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Top 20 countdown: No. 8 Jeff Burton

Jay Hart
Yahoo Sports

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(Photos: Getty Images)

2008 statistics
Finish Poles Wins Top 5 Top 10
6 0 2 7 18
The countdown
No. 20: Martin Truex Jr.
No. 19: Juan Pablo Montoya
No. 18: Kurt Busch
No. 17: Kasey Kahne
No. 16: Brian Vickers
No. 15: Tony Stewart
No. 14: Jamie McMurray
No. 13: Clint Bowyer
No. 12: David Ragan
No. 11: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
No. 10: Denny Hamlin
No. 9: Matt Kenseth
No. 8: Jeff Burton
No. 7: Revealed Sunday

Editor's note: Yahoo! Sports is counting down the top 20 drivers going into the 2009 season. The order was determined by a survey, which asked six NASCAR journalists – Ricky Craven, Jay Busbee and Jay Hart (Yahoo! Sports); Jenna Fryer (Associated Press); David Poole (Charlotte Observer); and Nate Ryan (USA Today) – to predict the final standings for the 2009 season. The countdown will conclude on Feb. 6 with the unveiling of the No. 1 driver.

2008 finish: 6th

2009 outlook: Jeff Burton tells it like it is (which is why some people hope he runs for public office someday).

So when asked if Richard Childress Racing is a championship-caliber team, Burton responded, "We're proud of what we've done. But it's also clear that it's not enough. There is a bit of anxiety that we've done well, but it hasn't been good enough."

No, it hasn't.

To be fair, RCR has come a long way since the death of Dale Earnhardt sent the entire organization into a downward spiral lasting several years. It is finally a contender again, but not yet a wholly legitimate one.

Speed has been the biggest thing missing in the RCR garage, and Burton knows it – hence his comment.

While RCR placed all three of its drivers in the top six in 2008, not one of them ranked in the top 10 in laps led. Burton, who wound up sixth in the 2008 standings, led just 140 laps all season – 16th best, behind the likes of Jamie McMurray, Kurt Busch and Brian Vickers, none of whom even qualified for the Chase.

With all this said, RCR should be better this season and so should Burton. The biggest question will be whether their gains are more or less than the gains their competition made.

"There's a bit of anxiety about how we take that next step," Burton said. "Until we do it, we don't know that we can. I don't want to say we're nervous, but we're anxious about it. It's time to get it done."

What you need to know: Burton has been great in the first half of the Chase, not so great in the second half. Three seasons ago, he left Lowe's Motor Speedway (Race No. 5 in the Chase) with a 45-point lead. Four finishes outside the top 10 relegated him to seventh. Last season, he left Lowe's in second. Again, he finished the season with only one top 10 in the final five races.