It was not supposed to happen until the end of 2014 because his contract ran that long. Then he would step back, look at some other options like possibly running a part time schedule in NASCAR. But today things got pushed up a year and Jeff Burton will leave Richard Childress Racing at the end of the year because of budget and sponsorship concerns.
“There's been a lot of rumors and speculation over the last several months or even, I guess, some cases several years, concerning my time at RCR,” Burton said. “We're just accelerating it a year early to give the team a chance to -- and I'm not going to talk about my replacement, that's not my place to do. But to give Richard Childress Racing an opportunity to continue to move that team forward, which I think is an exceptionally strong team, to put the funding in place with a really good driver that can go out and be successful. You know, just the timing was right for me to do something different.”
The 46 year old from South Boston, VA has been in the Sprint Cup Series since 1993 when he broke in at Loudon for owner Fil Martocci. It was his only race that year, but has gone on to win 21 times with 134 top-5s and 253 top-10s including six poles. Burton has not missed a race since 1996 and has earnings in excess of $86 million.
“Richard (Childress) and I have worked through this process as friends,” he said. “We've worked through it with mutual respect. I think after this process we have more respect for each other than we did going into it. It's been a very difficult situation. There is no doubt about that. But the harsh realities are everybody knows that sponsorship is a tough game right now. We've had a tremendous amount of support from a lot of companies, mainly Caterpillar.”
Caterpillar will be back, but for how many races no one knows right now. The same applies to a driver, which Burton was unwilling to address, although the hot rumor this silly season in NASCAR has fingers pointing in the direction of Ryan Newman who will not be back with Stewart-Haas Racing next year. Newman was cut loose by SHR because Kevin Harvick was coming aboard and they were unwilling, at that time, to go forward with a fourth team. That changed not long after when Kurt Busch was signed to be a fourth driver.
Newman hinted at Atlanta Motor Speedway last weekend that he may be close to making an announcement about where he will be in 2014.
So with the timetable moved up, what is in Burton’s future? He called 2013 a make or break season yet he didn’t break a long winless streak that dates back to the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 2008.
“I'll be honest with you, I don't know,” he said. “I've been so entrenched in thinking about 31 and racing for a championship. I don't want to say this fell on me, but I hadn't had a whole lot of time to think through it. I still love racing. I still have a passion for it. You know, part of the realities are what opportunities are going to be there? I'm just going to have to see what comes in front of me. I don't anticipate doing something that I don't think will be competitive. I don't mind building something. Actually, I enjoy that. But at 46, that's probably not something I look forward to.”
Burton hopes to wind up in a situation where he can be successful, something to build on, but not from the bottom up. He is currently 22nd in the Sprint Cup points chase after 25 races.
“Listen, I'm not going to lie to you and tell you I've loved every moment of it, because anybody that says that is telling you a lie. There are parts of any job that are tough and you may not enjoy. But I've never felt like I've worked for a living.
“I'm at a crossroads. There is no denying that. And I want to figure something out. So, you know, whether I do or not time will tell. Listen, I'm going to look at all my options. I don't know what else is out there. I don't know. I'll look at my options and listen to what people have to say. There is a place for me in this sport.”