Burton wins at Darlington

Ward Burton was clearly the man of the day in the Mall.Com 400 at Darlington Raceway on Sunday afternoon.

Burton wins at Darlington

For the Pontiac marque, he's most likely a knight in shining armor.

Burton kept his #22 Caterpillar Pontiac out front in dominating fashion - led some 188 laps of the 293 total, taking the Gatorade Frontrunner Award bonus money - and giving the marque it's first win at the egg-shaped oval in 37 years.

Burton, himself, hadn't seen victory circle since October 1995 at North Carolina Speedway, his first, and only, NASCAR Winston Cup Series win after joining Bill Davis Racing.

It was a very emotional celebration. Crew Chief Tommy Baldwin, team owner Bill Davis and wife Gail, Tabitha Burton and children, Sarah and Jeb - all smiling and a few tears of joy.

"It's been a long time coming," said an exhilarated Burton. "We made three runs in Happy Hour and today seemed to be like the best run (on Saturday).

"I'm happy for Pontiac . . . all the sponsors. Thanks so much.

"I was lucky to keep the fenders on the car (in the lapped traffic at the end of the race). We're going to celebrate tonight!"

Dale Jarrett tried in earnest to close up what was a 3-second advantage with 10 circuits remaining, but there wasn't enough time as Burton fairly cruised to the chequered flag with about 10 car lengths advantage - or just over 2 seconds.

Dale Earnhardt held onto third, followed by Tony Stewart, Jeff Burton, Matt Kenseth, Bobby Hamilton, Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin and Kevin Lepage rounding out the top-10.

The race started off on a rag-tag note.

Within the first 17 laps, there were three caution flags. Seems everyone was in a hurry as bad weather was seen on radar, though some distance away.

The first caution flew on Lap 2 for an incident that began with a bump by Steve Park on Sterling Marlin.

Joe Nemechek slammed on his brakes, getting sideways and catching Ken Schrader. As Nemechek spun, Terry Labonte got a piece of him.

The next caution occurred just a half lap after they went back to green when Rusty Wallace got a nose into the back of Kenny Irwin, who slowed briefly.

When Irwin got sideways, Wallace's teammate Jeremy Mayfield was caught up and received extensive damage to the rear of his car. Irwin's car punched the wall, flattening the front end.

Caution number three waved when Ted Musgrave, subbing for the recovering Geoffrey Bodine, apparently lost the right front and headed to the outside wall and scraped it good.

All the leaders headed for pit road, except for Ward Burton, who was not aware everyone was going to head for service.

Rick Mast, Jimmy Spencer, Bobby Hamilton and Terry Labonte also stayed out, giving Jeff Gordon 6th place when he was first out of the pits.

Gordon fought a mainly tight condition throughout the day everytime the tires were changed.

The crew loosened the #24 DuPont Chevy up, and Gordon would be good for a while, before he began backpeddling some.

Mark Martin stalled his car and fell from third back to 27th for the restart on Lap 22.

By Lap 50, Martin was fighting for 14th and when the yellow waved for the fourth caution on Lap 57, Martin was just inside the top-10.

Rookie Jeff Fuller was the reason for the caution on Lap 57. Fuller came off Turn 2, got into the outside wall and then slid across in front of traffic.

Luckily, everyone dodged the bullet and leaders headed for pit road. Jeff Gordon was first in and first out to lead at the restart on the 63rd circuit.

Bobby Labonte, however, took over the lead for the first time on Sunday the following lap.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.'s very bad day effectively ended and brought out the fifth caution of the race with just under 100 laps remaining.

The rearend of the #8 Budweiser Chevy broke loose as Junior exited Turn 2 and wound up nose first against the inside retaining wall.

Junior had been fighting the handling since his first pit stop of the day and was running a lap down when the incident occurred.

"We crashed here before," said a disappointed Earnhardt. "We had a really good car at the start of the race, but I got real bad loose after the first stop. We couldn't change it. I was holding people up and feeling like I was wrecking every lap. I think something must've broke."

