Burton wins at Charlotte
Nobody gave Jeff Burton a chance.
And that’s exactly how Burton likes it.
Burton thrust himself into title contention Saturday night, using savvy pit strategy to win at Lowe’s Motor Speedway and slice into Johnson’s points lead on a night when several contenders lost sight of the title.
“Nobody’s giving us a chance except for us, and all those guys have a tremendous amount to lose,” Burton said. “We’ve got nothing to lose and we’re just hanging it out there and seeing what happens.”
Three poor finishes at the start to the Chase for the championship knocked Busch, the regular-season points winner, out of contention.
Now Edwards is teetering on the edge after a 33rd-place finish Saturday night dropped him to fourth in the standings.
Burton’s win, his second of the season, pushed him two spots in the standings to second. He trails Johnson by 69 points with five races to go.
“We’re just having fun. We’re paying attention to us,” Burton said. “We’re not going to get caught up in this. We’re paying attention to it, but we’re not going to get caught up in it. If we don’t win the championship, our year is not a failure. We weren’t one of the teams that set that bar up there.
“We’re just laying it out there and having a good time.”
Johnson, seeking a third consecutive title, finished sixth and insisted he never counted out Burton.
“He’s always been on my radar screen,” Johnson said. “He’s been doing this a long time. He knows the tracks. He knows how to race cars. He’s been out there a long time and he knows how to race and get points.”
He proved that Saturday night with three gas-only pit stops, including fuel only to make sure he was still out front on the final restart with 34 laps to go.
Kasey Kahne, who swept the May races at the track, finished second and was followed by Kurt Busch.
Kyle Busch, the regular-season points winner, was fourth for his best finish since the Chase began five weeks ago. Jamie McMurray was fifth, and Johnson faded over the final few laps to finish sixth.
Greg Biffle, Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin and David Ragan rounded out the top 10.
The night was a disaster for several Chase contenders, including Edwards, who entered the race second in the standings. He lost power in his Ford early and finished 33rd to likely lose his shot at his first Sprint Cup title.
It ended a drama-filled week for Edwards, who caused a 12-car accident last Sunday in Talladega then scuffled with Kevin Harvick in the garage area at Lowe’s.
Edwards left fourth in the standings, 168 behind Johnson.
“It’s not good,” Edwards said. “I think we’re still fourth, though, so there are only three guys in front of us. There’s no other way to put it. It’s just a bad week. That’s all there is to it.”
Johnson, who was 146 points out after this race in 2006, said he’s not ready to call Edwards out of it just yet.
“If us top three guys have problems, they’re right back in it,” Johnson said. “It’s a decent margin, but we’re only halfway through it. If we go clean, that’s going to be really tough for (Edwards) to overcome. But if we have trouble, he’s going to be right back in it.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. fared worse than Edwards, finishing 36th after his tire exploded a lap before he planned to head to pit road to have them changed. He’s 10th in the standings.
Matt Kenseth was caught in a mid-race accident and finished 41st to drop to 11th in the standings.
Gordon seemed poised to end his yearlong losing streak, leading several times for 47 laps despite two hard bounces off the wall very early in the race. He had to pit just 10 laps into the race to change tires after hitting the wall, but still managed to make his way back to the front.
He gave up the lead for an off-sequence pit stop and never made it back to the front. He took four tires on the final pit stop, which mired him too far back into the field to make a run at the leaders over the final sprint to the finish.
“I’m so bummed I got in the wall early,” said Gordon, who has not won since a victory at the track last October. “We had to come back from that and lead this race. I knew we were out of sequence — it’s amazing how great the car is out front and how terrible when you get six cars back.
“We just got the best thing we could out of it there at the end and I’m very happy.”
Johnson was not.
He thought he had a shot at winning the race, but his late fade had him aggravated after the finish.
“We were junk at the end,” he said. “I tried to get up there. Took a lot of risk tonight, tried to get as many points as I could. Tried to hang with (Burton) and get by him, damn near threw it away a couple of times. The last third of the race we got out in left field and couldn’t get it back.”