As a new generation of drivers enters the Sprint Cup Series, the veterans are finding it tougher and tougher to remain competitive. Other than a few breakout weekends, Jeff Burton hasn’t been much of a threat over the past few seasons. Every year, Burton gets the pre-season hype as a potential breakout driver for the upcoming season. The expectations are high until about Phoenix and then they die down since Burton can no longer remain consistent during each race. A new crop of drivers has begun to enter the RCR stable and it’s just a matter of time that the new talent takes over the veteran’s rides.
To still have a ride with a top-tier Cup team is something that indicates RCR still has hope that Burton can once again be competing for wins each weekend. Burton still has the talent, but he needs to show us that. By running up front and winning races, he’ll once again emerge as a threat. If he doesn’t do that soon, he may be run over by the new generation of NASCAR drivers.
Richard Childress has gathered a great group of young drivers who definitely have a future in the Cup Series. Pretty soon, those drivers will be looking for Cup rides and Childress isn’t going to say “not now.” He’s going to want the future of his organization running in the top level of NASCAR as soon as possible and he’ll bump out the veterans as needed.
Over the past few seasons, Burton has become the odd-man out at RCR. He’s the oldest, has the longest amount of time since his last win, and he hasn’t been competing for the Chase regularly like his teammates have. With Kevin Harvick moving to Stewart-Hass next season and Paul Menard having a family sponsor, Burton has become the anchor of the team. A smart move by RCR would be to boot Burton out and bring in some new talent, but Childress will give Burton a chance to prove himself before he leaves.
This season could be the most important of Burton’s career since he needs to be contending with the front-runners on a regular basis. If he can do that, his career will keep moving along at RCR. Strong performances and wins will also boost Burton’s resume as he fights for a longer-stay at RCR. Without those credential boosters, Burton could be out of a ride following this season.
The only thing that should matter to Burton this season is success. With it, he may get a new contract after this season. Without it, he could be looking at free agency at the end of the season. Success now is very important to Burton’s future since not many teams will be looking for a veteran driver in the middle of NASCAR’s youth-movement.
Anything could happen and he could wind up back at RCR next season, but it isn’t likely unless he has good performances throughout the remainder of the season. It is all up to Burton to decide what his future looks like. He has the ability to shape it how he would like, but if he chooses to just run well enough to get by; he may be a man with few options after this season. He needs a wake-up call now and if his performance level doesn’t change, his Cup career won’t last very much longer.
By Jason Schultz