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Jeff Burton has long been considered a voice of reason in NASCAR’s garage, a respected driver destined for the TV booth or even politics.
Some of those future plans might get a look a bit earlier than expected.
Without committed sponsorship in place, and a desire to scale back his schedule in two years, Burton and team owner Richard Childress made the decision to cut ties following this season. The 46-year-old Burton, winless since 2008, faces an uncertain future after ending a relationship with RCR that dates to the 2005 season.
“It’s not necessarily the best thing for me in the world,” Burton said Wednesday, “but I figured it out.”
RCR said a driver for the No. 31 Chevrolet will be announced at a later date. Brickyard winner Ryan Newman, out of a job at Stewart-Haas Racing, could land in the No. 31 Chevrolet if a sponsorship deal comes through.
Burton told Childress that he wanted to step back after 2014 and race a part-time schedule, not unlike fellow veteran Mark Martin. But with Newman suddenly available and Burton unable to secure major corporate dollars for the 36-race reason, it seemed to be the right time to accelerate RCR’s makeover.
“They can put the funding in place with a really good driver that can go out and be successful,” said Burton, who added that he has not talked to any teams and has no plans for 2014.
Burton said the No. 31 is on the verge of breaking through into Victory Lane, even though the results haven’t really showed that’s likely. He’s buried in 22nd in the standings and well out of the Chase picture. He has two top-five finishes this year, hasn’t made the Chase since 2010 and is far removed from his days as a regular threat to contend for championships driving for Jack Roush. He finished 20th (2011) and 19th the last two seasons.
Burton has only four of his 21 career Cup victories with RCR.
“Jeff has been nothing but a professional driver, an asset to RCR and a great person for our organization since coming on board in 2005,” he said. “We intend to finish out 2013 in a strong way and I look forward to the possibility of Jeff still being part of RCR in the near future, just not driving the No. 31 car. I have been watching his son, Harrison, and the success he’s having. Hopefully, we can have another Burton in one of our cars someday.”
Caterpillar will continue to sponsor the No. 31 Chevrolet.
At Roush Racing in the late 1990s, Burton established himself as one of NASCAR’s elite drivers. He won six times in 1999 and had four more wins in 2000. But he never really recaptured the early magic, and failed to find it when the company man bolted Roush.
Burton clearly was one of the drivers most affected by Dale Earnhardt’s death in 2001. Burton was a champion of improved safety measures long before Earnhardt’s fatal accident, and there’s always been speculation that he lost a little bit of his nerve after the crash.
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