After 87 winless races, the Nextel Cup driver hopes to take advantage of any chance he gets.
By Associated Press
Published May 28, 2004
CONCORD, N.C. - Jeff Burton used to come to each track - particularly Lowe's Motor Speedway - as one of the favorites.
He won 17 races in a five-year span and finished a career-best third in the points standings in 2000. Two of those victories came in the Coca-Cola 600.
But since winning at Phoenix in October 2001, Burton has gone 87 races without a victory. He has eight top-five finishes in the past two seasons.
"We just haven't done what we needed to do lately," Burton said Thursday. "You have to put yourself in position to take advantage of any break you get, and we just haven't done that."
So far in 2004, he has one finish in the top 10, a seventh at Talladega, and he comes into Sunday's race 29th in the standings.
Burton missed a chance for a season-turning result two weeks ago at Richmond, when he lost control of his Roush Racing Ford while trying to pass Jeremy Mayfield for the lead and spun through the infield.
The mistake dropped him to the rear of the field, and he finished 14th.
"I think you take a race like that for the good and the bad," Burton said. "We had a really good car at Richmond and ran up front and performed well, then we go all the way to the back with the spin."
What makes Burton's descent more striking is the success of his teammates, Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch.
Kenseth won the championship last season, using a consistent run that included a series-best 25 top 10s. Busch had four victories and wound up one spot ahead of Burton in the standings in 11th.
Even rookie Greg Biffle won a race, using fuel mileage to pull off an upset in July at Daytona.
Only Burton and Mark Martin went winless with Roush.
"We just didn't have what the other cars had," Burton said. "Not that it wasn't available to us, but we didn't use what they did. Hopefully, we can use that information and get our stuff better."
His brother, Ward, understands the frustration. He went nearly five years between victories earlier in his career, so he appreciates how tough it is.
"People don't understand how hard it is to win," Ward Burton said. "A few years ago, Jeff was finishing in the top five, the top 10 every week. I'm sure it's got to be hard on him, but I haven't noticed that he's gotten down on himself."
Not yet. Jeff Burton started this season without a full-time sponsor, leading to rumors that team owner Jack Roush planned to pull the No.99 off the track.
In the past couple of races, Roundup lawn and garden products has supported the team, and Burton hopes an announcement will be made soon about the rest of the season.
Until then, he and his crew likely will face more garage gossip about the situation. The most persistent of this talk has Burton joining Richard Childress Racing.
Ward Burton acknowledges his younger brother probably has a tough decision to make "in the next few months." Until then, all Jeff can do is try to rid himself of a string of poor runs.
"I don't believe in luck," Jeff Burton said. "Certainly there's times in your career where you can do no wrong, and other times where you can't do anything right.
"But we've got everything in place here to turn this around. We've just got to do it."