Jeff Burton made one fan a millionaire, and gave himself a thrill money can't buy.
He won the rain-shortened Southern 500 on Sunday, giving him a sweep of the Winston Cup events this year at Darlington Raceway. Although he won the TranSouth 400 just over five months ago, Burton said what he wanted more than anything was a victory in NASCAR's oldest race.
That he achieved, in addition to a $1 million promotional bonus for himself and Phylis Farmer of Hillsboro, Mo. The victory was his fifth this year, tying Burton with Jeff Gordon for the most on the Winston Cup circuit and ending The Kid's record run of Southern 500 victories at four.
Burton beat the track they call "The Lady in Black" despite crashing at the finish in a rain storm that ended the TranSouth 400 after just 164 of 293 scheduled laps in March. But the victory left some unanswered questions.
Foremost was whether he would have beaten Gordon - to whom he finished second in the last two Southern 500s - had the race gone the distance. On Sunday, in the 50th edition of NASCAR's original superspeedway event, Burton left no doubt that his Roush Racing Ford was the class of the field.
Still, the questions will linger, because this race also ended because of rain with 97 laps remaining. The curtailment, after the race was red-flagged for a second time, came with Ward Burton in second place and resulted in the first 1-2 finish by brothers in the Labor Day weekend classic.
The first stoppage lasted 24 minutes. After just seven green-flag laps, the remnants of tropical storm Dennis forced a second red flag. After waiting 1 hour, 20 minutes and running 10 more caution laps, NASCAR declared Burton the winner.
The Burtons also finished 1-2 this season at Las Vegas, the 25th time brothers had done that in NASCAR history.
Jeff battled Ward, Gordon and Jeremy Mayfield over the first half of the race. Once Jeff Burton took the lead for the fifth time, on lap 178, he drove away each time the field sorted itself out following caution periods for rain and mishaps.
It became obvious that fate was the only legitimate contender. But it never came calling, and those who stayed on the track briefly during rain-caused cautions, also pitted before the event was twice red-flagged with Burton in front.
After the Pontiac of Ward Burton, came Mayfield's Ford and that of Mark Martin.
Gordon, who lost three positions on the final pit stop, was fifth when the final restart was attempted. But he pitted for tires and wound up 13th.
Points leader Dale Jarrett, whose terrible qualifying effort resulted in a 36th-place start, wound up 16th. His lead in the standings over Martin fell from 213 points to 168.
Kevin Lepage was fifth in another Roush Ford, followed by Joe Nemechek, Bobby Hamilton, Rusty Wallace, Ken Schrader and Steve Park.
Jerry Nadeau, who started third as the replacement for the retired Ernie Irvanhit the wall hard on the 50th lap. He complained of a neck injury that was not believed to be serious, but he was held overnight for observation at a hospital in Florence.
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