If it’s the end, Burton’s happy with it
Longtime driver may have driven last race
Jeff Burton (right), in this file photo from last year's Sprint Cup race in Homestead, Fla., may have run his final NASCAR race yesterday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)
Fans watch as Jimmie Johnson hits the wall during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sunday, July 13, 2014, in Loudon, N.H. The crash took Johnson out of the race. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
LOUDON, NH - JULY 13: Crew chief Chad Knaus inspects the car of Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet, after a crash during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 13, 2014 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
LOUDON – Jeff Burton started his Sprint Cup career at Loudon in 1993. After qualifying a remarkable sixth place, an accident on the third lap caused Burton to fall to the back of the pack where he was knocked out of the race in a one-car accident on Lap 90, finishing 37th. Burton’s next two Sprint Cup finishes at the Magic Mile didn’t fare much better, coming in with finishes of 38th and 25th.
After an inauspicious start to his Sprint Cup career at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Burton proved that his first Sprint Cup race was a fluke, as he now sits as the all-time leader in victories at Loudon with four, ahead of Cup mainstays Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch, Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman, who are all tied with three each.
Now driving the No. 66 Toyota on a very limited schedule for Michael Waltrip Racing with no races scheduled beyond today, questions about yesterday’s Camping World RV Sales 301 being the driver’s last race became frequent over race weekend, and Burton seemed comfortable with the idea of ending his Sprint Cup career in the same place that it started.
“I think it’s a good chance; I think it’s a good chance that it’s my last race. And I’m okay with that,” Burton said. “I’ve won a lot of races here. This place matters to me. If this is my last race, it’s actually pretty cool that it would be here.”
Not only has Burton won the most Cup races at NHMS, but he also is the only driver in Sprint Cup history to lead every lap of a race at Loudon, pacing the field in all 300 laps during the Dura Lube 300 in September of 2000. Burton also has the distinction of winning a race at Loudon from the worst starting position, when he scooted into Victory Lane after starting the race in 38th in 1999.
While Burton may not have had the finish he was hoping for in his possible sendoff, ending the race in 20th, it was still a respectable finish for the “Mayor of the Garage” at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Before the race, Jerry Gappens, Executive VP of NHMS, presented Burton with a trophy commemorating his success at the Magic Mile.
If this is Burton’s last race, he’s happy to end it at what became the South Boston, Va., native’s career-shaping course.
“I have a lot of friends here. I’ve been going to quite a few races this year. If this is my last race, it’s cool with me for it to be here. This isn’t my home track, but this is certainly a track a lot of my career has been shaped at.”
Tire issues continue
Another Cup driver had left rear tire issues, and this time it was Jimmie Johnson who had problems with two of his. The first tire went flat during the opening laps of the Camping World RV Sales 301, where Johnson was able to get his car back to pit road without drawing a yellow flag.
After changing the tire, Johnson came out for a handful of laps before the Goodyear “exploded” on lap 15, dashing the Hendricks team’s hopes of a strong finish.
Teams have been running low tire pressures in their left rear at the Magic Mile, hoping to gain more speed around the track. This has caused issues for Aric Almirola, who had to move to a backup car following a wreck during Saturday morning’s practice, and for Joey Logano, who wrecked his car during a Friday practice.
When asked about the low tire pressures that were run, Johnson said, “I can promise you one thing, it wasn’t (because of) too low left rear tire pressure.” This was a sentiment that Logano echoed after Friday’s crash.
Goodyear Tire representative Greg Stucker quickly responded to Johnson, stating that “the tires failed in a manner consistent with low tire inflation.”
With the teams and Goodyear appearing to be at odds with the reason for tire failures, it will be interesting to see what happens when the cars return to NHMS in September.
After broadcasting NASCAR events for the last 32 years, Turner Sports aired its final NASCAR race during the Camping World RV Sales 301.
The remaining 17 races of the 2014 season will be broadcast between ESPN and ABC, with NBC Sports and Fox Sports splitting coverage starting in 2015.
Ryan Newman, started 24th, finished fifth – Newman, who won the inaugural Whelen Modifieds All-Star race here on Friday, started in the middle of the pack for yesterday’s race, but over the last 95 laps, “Rocket Man” lived up to his nickname, shooting up from 19th place to fifth, culminating with a pass of Clint Bowyer at the finish line.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., started 28th, finished 10th – Most drivers would have been ecstatic to pull out a top-10 finish after starting at the back of the field, but Junior, who was as high as second place, had different feelings. “That was frustrating. That was the hardest I’ve ever worked for a 10th-place finish. … It’s been a real frustrating weekend, to be honest.”
Ricky Stenhouse Jr., started 22nd, finished ninth – Stenhouse Jr. quietly had himself a good race. After finishing outside of the top 10 for the last 10 races, the Roush-Fenway driver posted his best finish since he took runner-up at the Food City 500 in Bristol early in the season.
Johnson, started second, finished 42nd – Johnson’s day was over before it really even got started. Two early tire blowouts forced the six-time Sprint Cup champion out of the race after completing only 11 laps.
Logano, started sixth, finished 40th – Logano was having himself a great race, even leading at one point, but an unfortunate collision with Morgan Shepherd ended the Penske driver’s day. Logano, visibly frustrated with the incident said, “It is just dumb that it happened. I feel like that should be stuff that shouldn’t happen at this level of racing.”
Kevin Harvick, started 12th, finished 30th – Harvick knew that he was pushing his luck with fuel mileage at the end of the race. The gamble didn’t pay off for the No. 4 Stewart-Haas car, as Harvick ran out of fuel on the last restart, putting an end to a promising day that saw Harvick fall from seventh place.
∎ Shepherd extended his own record of being the oldest driver to start a NASCAR race at 72 years, 9 months young.
∎ Shepherd is the only driver that raced in Turner Sports’ first broadcast 32 years ago and their last broadcast yesterday.
∎ Only two drivers have competed in all 39 events at New Hampshire Motor Speedway: Jeff Burton and Jeff Gordon.
∎ Brad Keselowski’s win marks the first Ford win at Loudon since September of 2008, when Greg Biffle won.
∎ Keselowski’s victory makes the Penske driver the 13th different winner in the last 13 races at Loudon.
∎ Kyle Larson took third place, ending his three-week slide in which he finished 28th, 40th and 36th.
Quotes of the day
∎ “Make sure you know how to drive one (race car) before you get into one.” – Logano, after being taken out of the race in an accident with 72-year-old Shepherd.
∎ “That’s probably a good thing, being a little dumb.” – Kyle Busch, commenting on never really having an idea about his fuel mileage.