Tim Tuttle
Tuesday November 17th, 2009

Jeff Burton's pairing with crew chief Todd Berrier has ignited a late-season turnaround for the No. 31 Richard Childress Racing driver and has raised hopes that he can return to the upper echelon of Sprint Cup teams in 2010.

Burton finished a season-best second at Phoenix with an impressive drive from 36th starting position. It was his third race with Berrier calling the shots and also his third top-10. Burton was fifth at Talladega and ninth at Texas.

During the past three seasons, the idea of Burton, 42, putting together a string of top-10s was not unusual. He had 18 in 2008 and 2007, and 20 in 2006, which put him in the Chase all three years.

Still, before Berrier arrived, Burton had gone 18 straight races without a top-10, with only six in 32 races. The last time he managed a back-to-back top-10 was during the ninth and 10th races of the season, when he finished 10th at Talladega and third at Richmond.

Burton was, for obvious reasons, happy with how he ran at Phoenix. He also knows there is a lot of work to be done in the offseason to build Chevrolets that can compete with the dominant Hendrick organization.

"I think this is fair to say that this is the best we've run all year," Burton said. "We honestly had a shot to win this race. I think this is, for sure, the best second place we've had [in his career]. We led a lot [61 laps] in Vegas and finished third. We had a shot to win that race earlier this year. That race and this race were our best shots, with the exception of the superspeedway races."

In 2008, three of RCR's four cars made the Chase. This year, however, none of its cars made the cut, leading to owner Richard Childress restructuring the organization. Scott Miller, who had been Burton's crew chief since 2006, was named Director of Competition -- he's the guy tasked with building those better cars -- and Berrier made his second move of the season.

Berrier had eight wins as a crew chief with Kevin Harvick, but was moved early in the year to Casey Mears. In placing Burton and Berrier together, Childress hoped that they would have new ideas, fresh approaches and that intangible magic that can sometimes happen between crew chief and driver. It's early in their relationship, but they seem to have found it.

"Yes, it [chemistry] has [clicked from the start]," Burton said. "We both have a lot of respect for each other. We came into this thing expecting to perform well. I have a lot of faith in Todd. I think Todd has a lot of faith in me. We're very blunt, very upfront, very honest. We just go to work. He's real good about reminding me about things I need to be reminded of.

"He's everything I thought he was and more. There's a lot of things that go into this. Todd is pushing a lot of buttons, making a lot of stuff happen. Scott [Miller] is doing the same thing. Scott is working; he's doing an incredible job, a really tough job. We've got a lot of stuff going on right now. We're turning a lot of rocks over and seeing what crawls out from underneath it. If our attitude stays like this, we can be successful in the future."

Teammate Clint Bowyer was a solid seventh at Phoenix. He's consistently been the top runner at RCR with 16 top-10s, but has only four top-fives and is 15th in the points. Harvick has struggled no matter who has been on top of his pit box this season; he finished 24th and two laps down at Phoenix. He has eight top-10s and should be relieved to see the season end Sunday night at Homestead-Miami.

Mears, facing an uncertain future at RCR with no sponsor for next season, was 27th, four laps down, at Phoenix. He's 20th in the points with four top-10s, but is one position in the standings in front of Harvick.

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