Dad Dale Earnhardt, on the other hand, had a very good day.

Saving his tyres, and his car, he was able to make a run to the front a couple of times, making up positions quickly as the green flag pit stop windows neared.

It was a close call as The Intimidator passed rookie Matt Kenseth on Lap 253 and brushed the wall. He finished a respectable third.

"The car was just an okay car all day," said Earnhardt. "It was a good points day for us. That's what we needed."

Final stops began with some 40 circuits remaining. Bobby Labonte missed the entrance to the new, single pit road and hit the wall, which caused his right front tyre to let go -- a costly mistake that moved him from third to 14th and a lap down. He finished 13th.

Ward Burton pitted, handing the lead briefly to Kenseth, who also missed pit road, before everyone cycled through and Burton was back on point, followed by Jarrett and Earnhardt. The way the top-3 finished.

There were 13 lead changes among seven drivers. The race took some 3 hours and 8 minutes to complete 400 miles and there were just twelve cars remaining on the lead lap.

Unofficial points standings show Bobby Labonte clinging to the lead by just under 10 points, with Mark Martin, Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Burton trailing by some 32 points total.

The NASCAR Winston Cup Series will travel to Bristol Motor Speedway next weekend for the first of two events in 'Thunder Valley.'

Unofficial Finish Results of Mall.com 400:

Pos # Driver Sponsor Make Laps

1 22 Ward Burton Caterpillar Pont 293

2 88 Dale Jarrett Quality Care Ford 293

3 3 Dale Earnhardt GM Goodwrench Chev 293

4 20 Tony Stewart Home Depot Pont 293

5 99 Jeff Burton Exide Batteries Ford 293

6 17 Matt Kenseth DeWalt Tools Ford 293

7 4 Bobby Hamilton Kodak Film Chev 293

8 24 Jeff Gordon DuPont Chev 293

9 6 Mark Martin Valvoline Ford 293

10 16 Kevin LePage FamilyClick.com Ford 293

11 5 Terry Labonte Kellogg's Chev 293

12 21 Elliott Sadler Citgo Ford 293

13 18 Bobby Labonte Interstate Pont 292

14 31 Mike Skinner Lowe's Chev 292

15 97 Chad Little John Deere Ford 292

16 2 Rusty Wallace Miller Lite Ford 292

17 28 Ricky Rudd Texaco/Havoline Ford 292

18 77 Robert Pressley Jasper Ford 292

19 94 Bill Elliott McDonald's Ford 292

20 43 John Andretti STP/Cheerios Pont 291

21 40 Sterling Marlin Coors Light Chev 291

22 36 Ken Schrader M & M's Pont 291

23 26 Jimmy Spencer Big Kmart Ford 291

24 10 Johnny Benson Lycos.com Pont 290

25 44 Kyle Petty Hot Wheels Pont 290

26 93 Dave Blaney Amoco Pont 290

27 11 Brett Bodine Ralph's Ford 290

28 13 Robby Gordon Duracell Ford 289

29 9 Stacy Compton Kodiak Ford 288

30 41 Rick Mast Big Daddy's Chev 288

31 14 Dick Trickle Conseco Pont 287

32 7 Michael Waltrip NationsRent Chev 282

33 71 Dave Marcis Realtree Chev 281

34 12 Jeremy Mayfield Mobil 1 Ford 281

35 55 Kenny Wallace Square D Chev 255

36 27 Jeff Fuller Pfizer/Viagra Pont 232

37 25 Jerry Nadeau Michael Holigan Chev 232

38 42 Kenny Irwin BellSouth Chev 219

39 1 Steve Park Pennzoil Chev 218

40 8 D. Earnhardt Jr Budweiser Chev 213

41 33 Joe Nemechek Oakwood Homes Chev 186

42 60 Ted Musgrave Power Team Chev 135

43 66 Darrell Waltrip Route 66 Ford 116

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