NASCAR Winston Cup Series Hanes 500: Jeff Burton Wins
30 September 1997MARTINSVILLE, VA -- When they look back on the 1997 Hanes 500 there may be several asterisks displayed on the records. The first mark would show that the race was rained out and run on a Monday - in front of a near capacity crowd. The second would be that Jeff Burton scored his first Winston Cup short track victory here. But the biggest one will go next to Rusty Wallace's name with the note, "He should have listened."
The Hanes 500 was some of the finest short track racing on the circuit to date. The race started with pole sitter Ward Burton taking the field to turn one. The outside pole sitter, Mark Martin was all over Burton and got the lead on lap six. Martin was tough in the top spot but ended up handing the lead back to Ward Burton on lap 39.
Burton was able to hold on to the lead through a yellow flag pit stop when the caution flew on lap 56 for the spinning car of Chad Little. Ward Burton continued his dominance until lap 68 when Bobby Hamilton came along and took the point.
The lead would cycle through several drivers hands until lap 140 when Jeff Burton started flexing his muscle. Jeff Burton was able to hold the lead until lap 210 when Mr Martinsville - Rusty Wallace - assumed control. Once on the point it looked like Wallace was the man to beat. He dominated the event by leading a total of 220 laps.
Wallace though was a little to hot-to-trot on several restarts and was warned by NASCAR twice to take it easy when the field was going back to green. Wallace continued with his domination but the last caution caution, that came on lap 468 for several spinning cars after Robert Pressley oiled down the track, set Wallace up for a very hard fall.
The track, now covered in speedy-dry, was, in Wallace's, opinion treacherous. So when the field came to take the green on lap 477 he figured he'd take a run at the green. And what a run he got. Wallace was at the start finish line just when the pace car was turning off the track down in turn four. All eyes turned to the flag stand to see what flag would be grabbed next. The flagman did reach for a flag and it was the black one. Then as Wallace's car approached the flag stand the flagman pointed at Wallace and waved the flag. Wallace dropped to pit road to answer the call and gave Jeff Burton the lead.
Jeff Burton took off and was pursued, heavily, by Bobby Hamilton and Dale Earnhardt. Burton was able to hold off Hamilton as the two rode door to door for several laps. This gave Earnhardt a chance to catch up to the battling pair. Hamilton had to roll out of the battle with Burton and it was right into the arms of the Goodwrench Chevrolet.
Burton was able to take off while Earnhardt wrestled the second spot from Hamilton. Jeff Gordon then Bill Elliott followed Hamilton across the line for the top-five spots.
Burton talking about Wallace's restarts said, "He jumped early the first time. I knew he was and I got a great restart. Even though he jumped early I was able to stay with him. When they warned him, Buddy said, 'Hey they warned him. He's not going to early again.' I thought there was no way he was going that early again. I was waiting back two or three car lengths and he took off. I though, 'WOW'. I was surprised he did it."
Ford clinched the 1997 manufacturers championship with Burton's win. "I just cant believe that we are as competitive on all these different tracks as we have been able to run. We seem to be doing a lot of things right now. It might all fall to heck tomorrow but we've got a really good race team."
Dale Earnhardt, continuing on his road back to victory circle said, "I think aliens picked me up at Darlington and took me up in a spaceship and straightened me out. Now that I'm back, I'm running better.
"I wasn't in a position to race Burton. We got second though and we're happy with that. We'll try a little hard next week.
Rusty Wallace, after his penalty stop on pit road, finished 15th. His anger was visible when he said, "I didn't jump the start. How can you jump the start when you are the leader? I was the leader. I lead the most laps all day and I was the leader and they say I jumped the flag. It's bullsh*t. It's pure politics and I don't agree with it at all.
"They don't ever change anything at all. I've been doing this my whole life and nothing gets changed. They rule and they can do what they want. I'm going to talk to 'em a little bit about it and I'm going to talk to him. This is ridiculous. I've never seen nothing like it."
Jeff Gordon with his fourth place victory rolls out of Martinsville with a 134 point lead over second place Mark Martin in the series championship battle. Dale Jarrett sits third 222 points off the mark, Jeff Burton sits in fourth and Dale Earnhardt moves up a spot to the fifth.
The race took 3 hours 35 minutes 56 seconds to complete. Jeff Burton cross the line 0.778 seconds ahead of Earnhardt and had an average speed of 73.078 miles per hour. The caution flew a total of 11 times for 91 laps. There were 16 lead changes among 7 drivers.
The next event will be the UAW-500 to be run at Charlotte Motor Speedway on October 4th.
Mike Snow -- The Auto Channel