Team: Roush Racing
Car/sponsor/make: No. 99 Ford
The good: After a horrendous start, the Jeff Burton of old reemerged with a flourish in the second-half of 2001, including a stretch of five top-5
finishes in a six-race stretch near the end of the season. With improved
consistency came improved results, allowing Burton to finish the season in
10th place. While 10th was his worst finish in five seasons and the first
time he failed to finish a season in the top-5 since he was 13th in 1996, he
should be able to translate some of his late-season momentum into the start
of the 2002 campaign.
Season highlight: Burton's most dominating performance of 2001 came in the
Checker Auto Parts 500 in Phoenix on Oct. 28 when he started third, survived a
race that saw 16 lead changes, and came home with the checkered flag. His
most inspiring race was starting 18th and then working his way through the
pack to win NASCAR's longest race of the season, the Coca-Cola 600 on May 27.
The bad: Burton arguably had the worst season's start of any driver in 2001. The harder he and his team worked, the worse the performance and results
became, with only two top-10 finishes in the first 11 races, a stretch that
also included five finishes of 30th or worse.
Season lowlight: Without question, Burton's biggest problem in 2001 was
qualifying. He started nearly two-thirds (22 races) of the season's 36 total
races in 20th position or lower. He vows that a strict off-season testing
regimen will show marked improvement in qualifying performance in 2002.
Key stat: Burton was in 38th place in the Winston Cup standings after the fourth race of the season (Atlanta), yet managed to regroup, overcome
continual adversity and finish 10th in the standings. No other driver made
such a huge climb upward in the points as Burton did.
What needs to be done: Throw 2001 in the garbage can as a fluke, an
uncharacteristic off-year for Burton, crew chief Frank Stoddard and the team.
With Burton and Stoddard's combined talents, this team is too good not to be
back among the top championship contenders in 2002.
Prediction: While Burton never has been one of the best qualifying drivers in Winston Cup, his weakness was especially evident in 2001. An intensive off-season testing program and the confidence gained from his strong showing at the end of the 2001 campaign should serve him well next season. Look for Burton to finish fifth or higher in 2002.
Can Jeff Burton put this season behind him and muster enough strength to earn his first Winston Cup championship? Here are your thoughts.