Burton Wins in New Hampshire

Monday, September 18th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LOUDON, N.H. (AP) — Godzilla was a monster whose dominance is no longer limited to the movies.

Jeff Burton used an engine with that name to lead every lap of the Dura Lube 300 at New Hampshire International Speedway. It was his second straight victory with a motor bearing a power-robbing carburetor restrictor plate.

The plates were mandated by NASCAR in response to the deaths on the track earlier this year of drivers Kenny Irwin and Adam Petty.

``I think it was easy to see why we won a restrictor-plate race at Daytona,'' Burton said, referring to his victory in July on one of only two tracks where the device had been used previously. ``I don't think anybody could pass us as long as I could run the lap I wanted to run.''

But runner-up and points leader Bobby Labonte was impressed with more than the powerplant Burton used to become the first four-time winner on the 1.058-mile oval.

``He has definitely won more races than I probably ever will, so I feel like he probably has it figured out better than I do setupwise,'' Labonte said.

But it was much more than just an engine, said Burton's crew chief, Frank Stoddard. He was the man who engineered many changes after NASCAR decided last weekend to put the plates on the cars for this race.

Burton went to Milwaukee to test the engines, part of a busy week for Roush Racing.

``Somebody said, `How do you lead 300 laps?'' Stoddard said. ``Well, to lead 300 laps, everybody has to do the best job they could from that day, to the motors to Jeff driving the car.''

Burton became the first Winston Cup driver to lead all the way in 22 years. But this was no rout, with Labonte making things close.

``Had we ever gotten behind him, it would have been hard to pass him,'' Burton said.

Labonte, the polesitter, 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.

``I don't believe I could have gained anything by sticking my nose in any further,'' he said. ``I could have spun out instead of him.''

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 that 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.

``To pass him for the lead is one thing,'' Burton said of The Intimidator. ``But when you lap him, it's like caging a Tiger.''

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 in 1973 and `78.

It was the third win this year, and the 15th in Burton's career.

Third on Sunday was the Ford of Ricky Rudd, followed by that of his teammate, series champion Dale Jarrett, who figures Labonte is an overwhelming favorite to win his first title.

``The points are just going to come down to whether Bobby Labonte has any trouble of not,'' Jarrett said. ``If he doesn't, then Burton and Earnhardt and myself are racing for second.''

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.

NASCAR said the plates did not destroy the competitiveness of the race, but Earnhardt disagreed. The seven-time series champion detests the devices because he says the cars cannot muster the power to make passes.

``I guess NASCAR knows what they want,'' he said. ``If they want sorry racing for the fans, that's what they want. If I was a race fan, I wouldn't buy a ticket to a restrictor-plate race on a short track.''