LONG POND — NASCAR driver Jeff Burton has had to adjust to running a limited schedule in the Sprint Cup Series this season which will be his last on the circuit.
“Ultimately, sometimes the time is just right,” Burton said at Pocono Raceway Tuesday. “Everything just kinda happened and everything was sitting there laid out. Richard (Childress) knew it, Caterpillar knew it, this was gonna be my last year.”
Sponsorship didn’t materialize for the Virginia-based driver at Richard Childress Racing. He eventually agreed to drive part-time for Michael Waltrip Racing (MWR) this season.
Burton also signed a deal to be on the broadcast team for NASCAR on NBC starting in 2015.
The first live interview Burton had to do for NBC Sports was his MWR teammate Clint Bowyer. He said Jamie McMurray was next on the list to interview, who was sitting right next to him in the Pocono Raceway media center.
Despite transitioning into the TV booth, he says doesn’t want the drivers to view him as a member of the “media.”
“The hardest thing for me I think is gonna be if I have a question about racing I can call Jamie (McMurray) and he’s gonna tell me,” Burton stated. “There’s gonna be a day when there’s a whole new group of drivers and staying current with them and what’s going on in the sport that’s the biggest challenge.
Burton can talk about the sport fluently now, but may not be the case in three years with the rapid change in NASCAR.
MWR had to scale down from three to two full-time cars as the NAPA Auto Parts left the team at the end of last season and went to sponsor 18-year-old Chase Elliott at JR Motorsports in the Nationwide Series, forcing MWR to run its third team only part-time.
Burton said be he expected it to be a tough time when the Sprint Cup tour headed from Daytona to Phoenix early in the season, but hasn’t bothered as much as he expected.
“I didn’t miss Daytona at all because plate racing wasn’t any fun for me anymore,” Burton said. “When they all left going to Phoenix and I was at home, I was like ‘What the hell is this going to be like?.’ Phoenix to me is a lot to fun, but I watched the race and had a good time watching it and it hasn’t bothered me.”
Burton ran his first Cup race of the year at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in March and drove the No. 66 Toyota to a 17th place finish. His next scheduled race will be at Michigan International Speedway on June 15.
The time in between his starts is three months, and the Sprint Cup Series test at Pocono Raceway on Tuesday and Wednesday helped Burton get back up to speed in the car.
“I haven’t done any mile and a half stuff or short track stuff recently, so coming here, honestly has been the first time I’ve been to a big track since probably last February-early March. It took me a little while to get going.”
“It’s important to be able to operate on the edge and find that limit.”
It took Burton a few laps to realize the curb in turn two was no longer there. He noticed it when he gave NASCAR driver Brett Moffitt a ride around the track Tuesday morning, who will be making his Cup debut at Dover International Speedway this weekend.
Burton has 40 Cup starts at the Tricky Triangle finishing of second twice, most recently in July 2000. He will run approximately six to eight more Cup races this season for MWR.