If anyone needed a reminder that Jeff Burton could still be competitive, he served notice Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway
After qualifying a season-high ninth, the veteran ran in the top 10 throughout the Camping World RV Sales 301 and charged to place third. It was Burton's best result of the season, and came at a time when there are questions whether he will return to Richard Childress Racing for 2014.
But after struggling to begin the year, Burton has surged in recent weeks; though the results haven't always been indicative of the performance.
"We feel good about what we're doing," Burton said. "We have been running a lot better the last two months. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying we are the class of the field, but we are definitely making progress. We feel like we are starting to build on something, and we understand what we're looking for now."
In part, the issues facing Burton earlier this season were the changes his No. 31 team undertook in the offseason. Those changes included bringing in crew chief Luke Lambert, who is in his first full season working in Cup. And not coincidently, as the chemistry within the team improved so have the results.
Burton gained four spots in the standings Sunday and sits 17th overall with seven races remaining in the regular season. He's adamant his team can contend for a Chase berth.
"We don't think we are out of the Chase," Burton said. "I know everybody else in the world does, but we don't. We feel like we can still do it.
"If we can get on one of those streaks that I used to get on, we can make it and we intend to. I know it's a long shot, but I think we can."
Burton's second-place comes in the wake of teammate Kevin Harvick confirming Friday he will be leaving Richard Childress Racing at the end of the season to join Stewart-Haas Racing.
In recent years it has been Harvick who has carried the flag for RCR, as Burton has slogged through a winless streak dating back to 2008. While Harvick is in the midst of qualifying for the Chase for a fourth consecutive season, Burton has missed the playoffs in three of the previous four years.
"You don't lose that caliber of driver without it having an impact on your organization," Burton said. "It's just that simple."
Harvick's impending departure has created a void at RCR and has put the organization at a bit of a crossroads. But it's a challenge Burton is prepared to face.
"Things happen in this sport," Burton said. "People make changes and people need to do something different. There should be no hard feelings. What we have to do is embrace the challenge and embrace the opportunity and go out and try to make it work, and try to be better through it.
"I'm going to have to step up in some areas."