| ||Associated Press|
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- All the big names were bearing down
on Jeff Burton at the close of the Pepsi 400 on Saturday night.
But big names don't win races, good driving does. And since the beginning of 1999, Burton has won more than any of those guys.
Burton held off late challenges from Dale Earnhardt, Dale Jarrett and Rusty Wallace to come out on top in a four-lap dash to the finish at Daytona International Speedway.
It was the Ford driver's 13th career victory and his eighth victory over the past two seasons. That's more than anybody in that span besides Jeff Gordon.
As fireworks went off over Lake Lloyd in an Independence Day celebration he'll remember for a long time, Burton stood calmly in Victory Lane, holding the trophy and wearing a very big smile.
How could anybody be so cool after holding off such a big challenge -- make that challenges?
"You just can't worry about it," said Burton, who finished second to Jarrett in the Daytona 500 in February. "You can't worry about what the guy behind you is going to do when you can't control it. I just tried to block them."
Jarrett and Earnhardt drafted together to move from eighth and ninth place to second and third with 20 laps remaining. They made several attempts at passing Burton, but Burton held them off, even though he had taken just two tires on his final pit stop and both Dales had taken four.
Dave Blaney and Jimmy Spencer were involved in a crash with six laps remaining, setting up the final shootout.
After the restart, Earnhardt got shuffled to the back, leaving
Jarrett to try to make a move. But he got no help from Wallace, who
had moved to third place in the reshuffling. Thus, Jarrett's quest
to match Cale Yarborough's record of three straight victories at
Daytona came up short.
"You can't just pull out and make a pass," Jarrett said. "You
have to have the help. Everybody's tires were worn out. It's hard
to stay right up behind a guy when you're like that. You're looking
for a push. If you don't get a push, there's no sense in making a
Wallace finished third, followed by Mark Martin and Ricky Rudd
as Fords swept the top five places, just as they did at Daytona in
Tony Stewart was sixth in a Pontiac after racing in the top
three most of the night. Ward Burton was next and Earnhardt got
shuffled back to eighth.
"Everybody was wanting to better their position," Earnhardt
said. "You can't blame them. Everybody behind them was pulling out
and it was just a chess match."
There were 10 lead changes in the race, one more than in the
Daytona 500, when NASCAR got criticized for boring racing because
of new shock rules that, combined with the restrictor plates,
hampered the drivers' handling.
Series points leader Bobby Labonte finished 12th, four spots
behind Earnhardt, who shaved his deficit to 52 points. Seeking a
Winston Cup repeat, Jarrett shaved his deficit from 129 points to
Both Jarrett and Wallace, who was making his 500th consecutive
Winston Cup start, were hurt by pit-road mishaps.
Wallace was penalized early in the race for speeding through the
pits and was forced back to 40th place on the restart after the
first yellow flag.
"If they say I was speeding, I'm sure I was," Wallace said.
"But I didn't think I was. That happens."
Jarrett led the first 53 laps -- breaking the record set by
Richard Petty in 1964 -- and seemed to have the best car.
HOW BURTON WON
Seldom does the car out front on the final laps win at Daytona, but Burton made his bumper about the size of a Mac truck over those final four laps, blocking every move Dale Jarrett attempted. Even more impressive, however, was the steady line around the track Burton maintained despite the constant pressure from behind. Rusty Wallace, Dale Earnhardt and Jarrett each attacked the 99, but Burton never flinched. As for how Burton got out front, well that came via crew chief Frank Stoddard's decision with 35 laps remaining to take on only two tires instead of four like Earnhardt, Jarrett and others. Stoddard's thinking was to get into that lead pack of five or so cars that seemed to break away on each run. And, while the breakaway never took place over the final laps, Burton drove his butt off to make the gamble pay off.
DAYTONA DE JA VU
That white car was once again running with the leaders for most of the night. Only this time, Johnny Benson's run at Victory Lane pretty much ended when his car seemed to get loose with just two fresh tires following the final pit stops. Benson, driving without the sponsor he picked up in the 11th hour prior to the Daytona 500, wound up 13th. Benson was 12th in the 500.
WHAT'S THE POINT
Thanks to the "Daytona Shuffle," Bobby Labonte finished just four spots behind Earnhardt -- despite never challenging for the lead. Thus, his lead shrunk by only 15 points.
1. Bobby Labonte, 2,527
2. Dale Earnhardt, 2,475
3. Dale Jarrett, 2,451
4. Ward Burton, 2,347
5. Jeff Burton, 2,314
YES, DW WAS OUT FRONT
For the 403rd time in his Winston Cup career, but for the first time in his "2000 Victory Tour," Darrell Waltrip led a lap. DW assumed the lead under yellow when he didn't dive into the pits with the rest of the field. DW's time in the spotlight was short-lived, but he did finish on the lead lap in 27th.
HARLEY'S HARD CHARGER
Just when it looked like Rusty Wallace was in for another frustrating night of racing, he showed there was no keeping the No. 2 down at Daytona. Wallace, who was issued a stop-and-go penalty for speeding on pit road after the first round of pit stops, dropped from second to 40th. But Wallace was there at the end, finishing third.
NO 'BIG ONE'
They raced side-by-side, three-wide, four-wide and even five-wide at times at 190 mph. But nobody made the key mistake to set off a chain-reaction, multi-car incident. The worst crash came exactly halfway through the race, when Terry Labonte and Michael Waltrip touched coming out of Turn 4 and careened down the front straightaway. Jeremy Mayfield was also taken out in the incident when he smashed into Waltrip. The only other major crash involved Bill Elliott and Mike Skinner, who bumped into Elliott's bumper on the front straightaway to send Elliott spinning into the wall. Skinner sped away unharmed and finished 16th, while the top-five car of Elliott was done for the night.
But during a pit stop on the 105th lap, when all the cars took
their final full service, Jarrett's crew got hung up replacing a
lug nut. He got shuffled back to 29th and spent the rest of the
race trying for the lead in vain.
"Those things are going to happen," Jarrett said. "At least
we made a run at it. We didn't quite make it three in a row, but at
least we made a run at it."
For all his recent success, the defending points champion has
three fewer victories than Burton since the beginning of 1999.
Still, Burton's victory on NASCAR's most famous track came as
something of a surprise. Burton drives for Roush Racing, never
considered a specialist at Daytona or Talladega, the two tracks
where restrictor plates are used to slow speeds.
"Everybody has worked hard at this," said owner Jack Roush,
who finally won a stock-car race at Daytona. "I don't lay awake at
night thinking about things at Talladega or Daytona. But we're
mature enough to understand how important these events are and
we've apportioned a great deal of time to it."
Of course, good decision making and gutsy driving can make a
difference, and the race might have been won when crew chief Frank
Stoddard elected to change only two tires on the lap-105 pit stop.
"Two tires was a great call, a gutsy call," Burton said.
"Most guys put on four. Frank wanted the lead. We worry when we do
that. But fortunately, the car handled well enough to take two."
Burton, who earned $152,450 for his 13th career victory, won
with an average speed of 148.576 mph. His margin of victory was
0.149 seconds, less than a car-length over Jarrett.
|At the line it was Jeff Burton, who held off Dale Jarrett to win his first race at Daytona International Speedway.|| |
Pepsi 400 results
Notebook: Wreck ends Elliott's shot at upset
Jeff Burton is proud of his team after their Pepsi 400 win on Saturday.
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Dale Jarrett just didn't get the push he needed.
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Mark Martin says his team had a good run in the Pepsi 400.
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