His team works on his Ford's handling until he catches Mike Wallace at the Checker Auto Parts 500.
Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times,
published October 29, 2001
AVONDALE, Ariz. -- Jeff Burton found the elusive sweet spot Sunday.
The Roush Racing driver passed Mike Wallace for the lead with 33 laps to go and went on to win the Checker Auto Parts 500 for consecutive wins at Phoenix International Raceway.
"We've been knocked down all year, but we never quit," said Burton, 10th in the points after coming into the season as one of the favorites to win the Winston Cup title. "We just had to find the sweet spot.
"That's been our problem all year long, finding that sweet spot, the balance, and making the car do what I want it to do. Luckily, we weren't far off at the beginning today."
Burton said his team kept adjusting the car and making it better.
"We're just a microcosm of what America's all about," added Burton, who drove a slow backward victory lap around the mile oval holding an American flag out the window of his No. 99 Ford.
Wallace, in his fourth race with the elite Penske Racing South team, took the lead on Lap 241 of the 312-lap, 500-kilometer race when crew chief Peter Sospenzo elected to put on only right-side tires while the rest of the leaders were changing all four.
Burton came out of the leaders' pit stops, under the fifth of seven caution flags in the race, in third and trailing Wallace and Ricky Rudd.
Burton quickly moved into second after the green flag waved and began to chase Wallace.
Two more cautions helped Wallace stay out front for a while, but Burton went into the lead on Lap 279 and pulled away, leaving Wallace to hold off Rudd for second.
The winner crossed the finish line 2.6 seconds -- about 30 car lengths -- ahead of Wallace on the flat oval for his second win of the season and 17th of his career, tying him with Curtis Turner, Marvin Panch and Bobby Labonte for 35th on the all-time list.
"Mike was fast but my concern was that he has never won a Cup race and I figured he would do anything to win," Burton said, grinning. "He's auditioning for a job and he did a great job. He ran me hard and clean."
Wallace, who moved into the No. 12 Ford after Jeremy Mayfield was fired, is signed only through the end of the season.
Wallace, the middle of the three racing brothers from St. Louis, said: "I haven't been in a position to win a race all year and I did all I could without putting the cars in jeopardy.
"Jeff just had a better run and a better car, but to finish second is wonderful."
The best finish for Wallace in 102 starts had been fifth in the 1994 finale in Atlanta.
With no decision on who will drive the No. 12 car next season, Wallace is driving for a job.
"We're trying to build as strong a case as we can," Wallace said. "We keep throwing enough ammunition out there, it'll make it pretty hard for them to make a change."
Rudd's third place, combined with a sixth-place run by Jeff Gordon, cut 15 off the three-time series champion's points lead.
But Gordon still leads Rudd by 380 points with four races remaining. Gordon will clinch his fourth championship if he finishes 24th or better in each of the four remaining races regardless of what Rudd does.
Matt Kenseth, one of Burton's Roush teammates, finished fourth, followed by Tony Stewart.
The majority of the 45 caution laps were brought on by blown right front tires.
Tony Freund, team leader for advanced engineering for Goodyear, the exclusive tire supplier for the series, said it was a heat issue.
Freund said air temperatures were in the high 80s, making for different conditions than last year.
The tire company also said part of the problem was that some teams used less than the recommended 28 pounds of air pressure in the right-side tires.
Whatever the case, Rusty Wallace, Mike's older brother and Penske teammate, was one victim of the tire situation.
The elder Wallace led four times for 91 laps, topped only by Burton's five times for 102.
Wallace's flat right front came when he was trying to hold off Burton for the lead on Lap 185. He regained a lost lap but wound up a distant 15th.
Burton said it was Rusty Wallace that he feared before the flat tire.
"My car actually got a little tight there at the end," Burton said. "It would probably (have) been tough to beat the (No.) 2 today if that hadn't happened."