For the third time this year, Jeff Burton relegated his older brother Ward Burton to the clich "always the bridesmaid, never the bride," as winner of the Pop Secret Microwave Popcorn 400 at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham, North Carolina.
With Ward in front, all the leaders pitted on Lap 325 for the third and final caution period after Kenny Irwin tangled with Dale Earnhardt, sending the #3 GM Goodwrench Service Chevrolet slamming into the wall. Frank Stoddard, crew chief of Jeff's #99 Exide Batteries Ford, chose a setup for a shorter run so Jeff could grab a large lead before The Rock's notoriously abrasive race surface ate away his tires.
A speedy pit stop allowed Jeff to exit pit road just ahead of his brother. After the restart on Lap 330, Jeff took six laps to get around a pesky Jeff Gordon, who was trying to regain a lost lap, and battled to pass teammates Kevin Lepage and Chad Little while Ward closed the gap. Ward, whose one career win was at The Rock in 1995, clearly had his #22 Caterpillar Pontiac hooked up and shrank his brother's lead to less than 0.60 second with only two laps to go.
On the drive for the checkers, Ward dove low into Turn 3 and looked to get alongside his brother, but the #22 Pontiac could not hold its line, and Jeff finished about two car lengths in front.
"Frank kept working," Jeff said later. "All these guys, they had a great stop that last stop. This is the best win we've ever had. This the hardest we've ever had to work to win a race a far as on the chassis."
Despite finishing second, Ward was visibly disappointed with the result. "I'd run another 400 laps for another five (at the end)," Ward admitted. "I think we would have got him if we had had a little more time."
The only drivers finishing on the lead lap were Bobby Labonte in third, followed by Dale Jarrett, Rusty Wallace, Mark Martin, John Andretti, and Sterling Marlin.
Mark Martin won two Bud Pole awards, which finally qualifies him for the Bud Shootout, as well as the Busch race on Saturday. Labonte, Jimmy Makar, and the entire #18 Interstate Batteries Pontiac crew won the '99 Unocal 76/Rockingham World Pit Crew Competition in record time. Series points leader Jarrett led the most laps and maintained his 246-point lead over Labonte. On Friday, NASCAR approved the 2000 Taurus for competition.
Winston Cup Championship Point Standings Following The Pop Secret Microwave Popcorn 400
|1. Dale Jarrett ||4772 |
|2. Bobby Labonte ||4526 |
|3. Mark Martin ||4438 |
|4. Jeff Gordon ||4298 |
|5. Tony Stewart ||4286 |
|6. Jeff Burton ||4243 |
|7. Dale Earnhardt ||4082 |
|8. Rusty Wallace ||3837 |
|9. Ward Burton ||3682 |
|10. Mike Skinner ||3603 |
Race No. 31
Three caution flags for a total of 18 laps.
NASCAR Busch Series
Top-5 Finishers Of The Kmart 200 At North Carolina Speedway
3. Dave Blaney
4. Matt Kenseth
5. Todd Bodine