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July 9, 2013

Odd-couple pairing Jeff Burton, Luke Lambert have speed but need some luck

Jeff Burton and crew chief Luke Lambert have been competitive this season but need a little bit of luck if they expect to make the Chase for the Championship.

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The Jeff Burton/Luke Lambert tandem is still one of the most fascinating driver and crew chief pairings in NASCAR.

At first glance, the 30-year-old engineer and 46-year-old driver might seem like "The Odd Couple" but the two have gelled together nicely, at least off the track where the two share inside jokes and interests as if they are long-time high school buddies.

Lambert was first paired with Burton in the summer of 2011, when the then 28-year-old was named interim crew for the struggling No. 31 Sprint Cup team. Together the pair earned two top-5s and five top-10 finishes in 17 Cup races

Following that success, Lambert was actually sent over to the Nationwide Series, to work with Elliott Sadler in his pursuit of the championship with the No. 2 team. At the time, Lambert almost viewed the decision as a demotion. After all, he had done everything asked of him, propelling Burton from 25th in the standings to 20th by the end of the season.

But the move wasn't a demotion at all -- it was part of a larger scheme designed to get Lambert some championship experience in advance of his eventual return to the Sprint Cup Series.

"He's so young and so talented that it must have been easy to look at us moving him down last year as a step back," Burton told SB Nation in March. "But we made it clear to him that we believed in him and that it really was a step up."

Lambert flourished with the assignment, scoring four race victories, 15 top-5s and 24 top-10s en route to finishing second in the season championship to Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and crew chief Mike Kelley.

"The Nationwide deal gave me a lot of confidence," Lambert told SB Nation on Friday at Daytona International Speedway. "It gave me a lot of exposure to situations that I haven't experienced."

Thrilled with how the young mechanic handled the pressure-filled championship battle, Lambert was put back on top of the pit box once team owner Richard Childress, felt his Cup program was at a level where Lambert could succeed long-term paired with Burton.

And the team has been competitive but also suffered from a lot of bad luck this season.

Burton is 21st in the championship standings but has had incredibly bad luck. The past month is a snapshot of how this season has gone thus far for the No. 31 team. The team had been coming off three-consecutive top-11 finishes at Dover, Pocono and Michigan and was running strong on the road course at Sonoma when a run-in with Tony Stewart dropped him to 31st in the final running order.

Then again at Kentucky, the team had a fast car and was running in the top-10 when Burton received damage on a late restart and finished 19th.

Lambert knows his team his team has the speed to make the Chase, he just worries that they might run out of time, sitting 21st, with no wins and eight races remaining before the Chase cut-off.

"The important thing is that we have a lot of speed in our car and that the team is working well together," Lambert said. "But we have to keep our heads down and do the best work that we can. Hopefully, the cards will start falling our way and we'll get the results we deserve."

Kwikset will be the primary sponsor for the team this weekend at Daytona International Speedway and has launched a Twitter campaign and sweepstakes that will give fans a chance to win a VIP Experience with Burton and Richard Childress Racing during the Chase race at Charlotte in Oct.

For more information and to enter the sweepstakes, fans can visit www.iHeartTheMayor.com

To read the complete article head over to SBNation, http://www.sbnation.com/nascar/2013/7/5/4496786/jeff-burton-luke-lambert-coke-zero-400-july-daytona

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