LAS VEGAS -- Drivers have accepted the idea of racing for top-10 finishes instead of wins, and apparently so have the fans. But the way Ward Burton figures it, the second-place car is the first loser each week.
The older of two racing brothers, Ward Burton never is satisfied with finishing second. His purpose is winning races, not stockpiling points toward a season-long championship.
What galls the South Boston, Va., native most is finishing second to his younger brother, Jeff.
"Hell, yes, it bothers me," Burton said. "Sure I want to beat my brother. But I want to beat everybody. I don't like running second to anybody."
The brothers finished one-two a year ago at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Ward led seven times during the race, including lap 257 of the 267-lap event; Jeff led six times, including the final 10 laps.
"It's hard when you have to beat your brother," Jeff Burton said as the brothers prepared for their return to Las Vegas for Sunday's CarsDirect.com 400 (2:30 p.m., ABC-Channel 6). "You have to drive your brother cleaner and nicer than you would somebody else. The risk of getting in a wreck with your brother -- you just can't do that. You just can't do that. If it does happen, it's a bad thing."
Ward didn't win a race in 1999, but he finished second three times. Jeff won six times, including all three races where his older brother finished second. The other Burton exactas came at the Southern 500 at Darlington, S.C., and the Pop Secret 400 at Rockingham, N.C.
"Racing Ward, it made for good media," Jeff Burton said. "At the same time, it's really a grueling thing to do. It's not a position I particularly like to be in. When you get in that position, you try to treat it like you're racing somebody else. You have to, but you just can't. It's your brother."
Ward Burton has kicked off the 2000 season with a pair of top-10 finishes, including a third-place run last week at Rockingham.
"If we keep doing that, we'll get into Victory Lane, no matter what," the older brother said. "We've built a great team, and we're right there on the edge of victory."
To finish first, however, Ward has to beat his younger brother.
"It's been fun, but it really complicates things a little bit," Ward said. "It's really not him beating me, but that the same car and same team beat us three times last year. Luckily for us, we've raced side by side, and it hasn't resulted in a bad accident. The fan response has been unbelievable. That's the first thing that the people mention, and they give me a lot of support. That part is fun."
The NASCAR Busch Series and Winston Cup Series cars will practice and qualify on the wide, 1.5-mile raceway today. The Busch Series event -- Sam's Town 300 -- will be staged Saturday and the Winston Cup race, which includes the Burton feud, is a day later.
"Las Vegas has more than one racing groove, and it's got some banking to it, so it makes it easy to pass on," Ward Burton said. "It's wide enough to do some side-by-side racing -- just like Jeff and I did last year.
"We've just got to keep doing what we're doing. We're going to try to run all the laps, and race as hard as we can on every lap. We've just got to wait our turn."
Or for little brother Jeff to get tired of winning.
Reach Don Coble at firstname.lastname@example.org.