LOUDON, N.H. (AP) — Jeff Burton once experienced perfection at New Hampshire.
He'll take third place this time — and a renewed sense that he can make a late push for a spot in the Chase.
One of NASCAR's most respected drivers, Burton's run at his first spot in the championship field since 2010 got a huge boost with his season-best finish Sunday. Yes, Brian Vickers' trip to Victory Lane after a 75-race winless streak was the surprise of the race. But right behind him was Burton's finish. That Vickers-Kyle Busch-Burton trifecta would have paid off big.
Burton put Sprint Cup on notice that he can still make an impact in the standings over the final seven races before the field is set.
"We don't think we are out of the Chase," he said. "I know everybody else in the world does, but we don't. We feel like we can still do it. There's a lot of stuff that's going to happen between now and Richmond. It's so competitive, so tight."
Burton jumped from 21st to 17th in the standings to move only 25 points out of 10th place and a guaranteed spot in the 12-driver field.
Burton, who led every lap in a 2000 win at New Hampshire, had a sluggish start to this season in the No. 31 Chevrolet. He had just one top-10 showing in the first eight races. The 46-year-old Burton appeared headed toward another lost season with Richard Childress Racing.
Winless since 2008, Burton just needed time to figure out his working relationship with first-year crew chief Lucas Lambert.
"We are starting to learn each other," Burton said. "The system that we have that Eric's been working really hard to get put in, all that's helping. We have a lot of things going on; it's not one thing, but I think the main thing is just having time together and understanding each other."