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The Callahan Report: Clean, Smart Racing Gives Burton Victory at Richmond

13 September 1998

By Terry Callahan
The Auto Channel
Jeff Burton
RICHMOND, VA: It was clean. It was exciting. It was racing action that has made the NASCAR Winston Cup Series the hottest ticket at every racing venue in America.

Every seat was sold for the Exide NASCAR Select Batteries 400 race at Richmond Saturday night. In the closing laps of the race, none of them were being used. All fans stood as Jeff Burton held off a late race charge by Jeff Gordon, the NASCAR Winston Cup points leader. Burton's margin of victory was the narrowest of the 1998 season. A mere .05 seconds separated the two cars at the finish.

Gordon pulled alongside Burton several times in the final five laps of the race. The two drivers never touched, but it would have been hard to slide a dollar bill between the cars. In the end, it was Burton who won the race who's sponsor was the same as the one on his own Ford Taurus race car. It was Burton's second victory of the 1998 Winston Cup season.

"That's huge (the victory) because we all know how good they are,'' said Burton. "They were better than us and Jeff drove me real clean. Now he'll get asked a thousand times why didn't you wreck Jeff Burton at Richmond."

The main reason Gordon didn't take chances with Burton at Richmond is because he knows just how quickly his lead in the points race could disappear. Gordon gained 130 points quickly last week when his closest competitor (Mark Martin) had engine trouble. An over aggressive move Saturday night could have erased his points lead.

Jeff Gordon

Burton's win was a giant accomplishment. The Roush Racing Team, along with the rest of the NASCAR Winston Cup competitors, has had difficulty beating Gordon all season. The Roush Team has finished second to Gordon more times than they want to count. The frustrations were taking their toll on the team. Team owner, Jack Roush has even gone so far as to accuse the Dupont team of cheating in recent weeks. The frustration of losing was over Saturday night.

The "cheating" accusations still tug at Gordon's pride. He said laughingly in a post race interview, "Imagine that. He won with two tires. We'll have to check into that.

Jack Roush has not made an official public apology to the Dupont Team for his comments after the New Hampshire race.

The investigation into the accusations that the Dupont Team soaked their racing tires in chemicals to achieve better grip are over. The team was cleared of any wrong doing Thursday. NASCAR impounded the tires of Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin (Roush Racing) after Gordon pulled off a stunning come from behind victory in Loudon New Hampshire two weeks ago.

Mark Martin, who is second in the Winston Cup points chase, was proud of his teammate's accomplishments Saturday night. He knows better than any driver on the circuit how tough it is to beat Gordon and the Rainbow Warriors crew this season.

``I tell you, the best race I've seen in a long time was my buddy Jeff Burton holding on out there,'' said Martin. ``Man, he was the man out there.''

Burton, a native of South Boston, Virginia, is getting used to winning in his home state. He won at Martinsville Speedway last year. Of his five career victories, two have been in front of his home state fans.

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