Jeff Burton Wins Dura-Lube 200
30 August 1997DARLINGTON, SC -- Jack Roush's Busch entry annihilated the competition in Saturday's Dura-Lube 200. Roush's car had the perfect setup for the mean ol' girl we know as Darlington. Heck Roush's car beat the other entrants to the checkers by a healthy 5.011 seconds. You might think, from these descriptions, it was Roush driver Mark Martin with a car this dominate in a Busch race. But it was teammate, Jeff Burton, that had the setup that blew the competition away.
Jeff Burton started his #9 Track Gear Ford in the tenth position but was knocking on Mark Martin's rear bumper by the time the first caution came out; On lap nine, for the spinning car of Scott Lagasse. Lagasse lost control of his car after Steve Park took the air off of his spoiler. NASCAR thinking that there was more to it that that brought Park in for a one lap penalty. The ACDelco crew took the opportunity to change tires and add fuel then sent him on his way.
Park, who was the only car one lap down, raced Martin like a man possessed trying to get back on the lead lap. This gave Burton the opportunity to get around Martin for the lead. Burton took off and built up leads in excess of ten seconds. Burton, who was one of four drivers that would swap the lead four times, went on to lead the race a total of 117 laps.
Park managed to stay in front of Burton though it was a chore with the lose car he was driving. Park got some relief as the leaders made green flag stops. Park then caught a big break on lap 83 when the #08 car of Kevin Simmons spun out of turn two brining out the caution flag. Park dove to the pits while under caution and was now back in the lead lap and in sequence with the leaders.
When the field went back to green there was no one that could run with Burton. He would run out and get himself a five second lead and just run around the track maintaining that interval over whomever was running in second place.
The caution would fly one last time on lap 88 for a turn two wreck that had the #22 of Lagasse bouncing off Rodney Combs ride. Johnny Chapman, trying to slow his car down, lost control and slammed hard into the inside retaining wall. Chapman's car burst into flames as he rolled to a stop. The window net flipped down on the #89 and Chapman scurried away from the burning car. All the drivers were okay.
The field took the last green of the event on lap 96 and Burton just took off, again building a huge lead on all the others. The most exciting racing for the last few laps was for third through fifth as Steve Park, owner of the third position, was feeling the heat from Dick Trickle. Park's car was sliding all over the track as Trickle kept the heat on.
Just as Jeff Burton was taking the green, followed by Mike McLaughlin, Park slipped and popped the wall on the back straight. This opened the door for Trickle and Bobby Labonte to get by. Park gathered it up and went on to finish fifth.
"Nothing is easy at Darlington," said Jeff Burton from Darlington's new victory lane. "We got away from those guys a little bit to begin with, but after that we were equal. The first 20 laps of that (last) run we were just dominate. Without that first stretch, they could have gotten a run on me. But as good as that car was to begin with, that was the key to getting the win."
Mike McLaughlin, who drove a quiet and clean race, talking about his second place finish said, "We had a consistent run and track position is so important as competitive as this series is. It's never easy at Darlington. We took off good there in the beginning of the run and it was good thing because they started catching me there at the end."
Steve Park with his 5th place finish clinched the 1997 Raybestos Rookie of the Year award. Park talking about the honor said, "We're thrilled to death to capture the rookie of the year title. That is a goal we set for ourselves at the beginning of the year. We took a lot of pride in that all year long."
Todd Bodine took a nibble out of the lead that Randy LaJoie has in the Busch series championship battle. LaJoie, who got caught on pit road when a yellow came out, finished 18th to Bodine's stout eighth place finish. The points lead is still LaJoie's but Bodine got his deficit to 97 points. Those who round out the top-five in series points are Steve Park, Phil Parsons and Mike McLaughlin.
The next race for the Busch series is the Autolite Platinum 250 to be run at Richmond International Raceway, under the lights, Friday September 5th.
Mike Snow -- The Auto Channel