Burton's misfortune shakes up title chase
by Pete McCole

October 24, 2006

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Jeff Burton

The bad luck that Jeff Burton has dodged since taking the points lead in the 10-race Chase For The Nextel Cup finally caught up with him.

Just one week after being dubbed “The Ice Man” by fellow Chase competitor Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Burton pulled into the garage on lap 217 of Sunday’s Subway 500 at Martinsville Speedway with a terminal engine problem, relegating him to a 42nd-place finish and dropping him from first to fifth in the standings, 48 points behind new race leader Matt Kenseth.

Despite avoiding the “Big One” at Talladega and transmission problems that plagued his teammates last week at Lowe’s Motor Speedway, the half-mile at Martinsville may very well have proven to be the turning point in the Chase.

Burton’s DNF at Martinsville on Sunday has turned what had looked to be a four-horse race for the title just one week ago into a near dead heat with eight of the 10 drivers separated by just 99 points with just four races to go.

Somewhere, you know NASCAR President Brian France – who first came up with the idea of the Chase format – must have a very large smile on his face. In its third season, the Chase has produced exactly what NASCAR had hoped it would – a wide-open battle for the title that could very well come down to the last lap of the season on Nov. 19 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Sunday’s winner Jimmie Johnson, who at one point was 136 points behind Burton and all but written out of the championship picture, now finds himself back in the hunt – currently he is third in the standings, 41 points out.

“I think there have been a couple teams that have shown a lot of speed but have had bad luck. I think we are one of them,” said Johnson. “If we look back at Kansas, Talladega, Charlotte and here, we had a chance to win all four of those races. We have had the speed, the No. 31 has had the speed, but the luck hasn't been with it.

“(Burton’s) had decent races, not a lot of bad luck. Today was a lot of bad luck for him but up until this point he's been pretty clean and the rest of the teams have had bad luck including us.

Even Kasey Kahne – dead last in points just a month ago – has a shot. He’s in eighth place, but just 99 points behind the leader.

Burton, though, has vowed he and his team would give up so easily.

“Stuff happens and everybody in the Chase has had trouble,” Burton said following Sunday’s race. “We certainly didn't want this to happen, didn't need this to happen but at the same time it did happen. We will burrow down tomorrow morning and focus on being better and focus on going to Atlanta to win the race.

By no means do I think we're out of this thing. I think we have as good a shot as anybody. We run well enough to win a championship; we've just got to put the next
four races together.

“We're a team. We fight together. We die together. We do everything together and that's what it's all about. We'll go to Atlanta. I feel like we have as good a chance as anybody to win this thing.”

The author can be contacted petem@autoracing1.com

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