When the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season started in Daytona, everyone was speculating about what type of competition the Generation Six race car would create. The theory, of course, was that smaller teams would reap the benefits: teams such as Front Row Racing and Phoenix Racing, single car operations, were thought to have benefited most from this transition.
Many discounted Richard Childress Racing from consideration as the team was going through massive transition before the season even began. Kevin Harvick, the team’s best driver and anchor since the death of Dale Earnhardt in 2001, announced he would be leaving for Stewart-Haas Racing at seasons end. This was speculated to be a major blow to the organization.
Yet, as NASCAR’s regular season is over half way complete and 11 races remain before the Chase for the Sprint Cup field is decided, Richard Childress Racing poses a viable threat to have all three cars in NASCAR’s version of the playoffs.
While Harvick’s teammate Paul Menard has begun to falter (currently 11th in points (two points removed from 10th place), Childress’s third driver Jeff Burton has begun to improve dramatically and is now a legitimate contender.
Burton, also known as the Mayor for his stoic presence in the garage area, is fighting for a job. Competing in his 21st season of Sprint Cup Series competition, Burton is looking to be on his way out as Childress’s grandsons Austin Dillon and Ty Dillon develop.
But Burton is certainly not done being competitive. Despite having only one top-five finish this year, the team led by Crew Chief Luke Lambert is progressing. Bitten by bad luck to begin the season, the team has now rallied to four straight top-15 finishes and 17th position in the championship standings. Burton finds himself only 27 points behind 10th place, having gained four spots in the championship standings.
Remember, anything is certainly possible with this new Generation Six car. NASCAR still has to return to Daytona during the regular season, a place where Childress cars are always strong.
NASCAR is continually becoming a young drivers’ sport, a place where developing stars are showcased as soon as they turn 18. But, fans certainly have a soft spot for chiseled veterans, the heralds of the garage area. If anyone deserves to continue to run well, regardless of age and circumstance, it is certainly Jeff Burton.
As the series continues to make its yearly cycle, watch out for Jeff Burton and the No. 31 car as he consistently marches his way into Chase contention.
Follow Mike Guzman on Twitter @Mike486