Editor's note: Yahoo! Sports is counting down the top 20 drivers of the 2012 season, as predicted by the Yahoo! Sports NASCAR staff: Jay Hart, Jay Busbee, Nick Bromberg and Geoffrey Miller. The countdown will conclude Feb. 17 with the unveiling of the No. 1 driver.
No. 15: Revealed Monday, Jan. 30
2011 finish: 20th
Our 2012 predictions:
• Jay Hart: 14th
• Jay Busbee: 20th
• Nick Bromberg: 18th
• Geoffrey Miller: 13th
Crew chief: Drew Blickensderfer
Offseason action: Lost Clint Bowyer as a teammate; gained Blickensderfer as his new crew chief.
2012 outlook: Was anyone more excited for the 2011 season to end than Burton?
Without question, 2011 was one of the worst seasons in Burton's 18-year Cup career. His first top 10 didn't come until Aug. 15, he only had four more after that and wound up 20th in the standings – his lowest finish since his sophomore season back in 1995.
In short, it was a nightmare from beginning to almost the end for a driver used to running up front.
The "almost the end" part is the good news for Burton. Because while the first eight and a half months were miserable, Burton posted top 10s in four of the final five races of 2011, including a near win at Talladega in October.
To get back to running up front, Burton must gel with new crew chief Drew Blickensderfer, who's a bit of an enigma himself. Blickensderfer won his first two races as a Cup crew chief, including the 2009 Daytona 500 with Matt Kenseth, but since then has experienced a rocky road. Jack Roush yanked him from Kenseth's pit box just one race into the 2010 season, relegated him to the Nationwide Series, then gave him another Cup opportunity with David Ragan.
Now Blickensderfer is on the move to Richard Childress Racing, which is one car lighter with the departure of Clint Bowyer and the No. 33, which presumably means Burton and the 31 will get that much more attention.
The question Burton faces in 2012 is whether 2011 was an aberration or, at 44, are his skills on the decline? Considering he's made the Chase in four of the last six years, Burton deserves the benefit of the doubt.
Point of interest: Burton's winless streak sits at 113 races. His last win came at Charlotte on Oct. 11, 2008.