Related: Burton won't return to RCR in 2014 " RCR puts plans for four-car team on hold
Jeff Burton will not return to Richard Childress Racing in 2014, a move announced by the veteran driver and the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series organization Wednesday.
Burton, 46, is a 21-time winner at the Cup level. He joined RCR late in the 2004 season.
He is 22nd in the points standings heading into Saturday night's Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway, with five top-10s. His best finish, a third-place result, came at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in July.
Sponsorship concerns, as well as his decision to cut back on competing full time in 2015, led to the move to step aside, Burton said during a national teleconference.
"Richard (Childress, team owner) and I have worked exceptionally hard to build a race team that could be competitive and honestly I'm real excited about what we've done this year," the South Boston, Va., native said.
"But the harsh reality is, going into next year ? there's a lot of funding that wasn't in place. I had gone to Richard and told him that at the end of 2014 I was going to step back and probably not run a full schedule anymore.
"We're just accelerating it a year early ? to give the team a chance to ? continue to move forward."
Burton said he has no plans for next season, although he has often been mentioned as a candidate for the broadcast booth. NBC and Fox will begin new extended television deals with NASCAR beginning in 2015.
"It's a very difficult situation, no doubt about that," Burton said. "Everybody knows that sponsorship is a tough game right now; we've had a tremendous amount of support from a lot of companies, mainly Caterpillar. ? We didn't have it all in place for next year so it just makes sense.
"It's a tough time for me because I truly believe in what we're doing. I'm a big, big fan of Luke (Lambert, crew chief) and our engineers ?. Got really, really good people on that team and we're starting to perform. Truly I'm walking away from it when I believe we're about to blossom. "
RCR fields three Cup teams with drivers Burton, Kevin Harvick and Paul Menard. It has already been announced that Harvick will depart at season's end to join Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014.
Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series teams are also fielded out of the RCR shops, located in Welcome, N.C.
Austin Dillon, a former Truck series champion now competing in the Nationwide Series and grandson of the team owner, is expected to compete in Cup full-time for the organization next season.
Dillon's likely ascension, and a replacement for the No. 29 of Harvick, would give RCR four Cup teams, something Childress would like to attain. But funding hasn't been found, opening the door for Burton's sooner-than-anticipated departure.
With a seat the No. 31 Chevrolet already in place, why choose to step aside now?
"The long-term health of Richard Childress Racing is very important," Burton said. "And when an opportunity presents itself for Richard to have a good driver that he can move the company with ? and potentially long-term funding is there, that's all positives for RCR. To ask Richard to run a year underfunded, he can't do that.
"The economic times ? have been tough for everybody and have had a huge toll on what Richard's had to do. The man can only do so much. He doesn't have a money tree growing in the backyard. I believe in my heart ? that Richard will have a driver in place that can be competitive and win races; (will) have full sponsorship in place and can move forward.
"It's not necessarily the best thing for me in the world but I'll figure it out. I've been in situations before where I didn't know what was going to happen and that's where I am now."
Ryan Newman, currently competing in the No. 39 Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas, is considered the leading candidate to replace Burton. Newman is scheduled to exit SHR at season's end to make room for Harvick.
Representatives for Newman contacted on Wednesday said they had noting to report regarding 2014 plans for this year's Brickyard 400 winner. And Furniture Row Racing, which is looking to find a replacement for the departing Kurt Busch had no comment concerning its driver lineup going forward at this time.
Burton is scheduled to make his 1000th career NASCAR start when the series moves to Phoenix International Raceway in November. In addition to 680 starts in Cup, he has 306 Nationwide series starts (with 27 wins) and four starts in the Truck series.
"I've been blessed, man, you know? We've done things we never thought we'd do," he said.
"My career has been longer than I ever thought it would be. I've driven for great car owners, worked with great team members, had great teammates. It's not always been fun; it's not always been great, but it's been an honor to do it.
"I want to continue to do it. If I never get a chance again, I'll be sad about it, but I'm not going to look at it with contempt or look at it like somebody had malice to keep me out of it. I'm going to look at it and say how lucky I was. How many people would give their right arm to be able to do the things that I've been able to do? ? But I do love to race and I don't want to quit racing."