J. Burton edges Gordon in Exide 400 Last week's runner-up wins by .051 of a second, closest margin of the year

September 13, 1998|By Phil Jackman | Phil Jackman,SUN STAFF

RICHMOND, Va. -- A brilliant charge wrapped around two caution flags and two pit stops in the last 50 laps gave Jeff Burton his second victory of the Winston Cup season last night in the Exide NASCAR Select Batteries 400.

It was sweet revenge for Burton, who held off Jeff Gordon and won by the length of a car hood, .051 of a second, the closest margin on the circuit this season.

Gordon, a 10-time winner this year, had slipped by Burton to win in Darlington, S.C., last weekend.

But as he said afterward last night, "I could catch him, but I just couldn't pass him. The outside lane [Burton's path] was just too fast."

Burton led eight times for 203 of the 400 laps, including the last 40, before 103,000 fans at Richmond International Raceway.

He had spent a good part of the week chastising himself for finishing second too often, including Friday night here in the Busch Series 250 race. "This makes up for it," said Burton, who picked up a check for $108,495.

Gordon's night's work wasn't too shabby. The man that some auto racing fans love to boo earned $85,190. His career earnings already top $22 million and he doesn't even have to hit a curve ball.

Burton averaged 91.985 mph, and there were eight caution flags that slowed 66 laps, making the elapsed time of the race 3 hours, 15 minutes, 41 seconds.

"What a race!" Burton said. "I have to thank Jeff Gordon; he raced me real clean. Traffic was real hard and we took our team with each other all night. I think we beat the 24 [Gordon] out of the pits all night."

Mark Martin finished third but fell 204 points behind Gordon with eight races remaining on the Winston Cup schedule. Ken Schrader was fourth, followed by John Andretti, Bobby Hamilton and pole-sitter Rusty Wallace.

"This was a classic Richmond [short-track] race," Gordon said. "It was fun. And, imagine, he won with two tires."

Gordon won a race two weeks ago when he changed just two tires on his last pit stop, which led to charges of tire tampering and an investigation that finally exonerated him.

Things went smoothly until Lap 35 on the three-quarter mile track, Wallace breezing along with no traffic to worry about.

Robert Pressley, who started in the 20th position, suddenly got jammed up, veered into a wall and started to slip down onto the banked, D-shape track. Joe Nemechek hit him, as did Dale Earnhardt, his car bursting into flames.

"When I hit 42 [Nemechek], I caught afire. No big deal. We'll work on it and get it back," said Earnhardt. The caution flag went out for the next dozen laps. When Earnhardt returned, he was 86 miles behind.

Wallace led the first 93 laps before Burton moved ahead. Wallace got the lead back, however, when his teammate, Jeremy Mayfield, at the back of the pack, blocked Burton.

The lead was short-lived, Hamilton taking over. The leaders began heading in for new tires at about 90 miles and, over the next 25 laps, three more cars eased into the lead.

When the tire-changing and refueling were completed, Burton was back in the lead. At the midpoint (200 laps), he led Gordon by three car lengths with Wallace third and Hamilton fourth.

Burton proceeded to lead on 99 of the next 100 laps, Gordon easing ahead on Lap 292. Just five laps into the final quarter of the race, Gordon grabbed the lead again and it became apparent a final pit stop by the leaders would determine the outcome.

Meanwhile, back where the cars were running door-to-door and bumper-to-bumper, problems persisted.

Bill Elliott, for instance, checked out and explained, "My motor decided it didn't want to live any longer. It started skipping and finally blew up. We had a strong run going."

1. (3) Jeff Burton, Ford, 400, $108,495.

2. (5) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 400, $85,190.

3. (12) Mark Martin, Ford, 400, $60,580.

4. (2) Ken Schrader, Chevrolet, 400, $65,230.

5. (9) John Andretti, Pontiac, 400, $52,280.

6. (6) Bobby Hamilton, Chevrolet, 400, $47,930.

7. (1) Rusty Wallace, Ford, 400, $45,630.

8. (26) Mike Skinner, Chevrolet, 400, $31,780.

9. (16) Jimmy Spencer, Ford, 400, $38,280.

10. (36) Kenny Irwin, Ford, 400, $47,880.

11. (13) Kenny Wallace, Ford, 399, $28,180.

12. (23) Chad Little, Ford, 399, $27,180.

13. (42) Geoff Bodine, Ford, 399, $36,230.

14. (30) Ernie Irvan, Pontiac, 399, $33,330.

15. (4) Sterling Marlin, Chevrolet, 399, $26,855.

16. (7) Dale Jarrett, Ford, 398, $39,630.

17. (24) Steve Grissom, Chevrolet, 398, $32,630.

18. (43) Darrell Waltrip, Pontiac, 398, $21,380.

19. (33) Brett Bodine, Ford, 398, $31,955.

20. (28) Jeff Green, Chevrolet, 398, $26,880.

21. (35) Terry Labonte, Chevrolet, 398, $36,980.

22. (37) Jeremy Mayfield, Ford, 398, $31,355.

23. (19) Jerry Nadeau, Ford, 398, $24,080.

24. (8) Derrike Cope, Pontiac, 398, $30,855.

25. (17) Ted Musgrave, Chevrolet, 397, $20,405.

26. (31) Michael Waltrip, Ford, 397, $30,480.

27. (40) Steve Park, Chevrolet, 396, $23,255.

28. (15) Ward Burton, Pontiac, 396, $30,030.

29. (29) Dennis Setzer, Ford, 396, $19,910.

30. (14) Wally Dallenbach, Chevrolet, 396, $29,800.

31. (27) Rick Mast, Ford, 394, $22,265.

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