Burton Completes Desert Sweep

AVONDALE, Ariz. -- Saturday, Jeff Burton’s NASCAR Busch Series victory in the Outback 200 at Phoenix International Raceway was a runaway.

Sunday’s NASCAR Winston Cup Series event, however, had a bit more of a racy feel to it, but Burton was more than up to the challenge. It is the second time this season Burton has swept a Cup-Busch doubleheader, the first coming at Las Vegas in March.

Burton gave sponsor Citgo its first victory in several years, taking the lead from Mark Martin with five laps to go and hanging on to win the Dura Lube 500 at the one-mile desert flat track. It was Burton’s fourth triumph of the 2000 season.

Winston Cup points leader Bobby Labonte finished fifth to increase his championship advantage to 218 points over Dale Earnhardt, who finished ninth. Coming in, Labonte led Earnhardt by 210 points.

Burton took advantage of Ricky Rudd’s late disappointment when Rudd, who led the majority of the final 100 laps, was involved in an accident with Mike Bliss and Rick Mast in the final 20 circuits. On fresh tires, Burton was able to get around Martin on the restart and take the checkered flag.

"This wasn’t an easy day at all by any means," said Burton, who led six times for 105 of 312 laps. "We broke a jack in the pits and a lot of other things happened, so we didn’t have any luck at all. I really hated to see Rudd have his problems. We were going to catch him. I don’t know if we were going to pass him or not.

"I thought we had the best car all day long. Jeremy (Mayfield) had a great car and he was coming. It’s been a long time since Citgo has won a race, so it’s nice to see them get in victory lane. We’ve just got a great race team. (Team owner) Jack (Roush) gives us everything we need to win races, and he expects us to win. I’m so proud of all of Roush Racing and I’m just tickled to be a part of this team.

"We can you say about Jeff Burton and these flat tracks," Roush said. "He just seems to have it going at places like this. What a great race car driver he is."

"These are the days that make it worthwhile," said Citgo Supergard crew chief Frankie Stoddard. "I’m really proud of Jeff Burton and this team. Today, that driver was on the wheel."

Rudd appeared to be cruising, with more than a one-second lead on Burton when Mast cut a tire. Bliss ran in to the back of Mast, and Bliss then rolled to the bottom of the track where Rudd met him head-on.

"I’m not really sure what happened," Rudd said. "I saw the 14 car had a flat tire, and everything might have worked out. But the 27 car ran square in the back of him -- I’m not sure how he did that -- and then came right down on us.

"We’ve been like this week in and week out. We should be talking right here about three, four or five wins already, but there’s just been a lot of circumstances that we haven’t been able to control. I just don’t know what we can do. We’ve got the performance thing down, we just need to get a win."

Martin was in 14th prior to the caution flag. His Valvoline team decided to stay on the track while the other leaders took on fresh tires. It was just a matter of time before Burton would get around Martin on the re-start.

"The race track was still oily, and I was a bit nervous about that restart," said Martin, who wound up finishing sixth. "I did my best to stay out front, but I couldn’t hold them off. It was a good move for us because we gained nine spots after the caution fell."

Mayfield finished second, followed by Park, Rusty Wallace and Labonte.

"It was tough, but we had a great car," Mayfield said. "We were lucky a couple of times, we ran out of fuel on pit road once and that hurt us. But were able to get up there at least and we had a shot at chasing Jeff down, but we just didn’t have enough time."

Burton became the ninth different winner in the last nine Winston Cup races held at Phoenix. Davey Allison is the only repeat winner at Phoenix, having taken the checkered flag in both 1991 and 1992.

Labonte made up several positions in the final few laps to tighten his grip on what seems to be an insurmountable championship lead. The driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Pontiac needs only to finish 29th or better in the final two races of the season at Homestead and Atlanta to win the title.

"We had a good car that was a little bit loose early in the race," Labonte said. "But we accomplished what we needed to do and came away with a good finish and not a scratch on the car we'll take to race next week in Miami."

Park said he would have liked to been in a position to make a charge toward the end of the 500-kilometer race.

"We had a great car and thought we had something capable of winning," Park said. "We kept adjusting on the car and we made it worse. We decided to go back to what we originally had and that’s what made it the best. It seemed like we couldn’t put our finger on exactly what we needed to do to make it better."

Wallace was in second on the last restart, but faded back to finish fourth. Wallace said the key moment of the race came with just more than 10 laps to go, when the Rudd caution sent the leaders onto pit road. All of the front-runners elected to take on two tires.

"Jeff was real strong and I was hoping that if I put right sides on it would be enough to hold on," Wallace said. "But it was too much for me to ask for. The car was just too loose on me. But it was a good run for us and I’m happy. We led a lot of laps but I just needed more right-rear spring. They were just too tough for me."

After Wallace, the polesitter, and Burton traded the early lead, it was Burton pulling out to the advantage until the first caution of the day was thrown on Lap 37 for a spin off the fourth turn involving rookie Scott Pruett. The accident was triggered when Pruett tried to sneak his way underneath a two-wide battle involving Michael Waltrip and Ryan Newman, but Pruett ended up getting the worst end of the deal when his car stalled at the entrance to pit road.

Newman was making his Winston Cup debut in a Ford owned by team owner Roger Penske. The 22-year-old started the race from the 10th position but made dropped back in the pack in a hurry and eventually wound up with a DNF.

The day’s second caution came out just a few laps later on Lap 57 when Bobby Hamilton and rookie Matt Kenseth got together entering the first turn. With Kenseth on the outside, it appeared as if Hamilton’s Chevrolet slid up into Kenseth’s Ford to end the hopes of both for a solid finish.

"I guess something broke on the 4 car," Kenseth said. "I heard something on his car pop. It’s just bad luck. He got into me and we both went straight in the wall."

While the Kenseth mishap could have proved a chance for fellow rookie Dale Earnhardt Jr. to gain ground in the fight for the rookie title, the young Earnhardt had just gone down a lap thanks to a pit stop under green-flag conditions. So instead of gaining ground, Earnhardt Jr. was forced into playing catch-up early.

At the 100-lap mark of the 312-lap event, the top-five consisted of Mayfield, Burton, Wallace, Park and Labonte. Despite needing to take a provisional starting position to make Sunday’s race, Tony Stewart had marched his way from 37th to ninth.

The day’s second round of pit stops for the leaders came around Lap 130. As the front-runners made their way into the pits for service, it was Labonte staying out just long enough to lead a lap and get five bonus points. When Labonte came in for service, it was Earnhardt taking the lead, allowing him to earn five bonus points.

Though Mayfield came into the pits with the lead, his Ford ran out of gas and he lost a lap in the process. But Mayfield got a huge break on Lap 147 when a yellow flag came out for a Rich Bickle spin. As the field raced to take the yellow, Mayfield was able to beat Park back to the line to get back on the lead lap.

After another round of pit stops, the race was restarted just at the halfway point with the top-five consisting of Burton, Jimmy Spencer, Wallace, Park and Labonte.

Mayfield’s crew chief, Peter Sospenzo, was not in that role with the Mobil 1 team Sunday afternoon. Sospenzo attended the funeral for his grandmother in New York on Saturday and planned on flying to Phoenix Sunday morning. But a sad situation turned even more tragic when Sospenzo's uncle was struck by a car and killed after leaving the Saturday funeral.

Steve Lane served as the crew chief for Mayfield on Sunday.

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