ROCKINGHAM, N.C. -- Jeff Burton worked his way from 30th to the front, avoided a series of wrecks and ran off to an easy victory Saturday in the ALLTEL 200 Busch Series race at North Carolina Speedway.
"My car was fast, but it wasn't fast enough," said Burton, who beat Roush Racing teammate and fellow NASCAR Winston Cup star Mark Martin to the finish line by 2.647 seconds, nearly a full straightaway on the 1.017-mile oval.
"I've learned with these Busch cars, you have to make huge adjustments. We made some really big changes and it worked."
Burton shot past Matt Kenseth, the 1998 Busch Series runner-up, to take the lead for the first time on the 126th of 197 laps. Martin briefly took the top spot on lap 155 during a series of yellow-flag pit stops, but Burton was back out front to stay after Martin, who was pitting on the backstretch, made his final stop.
"That backstretch pit stall probably hurt us there at the end, but we probably couldn't have beat Jeff anyway," Martin said.
Burton, who earned $35,645, averaged 108.599 mph on the way to his 10th Busch Series win and first in Rockingham.
Kenseth, who led four times for 108 laps, wound up third, followed by Daytona winner and two-time series champion Randy LaJoie, who remained in the points lead. Casey Atwood, an 18-year-old who walked away from a spectacular crash in the season-opener, passed Mike McLaughlin late in the race to take fifth.
Defending series champion Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 35th after getting caught up in a multicar crash on lap 128. Earnhardt might have missed the crash entirely had he not made a second stop during the previous caution period because several lugnuts were left loose during a tire change.
The wildest of the four crashes in the race came on lap 116 when J.D. Gibbs, the son of former Washington Redskins coach and current Winston Cup car-owner Joe Gibbs, hit the wall coming off turn two. Mike Swaim Jr., running close behind, slammed into Gibbs, whose car sailed high in the air, came down on top of Swaim's hood and then banged back onto the track on its wheels as the two cars skidded down the banking.
No injuries were reported.
SEASON STARTS NOW: It's the second race on the schedule, but a lot of drivers believe the Dura-LubeBig Kmart 400 today at North Carolina Speedway is the start of the real Winston Cup season.
The season-opening Daytona 500 is one of only four events -- all of them in Daytona and Talladega -- run with carburetor restrictor plates to slow the cars down in the interest of safety.
That puts a premium on horsepower and handling and virtually removes the need for downforce, an aerodynamic feature that is extremely important at every other track on NASCAR's top circuit.
"Now we're back to the meat and potatoes of Winston Cup racing," said Ted Musgrave. "These types of racetracks, where chassis handling and things like that will make a big difference, instead of aerodynamics and who is going to help you. You don't need any help to pass people here."
Daytona winner Jeff Gordon said, "I believe this is truly where the championship is going to be formed. I think the guys you see run well here, not just here but the next couple of races, are really the ones who will threaten for the championship.
"Every race is important, but I think the downforce tracks are the ones that are really important. I don't think we can judge off what happened in Daytona."
That's good news for drivers like Mark Martin, Dale Jarrett, Ricky Rudd, Jeff Burton and John Andretti, all of whom finished 30th or worse in the 500.
"To win a Winston Cup championship, you have to be good at everything," said Burton, who finished 35th in the opening race. "You can't finish 35th at Talladega and then go to Dayton and finish 40th. You've got to get to where you can run well everywhere.
"Then, if you get caught up in a wreck or something happens, then it just happens. What we try to do is look at what Jeff (Gordon) and those guys have done. They run well at Daytona, they run well at Charlotte, they run well everywhere.
ROOKIE RACE: Top rookie of the year contenders Tony Stewart and Elliott Sadler both qualified solidly for today's race. Not so for Buckshot Jones and Dan Pardus.
Stewart, who was on the outside pole last Sunday in Daytona, qualified 20th for the race at North Carolina Speedway, while Sadler was 26th.
Jones, who ran in five races last year as he prepped for a run at rookie honors, failed to make the lineup for the second straight week, qualifying 41st among the 47 drivers who made attempts on Saturday.
"We tested here and we ran good," Jones said. "When we got here to practice on Friday we had brake problems. We never figured it out until the end of practice. We didn't have the proper chassis setup, and we tried to get it all in today.
"It's no fault of the guys. It was just a mechanical error that no one could prevent."
Pardus, who also failed to make the season-opening Daytona 500, was even worse off as he was replaced in the No. 50 Chevrolet by Billy Standridge, who also came up short in qualifying.
SPARK PLUGS: The Winston Cup race in Rockingham on Oct. 24 will be called the Pop Secret Microwave 400. It was previously sponsored by ACDelco. ... Mike Hill has been named interim crew chief for David Green. Hill replaces Tim Brewer, who has been reassigned as a team consultant. ... Fourth-generation driver Adam Petty, who finished sixth at Daytona in his Busch Series debut, missed Saturday's ALLTELL 200 because his new team had no 1998 points to fall back on. The field for the race was set by points and entry blank postmarks after qualifying was rained out Friday.
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