Commentary

Burton looking to salvage season

Updated: June 23, 2011, 3:08 PM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

What in the world has happened to Jeff Burton?

He's 25th in the standings and doesn't have a top-10- finish this season. Richard Childress Racing teammates Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer have 15 top-10s between them and both rank in the top 10 in the standings. Fellow RCR driver Paul Menard is 16th with four top-10s.

Burton turns 44 next week, but he didn't forget how to drive, so something is amiss. One year ago, Burton was eighth in the standings with seven top-10s in the No. 31 Chevy.

Burton's downward slide actually began last year during the Chase when he finished 18th or worse in seven of the last eight races, including 31st or worse in three of the last four. He has finished 20th or worse in 10 of 15 races this season, including the past four races.

Burton was asked about his season before the race at Michigan last weekend.

"We don't feel good about it," he said. "There's no question about that. However, we're not out of it with the wild card that was added this year. Our whole world changes if we win a race.

"We probably aren't going to find our way into the top 10 in points [before the Chase starts in September], but that doesn't mean we can't find our way into the Chase.''

Burton's right. If he can win a race and work his way into the top 20, it might be good enough to earn one of the two wild-card spots in the Chase. The final two spots are based on wins for drivers ranked 11th to 20th.

Even so, things look grim. Unless Burton shows a big improvement in the second half of the season, 2011 will be his worst year since 1995 (the year before he moved to Jack Roush's team) when he finished 32nd.

One of the surprising things about his struggles is the fact that Burton was instrumental in helping turn things around at RCR after he arrived in 2004, something Childress has stated repeatedly. Burton suggested numerous changes to the RCR cars that improved performance.

Burton has been down before and pulled out of it. He finished 18th in the standings in 2004 and 2005, but ranked in the top 10 the next three seasons, winning at least one race each year.


So you've got some cash sitting around and you're searching for a great deal on a sports organization. Look no further Mr. Moneybags. I've got one heck of a deal for you.

The chance to purchase Red Bull Racing Team is the best buy for the money in professional sports. Allow me to explain why.

(1) This is a quality organization that fields two Sprint Cup cars ranked in the top 25 in the standings.

It isn't some start-and-park team just showing up every week to make 30 laps and grab a check. It's a serious operation with a strong management team, led by vice president and general manager Jay Frye.

Granted, one driver (Kasey Kahne) is leaving and the other (Brian Vickers) is a free agent, but good drivers will be available if the team has a solid ownership group. And you could keep Cole Whitt, one of the best young developmental drivers in NASCAR.

(2) You can buy in without inheriting any debt load. That's unusual when a Cup team is for sale.

Richard Petty Motorsports was left in the lurch when owner George Gillett defaulted on more than $100 million in debts. It caused RPM to miss payments on equipment and last fall left the team wondering from week to week if it would be racing.

Most of those debts were written off by the banks, but RBRT is a completely different situation. Everything in the organization is paid in full. Someone can purchase the assets without taking on any long-term debts.

(3) RBRT is an excellent opportunity for a big return on your investment.

Say the price to keep both cars running next year is $30 million. Top Cup teams are worth five to 10 times that amount. If you are a man of means who has the ear of corporate America and can garner sponsorship, this team is a steal.

That's no easy task in today's economy, but this is a team worth sponsoring, an organization that has the potential to grow into a Chase-contending group.

So forget about that MLB or NFL franchise that would cost you 20 times as much money. This is the deal for you.


The feel-good story of the week has to be Trevor Bayne. A few weeks ago, many people wondered if his mysterious illness would keep him out of racing the rest of the season.

His return to Cup last weekend in the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford produced a respectable 16th-place showing, his best finish in the series since his surprising Daytona 500 victory. Michigan was his first Cup race since April 17 at Talladega.

After first believing he suffered a spider bite in April, the 20-year-old driver was hospitalized at The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., to undergo tests for nausea, fatigue and impaired vision. Doctors diagnosed an inflammatory condition.

"I feel fine," Bayne said after the 400-mile event at Michigan. "I'm ready and it was good to finally get back in this Cup car. It wasn't too bad for our first run back.

"I've got to get better at figuring out what this thing needs in practice and telling exactly what it needs so we can get better in the race. But we'll keep working on that, as well. It was a pretty hard-fought 16th. We got a couple of them there at the end. At least we were moving forward at the end of the race."

It was a great confidence builder before Bayne heads back to his place of glory for the July 2 night race at Daytona.

Having Bayne back racing in Cup and healthy again is good for the sport. Bayne is to NASCAR what U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy is to golf -- a crowd-pleasing, talented young athlete with a great attitude and a bright future.

Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Blount can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter

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