The Callahan Report: Jeff Burton Wins Jiffy Lube 300
14 July 1997Jeff Burton won his first a few weeks ago in Texas. That taste of victory had an addicting effect. It made him very hungry for more of the same. He satisfied that hunger today as he won the Jiffy Lube 300 in convincing style. The driver of the number 99 Exide car is becoming a bright star on a circuit that is already full of household names.
Today's race was fast, slowed only by two caution flags. Burton's car was strong as he pulled off a 5 second victory over a back-on-track Dale Earnhardt. The lack of cautions meant the team with the best pit strategy and pit performance would win the race. Burton's Exide team did it all better than any team on the circuit today. Burton charged to third place by the halfway point in the race.
One of the two cautions came as Brett Bodine, Ward Burton and Derrik Cope went spinning on the first lap. Cope got a tap from behind in the tight pack. Burton and Bodine were caught in the chain reaction.
Bobby Hamilton was the early leader, followed by Dale Jarrett. Jarrett moved to the front on lap 31 showing the strength of his Robert Yates motor. Jarrett's teammate, Ernie Irvan, powered past Hamilton by lap 40 giving Robert Yates Racing the first two spots. Bobby Hamilton, Ricky Craven and polesitter Ken Schrader ran behind the leaders. The first five cars put a lot of distance between themselves and the rest of the pack.
Most teams pitted under green around lap 85. Some gambled and took on only two tires. The teams getting fresh rubber all around proved to be the fastest. Bobby Hamilton emerged as the leader once again, only to cut a tire a fall a lap behind. Ernie Irvan stayed strong and moved to the front. He was chased down and passed by Jarrett but his car began to miss. Jarrett began dropping back. Burton closed on a "loose" Irvan and passed him a short time later.
John Andretti and Robby Gordon crashed together in the third turn on the final lap. Andretti climbed from his battered machine. He ran over to the cars driving in the cool down lane and almost jumped in front of Jeremy Mayfield. Andretti screamed at Mayfield furiously. Mayfield pulled away. Andretti said "He (Mayfield) was blocking for the 28 (Irvan) car. He was bound and determined to take somebody out and I guess it was me. We were in a position for a top ten finish. I guess he didn't want us to get a top ten. He told Tony (Andretti's crew chief) his throttle stuck. It's amazing it only stuck once and it was on the last lap."
Mayfield said "We were just trying to finish the race. We were having trouble with the carburetor and the throttle was sticking. I was just trying to get out of the way so those guys could race. We got three wide and had a wreck. I would never do anything like that on purpose."
Behind Burton and Earnhardt in third was Rusty Wallace. Steve Grissom had his best carreer finish. He came across the line in fourth place. Mark Martin was a strong fifth, followed by Bill Elliott, Terry Labonte, Irvan, Ricky Rudd and Geoff Bodine.
Jeff Gordon, starting twenty-ninth, had his work cut out for himself. He could not make any progress. His DuPont Chevy was so loose after his first pit stop, he could only go twenty-two laps before being forced to pit again. The rainbow team changed tires and pressure. Upon inspection, it was determined that Gordon had cut a tire. Gordon was a lap down, in danger of going two laps down after the change. It didn't get any better for Gordon as he could do no better than a 23rd place finish. He came into the race as the series point leader. He is now in second place, 3 points behind teammate Terry Labonte. Mark Martin is in third, 52 points behind Labonte.
Terry Callahan -- The Auto Channel