Labonte's NASCAR title a near-certainty

Jeff Burton won Sunday's Checker Auto Parts/Dura Lube 500k at Phoenix International Raceway, but a fifth-place finish for Bobby Labonte means the championship leader has to finish only 28th or better in the last two races to take his first NASCAR Winston Cup crown

Labonte's NASCAR title a near-certainty

By winning, Burton has become a man for all seasons - and all types of weather. When he swept both the NASCAR Busch Series and NASCAR Winston Cup races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in March, he continued his reputation as NASCAR's 'Rain Man' by winning a rain-shortened event at the 1.5-mile track.

But just to prove his versatility, Burton was able to sweep both the Busch Series and Winston Cup events in the desert at Phoenix over the weekend without a drop of rain to be found.

"We'll have to run more races in the desert now," Burton joked after proving he's pretty good in both the wet and the dry. "Maybe I should run in the Baja 1000."

Burton passed team mate Mark Martin with four laps left Burton defeated fellow Ford Taurus driver Jeremy Mayfield by 0.854s for his fourth victory of the season and 15th of his career.

Steve Park was third in a Chevrolet Monte Carlo, followed by the Ford of Rusty Wallace and the Pontiac Grand Prix of Bobby Labonte, who increased his NASCAR Winston Cup points lead to 218 points with two races left in the season. Labonte can clinch the championship if he finishes 28th or better in the final two races.

Just when it appeared Ricky Rudd was on his way to breaking a two-year winless streak, he crashed with 17 laps remaining in the 500-kilometre race.

"I feel bad for Ricky Rudd," Burton said. "He looked like he was in real good shape. We were going to catch him, but catching him doesn't mean you're going to pass him. Ricky is obviously a great race car driver, his wins will come again. He's showing everybody he can still do it - here's no doubt about that."

The leaders made their final pit stop during the caution period and Martin, who decided to stay out on the track to take over the lead without making a pit stop, was in front when the race restarted with 10 laps to go.

But two laps after the green flag waved, Burton was able to pass Martin in turn 3 of the one-mile speedway and took the lead. Mayfield also passed Martin for second on lap 309.

There were 23 lead changes among 13 drivers in the race, which was attended by a crowd estimated at 100,000. Burton led six times for 105 laps, the most of any driver in the race and took US$197,345 home with him.

In spite of his dominant car, Burton had to come from behind when a jack broke on his pit stop on lap 249.

"We did lose track position every now and then," Burton said. "We just didn't
have a good day in the pits, not because we don't have good guys but because it didn't work out for us."

Burton began a long stretch in the lead on lap 156 was in front when he made his pit stop on lap 249. After the pit crew encountered problems when the jack broke, that put Burton further back in the field. He was able to fight his way toward the front before the leader, Rudd, could not avoid the crash that involved Rick Mast and Mike Bliss.

Burton's team changed two tires on the final pit stop, rather than four. Martin decided to stay out of pits to take over the lead.

With Burton driving the best car in the race, there was little Martin could do to protect the lead. Burton was able to make the pass for the win with four laps remaining.

With four wins, Burton can tie Tony Stewart for most victories in the series if he wins one of the last two races at Homestead and Atlanta.

Full results to follow

shares
comments
Winston Cup standings and Phoenix race results
Previous article

Winston Cup standings and Phoenix race results

Next article

Dodge gets green light from NASCAR

Dodge gets green light from NASCAR
The ex-F1 driver taking on NASCAR with a new team Plus

The ex-F1 driver taking on NASCAR with a new team

Saddled with uncompetitive Minardi machinery, Tarso Marques didn't manage to score points in his three partial seasons of Formula 1. But now the Brazilian has the chance to show what he can do in NASCAR, and explains the story of his comeback with new Cup Series entrant Team Stange

Formula 1
Apr 13, 2022
The early benefits and challenges of NASCAR's Next Gen car Plus

The early benefits and challenges of NASCAR's Next Gen car

NASCAR’s new stock car generation is encouraging an influx of fresh blood into its top tier. But there are concerns that parts are in short supply as the entire paddock tries to build up stocks at the same time

NASCAR
Feb 22, 2022
How Penske's rookie sensation opened NASCAR's new era in style Plus

How Penske's rookie sensation opened NASCAR's new era in style

After holding his nerve and hip-checking his team-mate on the run to the line, Austin Cindric made a perfect start to life as a full-timer in the NASCAR Cup Series by winning the Daytona 500. Here's how the Penske Ford man emerged first across the line in the first points-scoring race for the much-anticipated Next Generation cars

NASCAR
Feb 21, 2022
Six key themes to follow in the 2022 NASCAR Cup season Plus

Six key themes to follow in the 2022 NASCAR Cup season

There are plenty of uncertainties ahead of the 2022 NASCAR Cup season as an all-new fleet of cars take to the track for the first time. Ahead of this weekend's Daytona 500, our experts explain what you need to know

NASCAR
Feb 17, 2022
How NASCAR had to learn a harsh lesson ahead of its Next Gen arrival Plus

How NASCAR had to learn a harsh lesson ahead of its Next Gen arrival

The NASCAR Cup kicks off with the Daytona 500 this weekend, but a major overhaul and a subsequent mountain of work has been required to be ready for the arrival of the Next Gen cars

NASCAR Cup
Feb 16, 2022
How Larson took the long way round to NASCAR Cup glory Plus

How Larson took the long way round to NASCAR Cup glory

From villain to hero, Kyle Larson’s journey to the 2021 NASCAR Cup title comes straight from the Hollywood blockbuster scripts. While Larson had to reach his lifelong goal the hard way and go through a very public shaming after a ban for using a racial slur, his talents shone long before his name grabbed the headlines for both the right and the wrong reasons

NASCAR
Nov 10, 2021
How NASCAR is gearing up for its "biggest change" in 2022 Plus

How NASCAR is gearing up for its "biggest change" in 2022

It’s not just Formula 1 that’s set for upheaval in 2022, as the NASCAR Cup Series adopts its Next Gen cars that will cast any in-built advantages aside and require teams to adopt a totally new way of operating. Far more than just a change of machinery, the new cars amount to a shift in NASCAR's core philosophy

NASCAR
Oct 12, 2021
Why Bubba Wallace’s Talladega win is such a big moment for NASCAR Plus

Why Bubba Wallace’s Talladega win is such a big moment for NASCAR

Bubba Wallace claimed his maiden NASCAR Cup Series at Talladega on Monday to become the first Black victor in the category since Wendell Scott in 1963. Both Wallace and Scott had faced obstacles and racism in their paths to their breakthrough wins, and NASCAR is trying to put it right with its range of diversity programmes

NASCAR
Oct 5, 2021