The 2010 Sprint Cup season was the ultimate in bittersweet dichotomies for Virginia veteran Jeff Burton.
Burton, in his 17th full-time Cup season, was a solid part of Richard Childress Racing's resurgence into the Chase as RCR, after being shut out of the 2009 Chase, had all three teams "in," in 2010.
After ending the 26-race regular season seventh in the championship and entering the 12-man Chase seeded 10th, Burton managed to move forward as the playoffs started, to seventh. But after fluctuating between eighth and 10th, over the last three races Burton's season flattened out and he ended the Chase as low as he could get, in 12th.
"It's been a year with a lot of promise, but a lot of those haven't been fulfilled," Burton said. "It's been a real frustrating Chase. Obviously for us, at the same time I hate to see the year end [because] I feel like the more we race, the better we would be [but] this is it."
In the end, Burton's highlight was bouncing back from a 17th-place finish in the 2009 standings to make the Chase. He managed a strong mid-season run of 10 top-10 finishes in 13 races, including an average finish of 9.8 in that stretch that moved him into third in points in early August. But even that didn't ease his overall disappointment.
"I don't feel like -- stupid to say because numbers are numbers -- but I don't feel like we're a 12th-place team," Burton said. "I feel like we're better than that, which is really what's frustrating is that we're sitting in 12th and I feel like we're a lot better than that."
The worst part of Burton's season was that it ended with an eight-race slide in which his average finish was 24.6. His Chase was a comedy of events that included an emotional finger-pointing exchange with Kyle Busch at Charlotte, a shoving match with Jeff Gordon at Texas after Burton wrecked them both under caution, and a crash-marred Homestead finale.
"We haven't had the speed the last eight weeks that we had prior to that," Burton said. "We've just messed up in a lot of areas. When I say 'we,' I mean me, too. We've messed up in a lot of areas to put us in this. Again, I like to think that we're going to learn from it and we can use it going into the next year."
The exclamation point was that Burton's current winless streak reached 77 races after the Homestead finale. At one point, Burton -- who was paired for his first full season with crew chief Todd Berrier after teaming with Berrier for the last four races of 2009 -- seemed certainly in position to snap the streak of futility.
"We could be sitting here having won six or seven races this year," Burton said. "Had we had the right pit stops, had I made the right move -- if, if, if -- right? 'If' doesn't pay the bills.
"We were in position to do that and didn't do it. So our weaknesses are execution -- we need to execute better; strategy with me making the right move at the right time. We were in position and have been in position to win plenty of our share of races and we haven't executed on any of them -- so we've got to tighten up all those things in addition to continuing to find speed."
But they failed, and it leaves Burton fairly certain of what he and his team need to do to improve in 2011.
"We have to be better in several areas," Burton said. "The quality of our pit stops has got to improve [because] we're consistently losing spots on pit road. That hurts us. We consistently don't qualify as well as we need to. That hurts us.
"And we've got to get our speed back and figure out why we're not quite as quick. So, it's never one thing. It's many things and that's what our focus is on right now in getting ready for next year is figuring out a way to step up all those areas.
"We're going to make some changes and do some things we need to do to get better. I really think that we can go fast enough to win the championship next year, but we've got to find the little speed that we lost through the summer."