Burton, in his sophomore season in the NASCAR Cup Series, had had a tough start to the year. He was mired in 31st in the series standings with a best finish of 15th entering last weekend’s race at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway.
But from the start of the weekend, Burton’s No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford showed speed.
He qualified a season’s best 14th and ran strong in the race, finishing 11th in the first stage, dropped to 18th in Stage 2 before rallying back into the top 10 late in the race.
Over the course of the final two cautions – the last which sent the race into a two-lap overtime – Burton muscled his way to a sixth-place finish, second-best of his young Cup career.
“I felt like we kind of just bounced around 15th after we lost the top 10 track position early on pit road. That was a mixture of my fault and the pit crew, so it’s kind of nice we got the last caution, and it was a chance for both of us to redeem ourselves,” Burton said.
“I felt like we did that and got a decent finish out of it. I’m really proud of the guys. It was a fast car. I mean, it felt relative to our alliance teammates at Team Penske.
“That’s been our goal as of late is to try and run with those guys and, relative to them, we were right there. It’s a good day for us and something to build on.”
In fact, Burton finished better than all three Penske Fords.
Ryan Blaney led the Penske trio with a ninth-place finish while Joey Logano and Austin Cindric ended up 18th and 19th. Logano had worked his way up front late in the race but got involved in a wreck with Martin Truex Jr., which brought out the next-to-last caution.
After three finishes of 29th or worse in his previous four races, Burton and the Wood Brothers were desperate for some encouraging results.
“We really needed it. The last few weeks we’ve kind of been on the other side of it, where we’ve been fast and didn’t have anything to show for it,” Burton said. “This week was kind of the opposite.
“We were probably a 10th place car and finished sixth. That was just about execution at the end, restarts at the end and getting a decent finish.
“Things are starting to click. Things are coming easier. We’ve just got to keep this going.”