LOUDON, N.H. — There wasn’t one thing Jeff Burton did not like about coming to New Hampshire. He enjoyed the people. He loved coming to race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, where he had won four times in his career, and he loved the comfortable feeling it gave him.
When he departed the Granite State after his third-place finish in Sunday’s Camping World RV Sales 301, Burton couldn’t wait to get back, especially after he recorded his best start (ninth) and his best finish in 2013.
“We feel good about what we’re doing,’’ said Burton, who was one of the biggest movers in the Sprint Cup standings after climbing four spots to 17th, just 23 points outside a coveted spot in the Chase. “I know it has not all shown up, but we made a little charge there, started moving up the points, knocking off 10s and 11s, but they were on mile-and-a-halves and that was a step forward for us.’’
Sunday, though, Burton made a quantum leap in his No. 31 Chevrolet fielded by Richard Childress Racing. After finishing 11th in back-to-back races at Dover and Pocono in June, Burton was 10th at Michigan. A 19th at Kentucky was followed by a 16th at Daytona, before he finished third at NHMS, giving Burton his second top 5 of the season.
“We have been running a lot better the last two months,’’ Burton said. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we are the class of the field, but we are definitely making progress and we feel like we are starting to build on something, and we understand what we’re looking for now.
“We feel like we’re understanding why we are running well and we think we can improve.’’
A heartfelt salute
As he made his way down the backstretch of his victory lap following his triumph in Sunday’s race, Brian Vickers said having several of his colleagues salute him was “probably one of the most special moments’’ he’s had.
“Every single car that came by put a tire mark on the door or was shaking their fist — in a good way,’’ said Vickers, who was the 11th different winner in the last 11 Sprint Cup races at NHMS. “That really means a lot.’’
But one gesture that meant more than the rest came when Jimmie Johnson, NASCAR’s five-time champion who salvaged a sixth-place finish after starting at the rear of the 43-car grid, pulled up alongside Vicker’s No. 55 Toyota.
“I think he was shaking his fist harder,’’ Vickers said. “He was like jumping out of the seat. I think he was so excited for me. I haven’t seen him fist-pump that hard since, I don’t know, his Daytona win or something. And that meant a lot to me.’’
Patrick: It’s on me
Danica Patrick, who started 32d and finished 37th, owned up to mistake that triggered a multi-car crash in Turn 1 on Lap 238 that involved Travis Kvapil and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Patrick’s boyfriend. Kvapil finished 38th, one spot behind Patrick, while Stenhouse finished 34th.
“What it felt like was either I misjudged the braking or everyone jammed up a little bit,’’ Patrick said. “I got sideways trying to slow down so that I didn’t drive up into the back of anyone. I just got sideways and there is nothing you can do. I feel bad, what can I say? We were having a reasonable race and just didn’t mean to do it.”
Keselowski on rise
Brad Keselowski, who won the pole in record-setting fashion Friday, was among the big gainers in the points after his fourth-place finish enabled him climb from 13th to ninth in the Sprint Cup standings with seven races remaining before the Chase. “That was a grueling race for sure,’’ said Keselowski, the reigning Sprint Cup champion. “We fought hard all day and came home with a fourth so that was a decent day.” Kurt Busch, who got tangled up in a Turn 1 crash with Ryan Newman on Lap 225, tumbled five spots in the points to 14th after he finished 31st . . . Twenty-nine years ago marked the first time Ken Schrader and Morgan Shepherd started the same race together, doing so at the Pepsi 420 at Nashville (Tenn.) Speedway. Sunday at NHMS, Schrader and Shepherd again found themselves in the same starting grid for a NASCAR Cup race, with the 58-year-old Schrader starting 37th in the No. 32 Ford fielded by owner Frank Stoddard of North Haverhill, N.H., while the 71-year-old Shepherd made NASCAR history by becoming the oldest driver to start a Cup race. Shepherd started and finished 41st in his first race this season after completing 92 laps . . . Joey Logano, who recorded his first career Cup victory at NHMS on June 28, 2009, brought out the first caution of the 301-lap race on Lap 4 when a flat tire caused him to spin and slam into the wall between Turns 1 and 2. Logano, of Middletown, Conn., pulled his damaged car into the garage and returned 91 laps down to finish 40th after completing 211 laps . . . When Kevin Harvick got into the left rear quarter panel of Marcus Ambrose on Lap 14, it triggered a multi-car crash that involved Ambrose as well as Casey Mears and A.J. Allmendinger. Amazingly, it was the first caution for a multi-car wreck at NHMS since September 2009.
Michael Vega can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.