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Yes, it was very chaotic at times last season for Richard Childress, but Jeff Burton says everything is now back on track

  Jeff Burton: can he still win races? He may have to prove that in 2012 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern


   One of this sport's most sage philosophers, Jeff Burton, has had a lot to ponder lately. And not just his typical big picture stuff. Rather his own little piece of NASCAR turf, where the games really haven't been quite to his likely all that much.

    Teammate Kevin Harvick's stunning dismissal of his entire crew last November on the eve of the final race of the season wasn't the only bit of turmoil over in the Richard Childress camp.
    Burton himself went through two such shakeups over the season.
    Now Burton has a new man at the helm, Drew Blickensderfer, just as does Harvick, with Shane Wilson.
   And team owner Richard Childress has had to cut back from four Cup teams to three.
   How will all that shake out?
   So let's keep an eye on both these teams, and this whole situation, as the new Sprint Cup season kicks off.
   Burton says there is a decidedly new outlook heading into this season.
   Last season "was unacceptable in everyone's minds," Burton says.
   "It was embarrassing, to be honest.
   "You're going to have bad years, that's just sports. But last season was just unacceptable."

    Team owner Richard Childress: shakeups, after a rocky season (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   So there has been a major shakeup within Childress' operation.
     "The week before Homestead and the week after Homestead, it was chaos," Burton concedes. It was touch and go at the shop; it wasn't a fun place to be.
   "You'd walk into the shop and instantly feel 'Uh-oh, don't think I want to be here today.
     "But since then it's been really calm over the winter. The big thing was getting everybody in the right place.
    "One thing Richard and I talked about during this was that having talented people was one thing but putting them all in the right place was crucial.
    "We have championship caliber people. But we haven't gotten them championships….because we have let them down."
    So there will be a new attitude, particularly among the drivers, Burton says: "What you're going to see now is that Kevin and I are both going to be more involved in our teams. On a minute to minute basis. And I think that's a good thing.
    "When I was at my best, I was hands on. But lately I haven't even known what springs are in the car.
    "That's not who I am.
    "I tried to play race car driver, like some other guys do, but that's not me. I need to know what's going on.
    "I don't want to just complain about things when the car is driving bad; I want to be part of the solution. That's 'ownership.' And it's a whole different mindset when you leave the car Saturday afternoon saying 'Wonder what they're going to do to the car?' I don't like that feeling.
    "There was a day when Rusty Wallace and Mark Martin, two of the best chassis men in the business, would come to me and ask me questions.
    "But today I don't even know what springs are in the car. The hell with that. I'm done with that.
    "It's not fair to my crew to say 'I'm a good driver. You've just got to give me a good car.' That's not fair.

    Drew Blickensderfer: the newest crew chief at Richard Childress'. Can he make Jeff Burton a winner again? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    "We need to win races. It still bothers me how many races we didn't win in 2010; I've never had so many chances to win races and not win 'em.
    "I'm still mad about 2010. We had a lot of races where if we had a better pit stop or a better restart, we'd have won. And we didn't.
    "We need to become relevant again. And you do that by leading races, winning races, contending for championships.
   "Last year I felt like an outsider. I'd walk by a group of drivers, and they'd just stop talking, because they'd be talking about something I just couldn't talk about. And I didn't like that feeling."
   But let's ask a tough question: Is Jeff Burton still a winning driver? His teammates have been winning – Clint Bowyer at Talladega, Kevin Harvick at California, Martinsville, Charlotte and Richmond, Paul Menard at Indianapolis. But Burton's last tour win was in the fall of 2008, and last season he wound up 20th in the final standings.
   Is Jeff Burton still a winning driver?
   "Yes," Blickensderfer insists. "Two years ago he was leading the standings going into the chase, and I don't think in one year you go from a championship driver to a 25th place driver."


