Jeff Burton's 2011 Season: Off-Year or Decline?

Jeff Burton led 26 laps at Talladega on Sunday. Photo By Wesley Daniel /

By Dominic Aragon

Over three years ago, veteran driver Jeff Burton was sitting second in points following the Charlotte Chase Race. It’s hard to believe that race, where he led 58 laps, would be the last time his 31 car would get to stroll to victory lane.

Statistically, this is one of Burton’s worst full-time years in his career. A season that has included just two top-10 finishes, Burton currently sits 24th in points.

Fans are wondering why the sudden fall off for Jeff Burton this season. Burton started strong with a top-10 in the Budweiser Shootout and a win in the Gatorade Duel No. 2 race. Yet, the highest he’s peaked in points is 20th this season.

To cut to the chase (no pun intended), Richard Childress Racing is just not cut out for a four car operation. As we saw in 2009, four cars attempted all 36 races. Overall, only one car made the Chase as the others struggled to stay within the top-20 in points.

This season, we only saw one driver from RCR make the Chase—Kevin Harvick. Besides a win at Talladega this past Sunday, fellow RCR driver Clint Bowyer has struggled this season, missing the Chase for the second time in three years.

Overall, an extra car can put a strain on a team’s resources. With chassis and engines getting used more often, equipment may not be as good as it would with three cars.

So can this be an explanation for Burton’s sudden downfall? Not necessarily.

If you have seen most Cup races, Jeff Burton has RUN consistent throughout the season. Texas in the spring and Indianapolis are good examples. However, he has not been able to FINISH races inside the top-10. His car always has the muscle to run towards the front, as we have seen him lead 66 laps this year.

Folks, we might be seeing a little bit of both a decline and for sure an off-year.

What Jeff Burton needed was a good run at Talladega, and he got that with leading on the final lap until the tri-oval. As we have seen in the past, some drivers slowly start to find their way to the bottom of the standings, as far as full-time drivers go. A few seasons after going “over the hill,” some drivers find themselves lucky to finish lead lap and score a couple top-10 runs at most per season.

However, everything that could be going wrong for Jeff Burton has this season. Slow pit stops and missed opportunities have become the reason he’s not sitting inside the Chase right now. A slow start at Daytona set the mood for the year. This past Sunday’s race extended his streak of scoring at least one top-5 finish every season since his rookie year of 1994. 

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.