Jeff Burton to leave No. 31 Childress car for an uncertain future

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Jeff Burton announced Wednesday he’ll be leaving the No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing in 2014, a year ahead of schedule. Burton cited a lack of full funding and said this would be a “major sacrifice” for Childress to commit to.

“I’d gone to Richard a while ago and said at the end of 2014 I’d step back and not run a full schedule, do partial schedule. We’re just accelerating it a year,” Burton said. “But I know I’m walking away right as we’re about to blossom. I’ll tell you, don’t be surprised if we pop us a win in the next couple weeks. We’re running well. I agreed to step aside and let the team continue to grow. I have no plans yet, and I haven’t spoken to any teams; I don’t know what I’m doing next year.”

Burton, 46, has 21 career NASCAR Sprint Cup victories but none since 2008. He last made the Chase for the Sprint Cup in 2010. He hasn’t missed a race since the spring race at Atlanta in 1996, so has started more than 600 straight races since.

But now, in the twilight of his Cup career, he faces an uncertain future. He acknowledged during a conference call with reporters that he wants to find a competitive situation and doesn’t want to simply ride around.

“I still have a passion for it but this is part of the reality of the sport,” he said. “I don’t anticipate doing anything that won’t be competitive. I have had some people reach out to me, but I haven’t returned any calls.”

Asked whether a Nationwide or Camping World Truck opportunity could be next, Burton didn’t dismiss it.

“As far as Nationwide or Trucks yeah, that’s always a possibility,” he said. “I’ll tell you this right now, I tell myself I’m a Cup driver, but there’s no shame in running Nationwide, Truck, late model. It shouldn’t be about what series you’re in. Racing is a damn blessing. It’s not a privilege. You see guys like Brian Vickers, Elliott Sadler. Regan Smith all run Nationwide. Yeah everyone wants to be in the big show. But I don’t consider myself just a Cup driver. I’d definitely entertain Nationwide/Truck offers. And I’ve had Sunday efforts.”

Burton joins Kevin Harvick in leaving RCR at the end of 2013. It’s a major upheaval for one of NASCAR’s longest-tenured operations, as Harvick (2001) and Burton (full-time since 2005) have been entrenched in the team for years.

“I thought about that the other night,” Burton admitted. “Between Clint (Bowyer), myself and Kevin, what we did didn’t compare to Earnhardt. But collectively, we three working together had a lot of success, all making the Chase and one of us always had a shot at winning the championship. Next year none of us will be there. Most of it is circumstantial. It’s a transformation and it does look different than it did three years ago. Richard’s committed to three, hopefully four cars. He doesn’t want half-rate drivers.”

Burton said NASCAR’s new era of younger drivers needs to begin. That will all but certainly include Austin Dillon in one of Childress’ Cup entries next year, and also will feature Kyle Larson in Chip Ganassi’s No. 42. For now, Burton’s future is undetermined and could include future races in 2014 or potentially, television work.

Helio Castroneves: ‘I have nothing to lose’ Sunday in bid for 4th Indy 500 win

All photos: IndyCar
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You might say Helio Castroneves comes into Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 with a “less is more” philosophy than he’s had in years past:

* No pressure

* No worrying about points

* No worrying about winning a championship

Take away all those things and the very popular Brazilian driver could be in the best position he’s ever been to achieve the biggest goal of his career:

Winning a fourth Indy 500, making him a member of motor racing’s most exclusive club, joining legendary drivers A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears as the only drivers to conquer the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway four times each.

Like his car number, Castroneves has won the Indy 500 three times. He wants to change that number to four times in Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Greatest Spectacle In Racing. Photo: IndyCar.

“For sure, I definitely don’t have much to lose in terms of points, championships, and things like that,” Castroneves told MotorSportsTalk earlier this week. “I don’t have to think that I don’t have a car to win, I’m not going to risk that much because there are still championship points (to earn if he was still racing full-time in the series).

“Not that I did that before, but if the situation occurs, people just need to know I have nothing to lose this time.”

Castroneves three prior triumphs in the 500 came in his first two years in the field – 2001 and 2002 – and again in 2009. In addition, he has finished twice in the last four editions of the Greatest Spectacle In Racing in 2014 and 2017.

Coming so close last year, losing to Takuma Sato by .201 of a second, is something Castroneves hasn’t forgotten about. To come so close to No. 4 has only made him more hungry to get it done on Sunday.

“Yeah, but if it were easy, we would likely have had more than four wins by now,” he said. “We’ve had opportunities in the past, the last four years we were really competitive, we were right there, especially in ’14 and ’17, we were right on it.

“Last year, I thought it was going to be the hardest 500 for me and look what happened: we were battling to the end for a victory,” Castroneves said. “It’s not just about trying hard, it’s about being there at the right place at the right time.

“And this place, Indianapolis, I’ve always said the track winds up choosing who is going to be the winner. Hopefully, with safety and luck, we’ll be part of it and be on the right side.”

Team owner Roger Penske decided after last season to put Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya as the chief drivers of Team Penske’s new two-car effort in the IMSA WeatherTech Championship sports car series.

When the announcement was first made, many feared that Castroneves had run out of chances to get that elusive No. 4 at Indy.

But Penske sweetened the deal for Helio to go sports car racing by promising he’d field a car for him at Indy. And Penske has proven to be a man of his word, giving Castroneves everything he needs to finally win No. 4.

“I feel we’ve prepared as much as a team, we’re doing everything possible in relation to preparation,” Castroneves said. “The preparation we had in the previous year helps us tremendously to give us an opportunity fighting there for a win, and that’s what we’re looking for.”

Castroneves has taken to the new style Indy car with aplomb. During the first week of practice leading up to last weekend’s qualifying, he was consistently one of the fastest drivers in the field.

The 43-year-old even topped the speed charts in the Fast Nine last Saturday before ending up eighth in the following day’s pole qualifying.

As a result, he’ll start Sunday’s race from the middle of Row 3, anchoring Team Penske’s four-man Top 8 starting lineup effort in the 500. When the green flag drops, to his left will be Danica Patrick and to his right will be four-time IndyCar champ and former 500 winner Scott Dixon.

And millions of others right behind him, so to speak.

“I feel the sense that everyone wants it to happen,” he said of winning No. 4. “We’re talking about being part of history here. The last guy to do it was Rick Mears in the ‘90s (1991).

“I mean, how cool would that be if I would be in the position and to see No. 4 in my era. I hear a lot of the fans, even those supporting different drivers, all saying ‘Man, I want to see you win No. 4.’ That just shows how special this place is.

“(The Indy 500) is part of a lot of people’s lives. I just would be very fortunate to hopefully to have this generation see someone do No. 4.”

While he’d rather not think about missing out on a fourth win at Indy for a ninth straight year, Castroneves is using reverse psychology somewhat.

He’s going into Sunday’s biggest race in the world fully believing he will finally win No. 4.

And if he does, forget the idea that he would never come back to race at Indy again.

“Not at all. Why? You’re so close to getting four, and then when you get four, you stop it? It doesn’t make sense.

“I think I still have at least four or five more years, there’s no question about it. As long as Roger (Penske) gives me the opportunity, I’m going to be going for it, for sure.”

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