by winning four of the last five races en route to his second-straight championship. He also completed the 2006 season with finishes of first or second in five of the last six races to capture his first title. Despite his previous late-season surges, Johnson is not about to underestimate Burton in this year's championship bout.

"He's always been on my radar screen," Johnson said. "He's been doing this a long time, and he knows the tracks. He's revitalized RCR over the years. I think we can all give him a lot of credit for the turnaround RCR has had. On the track he's smart, and he knows how to race hard. He's been out there a long time."

If Burton pulls off the upset and wins the Cup championship, it will be the seventh title for team owner Richard Childress, but his first since 1994 when Dale Earnhardt captured his record-tying seventh championship.

As long as Burton remains consistent, he should be battling for the title all the way up to the final lap in the November 16th season-ending race at Homestead.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Chris Symeon at csymeon@sportsnetwork.com.
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