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The driver of the No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet announced Wednesday that he will not return to Richard Childress Racing in 2014.
Associated Press | File August
Sprint Cup driver Jeff Burton announced Wednesday that he will part ways with Richard Childress Racing after this season.
Thursday, September 5, 2013
One of the most optimistic drivers on the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit had his upbeat attitude put to an extreme test Wednesday.
Jeff Burton, driver of the No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing since 2005, announced he will not return to RCR for the 2014 season.
Burton, 46, spun the news as a mutual decision, but the longer he talked, the more it became apparent Childress wants to take the team in a different direction.
“This is a tough time for me because I truly believe in what we’re doing,” Burton said. “Caterpillar has been a huge supporter of mine and Richard Childress Racing. But a lot of the funding is not in place for next year. And at the end of 2014, I was going to step back and not run a full schedule anymore.
“This gives Richard the opportunity to move that team forward, to put the funding in place with a really good driver. The timing was right to go out and do something different. I agreed to step aside.”
Burton, a native of South Boston, wants to continue driving in the Sprint Cup series, but only with a competitive team.
“I don’t anticipate doing something that can’t be competitive,” Burton said. “I don’t mind building something, but it can’t be from the bottom. At 46, that’s not something I look forward to. I’ll see what comes up.
“I consider myself a Cup driver, but there’s no shame in running Nationwide or Truck or late model. It’s an honor to race, and it shouldn’t be about the series.
“Racing is an art and a privilege. If you’re a racer and don’t have the opportunity to do 100 percent of what you want and an opportunity presents itself, you go race.”
Burton will finish this season with RCR. Saturday, he’ll be in the field for the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway.
Burton is in his 21st season on NASCAR’s top circuit. In many of those seasons, he was a legitimate contender for the season title. But his last Chase appearance was in 2010, and his team is not in contention for a spot this year.
“It’s more than frustrating, it’s demoralizing,” Burton said. “And it’s hard when the 29 team [Kevin Harvick] has been successful and the other [RCR] teams haven’t. That forces the owner to ask what’s the issue? Is it the driver? Is it the team? Is it a combination? No owner wants to have to do that. No driver wants to be in that situation.
“But it is part of our business. It is part of professional sports. You’re under constant scrutiny from everybody involved. If you don’t want that, don’t do this.”
Burton has 21 Sprint Cup victories, the most recent in 2008.
He has 134 top-five finishes (two this season) and 253 top-10 finishes (five this season). He has won $86.2 million in his Sprint Cup career.
“It’s not been a smooth career,” he said. “Not a lot of people gave me a shot when I got my first opportunity. I went on to be very successful. I went through a period where we weren’t very good at all, and went through another period where we contended for championships and won races. Recently, we’ve been in a period where we haven’t contended.
“It’s been an earned career. That’s what life is. I’m proud of the way I’ve handled the good times and bad times. It’s fun to be part of teams where the people rally around each other. It’s been a journey. If you’re only worried about the destination and don’t want to take the journey, don’t do this. It’s tough.”
Wednesday, things once again got tough for Burton.
“It was brought to my attention last week that if nothing happens between now and Phoenix, that will be my 1,000th NASCAR start,” Burton said. “One thousand. I’ve been blessed. I’ve done things I never dreamed I could do.
“It’s not always fun. If I never get another chance, I’ll be sad. But I don’t look at this with malice. I look at it as the chances I’ve had.”
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