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No passing fancy: Jeff Burton leads all

The Dura Lube 300 featured restrictor plates and a little shuffling in the points. Just no passes for the lead.

By KEVIN KELLY

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 18, 2000


LOUDON, N.H. -- When NASCAR announced Sept. 9 that it was requiring restrictor plates to slow speeds in Sunday's Dura Lube 300 at New Hampshire International Speedway, many drivers reacted with disgust.

Not Jeff Burton.

He and his team looked at the aluminum plates differently.

"It was a challenge," Burton said. "We talked about what we needed to do because of the plate, and I think that was the right approach, rather than worrying about why we were doing it."

A test session last week at the Milwaukee Mile and an all-night drive to deliver a new engine by race day proved to be the answer.

Burton added a new chapter to NASCAR's record book by leading all 300 laps of the Dura Lube 300 to win his fourth career race at the track where Kenny Irwin and Adam Petty died earlier this year.

"It's a lot different because any time there's a big change like that (restrictor plates), if you can adapt to it and do well, you take a lot of pride in it," said Burton, who was the first driver to lead a race flag-to-flag since Cale Yarborough did so 22 years ago at Nashville International Raceway.

After driving away from the field most of the race and never losing his lead during pit stops, Burton won under caution after Sterling Marlin blew a tire three laps from the finish.

"As it got toward the end of the race I started thinking about it under caution," said Burton, who started second. "I said, "I wonder if we've led every lap here.' I thought maybe somebody under caution would have snuck one in there."

Burton's 14th career win and third this season, worth $195,800, was by no means a rout.

Winston Cup points leader Bobby Labonte, who started on the pole and finished second, made sure of it. He lost the lead on the first lap in Turn 1.

Labonte challenged Burton several times late in the race, even edging ahead briefly (but not for an official lead change since Burton crossed the line ahead) six laps from the end.

"It just seemed like I followed (Burton's) car a lot today," Labonte said. "I wasn't close enough a lot of times to catch him and other times I got beside him. I think I even nosed ahead a couple times but just never at the start-finish line."

For all the action the first two-thirds of the race lacked, the last 50 laps more than made up for it courtesy of Burton, Labonte and Dale Earnhardt.

Earnhardt, the seven-time Winston Cup champion, tangled with Burton on two restarts in an effort to make up a lap.

"He is so intense," Burton said. "Passing for the lead is one thing, but when you lap him. ... he's not liking that. I needed to do what I needed to do. We were racing (Earnhardt) for the championship, and I saw an opportunity to get some more points.

Earnhardt never got his lap back and finished 12th. A crash 10 laps from the finish meant a single-file restart.

"Had the positions been traded," Burton said, "that's what he would've done to me."

Burton and Steve Park, who finished 34th, tested the restricted engines Wednesday at Milwaukee.

The engine Burton used Sunday was driven to New Hampshire and arrived Saturday night.

"I feel like this win was deserving of our effort," Burton said. "Nobody worked any harder or tried any harder." Ricky Rudd finished third, followed by Dale Jarrett, who is third in the standings, and Rusty Wallace.

"Track position was very important," Jarrett said. "You could pass. I wasn't sure we were going to be able to do that, but Jeff Burton just had everybody covered."

The victory was Burton's second restrictor plate win this season -- he won the Pepsi 400 in July at Daytona -- and catapulted from fourth to second in the standings, 168 points behind Labonte.

Still, he doesn't feel the plates, which have only been used at Daytona and Talladega since 1988, are a long-term solution to prevent drivers from getting killed.

Petty and Irwin died after they crashed in the third-turn wall, eight weeks apart, at the 1.058-mile track. Stuck accelerators are believed to have caused both wrecks.

"There was an obvious problem here, and we needed to do something," Burton said. "I didn't want to come here and race with plates on any more than anybody else did.

"At the same time I felt we couldn't design a better wall in a couple of months, and I thought that was always unrealistic to think we could."

Gearhead stats

TIME OF RACE: 3 hours, 6 minutes, 42 seconds.

MARGIN OF VICTORY: under caution.

AVERAGE SPEED: 102.003 mph.

LAP LEADER: Jeff Burton 1-300.

CAUTIONS: 7 for 42 laps.

Up next

MBNA.com 400, 12:30 p.m. Sunday at Dover, Del. TV: TNN.

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