Ward Burton Wins Shootout Wins the Daytona 500!
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., (Feb. 17, 2002) - In one of the wildest, strangest and thrilling finishes in the history of the Daytona 500, Ward Burton, driver of the No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge, captured his first victory in the "Great American Race" in a three-lap shootout.
The three-lap shootout was setup by an multi-car accident in the tri-oval on a restart with six laps to go. At the same time of that accident, leader Jeff Gordon blocked Sterling Marlin and the No. 24 DuPont Automotive Finishes Chevrolet spun out into the grass toward Turn 1.
NASCAR threw out the caution and then the red flag to halt the cars on the track. Marlin got out of his car to survey the damage and tried to pull the fender out, which was a violation of NASCAR rules, which forced him to start at the tail end of the field. Like Marlin, Gordon also started at the tail end of the field when he pitted too soon for repairs.
Burton, who was second, was suddenly sitting in first and all he had to do was hold on for three laps and the Harley J. Earl trophy would belong to his Bill Davis Racing team. Runner-up and fellow Virginian Elliott Sadler and third-place finisher Geoffrey Bodine never mounted a challenge for Burton, who took a victory lap around the "World Center of Racing."
"I had a bunch of tears in my eyes," said Burton, who becomes the first Virginian to win the Daytona 500 and the first Dodge driver to be victorious at Daytona since the 1977 Pepsi 400. "I had to make one extra lap to get my composure."
While sitting in second place on the Superstretch waiting for the final restart, Burton, a native of South Boston, Va., had no idea that Marlin had committed a critical error.
"I wasn't really sure at that moment how big a mistake it was," Burton said. "I didn't see him mess with the fender. (Owner) Bill (Davis) told me on the radio that there had been an adjustment made or something. Sterling was just caught up in the moment. He was anxious to see whether his car was OK or not."
Said Marlin: "We were hooked together and hooked bumpers and he (Gordon) spun out and I went on. I got my fender on the tire. We tried to get it pulled off, but NASCAR didn't like it."
Sadler, driver of the No. 21 Motorcraft Ford for the Wood Brothers and a native of Emporia, Va., was happy to push his fellow Virginian to the Daytona 500 victory.
"I think that's pretty cool," Sadler said. "We made a big deal about who's pushing who here the last couple races - 15 (Michael Waltrip) pushing 8 (Dale Earnhardt Jr.), 8 pushing 15. I finished third here in July. Ward Burton pushed me by a couple people on the last lap too. My exact words to him when I ran into Victory Lane to hug him was, "That's my payback to you. You helped me here last July.' "
Two favorites for victory in the Daytona 500 suffered problems early in the race. Tony Stewart's No. 20 Pontiac began to have engines problems when the green flag waved and he only turned two laps. Dale Earnhardt Jr. cut a right front tire and suffered some sheet metal damage and finished 29th.
"It's a tough way to start the year," said a disappointed Stewart. "Something happened to the motor. I just don't know what happened. It laid down on the start a little bit, then as the lap went on it laid down even more."
Dave Marcis made his record 33rd and final Daytona 500 start in the No. 71 Realtree Chevrolet, but completed only 79 laps before dropping out with an engine problem. Shawna Robinson became the first female driver to start the Daytona 500 since 1980 and finished 24th. Jay Leno, the host of NBC's "The Tonight Show," paced the field to the green flag as the honorary pace car driver and actress Angie Harmon waved the green flag to turn loose the 43-car field.
"It was a real thrill," Leno said. Said Harmon: "The energy is fantastic."
Next up at the Speedway is motorcycle racing, which will run Feb. 28-March 10. Stock cars will return to Daytona on July 3-6 for the Pepsi 400 weekend. Tickets for these events and the 2003 Daytona 500 are available online or by calling the Speedway ticket office at (386) 253-7223.