J. Burton steers clear to capture Jiffy Lube He avoids pit collision, nips Earnhardt, R. Wallace

THE BALTIMORE SUN

LOUDON, N.H. -- Jeff Burton had the notion about one-third of the way through yesterday's Jiffy Lube 300. The notion that even though leaders Dale Jarrett and Ernie Irvan weren't even within sight, he had a good enough car to win the NASCAR Winston Cup race.

If he had announced that to the record crowd of 87,000, they might have laughed, having witnessed how dominant Jarrett and Irvan had been to that point -- and would be for roughly another 100 laps.

But all the right things happened the rest of the way for Burton. First Jarrett, and then Irvan, developed engine problems. Burton narrowly avoided a pit-road collision with Dale Earnhardt 17 laps from the finish. And the South Boston, Va., resident posted his second career Winston Cup victory by a whopping 5.9 seconds over Earnhardt and Rusty Wallace.

"I actually think that happens quite a bit during every race," Burton said of almost colliding with Earnhardt. "It just normally doesn't happen with 15 laps to go and the guys running 1-2 hitting each other."

The 300 was an unusual race in that there were just two caution flags, one on lap one for six laps and the second on lap 194 for five laps. This produced a race-record average speed of 117.194 mph, and a race in which cars had to make at least two green-flag pit stops for tires and fuel, and another green-flag pit stop for a final splash of fuel roughly 10 to 20 laps from the finish.

It was after the first of those green-flag pit stops, when he was among the top 10 on lap 84, that Burton started thinking he had a good race car.

"After that first pit stop, we were breaking even with the leaders," said Burton, 30, who drives Ford Thunderbirds prepared by Jack Roush Racing. "Sometimes we'd be quicker, sometimes we'd be slower, depending on lapped traffic. I figured that when a caution came out and we got to them, we could race them."

Jarrett's engine problems, later traced to melted spark-plug tips, began on lap 183 when Irvan, the defending race champion, passed him. A lap later, Burton moved past Jarrett into second.

The race's second yellow came out on lap 194. Burton pitted for two tires, fuel and a chassis adjustment to undo the one his team had made 20 laps earlier.

"You have to keep making changes because in Winston Cup racing you have to be perfect to win a race," Burton said. "If you don't keep trying to make things better, the other guys are.

"I wanted to make a change [on lap 173] to free up the car, but we freed it up too much. So [on lap 194] we put it back exactly the way it was before and only put on two tires -- which was a great call by [crew chief] Buddy Parrott."

While Burton posted his second win of the season, Earnhardt's winless streak reached 44. Still, he was encouraged.

"We're getting there," the seven-time Winston Cup points champ said. "We came here and started 27th and came back to finish second -- pretty much under the green flag. If I could have gotten a little more time and a little more track position, I might have been able to do something with Jeff today."

(Starting position in parentheses)

1. (15) Jeff Burton, Ford, 300, $117,875.

2. (26) Dale Earnhardt, Chevy, 300, $82,950.

3. (12) Rusty Wallace, Ford, 300, $55,525.

4. (6) Steve Grissom, Chevy, 300, $47,675.

5. (16) Mark Martin, Ford, 300, $44.650.

6. (23) Bill Elliott, Ford, 300, $39,825.

7. (10) Terry Labonte, Chevy, 300,$46,325.

8. (11) Ernie Irvan, Ford, 300, $38,625.

9. (18) Ricky Rudd, Ford, 300, $38,325.

10. (14) Geoff Bodine, Ford, 300, $38,225.

11. (1) Ken Schrader, Chevy, 300, $40,825.

12. (30) Jimmy Spencer, Ford, 300, $25,025.

13. (7) Kyle Petty, Pontiac, 300, $26,725.

14. (8) John Andretti, Ford, 299, accident, $33,425.

15. (42) Hut Stricklin, Ford, 299, $34,525.

16. (3) Ricky Craven, Chevy, 299, $34,225.

17. (22) Jeremy Mayfield, Ford, 299, $25,400.

18. (32) Johnny Benson, Pontiac, 299, $32,150.

19. (36) Kenny Wallace, Ford, 299, $31,900.

20. (31) Derrike Cope, Pontiac, 299, $26,600.

21. (27) Mike Skinner, Chevy, 298, 25,375.

22. (13) Sterling Marlin, Chevy, 298, $36,925.

23. (29) Jeff Gordon, Chevy, 298, $37,975.

24. (21) David Green, Chevy, 298, $20,625.

25. (28) Dick Trickle, Ford, 298, $23,675.

26. (25) Ted Musgrave, Ford, 298, $30,425.

27. (17) Bobby Labonte, Pontiac, 298, $35,150.

28. (24) Rick Mast, Ford, 298, $30,000.

29. (33) Michael Waltrip, Ford, 297, $29,850.

30. (4) Chad Little, Pontiac, 297, $22,225.

31. (2) Bobby Hamilton, Pontiac, 297, $37,100.

32. (34) Jeff Green, Chevy, 296, $19,475.

33. (20) Darrell Waltrip, Chevy, 296, $26,350.

34. (40) Robby Gordon, Chevy, 296, $26,225.

35. (41) Dave Marcis, Chevy, 295, $19,100.

36. (35) Ward Burton, Pontiac, 294, $25,975.

37. (38) Morgan Shepherd, Ford, 293, $18,850.

38. (5) Dale Jarrett, Ford, 293, $51,900.

39. (9) Jerry Nadeau, Pont., 281, eng., $25,600.

40. (19) Joe Nemechek, Chevy, 275, $18,600.

41. (37) R. MacDonald, Chevy, 148, brakes, $18,600.

42. (39) Brett Bodine, Ford, 55, accident, $25,600.

Winner's average speed: 117.194 mph.

Time of race: 2 hours, 42 minutes, 35 seconds.

Margin: 5.392 seconds. Caution flags: 2 for 10 laps.

Lead changes: 14 among 8 drivers.

Lap leaders: Jeff Burton 99, Jarrett 88, Hamilton 43, Irvan 42, Schrader 12, Terry Labonte 4, Craven 1, Andretti 1.

Series points leaders: T. Labonte 2,497, Gordon 2,494, Martin, 2,445, Jarrett, 2,332, J. Burton 2,298, Earnhardt 2,283, B. Labonte 2,111, Rudd 2,074, Mayfield 1,962, Musgrave 1,930.

Pub Date: 7/14/97

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