Brotherly Shove Or Brotherly Love?

NASCAR racing has long been like the neighborhood playground. At any given instance, brother will be battling brother, often with a special intensity that can only be found among blood relatives.

The family affairs have always been part brother love, part sibling rivalry, but the most distinct aspect is that such family affairs have always been intense.

NASCAR 2000 has not broken with tradition. When Geoffrey Bodine recovers from his injuries, there will be five sets of brothers going fender to fender on the Winston Cup Series circuit each week: the Bodines, the Burtons, the Labontes, the Wallaces and the Waltrips.

The Burton brothers understand this tradition, even if it is tough on them. In 1999 and so far in 2000, the Virginia natives were often more brotherly shove than love. The two both want to win, no matter who gets in the way, even if it is each other.

Increasingly, the path to victory lane involves passing one or both of the Burtons.

Ward Burton is third in the points. He's won one race, with three top-five and five top-10 finishes. Jeff Burton is fourth in the points, with one win. He has five top-five finishes and six in the top 10, both bests on the Winston Cup circuit.

Jeff Burton, 32, races the No. 99 Ford for the powerhouse Roush Racing team. Thirty-eight-year-old Ward Burton drives the No. 22 Pontiac for Bill Davis Racing.

The two brothers were the only family rivalry to have both members in the top 10 in points in 1999. In addition, they finished 1-2 in three races last year. Jeff finished fifth in the standings, winning a career-high six races. Ward had the best season of his career. He finished in the top five six times, posted 16 top-10s and ended up ninth in the standings -- all career highs.

The two are somewhat similar, yet miles apart. They are both good athletes, playing a variety of sports in high school. Jeff is still a huge sports fan, cheering for the Duke Blue Devils basketball team and the Carolina Panthers of the NFL. Ward spends his time in the outdoors -- hunting, fishing and being involved in game conservation.

The two have been racing together for a quarter of a century. Burton began racing go-karts at age 8, with Jeff deciding to start three years later after watching his older brother at the track. They raced at short tracks together as they got older and advanced up the local racing circuits.

The rivalry was underway. At a track near their South Boston, Va., home, they wrecked each other. Both brothers climbed out of their car and a pushing match broke out.

"Anytime you are in a business with a family member, that's always pressing," Jeff says. "And then, when you're in a business that competes with a family member, that's even worse. There's tension already, and then to have to try and beat him makes it even worse."

The competition continued as the two brothers climbed the ranks of stock car racing. In 1993, Ward had a much better season on the Busch circuit. They both competed for Winston Cup rookie of the year honors in 1994, with Jeff coming out the winner. Ward got a jump on his brother in 1995, getting his only career Winston Cup victory more than two years before Jeff's first win.

Jeff says that if he had to lose, he's just as soon finish second to Roush teammate Mark Martin or to his brother Ward. But he'd rather not lose.

"I know nobody believes that, but it's hard to go out there and one of your goals has to be to beat your brother," Jeff said. "That's the hardest thing in the world. I don't like having to beat Ward. I don't like being in that position."

For the past couple of years, Ward hasn't enjoyed the sibling rivalry as much, primarily because Jeff has dominated it.

"Having him as a driver and a fellow competitor complicates things a little bit,'' Ward says. "But at the same time, it was fun and worked out good that it never resulted in a bad incident for either one. I think the amount of fan response we've gotten from it has really been unbelievable. Everywhere I go people will mention something about it and give me a lot of support and all. That part of it has been a lot of fun for me."


Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2000

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