Originally created 09/07/98

Gordon charges to victory in Southern 500



DARLINGTON, S.C. -- Jeff Gordon watched Jeff Burton dominate the first 400 miles of the Southern 500, then ran him down twice Sunday and drove off to win a $1 million bonus in another record-setting performance.

Burton, who lost a bumping match to Gordon as the final lap began a year ago, led 242 of the first 274 laps at Darlington Raceway, He held an advantage of eight seconds at one point, setting a pace that eliminated from contention all but Gordon.

"This was the hardest race I've ever had to run," Gordon said. "The car slid all over the place because the track was so slick."

Gordon said he was surprised to win because Burton was so strong.

"Burton was killing us all day long, but we made the right adjustments near the end," he said. "And I think he used up his car."

Burton drove despite a case of the flu, which had prevented him from defending his title Saturday in the Dura Lube 200. He said it was a factor.

"I was pretty sick, and I couldn't feel the car," he said. "I just couldn't tell my crew the things they needed to know."

He said he was unable to relate how badly he was struggling on the slick surface.

"But the 24 car was awesome, and they made better adjustments," he said of Gordon. "I need a few days off."

Although Burton was so dominant, Gordon's steadier pace paid off. He continually reduced the margin until he got by Burton as the cars reached the start-finish line with 93 laps to go.

Gordon passed Burton on the low side of the track to take the lead, but a surprisingly slow stop by the best crew in NASCAR cost him two seconds. Burton reassumed the lead and began to drive away and that gave Gordon some anxious moments.

"I told my guys, `He's just playing with us,' " Gordon said.

But Gordon made another of his patented charges, again passing Burton at the line with 33 of the 367 laps remaining. Then Gordon steadily drove off to another $1 million payday that extended his record winning streak in the tradition-filled Labor Day weekend race to four, becoming the first driver in the modern era of NASCAR to win the same superspeedway event four years running.

His 39th career victory also made him the first to reach double figures three straight years in a row.

It also enabled him to tie Darrell Waltrip's record of 30 victories in three years and the mark of 37 wins in four years. He shares that record with Waltrip and Richard Petty.

Gordon's seventh victory in nine races also made him an overwhelming favorite to win his third Winston Cup championship in four years.

Burton's teammate, Mark Martin, came in trailing by 67 points, but an engine problem relegated him to 40th in a field of 43, and he is 199 points back with just nine of 33 races remaining.

The bonus, offered by series sponsor Winston, also went to Gordon last year in this race. He also got one earlier this season in the Brickyard 400, and has been the recipient three of the four times it's been won.

In addition to his bonus, Gordon got $134,655 from a purse of $1.9 million. That brought the 27-year-old driver's earnings for this year to $5,267,062 and his career bankroll to $21,969,524.

His Chevrolet finished 3.613 seconds ahead Burton's Ford, which showed the way for 273 laps. Gordon led 64 laps.

His average speed was 139.031 mph in a race slowed only twice by 16 laps of caution. There were 12 lead changes among six drivers.

Polesitter Dale Jarrett, trying to become the ninth driver in 49 years to sweep the two Darlington races, was third in a Ford. Dale Earnhardt -- eligible for the bonus along with Gordon, Martin, Bobby Labonte and Mike Skinner -- was fourth in a Chevy. Jeremy Mayfield was fifth, a lap down, in a Ford.

The top five finishers are eligible for the next bonus, in the Winston 500 on Oct. 11 in Talladega, Ala.