LOUDON, N.H. -- Jeff Burton led every lap, something he knew might be necessary.
In a race in which cars were slowed because of two driver deaths this year, Burton won the Dura Lube 300 at New Hampshire International Speedway on Sunday.
He became the first driver to lead all the way in 22 years. But this was no rout, with Bobby Labonte making things close.
"Had we ever gotten behind him it would have been hard to pass him," Burton said.
He won a race in which speed-robbing carburetor restrictor plates were ordered by NASCAR in response to the deaths of Kenny Irwin and Adam Petty.
Labonte, the pole sitter and series leader, nearly led three times, the last when he went in front for a moment with six laps remaining. He declined a chance to make final bid for a risky pass.
"I pinched him off pretty bad, and he could have spun me and said. 'It's Burton's fault.' But he didn't and I appreciate that." Burton said.
Labonte never considered it.
"You race hard but you race clean," he said.
Labonte almost got in front when the cars pitted under caution two-thirds of the way through. But Burton's Ford, pitting right behind Labonte's Pontiac, barely beat him off pit road, and he became the first four-time winner on The Magic Mile.
"We needed to come out of pits first every time," said crew chief Frank Stoddard.
The plates slowed the cars by about 10 mph, and there were few meaningful passes. Burton, who started second, won when the race ended under caution after Sterling Marlin blew a tire with three laps left.
His biggest concern was getting by lapped cars. And there was plenty to worry about on restarts following multicar crashes late in the race.
Dale Earnhardt provided the most excitement, making contact with Burton three times as the leader attempted to put him a lap down. Finally, Burton passed him on lap 259.
"I don't blame him a bit for that," Burton said of The Intimidator. "That's what he's supposed to do."
Labonte nosed in front during the exchange as the cars raced three wide toward the third turn, but Burton beat him to the line. Earnhardt let Labonte by and then faded.
The same scenario existed 20 laps later, but Burton got by after the restart. A final crash resulted in a red-flag stoppage to clean the track. But within the final 10 laps there are no double-file restarts. That left only Burton and Labonte to battle when the race went green on the 294th of 300 laps.
The wire-to-wire performance by Burton was only the third in series history. Cale Yarborough did it twice, in Bristol, Tenn., in 1973, and five years later in Nashville, Tenn.
Burton might have had an advantage because his Ford was one of only two cars to test with a plate after NASCAR decided last week to race with them at New Hampshire. He and Steve Park, who finished 34th, tested Wednesday at The Milwaukee Mile, a flat track similar to this one.
It was the third win this year and the 15th in the career of the Virginia driver.
It was the first time restrictor plates have been used on a track shorter than 2' miles. They have been used at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway since 1998.
Burton also won the Pepsi 400 at Daytona, giving him two straight victories in restrictor-plate events.
"This was a lot different," he said. "But anytime there is big change and you do well you have a lot of pride."
Third Sunday on this 1.058-mile oval was the Ford of Ricky Rudd, followed by that of his teammate, series champion Dale Jarrett.
NASCAR had no immediate reaction to its decision to put plates on the cars.
"It was a safe race, and that's the main thing," Jarrett said.
The Ford of Rusty Wallace, the only four-time winner on the circuit this year, was fifth.
Burton earned $195,800 from a purse of $2.9 million. His average speed in a race slowed for 42 laps by seven caution flags was 102.003 mph.
Burton jumped from fourth to second in the standings, 168 points behind Labonte. Jarrett remains third, 174 points behind. Earnhardt finished 12th, falling two spots to fourth, 201 points back.
Tony Stewart, who won in July, wound up 23rd. Three-time Loudon winner Jeff Gordon was sixth and defending champion Joe Nemechek was ninth.
Irwin, a Winston Cup driver, was killed in July while practicing for the New England 300 at almost the same spot in the third turn where Petty died two months earlier before a Busch Series race.
NASCAR vice president Mike Helton was somewhat encouraged by the outcome of the race, but made no announcement concerning future use of restrictor plates.
"We don't have enough answers to come up with any other result at this point," he said. "We have a lot of cars finish the race all together. From that aspect, it was a successful day."