Patience pays off for Burton

Posted: Monday, November 06, 2000

AVONDALE, Ariz. -- Jeff Burton knew he had the best car. It was overcoming adversity that was the problem.

''We did lose track position now and then,'' Burton said after coming back to win the Checker Auto Parts/Dura Lube 500 on Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway. ''We just didn't have a very good day in the pits, and it wasn't any fault of my guys.''

Burton came in first and went out third on an early stop during which a lug nut stuck. Late in the race, at a key moment, he came in first and went out seventh after a jack broke.

''We just had to overcome a lot, and we did it,'' he said.

Ricky Rudd, who hasn't won a race in just over two years, found himself on top after the jack broke during the leaders' pit stops on lap 250 of the 312-lap race.

Burton's Jack Roush Racing Ford was seventh on the restart on lap 253. But he quickly moved back into contention, picking off the cars ahead of him and moving into second place on lap 292, still trailing Rudd's Ford by 1.3 seconds.

As the gap between the leaders closed to less than half a second two laps later, Mike Bliss slammed into the rear of Rick Mast, who had slowed with a flat tire. Bliss's car glanced off and Rudd, trying to pass on the low side of the track, hit it broadside.

As Rudd slowly drove to the pits for repairs of his battered car, Burton took the lead. But he again fell behind moments later when most of the leaders pitted and he came back onto the track third, behind Roush teammate Mark Martin and Rusty Wallace.

Martin, who was 15th and never in contention before the pit stops, took his first lead of the day by staying on the track while the rest of the leaders took two fresh tires.

The green flag waved with 11 laps to go, and it took Burton four laps to get around Wallace. He then overtook 1993 Phoenix winner Martin and made a strong outside pass for the lead on lap 308.

It was no contest the rest of the way as Martin faded back into the pack and Jeremy Mayfield came on to finish second, 0.854 seconds -- about 10 car-lengths -- behind the winner. Burton led six times for 105 laps, several times building margins of more than three seconds before caution flags or pit stops pulled him back to the field.

Mayfield also had a big problem in the race when he fell a lap down after running out of gas as he slowed for a green-flag stop on lap 128. He regained the lead lap when Rich Bickle's cut tire brought out the third of six cautions in the race on lap 147, then steadily moved back into contention.

''I feel like the best cars all day came back and finished first and second,'' Burton said.

But the winner wasn't too sure of his chances after Rudd took the lead.

''I feel bad for Ricky Rudd,'' Burton said. ''It looked like he was in pretty good shape. We were going to catch him, but I'm not saying we would have passed him. That would have been tough.''

Roush, who also watched Burton win the Busch Series race on the mile oval on Saturday, said, ''Jeff Burton is the man on these flat tracks. He had his ups and downs all day and came out on top. It was a great job by him and a great team effort.''

Rudd, whose last victory came in Martinsville, Va., in September 1998, said, ''It's kind of been like that all year. It seems like every time we have a win shaping up, something happens. We should have won three or four, maybe even five this year.

''It just seems like other people's circumstances dictate our finishes too much, but there's not a whole lot you can do about it,'' added the driver who sold his own team to drive for Robert Yates this season.

Burton picked up his fourth win of the season and the 15th of his career. He became the 12th different winner in 13 Cup races at PIR, as well as the ninth different winner here in a row.

Steve Park finished third, followed by Wallace and series leader Bobby Labonte, who started ninth and was never out of the top 10. Combined with runner-up Dale Earnhardt's ninth-place finish, Labonte -- who came into the race with a 201-point lead -- now leads Earnhardt by 218 and Burton by 226 with two races remaining.

''We're just real excited to finish in the top five,'' Labonte said. ''There wasn't a scratch on the car, so we can just load it in the truck and take it to Homestead for next week's race.''

Earnhardt, seeing his chances of a record eighth championship fading away, said, ''We had some good shots at running good -- Dover, Charlotte, Rockingham -- and we just fall through. You can't win a championship like that.''

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