Daytona holds a lot of memories for Richard Childress. Some very good, some downright heartbreaking (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   So why isn't Burton still winning?
   Blickensderfer points to Childress' operational model of leaving it up to the crew chiefs to decide the technicals, instead of having a standard model for all the teams to follow (as Blickensderfer was used to at Jack Roush's).
   "Instead of having common race cars, each team had drastically different cars, whatever each crew chief wanted," Blickensderfer says.
   "That's why you saw Kevin Harvick competing for championships but not Jeff.
   "This year our cars will be very similar. Shane, Slugger and I all want to work on similar things. 
   "We're not going to have dissimilar simple things, like grill screens and brake fluid. And in this economy if we can eliminate the simple stuff we can not only save money but save time in the wind tunnels and things like that, and if one of us gets off we can get back to home base. There's nothing more frustrating than having a fast teammate on a weekend but not having the same kind of car as him."
    Burton has long been one of this sport's best philosophers and big picture guys. But now he's focused on the small picture – getting himself and his team more relevant each weekend.
    "Bristol last summer changed a lot of things at Richard's," Burton says. "Richard's teams always run good at Bristol, but this time we all ran terrible. And Monday after Bristol was ugly back at the shop.
   "Richard knew something was wrong. That event was eye-opening.
   "We just weren't good. The stuff just didn't drive good, and we didn't have the speed."
    That, Burton says, has changed: "Where we are today is a lot because of what happened at Bristol.
   "So I'm fired up and ready to go….but it's a long time between now and the December banquet, and you've got to maintain your composure. Everybody wants to win the Daytona 500, but you do that corner by corner by corner. If you break the race down into 200 laps, then into 800 corners, that's how you win. 
   "And that's how you have to race the season."
   And that season starts right here this weekend.



   Jeff Burton: ready to laugh again (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


Ok let me get this

Ok let me get this right...Harvick contended for the championship( till he wrecked at Tally) because the cars his crew chief built were so much more superior than the 27 and 31right? That the 27& 31 cars were inferior to the cars built by the 29 right? And one of the inferior cars that missed the chase was that of Shane Wilson, chief for Bowyer....right?

So wth is going on at RCR where they fire the crew chief & team (4 wins& chase) of the 29, and promote Wilson (cheating scandle 1 win, missed chase) as chief of the 29???

Is it me or is this a stupid business decision? Come on Mulhern, you are a man to get to the bottom of things....what gives?

hmmmm, uh, ah, well,

hmmmm, uh, ah, well, er.....yeah: talked with gil martin today and i'm thinking 'this guy could have easily won the last two championships for harvick, and yet he gets bounced?' shane's a good guy, now. but i'm wondering if RC really has things sorted out yet, or if he's just letting the drivers make the calls. slugger labbe almost lost his whole team in that shakeup last fall, until john menard put his foot down. and there's a lot more for me to mull over too here....thanks for pressuring me to get on the job.

OK Man, I know you know more

OK Man, I know you know more people than anyone and you're not one of these reporters that print a press release. You're old school (my respect) and actually work AS a journalist and dont take the easy way out of just reporting the reports. If anyone can get the answers YOU can, and I am looking forward to getting the answers to this. Been an RCR fan for years and its like RC has given up on his teams also what is other medias opinions of this...the opinions they wont or too scared to prin?

IMHO, part of the problem

IMHO, part of the problem with nascar is that it's an economic mess as far as teams and team sponsorships are concerned. thinking the owners are trying to keep the sponsorship price points high, but those prices aren't reasonable to companies these days. and the cost of this sport is astounding. fuel injection alone adds $1 million a team, Jack Roush says. and that's before everyone gets really deep into EFI. Hotel rooms? one hotel here is charging $900 a night! it's no longer about the racing but about the business....and unemployment in florida and in north carolina: 9.9 percent. times are tough, and it's skewing everything. just keep an eye on the quarterpanels this season....

So youre saying the resson

So youre saying the resson RCR replaced Gill Martin was cause Shane WIlson was cheaper? I dont understand...what did econimics have to do with this cc switch? Cause I just saw Martin on TV with a slow eliott sadler...

no, not economics

no, not economics specifically. the swap was just because KH wanted it. I didnt/dont think it makes much sense, to be honest, because GilMartin got KH within sight of the championship twice, and they won races together, and if it aint broke dont fix it. but RC, for some reason, just decided to let KH have his way. and shane and his guys are solid, of course. another thing i dont understand is why RC couldn't make do with a $13m sponsorship with 5HR and CBowyer. If RC had done the deal with CB, then RCR would still have four teams and clicking. imho. but here's where 'economics' comes in, i reckon. (and btw wondering what the real deal is with hendrickcars.com on that quarterpanel?)

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