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Burtons Cruise At Pop Secret

With a big assist from crew chief Frankie Stoddard, Jeff Burton finally got it right Sunday at North Carolina Speedway.

Burton took the lead when he barely beat older brother Ward out of the pits on their final stop, and led the final 68 laps in winning the Pop Secret Microwave Popcorn 400.

"This is the best win we've ever had," said Burton, who has dominated several times on the 1.017-mile oval only to fall out of contention in the late going.

"This was the hardest we've ever had to work on the chassis to win a race," said Jeff Burton, who led only three laps before taking the top spot for the final time in the 393-lap event. "Today, we weren't close, but Frankie kept working and working and we had a great last stop."

"The Rock" has an abrasive asphalt surface that is notorious for tire wear on long runs.

With all the leaders pitting on lap 325, during the final caution period, Stoddard decided to set Burton's No. 99 Roush Racing Ford up for a shorter run and try to get his driver a big lead before the tires went away.

The green flag waved with 64 laps remaining, and after Jeff Burton was able to beat back a determined bid by Jeff Gordon to regain a lost lap, the strategy worked to perfection.

"That last caution was definitely a blessing for us," Burton said. "Ward was going to check out on us. He had a better car on a long run. Frank made the decision to go try to get everything he could on a short run.

"We made a lot of changes to the car and got it freed up. But it was too loose on the end of a long run. Ward was coming on us. He just ran out of laps," added Jeff, who saw his lead cut to .339-seconds about three car-lengths by Ward's Pontiac.

"Jeff beat us out of the pits, then I got behind some lapped traffic and he was able to get away to a big lead," the runner-up said. "If I had been on his bumper, I don't think the 99 would have won the race."

Asked what he would give for another five laps, Ward said, "I'd run another 400 (miles) for another five (laps). I think we'd have got him if we'd have had a little more time."

It was the third time this season that h has finished second to his younger brother.

"I think that's four times I've finished second one to Mark (Martin) last year and then three to Jeff," Ward said. "It makes me mad."

Jeff, who earned his sixth victory of the season and the 11th of his Winston Cup career, said he would not have minded losing to his brother, whose only victory came in this race in 1995.

"I feel bad that Ward didn't win this race," he said. "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. That's the hardest thing in the world."

With only three caution flags for a total of 18 laps, Burton's winning speed of 131.103 mph set a track record, breaking the mark of 128.423 set last fall by Gordon.

Bobby Labonte finished third, followed by series leader Dale Jarrett, Rusty Wallace, Martin, John Andretti and Sterling Marlin, the only other drivers on the lead lap.

Jarrett, who faded after dominating the early part of the race leading 160 of the first 261 laps added four points to his series lead, thanks to the five-point bonus for leading the most laps in the race.

He will go into the race on Nov. 7 in Phoenix 246 points ahead of Labonte and 334 in front of third-place Martin. If Jarrett finishes 19th or better in each of the final three races, he will win his first series title.

Gordon, a three-time series champion, never did get his lap back, finishing 11th. Dale Earnhardt, who won the previous week in Talladega, was 40th Sunday after getting involved in a three-car mishap with Kenny Irwin and Wally Dallenbach that brought out the final caution flag.

©1999 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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