USA TODAY US Edition

Slow start doesn’t stop Burton

29th-ranked driver remains confident he can make Chase

- By Nate Ryan USA TODAY

WELCOME, N.C. — Jeff Burton is confident he still can make the Chase for the Sprint Cup. He just isn’t sure which of two avenues — clawing into the top 10 in points or earning a berth via a new win-based wild card — is best for his No. 31 Chevrolet.

“I can’t tell you we’re going to put a strategy together to win two races,” he said Tuesday at Richard Childress Racing headquarte­rs during a news media event to promote the April 3 race at Martinsvil­le Speedway. “If we were that . . . smart, we wouldn’t be 29th (in points). We run well, we’ll be fine.”

It’s been a rough start to 2011 for Burton and RCR teammate Clint Bowyer (24th in points). Along with Roush Fenway Racing’s Greg Biffle (23rd), they are the only drivers who made last year’s Chase but are outside the top 20 through four races this season. Two berths in the Chase will be awarded to drivers ranked 11th to 20th with the most wins. But Burton said his team was capable of getting back the old-fashioned way and making up the 49-point gap to 10th, the final guaranteed spot.

“We’ve got 22 races to pass everybody between us and 50 points from 10th,” he said. “Not saying it’s easy, but I really feel we can do it.”

Though he has yet to finish higher than 20th, the South Boston, Va., native takes solace in running in the top 10 at Daytona Internatio­nal Speedway (engine failure), Phoenix Internatio­nal Raceway (wreck) and Bristol Motor Speedway (loose wheel) before being victimized by miscues and misfortune.

“I’m not sitting here beating my chest that we’re 29th in points, but I have a high level of confidence,” he said.

IndyCar cap modified:

Changing direction after reconsider­ing the plight of smaller teams desperate for sponsor exposure, the Izod IndyCar Series is tweaking its 26-car cap. The new rule will be changed to allow all comers to race. However, only 26 cars will be paid (the last spot getting $36,000). CEO Randy Bernard said the change was made after consulting with team owners such as Sarah Fisher, who doesn’t have the funding to run the entire season.

“I don’t want to run Sarah Fisher and (sponsor) Dollar General out of our series or a race,” Bernard said.

Sarah Fisher Racing will contest races on eight oval tracks (and one road course) with Ed Carpenter. Along with an overall championsh­ip, IndyCar created separate titles last year for ovals and road courses. Fisher said it was jarring to learn two weeks ago that the cap could jeopardize her team’s chances of a solid finish during the oval season.

“Randy was very good about approachin­g it in a positive way, which he has been on a lot of other issues, too,” she said.

Pit notes:

Newman Haas Racing will field a car in the IndyCar season opener in St. Petersburg, Fla., for Oriol Servia, but James Hinchcliff­e, 24, will be on the sidelines without sponsorshi­p. The Canadian posted top-five speeds during a test last week at Barber Motorsport­s Park and will be in the pits this weekend with the team, which is working on funding for its second car. ... American Le Mans Series champion Patrick Long will drive a Porsche GT3 Cup car in the 2011 Pirelli World Challenge Championsh­ips. Long will be racing with Johnny O’Connell, a former rival from ALMS’ GT class.

 ?? By Geoff Burke, Getty Images, for NASCAR ?? Off track: Richard Childress Racing teammates Jeff Burton, left, and Clint Bowyer, talking Saturday at Bristol Motor Speedway, have struggled this season. Burton is 29th in the standings, Bowyer 24th.
By Geoff Burke, Getty Images, for NASCAR Off track: Richard Childress Racing teammates Jeff Burton, left, and Clint Bowyer, talking Saturday at Bristol Motor Speedway, have struggled this season. Burton is 29th in the standings, Bowyer 24th.

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