Jeff Burton to exit No. 31 RCR ride at season’s end

Jeff Burton (Getty Images)

Jeff Burton (Getty Images)

Jeff Burton will leave the No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet at the end of the 2013 season, now that Burton and team owner Richard Childress have worked out an agreement to that effect, Burton and the organization announced Wednesday.

Burton’s contract with RCR runs through 2014, but the 21-time winner in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series agreed to walk away from the 31 after “he and I worked out an agreement for him to step out of the No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet after this season,” Childress said in the release announcing Burton’s departure.

Financial considerations were at the heart of Burton’s departure. Unable to secure funding for four cars next year, which would have kept Burton in the ride, Childress had to look to the future of his organization.

Burton addressed his exit from the No. 31 car in a teleconference with reporters Wednesday afternoon.

“Richard and I have worked through this process as friends,” said Burton, who earned the nickname “Mayor of the Garage” as a well-respected, outspoken leader of the NASCAR community. “We’ve worked through it with mutual respect. I think, after this process, we have more respect for each other than we did going into it.

“It’s been a very difficult situation — there’s no doubt about that. But the harsh realities are, everybody knows that sponsorship is a tough game right now… The timing’s right to make a change. It’s a tough time for me, because I truly believe in what we’re doing. When I say ‘we,’ I’m part of it…

“We’ve got really, really good people on our team, and we’re starting to perform, and truly, I’m walking away from it when I believe we’re about to blossom.”

Paul Menard is under contract to drive the No. 27 Chevrolet SS for RCR next year, and Childress’ grandson, Austin Dillon, is expected to take the seat Kevin Harvick will leave at the end of the year when he moves to Stewart-Haas Racing. The most likely replacement for Burton appears to be free agent Ryan Newman, whose contract with Stewart-Haas ends this year.

“We have been working hard to try and get all the funding in place to have four Sprint Cup teams in 2014,” Childress said. “With the date on the calendar getting closer to 2014, we just couldn’t run partially funded teams next year.”

Burton won his last race in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Oct. 11, 2008, at Charlotte. He last qualified for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup in 2010 and finished 12th in the final standings that year.

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