Originally created 03/20/00

Burton wins Mall.com 400



DARLINGTON, S.C. -- The emotions swirled inside Ward Burton's soul and his eyes welled with tears when he got the five-to-go signal Sunday at the Mall.com 400.

He started thinking of victory, of breaking a four-year-plus losing streak, of finally standing on equal ground with his younger brother, Jeff Burton.

As quickly as his mind wandered at the tricky 1.366-mile Darlington Raceway, the reality of NASCAR's oldest superspeedway -- a white concrete wall -- came ever so close to spoiling what had been a perfect afternoon.

"It was hard not to get emotional when there was five or six to go," Burton said. "I missed my line, and I had to go back to concentrating like it was the beginning of the run."

Darlington's little wake up call was all Burton needed. From there, his attention focused solely on winning the race and winning $132,725. Darlington rarely gives drivers a second chance, but rarely has a driver been so dominant from start to finish.

"They call this place `Too Tough to Tame,"' Burton said. "I didn't tame it today. I just didn't hit anything."

The victory aboard the Caterpillar Pontiac Grand Prix was the second for the oldest of two racing brothers, but his first since 1995 -- a winless span of 132 races. Since his first win at Rockingham, N.C., younger brother Jeff has won 12 times, including three times last season with Ward finishing second.

"There really wasn't much strategy," Ward Burton said. "We just ran the car as hard as it would go. The first win came easy, and I probably didn't appreciate it as much as I will this one.

"During the cool-down lap, I felt a lot of emotion. More than anything else, though, I felt relief."

Burton led 188 of 293 laps, including the final 37, to beat Dale Jarrett by 100 yards. He averaged 128.076 mph and became the first driver in a Pontiac to win at Darlington since Joe Weatherly in 1963.

Jeff Burton stopped by Victory Lane to congratulate his brother. Moments later, their parents called on a cell phone.

"It's been a long time coming," Jeff Burton said. "No question they had the best car today. They definitely had the best car and they should have won the race. It was a long day for us, but a great day for Ward."

Burton also became the fifth different winner in the first five races of the stock car season -- a streak that includes a victory by Jeff Burton at Las Vegas. In fact, only seven seasons have started with five different winners since the sport moved to its "modern" era in 1972.

"I think Ward, at the end of the race, had the best car," Jarrett said. "Whoever was out front had it his way. It seemed like lapped traffic worked with you when you were in the lead."

Jarrett led by 50 yards when the leaders started making their final pit stops with 40 laps to go. Burton was in second place when his team gave him four new tires and a tank of gas in just 15.2 seconds. Jarrett skidded past his pit stall by a few inches and had to be pushed back before work could start on his Ford Taurus. That slip only cost him a couple seconds, but that was all Burton needed to take the lead and finish without a significant challenge.

"I'm not even sure if I would have beaten him out of the pits that I would have been able to keep him behind me," Jarrett said. "I don't think anything that took place there when he pitted or when we pitted had anything to do with the outcome. He didn't mess up at all. I don't think anybody was going to change that."

Burton said his crew deserved the credit for getting him out front on the final stop, but he also admitted he would have been a contender from any position.

"The guys came through when they really needed to," Burton said. "Obviously, we would have had a shot at it. At the middle of the run, it would really come on. It's all about people, and we've got good people."

Dale Earnhardt kept his hopes of winning a record eighth Winston Cup Series Championship alive with a third-place finish.

The oldest Burton brother, much like his brother, said a victory at Darlington creates a special sense of accomplishment.

"Darlington, besides Daytona, is the biggest place to win," he said. "This is the track where David Pearson, Dale Earnhardt, Bobby Allison, Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip have won."

Sunday's victory also gave the Burton family its own piece of history at the legendary track when Jeff and Ward became the first brothers to win at Darlington.

Reach Don Coble at doncoble@mindspring.com.