Burton Finds Stability at Richard Childress Racing

by Pete McCole

August 14, 2004

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Left to right - Kim Burton, Jeff Burton, Richard Childress
Credit - NASCAR

Frustrated by his team’s inability to land a full-time sponsor, Jeff Burton finally decided the time was right for a change.

After nearly nine seasons driving the #99 Ford for Roush Racing, Burton will leave Roush Racing following this weekend's race at Watkins Glen to take the driving duties of the #30 America Online Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing for the remainder of the 2004 season.

“With what we've gone through this year and the sponsor struggles that we've been part of, to me this feels like a new beginning,” Burton said. “Leaving Roush was a difficult decision but going to Richard Childress Racing was an easy decision.”

“This decision was not a snap decision. There were a lot of things that were weighed out from a competition standpoint. A lot of things were weighed out. At the end of the day I made the decision that I thought gave me the best chance to be in this sport at a high level for as long as possible and to compete at the highest level.”

According to Richard Childress, an RCR-Burton partnership has been in the works for some time.

"This is something that we've been looking forward to for a long time,” Childress said. “We go back to the day that Dale Earnhardt even started talking about retiring, maybe '98 or '99, not so much about retiring but who was going to get in the 3 car. Jeff’s name kept coming up.

“To have him in an RCR car today means a whole lot to me personally. I'm looking forward to the things we can do. He's a championship caliber driver.”

"The opportunity to drive for Richard Childress Racing is certainly something that would always interest me for sure,” Burton said. “I feel like I've joined an organization that is a top caliber organization that has a chance to win championships and win races.”

Burton, 24th in points with just one top 10 finish this season, had been without a full-time sponsor since the end of last season, surviving this year out of their own pocket and on a series of one-race deals.

A potential sponsorship deal with Crown Royal was nixed earlier this season because of a NASCAR policy prohibiting sponsorship from hard liquor companies.

The prospect of running the rest of the season without a sponsor made it difficult for Burton to focus on racing.

“There's a huge psychological undertaking that goes on when you look at that car and it's white or it's black and there's nothing on it,” Burton said. There was so much going on that it was hard to really focus on the racing. That's something that I think I was letting the team down with. It was just such a huge distraction.”

After joining Roush Racing in 1996, Burton emerged as a championship contender, finishing in the top ten in points for six consecutive seasons from 1997 to 2000 while scoring a career-high third in points in 2000.

All of Burton’s 17 NASCAR Nextel Cup victories have come behind the wheel of Roush Racing’s #99 Ford, but he’s gone winless since 2001 – a total of 97 races.

Burton said he had no regrets in his decision to leave Roush Racing and has no animosity towards his former team.

"I think we left on good terms,” Burton said. “I think it really goes almost unspoken, the relationship that Jack and I have had and the things he has done for myself and my family. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Jack. I've worked exceptionally hard at Roush Racing. I have a lot of blood, sweat and tears in that company. I don't regret it. I don't regret it one minute. I also don't regret moving to Richard Childress Racing and putting my blood there too. I'm real excited about it. I'm excited for the opportunity. It's bitter and it's sweet all at the same time.

“One of my closest friends is Mark Martin. He was supportive throughout this whole process. I have no animosity towards Roush Racing. Roush Racing has done everything in their power to do the things that were good for Jeff Burton. I've tried to do the same for them. I don't know if I've done it. I leave with no animosity. I wish them only success.”

Childress now hopes Burton can bring a wealth of experience and stability to RCR and new teammates Kevin Harvick and Robby Gordon.

“That's one of the great things that I see in Jeff Burton. He can bring a lot stability,” Childress said. “For us we need someone that these guys can lean on. I think he can bring a whole lot in general to RCR. I think we've been needing this."

The author can be contacted petem@autoracing1.com

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